Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

When Radical Orthodoxy Is Neither, by Pastor John Wright

This essay from my pastor, John Wright, definitely deserves some attention:

When Radical Orthodoxy Is Neither
by John W. Wright
Professor of Theology and Christian Scriptures
Point Loma Nazarene University

John works from some theological categories developed by Hans Frei with his students and draws some really interesting conclusions about the theology of the three main editors of the Radical Orthodoxy books series: John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward. He notes that within the Radical Orthodoxy series, there are in fact some very big theological differences that are most often overlooked. Jamie Smith names this difference well in his book Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation (as he's the main dude differing!), and Pastor John helps clarify a bit by really bringing it down to what is important about Christianity: the focus first upon Jesus, or the "event of Christ" which is also referred to as the Incarnation. In the middle of all the intellectual gymnastics, this was somehow lost by some of us.

One of the key graphs:
Yet the (non)foundation for this account of the Transcendent found in the particular differs radically depending on whether one (un)grounds this in the philosophical concepts of a type of Platonism or in the unique, unsubstitutable body of Jesus. [Jamie] Smith writes “in contrast to Augustine (and yet, in the name of Augustine), who saw the logic of the Incarnation as that which distinguished Christianity from Platonism, these proponents of Radical Orthodoxy (particularly Milbank and Pickstock) wish to see this as the site of their communion” (p. 170). The incarnation of transcendence is seen in the particular of all materiality, including the materiality of Jesus, for these thinkers through a creative repetition of Augustine’s neo-Platonism. Smith recognizes that the “proposal for a ‘sacramental’ and ‘doxological’ account of language – by which the transcendent is ‘revealed’ in immanence – bears deep structural affinities with what I have been describing as an incarnational logic” (p. 175). Yet subtly and ironically, incarnation itself here becomes an abstraction, a concept separated from the body of Jesus. Jesus represents what is found philosophically elsewhere. For such supposed “Radically Orthodox” thinkers, the Word made flesh in Jesus represents the incarnational logic that one finds throughout creation by positing that Jesus (and Christ’s presence in the Eucharist) exemplify the materiality of the form found in the Transcendent throughout creation.

Another way of putting this is that ultimately some of the 'Radical Orthodoxy' writers (the editors, mainly, who are 'high-church Anglo-Catholics' in the tradition of 'theurgic platonism') affirm Jesus because he fulfills in the best and truest ways the Platonic trancendental forms of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Jesus becomes not the particular Messiah who reveals God by the Holy Spirit, but a pathway to fully realize the platonic forms.

One of the main problems with this logic is that, according to John 1:1-5, all comes from Jesus. So, even Plato's trancendentals, which we actually can affirm, only exist because all comes from Jesus and not the other way around.
[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[2] He was in the beginning with God.
[3] All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being
[4]in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
[5]The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

This is where the logic of the Incarnation begins, does it not?

Please give Pastor John's essay the attention it deserves and read the full thing. This difference within the RO series is often overlooked, but I (as well as John, obviously) think it has some huge implications for our lives together as Christians. I outline some of my poorly-worded reservations in the comments section of his post.

And of course, your comments, constructive criticism, and help in discerning these matters are greatly encouraged.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas from Chesterton

Christmas Poem
by G. K.Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

John Wright on the Feast of the Nativity and Capitalism

Pastor John has an excellent post on the Feast of the Nativity and Capitalism. Please check it out.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bell, Day 7: Forgiveness and Eschatology

I just finished an article about the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. The article asks a question posed over a year ago by one of the kidnapped team members: Am I willing to risk as much for peace as our soldiers risk for war? To me, this question captures well how Dan Bell completes his treatment of forgiveness.

