viernes, abril 21, 2017

Digital theory: what does Jerusalem have to do with Facebook?

Conectividad. Source:
Raúl Méndez Yáñez, Mexico

“Theology is the poems that we weave as webs about the nostalgia of something whose name we have forgotten”
– Rubem Alves1

Weaving these poems, theology has historically used metaphors taken from macro-social contexts. When theology was born, repudiated by Tertulianus and praised by Justin Martyr, the metaphors were Jerusalem and Athenas2; later St. Augustine elaborates a complex theological system, a synthesis of the times, from the civitas model, last bastion of the glories passed of the Roman Empire.3 The problem of the universals in the High Middle Ages had, as sociocultural background, the disputes between the church and the crown, and, provided that the argument was nominalist or realist, the Body of Christ was given a relevant category that included the temporal or only the transcendental, respectively.4

In the Reformation, during the height of the northern monarchies of Europe, protestant theology will use metaphors such as “King” for speaking of God and “mercies” for his favors, as well as “servant” for his children, among other metaphors from the imaginary of the times.5 To conclude with this initial historical slicing, we could mention that the theology of the New World is born in the context of the Age of Discoveries, of journeys and meetings with other peoples. In those times, the sermons of the missionaries privileged the universalistic rhetoric of the Old Testament’s prophets, which they found to be very close to their own situation. In particular, the metaphor of the church as a “ship” that conquers its fate in the seas was famously known.6

Without any doubt, it is possible to continue with this overview of the influence of macro-social context in theological metaphors, and to see that puritan and pious theologies develop in contexts of social vulnerability for reformist and Lutheran groups respectively; liberal theology appears during the height of capitalism; dialectical theology during its first big crisis at the beginning of the 20th century. It is even possible to see how the Bultmannian demythologization (so misunderstood and reduced to disproving the Bible) carries with it the European pre-war optimism, which is why it is not strange that Bultmann became the boogeyman of the post-war in the United States.

It is not an objective of this article to deconstruct the history of theology from these links –context/theological metaphor. Gibbelini has already made one of the greatest efforts on that field, including the liberation theologies and the diverse “third world” movements (where there are also native and Afro-American theologies).7 We are also not trying to point out that theology “adapts” to the times, because, in fact, this has been serious work for theology; and nowadays, each day more often, it seems to be doing it less than before. What we are trying to point out is that the macro-social or systemic contexts create the epistemological horizon from which theology works, be it to deny or condemn the world or to seek its transformation.

One last example in this sense comes from border churches, those that are formed by migrants and under intercultural situation. If the Afro-American, native, and liberation theologies focused their attention on the Exodus’s event, the Chicano exegesis in the border of Mexico and the United States have moved the focus of attention to the desert, and have linked “pilgrimaging” with “migrating”, which it even has an impact on hymnology.8 It should be noted that such “migration” in Mexico’s northern border is, in a sense, stable, and real tabernacles of the desert have been made, where catholic and evangelical migrants congregate. The opposite occurs in the southern border and the path that goes from Chiapas to Rio Bravo, a schedule of constant mobility and greater vulnerability, where there are just small refugee cities, migrant houses, and the urgency for living produces a theology of the day’s survival, un-thematized, less systematized and also non-verbalized, because it is carried on the feet and the wandering hearts.

New metaphors

Theological discipline from the second decade of the third millennium faces a scene of unique digital and global interconnection, leaving other historical contexts behind. This new paradigm of socialization can be understood by using the reformist metaphor of the “invisible church”: a non-localized community, spread over the Earth and possessing a characteristic gift –in this case, the ability of interfacing with Internet9 This new paradigm of connectivity influences, without any doubt, theology, but only in terms of the channel of communication –it has not yet penetrated on theological epistemology. As an example of the former, it can be seen how many Christians, among their numerous Facebook friends, congregations are found that each day hang from their walls edifying commentaries and links, even memes; the Bible can finally be carried on our hands as if it were phylactery, inside the case of a Smartphone, and you can be a follower of Jesus on Twitter, through his diverse ecclesiastic representatives and also through the christian entertainment industry10, including authors, musicians, soccer players and other sportspersons, even comedians.

But until now, academic theology has remained aside from that and keeps using paradigms and metaphors from other yesterdays. We can note, as an example, Rold Rendtroff’s recent statements about the Yahwist source. Causing a great controversy, this Old Testament’s exegesis veteran has pointed out that the last bastion of Graff-Wellhausen’s hypothesis has fallen. After the evanescence of the E source, the non-distinguishable character of D regarding the rest of the Deuteronomistic corpus, and the diversity of P, which does not seem to have just one or two crystallizations, but rather a kaleidoscope of contents hardly reducible to a “source”, Rendtroff points out that the Yhawist, the J source, suffers from similar methodology identification problems. To sustain it, he uses the following metaphor from modern architecture: “The Yahwist has gone, and he has closed down the building where he lived, because no one was living there anymore”11

Le Corbusier and his followers could very well understand Rendtroff’s insight from this urban narrative, but today, it is argued, it would be better to say that J had an account on Hi5, but little by little his contacts did not have recent activities, and in the end he himself decided to leave that social network.

