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on April 12, 2008
There is a marked difference between this lengthy volume and the short essay On Religion that John Caputo published in the Thinking in Action series. The former presupposed no prior knowledge of French philosophical debates or familiarity with the rhetoric of deconstruction. It appealed to all kinds of religious creeds or political proclivities, and offered a "big tent" religion where Neo-evangelicals as well as liberal Christians could find their place, along with non-believers and agnostics. And it drew its inspiration from popular culture sources as well as sacred texts to suggest the precepts of a "religion without religion" that did not offend anyone's creed or beliefs.

The Weakness of God takes up similar themes and ideas, but is much more narrow in its focus and in its appeal. Despite its claim that the kingdom of God welcomes outsiders and even drags people off the streets to the wedding banquet, there is definitely an insider flavor in this text written with an audience of fellow philosophers and social critics in mind. Readers who are not already members of the deconstructionist club will feel like the odd guest who cannot penetrate the private jokes and allusive references exchanged at the table. Some will even take offense at the quips and paradoxes that John Caputo offers, poking fun at the "long-robed ecclesiastical apparatchiks" or stating boldly that the first to enter the kingdom of God will be "gays and lesbians, illegal immigrants, unwed mothers, the HIV-positive, drug addicts, prisoners, and, after 9/11, Arabs." Clearly the book was not written to appeal to the Christian right.

I nonetheless find it a persuasive tract, especially for people of good faith who would like to believe but who always find their intellect getting in the way. In The Weakness of God, you won't find references to God as an almighty being with the power to intervene upon natural processes--what the author labels "strong theology", or the metaphysics of omnipotence, of miracles and divine interventions. Nor will you find any revelations about an afterlife that people would enter after they die (as Caputo notes, "we suffer from a scarcity of reliable reports from the other side"). Even on the issue of whether God exists as an identifiable entity, the author offers no final opinion, leaving the reader to find out by himself. As Caputo states, "I have not been authorized from on high to settle that venerable debate". And as Kierkegaard remarked, "if God were a giant green bird, and regularly and conspicuously appeared thus in the town square, there would be much less skepticism about him, but also less passionate faith."

For Caputo's faith is indeed passionate, and his weak theology should not be confused with a lack of enthusiasm or a disengagement from the divine call. John Caputo is not someone who "believes that he believes", as his fellow philosopher Gianni Vattimo puts it, he believes vehemently, and he is always praying and weeping for the coming of the kingdom. There is no contradiction between his passion for Christ and his lifelong engagement with the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, a French philosopher with a Jewish background who said of himself that he "rightly passes for an atheist." On the contrary, Caputo suggests that theologians could use "a dash of devilish derring-do from Derrida", and proposes, "in imitation of the Master who dined with sinners, to invite the theologians to sit down to table with deconstruction and other disreputable French sinners".

The consequence is that Caputo's theology of the event strongly reflects contemporary debates among French philosophers, and a familiarity with the works of Derrida, Levinas, Deleuze, Marion, and others, is a prerequisite to penetrate the intricacies of this book. If there were a separate denomination for deconstructionists, then John Caputo would be its vicar. The kingdom of God that he calls for, a "kingdom without sovereignty" where the only rule "is the rule of the unruly, of the weak and foolish", can only be compared to the annual meeting of the Cultural Studies Association. But his pursuit of what Derrida calls the "weak force of the unconditional that lack sovereignty" can also claim the authority of the Apostle, as the whole book explores the paradoxical consequences of Paul's proclamation about the "weakness of God" in 1 Cor. 1:29.

As the author points out, The Weakness of God could very well have been published in Slavoj Zizek's Short Circuits collection, were it not for the Slovenian editor's despise for "weak thinking" and deconstructionist talk. Caputo's idea is "to stop thinking about God as a massive ontological power line that provides power to the world, and instead start thinking of something that short-circuits such power and provides a provocation to the world that is otherwise than power." He produces a series of short circuits between canonical texts and modern writings, between the Book of Books and the cultural studies' curriculum. Here the Genesis narrative of creation is crossed by Babylonian myths as recorded by feminist scholar Catherine Keller, the wedding feast of Matt. 22:1-14 is paralleled with the maddest hatter's party imagined by Lewis Carroll (as read by Deleuze), the resurrection of Lazarus is read along the miracle of the child in Levinas' Totality and Infinity, and there is a strong similarity between the kingdom of God and the rule of the gift, of justice, of hospitality, and of forgiveness that form the ethico-political horizon of deconstruction.