Bell states,
"The risk of forgiveness is that it only disempowers the Church of the poor and prolongs their suffering by depriving them of recourse to what is due. The risk of forgiveness is that it is not able to fund resistance to the capitalist order. The risk is that the refusal to cease suffering that is forgiveness is only a refusal to cease suffering" (193-194).
Forgiveness is risky because it opens up a new possibility. Violence, even in the guise of capitalist economics, is easy to understand and predict because it so shapes the narratives of the fallen world. We see and experience violence every day. The Confederate cavalryman, Nathan Bedford Forrest, reduced his understanding of military strategy to one simple axiom, "The first with the most." This is the axiom of our age: the first person/group with the most power wins. The ensemble of technologies that is forgiveness opens up a new hope, a move towards a non-violent future that requires a new way of thinking creatively about how to respond to violence and evil. It is risky because it requires us to journey somewhat blindly into the night with nothing more than faith that Jesus is who he claims to be and that his Spirit continues to be at work in the world. Along these lines, Bell states,
"Ultimately, the refusal to cease suffering that is Christian forgiveness is an act of hope... The risk of forgiveness must be borne in patient hope that mercy will indeed triumph over sin and death. The truth of the therapy of forgiveness as a form of resistance to capitalism, to echo Foucault, is in the future. It is in a future where the tears are wiped away, where those who are hungry now are filled, where those who build homes inhabit them and those who plant vineyards partake of their fruit... The truthfulness of forgiveness... is contingent upon the consummation of redemption, when suffering will indeed cease" (194).
Forgiveness, then, is a wager on God. We are bothered because we are so enamored with techniques that work instantly, even if the "work" is temporary and incomplete. The fullness of forgiveness reaching even reconciliation is much deeper, much more problematic, and thus increases our vulnerability dramatically. Forgiveness is a gift offered even to the perpetrators of grave violence. It is a gift that must be both received and participated in. This increases the wager of the Church to accept that perpetrators of violence might reject the gift and do harm to the Body. Along these lines, Bell states,
"While reconciliation is the goal of forgiveness, at times it may not prove very effective at attaining that goal and bringing suffering to an end... [I]t may only intensify the suffering as it provokes a hostile response that leads to persecution and martyrdom. At such times, the true politics that is the gift of forgiveness may amount to little more than surviving, maintaining the presence of grace that is the offer of the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness, therefore, is best characterized as a matter of how Christians live in the absence of reconciliation" (194).
Earlier, I made mention of the Christian Peacemaker Teams that journey to areas of intense hostility and stand in between warring factions, receive the Eucharist, and pray for Christ's peace to end the violence of war and the suffering it inflicts on countless thousands. One of the kidnapped team members asked, "Am I willing to risk as much for peace as soldiers risk for war?" This is the question asked by forgiveness. It is both eschatological and apocalyptic. It is eschatological because the answer cannot be offered deterministically. Forgiveness is a hopeful wager on how God will act towards his children, that he will hear our cries and will redeem the crucified people: the last, the least, the broken, the tortured. It is apocalyptic because true forgiveness refuses the sword and accepts the Cross. In Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo, David Toole draws upon John Howard Yoder to remind us that the Church's ultimate hope is that God will remember us and will fight for us.

In an early critique of Radical Orthodoxy, Frederic Bauerschmidt wrote an article where he asked whether Milbank rendered the Word strange or simply speculative. As Bell truthfully recounts, there is a speculative aspect to Christian witness that sometimes culminates in martyrdom. Yes, forgiveness may render the Word speculative, but it also renders the Word present, and boldly longs for the Word made victorious. In the meantime, forgiveness is the Word rendered and embodied hopefully in the Church shouldering Jesus' Cross, limping toward Golgotha, the Tomb, and the Resurrection, even if the path takes to Abu Ghraib, Darfur, Liberia, Chile, or even into our own bedrooms and communities.

To close, Bell concludes,
"When history's losers, the crucified people, follow in the steps of Jesus and forgive their enemies, they are wagering on God. They are wagering that God is who the Gospel proclaims God to be, the one who defeats sin and wipes away every tear, not with the sword of a justice that upholds rights but with the gift of forgiveness in Christ... Although the tomb is empty, the Lamb who was slain has yet to return in final victory. In the meantime, the crucified people, awaiting his return and the consummation of the judgment of grace, refuse to cease suffering" (195).
As the Church, are we willing to wager on peace in the same way that statesmen wager on war?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bell, Day 6: Forgiveness and Atonement

I am excerpting some components of a paper I just finished in a class on forgiveness to help highlight some of the book's claims on forigveness and the atonement. If you would like a copy of the paper, please email me at rlangfo@yahoo.com, and I would be glad to send you a copy.

A saintly woman at my church asked if I could come by for a visit. When I arrived, she told me about the brutal murder of her grandson and that her son was unable to forgive the man, indeed refused to even mention the possibility of forgiveness. She asked me what she could do. I told her, "Pray and worship, together with the body, and trust the Lord." On one hand, this is the perfect pastoral response, but on the other hand it sounds a little too preachy, a little too Sunday School. The question she asked really proposes three questions:

1) Is forgiveness mandatory?
2) How can I forgive someone who has robbed me of my grandson?
3) What is my role in helping others (my son) to forgive?

To answer these questions, we must be disciplined to postpone an immediate answer, lest we fall into the temptation of offering a grab bag of techniques to "cope" which in reality does nothing more than anesthetize the pain. There is no forgetting the pain of a murdered grandson. Time alone will not make the ache of loss pass away.

