Rhetorical Ethics Stemming from Kaufman's One-World Christian Theology

By Bradley Siebert.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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Gordon Kaufman describes theology as “imaginative construction.” Instead of validating it, he deconstructs traditional Christian doctrine and, similarly to Process Theologians, reconstructs the evolutionary process, “serendipitous creativity,” as an ultimate people may rationally devote their lives to. His is a one-world theology, then, devoid of supernatural considerations. He repositions Jesus as a profoundly inspiring teacher who has had great influence on world history, but not the son of an anthropomorphic creator. People interested in such belief and in practicing a “Jesus way” in this context, exercise a devoted human spirit, as could one-world devotees of other religions/philosophies, potentially.

Rhetorical values stemming from this reconstruction are familiar but reconstructed: responsibility, charity, and humility.

Evolving humans – as “biohistorical beings" (Kaufman) – have special responsibilities to planet Earth, responsibilities to which we might devote every action, including rhetorical ones. Responsible rhetorical/discursive behaviors would contribute to sustaining this on-going creativity, to cultivating the humane, and to addressing this world’s pressing ecological and social issues.

Charity, “sympathetic appreciation” (Kaufman), channels responsibility into the human sphere specifically. As biohistorical beings, humans might recognize our cultural responsibility for what we are becoming. Much of what we become depends on rhetorical action. Discursively, we all can encourage and appeal to the humane in each other rather than demonize and condemn.

Humility further orients us respectfully toward each other as equals. Traditional Christianity privileges itself discursively through appeals to revelation, mystic connection to the anthropomorphic God’s inscrutable will, while teaching humility before this God’s majesty. However, Kaufman’s one-world theology would orient us, conscious of our finitude, to be humble before each other. So a rhetorical ethic incorporating humility encourages us, for example, to develop the Classical rhetorical attitude of concession or the more modern Burkean attitude of identification and the Rogerian attitude of reconciliation.

Keywords: Rhetorical Ethics, Constructive Theology, Gordon Kaufman

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.1-11. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 391.541KB).

Dr. Bradley Siebert

Assistant Professor, Department of English, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, USA

Bradley Siebert is an Assistant Professor of English at Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, where he teaches advanced and intermediate Composition courses, as well as business and technical writing. He received his Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English from the University of Arizona in 1990. His research interests include religious rhetoric and composition pedagogy. He writes the column "Views from the Pew" for _The Mennonite Weekly Review_.