Mennonite Metaphysics

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September 19, 2012
Max Kennel |

The following is an outline of a piece that I would someday like to write.

Beginning with the conviction that robust concrete practices require theoretical backing, the articulation of a Mennonite (and therefore Anabaptist) metaphysics is essential in contemporary ecclesial and theological discourse. We begin with a definition of metaphysics, broadly speaking, as ontological theory regarding the study of being and identity. The two concerns of metaphysics, for the present purpose, are the world (phenomena and events) and language (the signifier and signified) and the relation between them, and these concerns bear directly upon the work of the Church as a holistic community in a fragmented world.

1. The Necessity of Metaphysics for the Church: First it is necessary to show that the dialogue between philosophy, theology, and ecclesiology is essential. The link between theology and ecclesiology is fairly established, but the role of philosophy in relation to theology and ecclesiology is not as clear.

2. Nonviolent Metaphysics: Secondly, a pacifistic ontology would have to be outlined, beginning with the assumption that the unit of ontology (the study of being) is identity (of objects, ideas, or individuals). Following from this, identity is demarcated by a boundary or a line which divides what a thing is from what a thing is not. The crossing of the identity boundary can be described as either transgressive (and therefore violent, or as a violation of a sacred boundary), or alternately as a permeation in which a line is crossed by pushing limits in the spirit of discovery or exploration and under the condition of communication-in-community.

3. Imagining Anabaptist Metaphysics: Thirdly, both directions of conceptual movement would have to be articulated: (1) the move from articulating the above theory to locating it in Mennonite discourse, and (2) allowing an excavation of Mennonite discourse to inform the ontology outlined above. This archaeological approach (Foucault) to Mennonite discourse must begin with an exploration of Anabaptist discourse.

4. Deriving a Metaphysics from Mennonite Discourse: The next step in deriving and developing a Mennonite Metaphysics could proceed through an examination of two prominent academic publications which serve as defining features of Mennonite Discourse: The Journal of Mennonite Studies and the Mennonite Quarterly Review. By surveying those articles which deal generally with theological (or perhaps even philosophical) matters it may be possible to derive a metaphysical view from contemporary Mennonite discourse (following from the historical view in the section above).

5. Developing a Metaphysics for Mennonite Discourse:  Lastly, a Mennonite Metaphysics or a pacifist ontology of identity must inform the concrete practice of ecclesiology. By taking ontology to church we follow through on the conviction that the very theoretical discourse on ontology (or even theology) has real implications in the everyday lives of congregation members, and ministry leaders.

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