I believe that 'power' is one of the most important of these theological remnants. Power is a 'naturally' theological problem in that no matter where or how it is exercised - politically, militarily, socially, within the family, the firm, or the charitable organisation - it provokes the question of its legitimacy and its ultimate source. God, for Caputo, is neither a set of doctrinal propositions nor a fixed point of belief, nor a sovereign power or authority. Caputo conceives of God in a similar way, as an 'event'. "The name of God is powerful because it is the name of our hope in the contract Elohim makes with things when he calls them 'good', when he calls them to the good...The name of God is the name of an unconditional promise not of unlimited power". Caputo spends a great deal of thought on the biblical Kingdom of God.
As anyone familiar with liberation theology can attest, the dominant understanding of God and his relationship to humanity is based upon a narrative articulated and perpetrated by the powerful. In undermining this dominant theological narrative, liberation theology has to look at God from the point of view of the oppressed. Caputo is a professional philosopher and a leading figure in offering theological interpretations of the thought of Jacques Derrida. The core arguments can probably be grasped by the layperson if she is patient and doesn't mind glossing over various lemmas and forays into the more esoteric aspects of philosophy. While the book offers excellent theoretical material for deconstructing dominant theological narratives, it doesn't offer a formula for liberation.
But in The Weakness of God, for the first time, Caputo undertakes to speak of God from within the context of Christian belief and not merely as a philosophical spectator standing on the outside. The Weakness of God thus turns on a kind of postmodern process theology, where the world is dominated by all the violence of being and power but is bathed in a love of God that is beyond being and beyond power. It is here that I am both most moved by this book and least impressed by it; I can't help but feel that if a theology is truly deconstructive, it must abstain from the sort of hard claims that deny the orthodox view of God as a being with at least some form of power, and offer this image of a weak God as a non-metaphysical "supplement" to the tradition. But still, what's not to love about a writer who can craft such beautiful phrases as these?: "We are incited by the powerless power of some quiet provocation, like the words 'good, good.
It is a new way of thinking that is helpful, but I would not go nearly as far as he does.
I read this theology of the event as a vision of God who is not a powerful agent of change, but rather a co-inhabitant in the fabric of reality, one that can be experienced or exposed. Beyond this, if God does not occupy a place of authoritarian control, as an agent of change, how can the essence of this non-structure be enforced or intentionally dis-ordered? If we hear God playing on the string of time at the weakest and most penetrable intersections of realitys web, we may stumble upon a tear and be momentarily exposed to Gods calling out of us our beauty and goodness. Caputo says, To ask God to give us the gift of time is to ask for the most eye-opening moments and to expose us to the most impossible, unforeseeable things.
Caputo is a philosopher, and this is his first book of theology, so this is no surprise. There is some assumption that the reader has an understanding of previous classical philosophical writing, and the points made in the book are framed as arguments, referencing and building on these old theses. For example, in Chapter Ten (my favourite), on forgiveness, Caputo argues for some very interesting and beautiful ideas about the nature of forgiveness in the Kingdom of God, and its power to free the forgiven to repent and act rightly, while removing the need to do so. The chapter reads as though Caputo is commenting on the very childish Sunday School idea that we must be forgiven, without any understanding of what it means to be justified, a far heartier and deeper truth. Caputo is simply a far more well read philosopher than theologian, and of this the reader should be aware, so as not to take his presentation of theology at face value. Though it is as anarchist as any Christian Anarchist book I've ever read, it is not anarchist in any meaningfully practical way. However, Caputo stops short of suggesting how such interesting ideas might meaningfully impact the Christian's relationship with the Divine or be practically demonstrated in their relationship to others. The book did not convince me of Caputo's view of God as a "weak force". Still, I found in Caputo's provocative reconsideration of Paul's "weakness of God" in 1 Corinthians, and his application of these ideas to the Creation accounts much to be considered. To any reader who already has this foundation, and an interest in radical theology and philosophical anarchism, I do recommend this book.
Some parts of this book are beautiful and deeply moving, (almost) poetic reflections on the 'reign of God' through Caputo's Derridian/Levinasian hermeneutics.
I'm read this in order to write an article for a theological journal on "prayer and providence," in John Caputo's theology. His thinking has a prayer, but he can't provide the gas to get me where I want to go.
Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University.