[Common Places] New Voices for Theology: Taylor Ruiz-Jones’s “From Siesta to Sabbath”

Franz Bibfeldt on April 1st, 2015. Tagged under ,,.

Franz Bibfeldt

Franz Bibfeldt (PhD, University of Worms) was one of the most penetrating participants in and observers of twentieth century theology, whose work, ranging from the historiographic to the philosophical and back again, was honored in a festschrift The Unrelieved Paradox: Studies in the Theology of Franz Bibfeldt.

A2-finalIn a world of contemporary systematic theologies so often dominated by approaches committed to retrieval, Taylor Ruiz-Jones steps into the fray and signals a critical path forward. I use the word “critical” in its fulsome sense: gesturing toward its methodological approach and noting its contextual significance. My remarks will be brief, but I trust illumining in leading into this work.

Taylor Ruiz-Jones’s From Siesta to Sabbath: A Theology of Pause and Play follows an orderly sequence with a playful tone. First, it addresses the analytics of pause and play, and in so doing it engages in philosophical discussion regarding the appropriate foundations to a Christian and critical approach to dialectic. An excursus reorients the modern documentary hypothesis along Sabbatological lines by tracing redactional layers related to evolving thoughts about worship and leisure in ancient Israel (the interrogation of eco-feminist dating of Num. 12 on p. 222 demonstrates the poverty of approaches that only consider the final form of the text). Second, it turns to the aesthetics of pause and play, suggesting confidently that an analogy of play succeeds in transcending Roman Catholic/Protestant debates regarding analogy (i.e., the analogia entis or analogia fidei). This new approach to analogy funds Ruiz-Jones’s reflections on late modernity, wherein she engages David Hart’s analysis of the Nietzschean optics of the market, arguing that Nietzsche, far from being responsible for the aggressive isolation of the restful individual, actually sublimates and sustains a vital, non-essentialist approach to human flourishing and pause. The final chapter in this section (“Life with Largesse”) includes significant portions of Spanish-language text in which Ruiz-Jones transmits to us the Sabbatological insights of the Salamancan school and focuses upon their Eucharistic, political, and imaginative resources. Third, the tour de force concludes with three chapters engaging the ascetics of pause and play and proposing a phronetic way beyond the impasse of Bildung and Wissenschaft. Here my own corpus is brought into conversation, fruitfully and critically, with elements of Puritan (technically drawing from the Dutch Nadere Reformatie) sabbatarianism. Ruiz-Jones argues, ultimately and convincingly, that self-denial and siesta are neither isolated nor conflated, but eucharistically reconciled through the apocalyptic invasion of the eternal Sabbath rest.

How does the author reshuffle our thoughts regarding siesta and Sabbath? In turn, arenas of analytic, aesthetic, and ascetical debate find not only exploration but truly imaginative exposition. As for myself, I’m fully convinced of his re-reading of my own corpus and believe that the author has identified an underappreciated development from my early dialectical thought and my purportedly mature apocalyptic approach to vacation, rest, and pause (brilliantly showing a genuine fissure between my Both/And and my later Luther’s Theology of Vacation—see comments on pp. 98, 114, and especially 783). My only remaining critique on this front is that Ruiz-Jones does not address the resources in Luther’s theology that inform my own developments and, thus, misses some potential ramifications for interpreting the Perkins-Elleboogius debate (contra the understatement of my exegesis of Luther’s de Servo Arbitrio on pp. 186-187). In so doing, the author also undersells the significance of this thesis, for it addresses not only my dialectics but those of the German Reformer himself.

Where shall we go from here? Rarely does the work of a young scholar demonstrate such brio and follow through with consistent erudition and intellectual force. It is perhaps too soon to speak of a “siesta school” in Sabbatology, but I trust that this volume will come to dominate this field of inquiry for years to come. The author suggests (p. 111 fn. 3b) that a forthcoming work on the sabbatology of Bultmann’s homiletics will no doubt demonstrate the fruitfulness of this program for practical theology. Future doctoral theses and monographs by others ought to explore ways in which the analogy of play might inform the full panoply of Christian doctrinal loci.

Perhaps I may be allowed a personal comment on the present theological scene, prompted by the penetrating proposal found and modeled by Ruiz-Jones. The time is ripe for this sort of reflection. We have needed a Barth deemed worthy of association not only with Schleiermacher but also with Stringfellow. We have needed an Elleboogius capable of embracing the critical comments of Perkins. We have needed a postmetaphysical theologian willing to tackle David Hart’s aesthetics on the Nietzschean terrain to which it lays claim. In short, we have needed someone willing to stand up to those who would summon us to retrieval, ressourcement, and remembrance. We have needed all these and more. In this volume, we not only learn of pause and play, but we see our needs played before us beautifully and we are given pause to consider the seismic significance of their performance herein. For years now, I have mused that I might be the last remaining Protestant theologian. Like Moses gazing across the River Jordan, however, I see in the work of Ruiz-Jones a promised land ahead. My people, those willing to critically rethink analytics, aesthetics, and ascetics, are journeying into a restful and a playful time. I shall be satisfied if this new voice in theology finds an audience of listeners capable of journeying across that river and joining that siesta dance, wherein the perichoretic and the paradisiacal kiss each other (see the figural reading of Joshua 2:12 on pp. 408-445).   

We conclude where Ruiz-Jones does: “Only by assuming the form of a ceaseless practice of pause, however—even in enduring the Sabbath always borne by the body of Christ—can Christian rhetoric demonstrate and persuade that this, at the last, is the play of an infinite fugue” (p. 809).

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Franz Bibfeldt (PhD, University of Worms) was one of the most penetrating participants in and observers of twentieth century theology. His work, ranging from the historiographic to the philosophical and back again, has been responded to in a festschrift: The Unrelieved Paradox: Studies in the Theology of Franz Bibfeldt. The present review, believed to be among the last of his writings, serves as a signal contribution to this Common Places series, especially inasmuch as he comments on a forthcoming volume that interacts with elements of his own thought.

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Common Places is a regular column on the Zondervan Academic blog with a focus on systematic theology. The loci communes or “common places” of Christian theology, drawn out of the Scriptures and organized in a manner suitable to their exposition in the church and the academy, have functioned historically as common points of reference for theological discussion and debate. This column will focus upon the classical loci of systematic theology, not as occasions for revision, but as opportunities for entering into the ongoing conversation that is Christian systematic theology. We invite you to join and dialog with us on the first and third Thursdays of every month. For more about Common Places, read the column introduction.

New Voices for Theology seeks to introduce reader-theologians to new publications worthy of their attention. In each post, a senior scholar (often a doctoral supervisor) commends the work of a junior scholar, explaining not only the nature and shape of the work’s argument but also the potential implications for the task of doing theology today.

Michael Allen and Scott Swain, editors