Redemptive Transformation in Practical Theology: Essays in Honor of James E. Loder, Jr.

Redemptive Transformation in Practical Theology: Essays in Honor of James E. Loder, Jr.

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ISBN-13: 9780802826893
Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/01/2004
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 469
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)

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Redemptive Transformation in Practical Theology


William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-2689-X

Chapter One

"Trampling Down Death by Death": Double Negation in Developmental Theory and Baptismal Theology Russell Haitch

The aim of this essay is threefold: to explain the concept of "double negation," which is central to James Loder's developmental theory; to show how this concept fits into a theology of baptism; and to suggest how the developmental and theological insights thus gained may be used in teaching on baptism and the topic of death and dying.

James Loder's Developmental Theory

Looking for Divine Order

I recall the conversation I had with Professor Loder a few weeks after September 11, 2001, and shortly before his death.

We had all seen the planes going in and the towers coming down; repeatedly and in slow motion had watched the awful televised images. But faith comes through hearing, and in the background of those images, so often it seemed, was the voice of someone crying out: "O God!" or, "Oh my God!"

"'Oh my God!' - what's going on there?," Jim asked. "Is this just a cry of desperation?" "No," he said, "I think it is more than that. I think it is a kind of primitive prayer. It is saying that in the midst of this horror there is still a higher order. It is calling out for this divine order to reassert itself." This was what he heard in that voice; in hearing him I heard it too, and what we heard that day became emblematic for me of how his mind worked. Whether as therapist or theologian, James Loder sought always to listen beneath the surface.

It is sometimes thought that he focused too much on the moment of crisis, extreme example, or sudden conversion. He valued these events because he felt that they had been devalued by his church and academic peers. Moreover, he had witnessed sudden gracious power in his own life and in the lives of those he counseled, and he could not but speak of what he had seen and heard. At the same time, he was careful to say the point was not to be always living at the extremities, but rather to see how the experience of extremity could reveal what matters most when living in the middle. Sometimes his critics disbelieved this caveat, and sometimes his students remembered mainly the stories he told of remarkable spiritual events. However, he himself was concerned with both the transforming moment and the underlying structure of reality it revealed; with both the epiphany of Christ and the christomorphic patterns displayed (if half hidden) across the universe. Charismatic and structuralist concerns coalesced in his mind. As in the case of the World Trade Center Towers, he was always looking and listening for divine order.

He has, I think, left to the field of practical theology a cache of highly generative concepts regarding this order. What lies ahead is the work of continuing to connect these concepts to empirical research on the one hand and the life of church communities on the other. This essay will focus on one of these concepts, which Loder calls "double negation," or sometimes "the negation of negation." While this concept has not been ignored by his readers, it has probably not received the full attention it deserves. Loder is best known for his model of transformation, and in one place he calls this concept of double negation "the key to transformation." This view he reiterates in The Transforming Moment, saying double negation is "essential to transformation." And in telling how certain images mediate transformation, he notes, "the centrality of double negation... cannot be overemphasized." As the Chalcedonian pattern is central to his christology, the pattern of double negation may be central to his pneumatology, especially understanding of how the human spirit and Holy Spirit work in the world.

Double Negation in Developmental Transformation

What then do these concepts mean - "negation" and "double negation"? Negation figures importantly in Hegel's philosophy, and the background to Loder's understanding may be Kierkegaard's critique of Hegel. The other important intellectual influences, Heidegger and Lévi-Strauss, also come into play. However, when illustrating "negation" to others, Loder referred most often to the developmental theory of René Spitz, bringing to it what he himself knew of the maternal bond and what he heard in the voice of the small child who first learns to say "No."

In the first year and a half of life, according to Spitz and Loder, the child goes through a remarkable sequence of changes. Initially the primary connection to the world is the child's mouth, through which she receives maternal nourishment. Then with the development of physical eyesight, attention focuses upon the mother's face, for this face composes the child's world. What matters most here is the loving presence of the other, a presence that can still be experienced if the child is physically blind or the primary caregiver is not the biological mother. (Loder notes how in both the Hebrew panîm and Greek prosopon, "face" and "presence" are the same word.)

In time, however, the child not only senses this loving presence, but also becomes more acutely aware of its absence: the child knows when the mother is leaving the room. Now anxiety over absence becomes the central feature and gripping conflict of the infant's life. The mother returns and the world is right again; but then the mother departs and the world falls apart. To exist so precariously is unendurable; instinctively the small child scans for a solution.... If I wail - if I cry out with full lung capacity, this gets the desired result. But then comes the day or the long night when the mother is simply not there; and eventually, painfully comes also the insight: I can learn to say "No."