Instead, as Christians we must be disciplined enough to begin with our understanding of God. Who is God? Christisn faith pronounces that God is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Even more importantly, the Triune God is revealed most clearly in the Incarnation of the Son. The Incarnation is much more than just Christ's birth. Indeed, it reaches its greatest intensity during Holy Week, the Last Supper, the Trial, the Crucifixion, the Death, the Resurrection. These events make up Christ's atonement, and the Lord's atonement makes human forgiveness possible.

In Liberation Theology After the End of History, Dan Bell states,
"The claim advanced for forgiveness here rests upon a certain reading of God's activity in Christ... God has given the gift of forgiveness. God has refused to render to humanity what is due sin, but instead graciously endures humanity's rejection and extends redemption and reconciliation in Christ. Justice in the classic sense of suum cuique would refuse to have suffered the injustice of sin and the cross; instead, God in Christ shouldered the cross and refused to cease suffering, defeating sin and injustice by forgiving it, by bearing it in order to bear it away. Accordingly, the atoning grace of God in Christ displaces such justice as the modality of God's overcoming of sin and sets in its place forgiveness. God confronts sin... with the gift of forgiveness" (146).
Interestingly, Bell draws on David Bentley Hart's reading of Anselm (see The Beauty of the Infinite, pp. 360-372). There is a commonplace reading of Anselm that credits him with the development of the satisfaction theory of the atonement, whereby Christ "had" to be sacrificed in order to satisfy divine justice. Instead, Bell argues that Anselm falls within the vision of the early church whereby "God in Christ is understood to be acting on humanity's behalf in order to redeem us from the powers to which we have delivered ourselves" (147). Bell states further,
"The work of atonement is God in Christ bearing human rejection and extending the offer of grace again, thereby opening a path for humanity to return to the Father. In this sense, the atonement is identified not with a propitiatory sacrifice in the name of justice, but with the seelf-giving of the Son to the Father as an act of recapitulation that provides humanity with a positive means of return to its Creator... The atonement is not about meeting the demands of an implacable justice before which even God must bow, but the forgiveness that enables desire to return to its source. It is about humanity's being taken up into the divine life of the Trinity through participation in Christ, in Christ's body, the Church" (147).
There is sacrifice and even substitution, but these do not belong to an economy of credit and exchange but instead to the "aneconomic order of divine forgiveness" (148). In the Atonement, God in Christ opens the path of forgiveness. Forgiveness "names the way God in Christ defeats sin, it also characterizes the way Christians are called to meet sin" (148). In forgiveness, a new way of being is made possible. Bell states,
"Desire is healed insofar as it receives the gift of forgiveness, which it does by participating in Christ, and being in Christ, desire participates in Christ's work, which is the gift of forgiveness. Hence the gift of forgiveness is the gift of the capacity to forgive and the return of the gift is a sign of the gift's reception. Where it is not given, it has not been received... Conversely, where it has been received, the gift of forgiveness that is love is returned. And love's return to its source is the end of forgiveness, reconciliation" (148).
In other words, only the atonement of Christ for our sins makes forgiveness possible; however, this forgiveness must be received and participated in. Such participation reaches fullness when the gift that has been given is extended and offered to others. It is in this way that desire returns to God, and it is in this way that we begin to grasp the Triune economy of superabundant love. However, another temptation we face is to separate forgiveness from the Church, instead limiting it to the interaction of rational, autonomous individuals. Forgiveness can best be understood as an ensemble of technologies, or in MacIntyrean terms, a politics, a collection of practices guided towards a certain telos, in this case reconciliation. As such, it is only embodied in community, and specifically the body called together and forged by the Holy Spirit. Dan Bell states,
"The gift of forgiveness is the communally instantiated capacity to forgive. Being in Christ is to participate in Christ's body, the Church. Hence, we learn to receive and return the gift in the Church, and the task of the Church is nothing other than the reception and transmission of this gift" (148).
Thus, it is in worship that we receive and practice forgiveness, where we are infused with the Spirit, where our lives are narrated into the economy of divine forgiveness, and where we learn the grammar that will train us in the craft of forgiveness. Thus, I am reminded of Yoder's bold declaration that pacifism cannot be detached from faithful Christian discipleship. So also, forgiveness is not a skill set or technique that can be detached from Christian worship. Instead, only by participating in Christian worship, and especially the Eucharist, do we learn forgiveness in a way that moves beyond forgetting and denying.

