Reading Robert Farrar Capon sometimes feels a bit like watching Drunk History. You do a lot of mental tallying, while realizing the comedians and actors, in an inebriated state, get closer to the truth than some of the the more studious historians do. Case in point, check out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent appearance on Drunk History explaining the Hamilton/Burr rivalry. Capon was no different. The side effect of his somewhat brash style is that you pay much closer attention to what he is saying. He uses the tension to shatter your preconceptions while opening you up to the core truths.
One of my favorite books he wrote, and there are so many to choose from, is Hunting the Divine Fox. In one of the essays, Capon tackles the the hypostatic union in such a bold way, I’ll admit to having read most of the chapter, entitled, “Superman,” with my hands covering my face, peeking through my fingers. It was like watching a high wire act, nervously wondering if he would come out the other side a saint or heretic. I’m happy to report that he made it to the other side, halo in place, with panache. That’s Capon for you.
“Jesus didn’t cast out demons by some superhuman power nobody else had. He did it by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, which everybody else has, and which lots of people have used, if you believe the miracle of Scripture. And he didn’t get driven into the desert to fast and pray by some special high-octane intellectual gas that leaked through the trap door in his head. The Spirit drove him. Just as it drives us–except we mostly get off the bus too soon. And when he was little, his knowledge of carpentry all came in the same way: humanly, not superhumanly. If he got any heavenly help, it was the same help of the Holy Spirit you and I get–which, in all honesty, is not too much when it comes to memorizing verbs or leaning how to use a draw-knife.”
Capon goes on to say in the same chapter something stunning and convicting:
“We crucified Jesus, not because he was God, but because he blasphemed: He claimed to be God then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn’t do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying.”
Doug Wilson devotes an entire chapter to Capon in his book, 9 Writers to Read. An unabashed fan, Wilson addresses the tension and excitement I feel when reading Capon’s death-defying theologizing:
“There are just a handful of writers who can edify you while simultaneously exasperating you, but Capon is in that number. God bless him.”
God bless him, indeed.