What is going on here - why does the child learn to say "No" with such vigor and predictable repetition? Psychologically, such an act in later life could be called a "reaction formation," doing the opposite of what one wants to do, but with all the energy that would have been invested in the original deed. The child would like with all her heart to be able to say "Yes" to the mother's face, to say yes and to exist fully in this loving presence. But the anxiety of absence grows too intense; the child cannot let her identity be so wrapped up in the mother, in another. Thus the child learns to say in effect, "no - not you, but me." This move is formative for the creation of the ego; all the little "no's" the small child spouts help establish a separate identity. The parent's absence was already a form of "no"-saying; and then too even when the parents are there physically, their "gesture, word, and affect" may negate those of the child. In response, the child "incorporates negation and inflicts it upon the environment so as to carve out and defend an emerging autonomy against the incursions of [parental] negation." The child is developing an ego.

The ego is the most remarkable creation of the human spirit, the seminal act of human transformation. However, it is built on negation - on a repression of the longing to receive and give love. Hence this negation of the human spirit must in turn be negated, and the transformation it produces must in turn be transformed by the Holy Spirit. While the process of this double negation takes a lifetime, its correct "formula" can be found in Galatians 2:20, where Paul says: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Whereas the ego says, "not you, but me (or I)," the Christian here declares "I, yet not I, but Christ." Here Christ becomes the loving presence of the other, to whom one can say "yes" and not be afraid. In him is revealed the face of God that will never leave or forsake, but abide always.

This is the essential pattern of double negation, but more must be added to avoid misconstrual. Paul's ego here has been de-centered, or re-centered around Christ, but his sense of self is not swallowed up. After the negation of the "I," he still goes on to say, "the life I live in the flesh." In other words, he has an intimate dialectical identity, whereby the statement "I, not I, but Christ" is also in some sense reversible. There are times (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:12) where he says, "I, not the Lord...." As a general point, therefore, when Loder uses the term "double negation," he does not mean it simply in a mathematical sense whereby two negatives cancel each other out and become a positive. Rather double negation refers to a relationality, whereby whatever is good or redeemable within the first negation becomes saved, purified, and perfected through the mediation that negates it. At least this is the case where Christ mediates and God's Spirit governs the second negation.

As the Holy Spirit negates and reconstitutes the negation-based ego of the human spirit, so likewise are the "ego defenses" transformed when the self is centered in Christ. For example, "repression" - as an inhibition (negation) of activity or consciousness - becomes negated, and this capacity of the ego is reconstituted as patience and self-control. "Projection" - as a hiding (negating) of one's own feelings by placing them onto another - becomes negated, and this capacity is reconstituted as empathy. "Denial" - as an effort to deny (negate) the reality of a situation - becomes negated and reconstituted as part of the capacity to forgive and forget. "Fantasy formation" - as the negation of quotidian reality - becomes negated and resurrected in the capacity to embrace divine dreams and visions. "Reaction formation" - as the negation of an instinctive urge - becomes negated and redeemed in the ability to return good for evil. All of these double negations are transformational. As Loder uses the term, "transformation" is not simply a synonym for change but rather has a precise meaning: within a given frame of reference or experience, a new and hidden order emerges that has power to redefine the original frame and reorder its elements.

Double Negation across the Spectrum of Human Action and Divine-Human Interaction

Thus Loder uses "negation" to refer to many sorts of nullifications - such as "denial, reduction, minimizing, ignoring, perverting, and the like"; all of these are forms of no-saying that point ultimately to "nothingness and non-being." He finds the dynamics of negation and double negation at work across the whole spectrum of human action; he explains how by drawing on Talcott Parsons' depiction of this spectrum in terms of four overlapping spheres - organism, psyche, society and culture. In the sphere of the psyche, as just outlined, the ego with its seminal act of negation strives to ensure survival. Yet paradoxically, the ego grows to stifle and deaden the capacity to receive and give the love one needs truly to live. (In fact, says Loder, the ego "incorporates" death.) New life is given through double negation, in the faith that says, "I, not I, but Christ."