Thus, when someone is wronged, the first step is not to demand forgiveness from victims for their offenders. Instead, victims must worship the Triune God, where divine forgiveness is mediated to them by the Spirit as the Gospel is preached and enfleshed. Likewise, offenders must also be told that they too must worship regularly and be confronted with the grammar of Christian worship that calls us to face God, to remember him, to remember who we are, to confess, to lament, to pray for forgiveness, to pray for victims, to pass the peace, to receive the Eucharist, and to hope for the Eschaton, when the Lord will return and sorrows and pain will be melted away.

Tomorrow, we will look at eschatology and the finality of forgiveness.

Dan Bell's Response to Our Reflections

Since you have graciously invited other comments, I will offer my two cents worth.

I think you have read Foucault and my work well, regarding the ubiquity of power, but have drawn perhaps the wrong conclusions from that reading.

It is a common criticism of Foucault that his account of the ubiquity of power forecloses the possibility of resistance and escape. This, however, is a critique that misses the mark for at least two reasons.

First, to argue that power is not always already present across the social field is tantamount to allowing all power to be contained and controlled by dominant social formations such as the nation state or corporation or market. The result is that those who do not share in that space and that power are truly powerless, and therefore hopeless.

To deny Foucault on the ubiquity of power is far more pessimistic, fatalistic than to affirm him.

Second, Foucault understood -- rightly I believe -- that the pervasive character of power was a source of hope and a marker for the constant potential of resistance. The ubiquity of power is good news. It means that no matter how hard Sam Walton or Bill Gates or [name your own icon of capital] try, they cannot triumph. Their dominion is always unstable, uncertain, partial. Power can [and does] always escape them.

[The very possibility of this conversation is a tiny proof of that.]

That power is ubiquitous means that no mere social formation can acquire and maintain definitively a monopoly on power. Power is more like a herd of cats or sand, or to pick up on Deleuze, a fog, than it is like a brick or a weapon that can be captured and safely contained.

Which means that at any moment and in any place resistance, alternatives, can irrupt.

It means that the front on which the battle can be waged is much larger than we thought and therefore capital has a lot more to defend, which is where Foucault's notion of governmentality is so helpful-- his account of how we can be formed economically even in the midst of what appear to be non-economic practices.

The reverse of this is that capitalism can be undermined in a multitude of ways, even ways that do not appear to be directly economic. For example, teaching the youth the virtues of truthfulness and charity in vacation Bible school can be devistating for capital.... as can be caring for the elderly or the dying at home.... or practicing the spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting.

Granted such formation cannot stand alone -- in the sense that if the youth are only taught truthfulness and charity for a week or so during VBS, there is little chance of their standing against capitalist deformation.

Now, of course, Foucault lacked the theological resources to account for this irruption and so finally his vision is deficient. But, in friendly disagreement with one response, I do not begin with a secular accout of power. The basis of the account of power I offer is finally an ontology of desire drawn from the Christian tradition. On page 2, I believe, I state that the account of desire and hence power that I propose is but a gloss on the long theological tradition that is so memorably captured in Augustine's famous statement in his Confessions -- our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.

How does this make a difference? Whereas Foucault finally cannot give a cogent account of the possibility of resistance and liberation, we Christians have this pesky thing called the Holy Spirit, who "blows where it will." Hence, that power is ubiquitous does not comfort and console capitalism, but rather terrifies it.

(I am reminded of the fear that contemporary terrorism arouses -- in part because its threat is ubiquitous, not finally containable to a clearly defined battlefront or some country over there that is far from here.)

At any moment and in any place -- a board room, the oval office, wall street, a homeless shelter, an assembly line, even a seminary classroom -- desire can escape the bonds of capital.

Romero was mentioned in a reflection. Who can forget the powerful scene in the movie when shortly after his elevation to archbishop two of the bad guys comment that he is a "safe choice" who will not rock the boat. Of course, they had no reason to think otherwise. There was little in Romero's life that foreshadowed his transformation. Well, little besides the Holy Spirit and the Gospel read and proclaimed, and the Eucharist and holy friends like R Grande.

All of which leads me to argue that Foucault can help us remember that finally the struggle is not between power and powerlessness, between powerful capital and powerless opponents.

Rather, the struggle is over the shaping of the constitute human power that is our desire for God. Capitalism deforms that God-given and sustained power (after all, all power is from God, capitalism is but a distortion or corruption of that original good, creative power) whereas resistance and liberation (salvation in more classical theological terms) is about power shaped in a different manner --say, the power of love, charity, faith, hope, joy, etc.