For John Caputo, the act of healing a man on the Sabbath is an act of deconstruction. The title of his latest essay suggests a line for a bumper sticker that his readers may wish to use: What Would Jesus Deconstruct?
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on October 1, 2008
Philosophically superb, theologically sublime, and politically subversive; an irresistable examination of the destabilizing impact and revolutionary event contained in the kingdom of God: the reign of those least likely to rule, according to rules entirely unsuited for the rulers of this world; a holy anarchy and sacred subversiveness rooted in unruly banquets and frivolous economics provoked by lillies in the field: powerless, forceless, weak and unassuming...unable to demand anything, yet still entirely irresistable, irrepressable, and uncondtional; a truly brilliant attempt to answer Augustine's ancient question: What do I love when I say I that love God?; a crying hermeneutics that explores the meaning of our tears and what it means to cry to God, at God, about God, without God; a prayer for the good of theology, trying to find the best of theology in how well it prays; do not be deterred by Levinas, Heidegger, Badiou, Zizek or Derrida...this is a learned dialogue with St. Paul...a lover's quarrel between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche...a heartfelt plea and tearfilled prayer...a wreckless dive into tehomic depths...hoping without hope to find the power of love in the God of the weak. Little in the field of philosophy of religion compares to this book: theologians and philosophers may disagree, but they have yet to say it as well as Caputo does. Will read it again and again and again.
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on November 24, 2013
Reading John D. Caputo's The Weakness of God. Wow, what a beautiful work of philosophy and theology and ethics. And about time. Jacques Derrida invited both the philosophers and the theologians to a grand party at the end of the universe, and almost no one has shown up for the party -- I think people mostly dismiss Derrida, feel threatened by what they think he wrote, and completely miss the whole point of his project. Anyway, Caputo showed up for the party.

He brought wine, too.

Very worth a read.

P.S. To the reviewer John Brooks:
1. No. Philosophers don't need to "prove" a thesis. That isn't their job. That's what we have mathematicians and, loosely speaking, scientists for.
2. Respectfully, you might find the evidence you're looking for if you read beyond the introduction.
3. Caputo never states that strong theology is wrong. He just calls us to account for getting so seduced by strong theology that we've missed/haven't considered the tantalizing call of a weak theology. He doesn't say that God doesn't exist; he says that the question of whether God exists is irrelevant to weak theology, which is not about whether God is, but what God calls us for. For that reason, he defines the name of God not as the name of a Being but as a call for our response. It's a beautiful book, and if you realized that he hasn't dismissed your beliefs at all -- they just aren't relevant to what he's trying to share with you -- you might be less inclined to dismiss him out of hand based on his introduction, and hear him out.
4. The words/reality issue as you have laid it out isn't actually what differance means. John, it sounds as though you think deconstruction is an urge to tear down everything because nothing means anything and all names and all language is arbitrary. And, naturally, you would have a really kneejerk reaction and dismiss that. But that's actually not what deconstruction is. Deconstruction is the practice of (1) treating every name and every position as contingent and (2) checking for what that name or that statement left out.

Contingence:
If you're a deconstructionist, you treat every name and every statement as contingent because you recognize that every time you say something, something else is left out -- there's a "remainder." For example, when a church praises "God Almighty" and defines God as all-powerful, there's a remainder, something left out: in this case, all those verses about "the weakness of God" and the "still, small voice." Or when we write a law, there is a remainder, someone who gets left out, a voice that isn't heard, a situation where justice is left unserved. Or you can think about the remainder as a gap between an "event" and the "name" with which you describe it. For example, justice is an "event" that we are always looking for; it is always about to arrive; it is always a possibility, and it is (so far) never complete. Yet the law we speak or write is entirely unable to describe the totality of justice. Between the law and justice, there is a gap. It might be a little gap or a big gap, but there's a gap.

Checking for the remainder:
The first part of deconstruction is recognizing that every name is contingent, and the second part is the playful yet urgent search for the remainder -- the search for what/who got left out in that naming. It's an exercise that "deconstructs" something we have constructed, because what we constructed left something out. Deconstructionists see as dangerous our tendency to hold so tightly to the name/label/written statements/creeds that we've constructed that we neglect or forget to ask, "What (or who) did we leave out?" We neglect to ask because we're afraid the answer would deconstruct what we've constructed with so much labor. We're afraid to take such a risk. But unless we risk it, we won't be able to narrow the gap between, for example, the "name" of the law and the "event" of justice.