A parallel dynamic transpires at the level of society. Role structures are the social equivalent of ego defenses. They are meant to facilitate social interaction and thus to assure survival of the group. Yet when social roles predominate they deaden the longed-for intimacy that is the lifeblood of social relations. This negation also needs to be negated. Transformation occurs when the social group, as the Body of Christ, can come to say, "we, not we, but the koinonia of Christ." Once again a dialectical identity is given, in which both the unity of the group and the particularity of its members are deepened simultaneously.

At the level of culture, parallel dynamics occur in respect to language, the matrix of culture. Loder proposes, with reference to Paul Ricoeur, that "root metaphors" or "master images" are structures deeper than language. Equivalent to role structures in society and ego defenses in the psyche, these master images shape how language is used. Yet language also negates reality, not only when words are used intentionally to deceive, but because - as the long tradition of the hermeneutic of suspicion points out - even with the best of intentions, language may conceal as much as it reveals. And yet again, through God's Spirit this negation can be negated; by a kind of double negation, the Bible can become the life-giving Word of God.

Even at the level of organism, there is an inherent negation in the struggle to survive. As the body grows, it deteriorates; from the start of life it moves inexorably toward death, so negation is present from birth or before. Even in the idea of reincarnation the seeds of death are present at birth. Yet the hope of receiving a resurrection body can negate this organic negation. While some of the foregoing is an extrapolation of what Loder has written, I think it is consistent with his comprehensive application of the concept. He finds the dynamics of negation across the panoply of human action, and those of double negation in each divine and human interaction.

We can review the matter not only horizontally, across the whole range of human action, but also vertically, so to speak. Whether viewing reality "top down" or "bottom up," from biblical theology to quantum physics, the theme of double negation is equally in evidence. In the biblical account of original sin, Loder sees an analogy to the developmental negation just outlined. Drawing on Kierkegaard's analysis of anxiety, he notes how Adam and Eve enact a primordial negation. From face-to-Face interaction with God, they move to a posture of anxiety over God's command. The resolution to this anxiety is the negation, the no-saying, to a relationship of obedience with God. From this negation flow the consequences - their repressive hiding of nakedness, their loss of intimacy with God, their striving to earn life through labor. This negation stands in need of being negated through the free gift of life in Christ: to be hidden in him is to be found clothed in obedience and seated close to God in the heavenlies.

Moving from the heavenlies to the physical universe and from theology to science, negation is seen in the way that chaos dissipates systemized forms of energy, according to principles of thermodynamics. But the chaos theory of Prigogine and others proposes a kind of double negation. From the chaos, due to the interrelation of all things, "strange attractors" draw forth new kinds of order. Here science gives theological pointers: in addition to being the door or bread of life, Jesus Christ can be seen as "the ultimate 'strange attractor.'" For Loder, the physical universe gives more than metaphors for the spiritual realm; rather there is an analogous order between the two. Creation prefigures the new creation.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Are You There? Comedic Interrogation in the Life and Witness of James E. Loder Jr.1
IRedemptive Transformation within Ecclesial Praxis
1"Trampling Down Death by Death": Double Negation in Developmental Theory and Baptismal Theology43
2Biting and Chomping Our Salvation: Holy Eucharist, Radically Understood69
3The Way of Love: Loder, Levinas, and Ethical Transformation through Preaching95
4Transforming Encounter in the Borderlands: A Study of Matthew 15:21-28116
5Leadership and Serendipitous Discipleship: A Case Study of Congregational Transformation133
6Youth, Passion, and Intimacy in the Context of Koinonia: James E. Loder's Contributions to a Practical Theology of Imitatio Christi for Youth Ministry153
IIRedemptive Transformation of Practical Theology
7Remembering the Poor: Transforming Christian Practice189
8Paradigmatic Madness and Redemptive Creativity in Practical Theology: A Biblical Interpretation of the Theological and Methodological Significance of James E. Loder's Neo-Chalcedonian Science for the Postmodern Context216
9George Lindbeck and Thomas F. Torrance on Christian Language and the Knowledge of God252
10Transformational Narrative in a Non-Transformational Tradition279
11A Summary of James E. Loder's Theory of Christian Education298
IIIRedemptive Transformation beyond Practical Theology
12The Philosophical Turn to Relationality and the Responsibility of Practical Theology325
13The Heidegger in Loder (or, How the Nothing Became the Void): Provoking Wonder in Education347
14Loder and Mystical Spirituality: Particularity, Universality, and Intelligence373
Afterword: The Potential Contribution of James E. Loader Jr. to Practical Theological Science401

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