Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Do you ever hear a preacher or worship leader say something odd about God that made you do a double take? Have you ever been busted for one of these foibles yourself? Have you ever been humored by the implications of the statement? Have you ever realized after the fact that this unintended phrase revealed the mind the speaker?
I would like to give these moments a name: theological parapraxes. A "paraprax" is an unintended action that reveals one's hidden thoughts, first celebrated by Sigmund Freud. Although Freud was quite proud, he was not arrogant enough to give this phenomenon its street name: "Freudian Slip." A theological paraprax is an unintended statement that reveals one's actual theological leanings.
For instance, I recently heard a Catholic Priest preach a sermon on John 14:6. During his exposition, he accidentally switched up the verse . Instead of the only way to the Father being through Jesus, he said that the only way to Jesus is through the Father! Now this slip-up was an innocent mistake, and we all make mistakes. But this was more than just a mistake; it was a theological paraprax, for it reveals the structure of a Catholic theology of ministry and grace.
At the most obvious and most humorous level, one could hear the Priest's reversal of John 14:6 as implying that the only way to Jesus is through a "Father" - a Catholic priest. Now the Catholic conception of sacramental ministry is a lot more complicated than simple mediation of Jesus via the Priest. But I couldn't help but do a double-take. It is at least enough to raise an eye-brow.
At a deeper level, this theological paraprax reveals a Catholic understanding of nature and grace. According to the classic maxim "Grace Perfects Nature," the Catholic habit of mind posits a natural human capacity given by the creator ("the Father") which is actualized in us by grace ("Jesus"). So the only way to Jesus is through the Father.
Now am I implying that this sweet Parish Priest was thinking all this when he mixed up the verse? No. That's what makes theological parapraxes so interesting: they reveal the assumptions and trajectories of our formation.
What theological parapraxes have you encountered or committed?
Please share your stories!