The new digital context must be assumed by the theological discipline so as to generate new developments and take advantage from the new epistemological horizon of reality for the interpretation of the biblical text. That is to say, not just as a “channel”, but also as a macro-social paradigm of theological development from which one can generate new interpretative metaphors. As Ricoeur pointed out, the metaphor “is more the solution to an enigma than a comparison”12 The metaphor seeks to unravel realities by joining opposing elements, prima facie, of implausible relation, but in the end, heuristic. As we have seen in our brief historical outline, this has been characteristic of Christian theology. Why should we not speak today using web metaphors? Not for comparison purposes, but with a true epistemological sense (or referential function of language), as the powerful classic metaphors have. One last example: the term “imputation”, so important for soteriology, is a term from accounting which was of common use in the 19th13 century, and its origin in a non-theological context was no difficulty to organize a great deal of the way of understanding grace in Anglo-Saxon protestantism.

In this era of swift changes, and where accounting is not done anymore in “books”, but by using a software, there is a lack of commentaries that analyze a Pauline epistle as a Facebook wall, exegesis that understand the Proverbs were a group of trending topics, and the most famous verses from the hashtag logic of Twitter. It would be very useful to set up the “commentaries” function to Dogmatics, and that it could become a global construction, accepting, as many YouTube trademarks, all the likes and dislikes, as well as new contributions. Google can be a spirituality model, where if it important to find God, it is even more important to remain in constant search. We need theological titles of the type: “Flickr as a model for the study of the doctrine of Creation. God showing his works”, and an analysis of the psalms of thanksgiving as an update of Yahweh’s credentials in a cosmic LinkedIn.

It is not stretching too far to point out that Christ’s death can be understood, without lightness or heresy, as the generous action of setting up a Wi-Fi to connect freely to the life of the Maker, but only those which are chosen by God have the password, and they are the only ones that need it and desire it. And sin, well, sin is the intermittence of the signal that ruins a valuable download.
Digital theology is not one that works in a cabinet or field for then uploading its findings to the web, it is one that reflects about God and his works from a new configuration of humanity that now weaves its nostalgia by using webs of optical fiber.

This article was translated by Nicolás Manfredi and reviewed by Alfredo Francis, under the grant “God's Evolution” awarded to the Science and Faith Centre (Spain) by the BioLogos Foundation (USA).

  1. Cited in CERVANTES-ORTIZ, Leopoldo, Series de sueños. Playful-erotic-poetic theology of Rubem Alves, Basilea Center of Investigation and Support A.C., Mexico, 2003, p.17
  2. Cf. GONZALEZ, Justo, Historia del cristianismo I. De la época de los mártires a la época de los sueños frustrados, UNILIT, Miami, 1999.
  3. AGUSTIN, La Ciudad de Dios, Editorial Porrúa, Mexico, 2000.
  4. COPLESTON, Frederick, Historia de la filosofía 2. De San Agustín a Escoto, Ariel, Barcelona, 2011.
  5. CALVINO, Juan, Institución de la Religión Cristiana, Nueva Creación, 1991.
  6. See declarations exquisitely selected in MAYER, Alicia, Lutero en el Paraíso. La Nueva España en el espejo del reformador alemán, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 2008, p. 253.
  7. GIBELLINI, Rosino, La teología del siglo XX, Sal Terrae, Santander, 1998.
  8. RAMIREZ, Dan, Alabaré a mi Señor: Cultura e ideología en la himnología protestante Latina, en MARTINEZ, Juan y Luis Scott (eds.), Iglesias peregrinas en busca de identidad. Cuadros del protestantismo en los Estados Unidos, Kairós Ediciones, Buenos Aires, 2004, pp. 207-234.
  9. This metaphor has been evoked in MÉNDEZ YÁÑEZ, Raúl, Narratividad y religiosidad identitaria juvenil en las redes sociales Hi5 y Facebook, en HERNANDEZ, Alberto, Nuevos Caminos de la fe. Prácticas y creencias al margen institucional, School of the Northern Border, Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, School of Michoacan, Mexico, 2011.
  10. The term “entertainment industry” has been borrowed from MARTEL, Frédéric, Cultura Mainstream. Cómo nacen los fenómenos de masas, Taurus, Madrid, 2011.
  11. RENDTROFF, Rolf, What Happened to the Yahwist? Reflections after Thirty Years, online, April 2, 2011, Available:
  12. RICOEUR, Paul, Teoría de la interpretación. Discurso y excedente de sentido, Editorial Siglo XXI, Mexico. 2001.
  13. WARFIELD. Benjamin, “Imputation” in Estudios Bíblicos y Teológicos, Editorial CLIE, Barcelona, 1991, pp. 259-250.

Raúl Méndez Yáñez is pastor of the Comunidad Eucarística Ecuménica, lecturer at the Comunidad Teológica de México and Consultant Insighter in LEXIA Insights Solutions. He is also member of the Comunión Mexicana de Iglesias Reformadas y Presbiterianas. Social Anthropologist gratuated from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Iztapalapa, with studies of theology at the Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano de México.

Nota importante: El objetivo de la sección de comentarios, es facilitar a los lectores un espacio para compartir sus propias opiniones. Por lo que, para garantizar una adecuada interacción, le pedimos encarecidamente que todo comentario lo realice dentro de un marco de respeto, se remita únicamente al tema publicado, y que no supere las 500 palabras. También recomendamos evitar una cantidad excesiva de comentarios en un solo tema, para así no "monopolizar" la discusión. Gracias de antemano.