I have really been struck by what has happened in Charlottesville, Virginia; as I am a sure most of us have been. I personally grew up in an environment where I was typically the minority, or a minority among the minorities who were the majority in my context. For my formative years I grew up in [North] Long Beach, CA which borders Compton, CA; my dad pastored a Baptist church there. As a result of this context, and my love for playing basketball, I spent hours and hours at the park playing street ball; it was at the park where I was almost always the only whiteboy present (indeed that’s what I was called: whiteboy). So at this impressionable age (my high school years and early twenties) this was my reality; I was confronted with race issues in a firsthand kind of way. We lived through the LA riots, and the tensions preceding and following that. I say all this to simply note that I have experience with race issues, albeit “on the street.”
Because of the Charlottesville debacle I have been prompted to once again pick up J. Kameron Carter’s book: Race: A Theological Account. I started it years ago, and just have never finished it; well I plan on finishing it now. As I am getting into it, just towards the end of the first chapter Carter is laying the ground work for the rest of what he accomplishes in this work of his. Part of his development involves detailing Foucault’s analysis on race, power, and human sexuality. Interestingly, as he is doing this he speaks about how Foucault talks about history and counterhistory, and how these two loci are used to identify the masters or the ‘sovereign’ in the narrative of history versus the oppressed or ‘ruled’ class of people. For our purposes, and fitting with the theme of my blog, as a blog that engages with Reformed theology in particular, I found it interesting how Carter develops Foucault’s vision of the Protestant Reformation as counterhistory, and as a movement that was operating in the spirit of modernity, as it protested against the ‘sovereign’ or Roman Catholic church. Here is how Carter treats Foucault here:
One discovers that the story being told in the lectures about the confrontation of counterhistory and history is actually another way of genealogically peering behind the Protestant Reformation and the principle of revolution it inaugurates so as a to view the Reformation not simply as a discrete historical event but, instead, as a religious disposition, a mythical posture, or (as he says in the essay “What Is Enlightenment?”) an “attitude,” the “attitude of modernity [itself] … [in its struggle] with attitudes of ‘countermodernity.’” It is important to observe that for Foucault, the Protestant Reformation, both as historical event and as exemplifying the principle of modernity, operates in this schema according to the analytic of the war of races in its resistance to “the power of kings and the despotism of the church [read: Roman Catholic Church].” The Reformation, in short, displays the attitude of modernity; the attitude of dandysme, of experimentation for the sake of self-realization and artistic self-elaboration; and lastly of “heroic,” rather than merely tragic, existence on the boundary of death so as to finally plunge the stake into the heart of sovereignty.
So obviously since we are working with Foucault, through, Carter, we are getting a sociological account of what the Protestant Reformation was in the slide of history (and ‘counterhistory’). Nevertheless, I find the perspective interesting indeed. I have read other treatments that see the seedlings for modernity in the spirit of the Protestant Reformation, but this is a pretty explicit account of that; and it is something that I think has teeth to it. Of course the only thing I would want to qualify is the Foucauldian idea of ‘self-realization,’ instead, more theologically, I think the Protestant Reformation was more about a Christ-realization, and a return to him as the immediate sovereign over his church rather than the church as the sovereign.
But I think this kind of, if you will, apocalyptic turn to the subject of Christ and its throwing off of an artificial superstructure of authority over the masses is the very kind of “counterhistory” that the church offers over against the polis (‘city of man’) that is ensconced within the darkness of its own heart. Try as society may they have no real “counterhistory,” they might find resonance with the spirit, say of the Protestant Reformation, on a purely sociological understanding, but without the vertical inbreaking power of the resurrection operative in such movements (against racism, among other systemic evils) all we’ll end up with is a kind of dualistic symmetrical Manichean type of struggle we see currently taking place between Altright and Antifa; violence against violence (which is simply an extension and logical conclusion to the ideals driving both sides).
Christians are the only ones who can genuinely offer a counterhistory to the history of man apart from Christ. We can offer them a new history by bearing witness to the inbreaking and coming Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is this history that the world has always been ‘purposed’ for in the election of God in Christ; in God’s choice to freely be for us and with us. As I have in my sidebar from David Fergusson “the world was made so that Christ might be born,” as such if there is a counterhistory to be realized it is the one that reverses and recreates, in the resurrection of God in Christ, the violent bloody world we see all around us and in us. The only reality that can and will bring concrete change is the power of God that breaks into the hearts of men and women boys and girls and replaces their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh that pump in and from the living heart of God in Christ with his shed blood; the ‘life is in the blood.’ This might sound like a platitude, but it isn’t, it’s the truth, but I’m afraid it’s a truth that has unfortunately become a platitude indeed for many in the evangelical church (and other churches) in North America.
If we are to bear witness to the power of God, in concrete ways, genuine Christianity will stand in solidarity with the oppressed among us. We will walk as if the Kingdom of God in Christ has come; the Kingdom made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation where all are one in Christ; where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. Let God be true and every man a liar. Come quickly Jesus.
 J Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), loc 1729 kindle.