A Beautiful Bricolage

Theopoetics as God-Talk for Our Time

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Silas C. Krabbe
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Wipf & Stock Publishers
    , June
     2016.
     162 pages.
     $21.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781498295352.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Pitching pitches, rushing rivers, and worlding words—these are but a few of the images that lace and grace this work on theopoetics. Using the “slipperiness” of language to his advantage, Silas C. Krabbe invites us to think, imagine—and perhaps even create—a God otherwise than God has been theologized in the past. A Beautiful Bricolage: Theopoetics as God-Talk for Our Time is an apt foray into theopoetics that uses the creative power, play, and elasticity of language to its advantage. This introductory text, though small, has an abundance of fruitful information requisite for our current age. Although some of the material is geared towards a more academic audience, it remains largely accessible to the average reader, and certainly to those naïve to theopoetics. Krabbe’s thesis for the book is that theopoetics is “a relevant and viable option for contemplating, discussing, and speaking the divine in the early twenty-first century” (4).

What is theopoetics? Although Krabbe does want the reader to have an answer to this question by the end of the book, he is concerned with how this information is conveyed. For theopoetics is as much—if not more—concerned with how it conveys what it conveys, than in what it conveys. This is to say that the form of theopoetics is what it is trying to convey. Rather than just a way of writing, theopoetics is an embodied way of being-in-the-world that includes writing, speaking, acting, experiencing, and thinking. Therefore, instead of writing in a strictly clear and explicit fashion, Krabbe writes in such a way as to invite the reader to come to an understanding of theopoetics on its/their own terms. On this matter, he writes that “the structure, the rhetoric, and the moments of precision and clarity must serve their purpose within a larger framework that resists conventional constraints of propositional, geometric, and analytic forms of argumentation” (13). But not wanting to frighten off any readers, Krabbe makes himself available as a trusty guide, providing maps, guidelines, and signposts to help ensure that the reader will not get lost.

Why theopoetics? Perhaps the most obvious and pertinent answer is that it provides a new, positive, and relevant way to talk about and understand God. Krabbe relates that many of those that venture into theopoetics do so as a response to more sterile forms of language; they feel that, and Krabbe quotes from Amos Wilder’s Theopoetic (Academic Renewal Press, 2001), “the theme of divinity requires a dynamic and dramatic speech” (35). Further, theopoetics allows each person to take on a more active role in their understanding of themselves, their relation to the world, and God.

As a rough framework for this venture into theopoetics, Krabbe delineates six questions that motivate the work that theopoets do. These are: (1) How do we move forward? (2) Who am I? (3) Can humans communicate with the divine? (4) How are humans participants in communication? (5) What do humans need to be freed from? and (6) How do we engage power? Although these questions are important to ask in the venture of theopoetics, their function is not to necessarily lead to answers—at least not to full ones. In this sense, the function of questions in theopoetics is not to lead to hard and fast answers, or answer at all, but rather to have one’s questions deepened. The mystery of God and life (are they not the same?) is expanded, then, and not contracted, as has been the case in much of theology. That answers are not the aim of theopoetics is made clear by Krabbe in the title to the fourth chapter of the book: “Aims: Not-Answers.” Avoiding answers per se is a way of keeping the discourse open to future possibilities, to the “to-come,” to that which we don’t know. Krabbe suggests eight aims of those working in theopoetics: holding together, intending exuberance, making space, (re)locating transcendence, embodiment, individuals, responsibility, and new life. These general aims act as guidelines or loose boundaries within which theopoets can direct their energies.

Although Krabbe is reacting against excarnating moves in the history of theology, his move toward a more embodied way of knowing and talking about God is one that focusses on the whole body, a “recognition of embodied knowing, wherein the entire human participates in bodily communication, not merely cognitively” (36). There is a certain fear that theopoets will toss out the baby of theology or Christian doctrine tout court with the bathwater of its negative aspects and legacy. This fear is legitimate, as there is an impulse for the pendulum to swing far from theology in a reaction against its abstractions, polarizing and repressive views, and stultifying language. However, Krabbe writes, “theopoetics is more than a hybrid of theology and poetry” (14). This is because theopoetics is not merely another way of thinking, another metaphysical jumping through the hoops; rather, it is a way of being-in-the-world, and as such, it “attempts to speak at the intersection of spiritual and material reality without compromising either side” (13-14).

But, in all the talk about the human dimension, about the need for questioning, for restructuring hierarchies, and liberating the oppressed, what becomes of God? As delineated above, theopoetics wants to avoid nailing down the definition of God. Its discourse is designed to free not only humans from oppression, but God as well. It seeks to keep its God-talk open to new possibilities, the ‘to-come’, the fanciful and unusual ways in which God may be known and may show up. To some theopoets, God is not something that is, but is that which is done (43-44). For others, God is the Word that becomes enfleshed through our response (51). In this sense, God remains a type of possibility that becomes actualized through our response. Krabbe is clear, though, that there is diversity of voices in theopoetical discourse, and so there is a diversity of understandings of God. Based on the wide variety of human life experiences—and Krabbe admits his limitation of only examining the discourses of mostly male authors operating within an academic and North American mindset—the ways in which we understand God, the ways in which God can, and does, show up, must needs be varied.

Krabbe ends his book where he begins: with a sense of undecidability and uncertainty about his conclusions. Although theopoetics is a wager, a perhaps, and never a certainty—and so the “to-come” may be wonderful or may provoke nightmares—Krabbe ends on a hopeful note. While theopoetics does not guarantee an outcome, he believes that it provides “a space in which new life might spring (both grow and flow) forth” (124). It is this hopeful stance that Krabbe stitches through the whole of his work, and it is what allows him to write in conclusion: “My desire is that what is to come might not be a hopeless shot in the dark but rather a shot in the dawn” (123).

 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mark Novak is a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

Date of Review: 
September 25, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Silas C. Krabbe is the Community Theologian and Coordinator at Mosaic Church located in Vancouver's downtown eastside, one of Canada's poorest neighborhoods.

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