Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church


Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church is claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. To that end, he is reviewing the theology of three contemporary theologians whose thought is very integrative of Nature and Spirit from three very different approaches. In this post, Pastor Pat will apply philosopher Ken Wilber’s development stages of consciousness and his Integral Operating System to better locate the thought and metaphysical claims of Mark I. Wallace’s post-modern, rhetorical theology.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

Of the three theologians I have reviewed, Mark Wallace provides the strongest argument against metaphysics. His opposition is a necessary piece in his affirmation of postmodern thought and rhetorical methodology. Any system of thought that tries to get at the actual being or essence of a thing violates the claim of postmodernism that human perception is always perspectival.

Congruent with his rejection of metaphysics, Wallace is seeking to counter classical foundationalism, which claims that knowledge is a product of noninferential beliefs which form the basis of all other beliefs. Such foundational beliefs and values are considered to be immediately self-evident whether to the senses, or to reason, or to faith.  As such, they are considered to be preexistent of human thought or culture and to be embedded and therefore discernible in reality itself, whether naturally of by divine imposition.

Postmodern thought asserts that, whatever the noninferential existence of a thing is, human persons cannot know what such existence is or know it as such; so they cannot know whether or not the thing exists. The only perspective available to them is their constructed naming of the thing in relation to their constructed names of other things.  Such things as beliefs or values are also perspectival constructions in relation to the constructed names within a given cultural context. So, metaphysics, by claiming a knowledge that is simply not available to human persons is no longer intellectually plausible.  In this sense, humanity indeed lives in a postmetaphysical world.

What concerns me about Wallace’s rhetorical methodology is that he ends up with a very tenuous basis for his imaginative figurings. He acknowledges that his imagining of the Spirit as a life-form is an effort to reclaim some of the Pagan influences within the Bible.  Such constructs, however, can potentially result in a claim that a particular perspective represents an authoritative foundation for further thought, belief, and action.  What is needed is a way to locate a particular perspective within a particular worldview in relationship to other worldviews within the evolution of worldviews.

By philosopher Ken Wilber’s integral locating system, Wallace’s life-form would be located within the magic-animistic stage of cultural evolution and worldview development. “Life-form” would further be located within the third zone of awareness as part of the interior-collective or cultural quadrant of experience. The interesting thing here is that the perceiver, Mark Wallace, is not located at the magic-animistic or magic-mythic stage but is much further developed, at least at the pluralistic stage, which may illuminate the disharmony in his various imaging of the Spirit. In order to reclaim images from a previoius stage, they must be clearly relocated in the thought world of a current stage.  That is what I think Wallace fails to do.

Wallace focuses on the it of Nature and Spirit, but he does so as more of an interpersonal encounter, the We quadrant. His imaging of Spirit and its relationship to Nature is highly interpersonal and he is aware of the intersubjective nature of his figuring as well. Wallace’s refusal, however, to develop the interior aspect of spirituality, the I quadrant of experience, narrows the force of his contribution predominantly to ethics.

The lack of stability or certitude in the rhetorical approach may be troubling to some.  The problem is twofold: Is there any sound basis for a particular fictive figuring within a chosen hermeneutical circle (or circle of interpretation)? And does the imaginative discourse within a given hermeneutical circle have an actual referent?  I believe that, overall, Wallace has given good reasons to answer affirmatively to both. These however are the very limits that all statements of truth must admit and why faith itself is always a wager.

Next week I will begin the concluding discussion with my own presentation of the interdwelling of Nature and Spirit.

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