That's deconstruction. And that's a really useful way of thinking, a useful way TO think. Caputo's book takes that and applies it to theology and ethics, and does so in a compelling and provocative way.

Stant Litore
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on January 17, 2007
This is a beautifully written book. In light of the current global situation, this book will be welcome to some. Yet Caputo's project has severe limitations. In terms of substance, 'theology of the event' amounts to deconstruction adorned with alot of god talk. Caputo, let alone Derrida, provides no way of talking about 'sin', that rather unpopular word that implicates us all in the problem of violence. Waxing poetic about the world and the powerless can amount to bad faith when one rejects a framework for thinking agency, and especially if one doesn't emphasize the contingency of violence. Given Derrida's Nietzschean insistence on the neccesity of violence, taken with Caputo's uncritical fidelity to Derrida, it is clear that Caputo creates unsolvable problems for his position, especially if it claims to be Christian.

If you are interested in philosophy/theology of weakness, I would recommend Benjamin & Adorno, or Metz and Moltmann, over Caputo.
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on December 23, 2013
This book is likely to experience harsh critiques by a number of people. However, it is definitely a very interested read, and Caputo's thoughts are sure to make people think about how to define, or even think of, God.
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on July 25, 2014
Very important approach to basic Christian theological questions!
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on February 26, 2015
Amazing book.
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on February 3, 2015
Wonderful!
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on December 1, 2013
It is essential to me to keep abreast of recent Protestant theology. This book is a must in the field.
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on November 25, 2006
What a gift of a book, one coming upon us just in the nick of time!
Just as fundamentalists of all persuasions--who worship the tiny and pathetic god of power--
have propelled us over the edge and unto unspeakable brutality and grief;
here comes the antidote via John Caputo--one of our most trusted and original thinkers.

Caputo has simply brought to the forefront what is the most explicit reading of the Gospel,
in particular in the Beatitudes and the parables
(for those who have eyes that see and ears that hear, that is):
the God of Jesus is the total antithesis and full contradiction of power.
The consequence of this stand offers us a truly revolutionary turn in thinking about God.

In a nutshell this is what Caputo daringly and poetically says at the end of the book:

"The 'Kingdom of God' is a celebration of the blessed event of the foundering of the 'world,'
of the excess and open-ended shock that is delivered to the world by God.
The truth of the event harbored by the name of God triggers the potencies that stir in things,
releasing their pent-up charges of divinity, rocking the world with the shock of the divine.
The result is the grace, the graciousness, the aleatory gratuitousness of the gift,
the water-into-wine madness of the kingdom, the divine sparks of the sacred anarchy."

Regarding what he means by 'event,' here I paraphrase from the introduction:

Event cannot be held captive by a confessional faith or creedal formula.
An event cuts across the distinctions among the various confessions, and
even across the distinction between the confessional faiths and secular unbelief,
in order to touch upon a more elemental quality of our lives...
It would be better to say that the event is the subject matter,
not of a confession, but of a circum-fession in which we 'fess up' to being cut and wounded
by something wondrous, by something I know not what...

The event happens to us: overtakes us and outstrip the reach of the ego.
An event is not our doing but it is done to us (even as it might well be our undoing).

An event is an excess, an overflow, a surprise... an uncontainable incoming.

An event refers to an impulse as aspiration simmering within... somethings that groans to be born.

Event overflows any entity;
it does not rest easily within the confines of the name of an entity,
but stirs restlessly, endlessly, like an invitation or a call, an invocation ('come')
or a provocation, a solicitation or a promise...
Event is a disturbance within the heart of being that makes being restless.

Truth is more like night than a light, and the event itself is as risky as it is promising.
Truth is something one needs to have the heart for, the courage to cope with or expose oneself to...

The movement of the event has to do with a transforming moment that releases us
from the grip of the present and opens up the future in a way that makes possible a new birth,
a new invention of ourselves...

Event is not what is present but what is coming.

Theology tries to follow the tracks of the name of God,
to stay on the trail it leaves behind as it makes its way through our lives...

The name of God is a word forged in the fires of life.

....

And on and on Caputo goes with searing phrases that burn dead-letter clutter to ashes
and thus clear a space for new growth to just happen.
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