Hence, the struggle is not between power and powerlessness, but between vicious and virtuous power. Between capitalist deformations and corruptions of power and the cruciform power of God. "My power is made perfect in weakness..." The power of weakness. The power of the cross --here I find Yoder helpful. See especially the difficult chapter in Politics of Jesus on Revolutionary Subordination. It took me several years of reading and teaching that before I began to get it (yes, I am slow). The subordination of the cross, and the Christian life, is NOT powerlessness, but the divine power of weakness.(I discuss this cruciform power near the end of the book.) Another book that helped me get a bit of a handle on this -- in terms of my own deformation such that I can only think of power in "ramboesque" ways was Sharon Welch's A FEMINIST ETHIC OF RISK. For the many difficulties I have with that book, she does a wonderful job in my opinion of helping me see how my social location has corrupted how I understand the power to effect change.

Never forget that power, the ability to resist, etc, does not depend finally on what capital etc controls or lets escape, but on God's faithful giving to God's people. This is but another way of stating the hopefulness attendent upon the ubiquity of power. Because capital, sin in any of its forms, cannot possibly capture all power, because it finally cannot capture God even as it tries to by marketing God and faith and spirituality, there is always already present the [divinely given] power of resistance that may appear anywhere anytime -- what Yoder refers to as the brushfire reading of history.

Our power to live the Christian life does not depend on what the state or corporation will permit. It depends solely on God's fidelity and our willingness to trust God. As Yoder wrote, all the state, etc. can do is make discipleship more costly. Capital finally does not provide or deny the conditions of possibility for faithfulness.

Which leads to my last point. There is some question about "where is this church?" and comments on radical orthodoxy's inability to be concrete. I have no interest in defending or attacking "radical orthodoxy" (As Bill Cavanaugh likes to remind folks -- its only a book series after all), and I think that some of the question in this regard is born of observing many of the authors' in the series penchant for delving into ontology.

I will speak mostly for myself in this regard. Cavanaugh's book does engage a concrete ecclesial community and practice -- the Catholic Church in Chile and the eucharist. Likewise, I learn from a concrete community and practice -- the Latin American church of the poor and the practice of forgiveness (which, by the way, I think has some interesting correlations with the discussion of lament insofar as confession is part and parcel of the practice of forgiveness).

But even more importantly, I would argue that this church about which we speak and pray and confess is all around us. Although I think in general the North American church is in pretty lousy shape, I have yet to be in a church where the divine gifts that God graciously sets in our midst are not active santifying lives.

Where is this church, concretely, empirically? Where the Word is proclaimed and the sacraments duly administered. This church is right in our midst, right in front of us, all around us. The liberating gifts of God are all around us.

To put it even more bluntly. Where is this church? Look in the mirror. Look at your own life. How did you get to where you are in your Christian walk? There is the church. Think about all the saints you know -- local and otherwise.... a campus minister I know, a Sunday school teacher, a business exec, Dorothy Day, Gustavo Gutierrez, etc. How did God get ahold of them? You want to know where this church is, then follow the saints.

Note that this is no argument for purity. The practice I lift up in the book is confession/forgiveness. The church is not necessarily where we have it all figured out, where we have already completely escaped capital, etc, but it is where we are on the way of salvation. (Barth has a wonderful quote to this effect.)

The question is not finally where is this church, but why don't we see it? Why don't we avail ourselves of it? Why do we forego our birthright for the pap that so often passes for preaching and teaching, what MLKJr called "pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities"? How have we managed to make God so boring, uninteresting? (I am reminded of Annie Dillard's comment about church goers should wear crash helmets and protective gear when they go to worship the living God...) Spiritual blindness and deafness is a persistent theme in much of the NT, especially the gospels.

In this regard, the question "where is the church?" is more theological than sociological (Not that the two can finally be divorced).

The question, "where is this church?" seems to me to come down to a question of eschatology or even providence. Do we believe that God is acting in history now to overcome the forces of sin, death and the devil or not? If so, then the question cannot be "where is this church?" but can only be "why don't we see it?"

If we do not believe that God is actively overcoming even capital now, then the interesting question is not "where is this church?" but rather "Is such a non-involved god worth following?"

I for one do not believe that such a non-involved god bears even a family resemblance to the God whose story is told in Scripture. In this regard, I am always reminded of Jesus' response to the followers of JOhn when they confront him with the question of whether he is the one. His response is, "What do you see?" The messiah is one who makes a holy difference in this world.

Granted, in this time between the times the fullness of that difference is not yet present, but it has already begun to be present.

FYI, I have an essay that argues this eschatological point more thoroughly with regard to capitalism, and it can be found on the web at THE OTHER JOURNAL.

Well, I have rambled for way too long and no doubt taken gross advantage of your conversational hospitality. So I will close.

Grace and peace,

Dan Bell

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Conservative Liberals and Traditional Conservatives

(I think this post is relevant to the mission of RP, but if not, feel free to let me know...)

In her contribution to the Radical Orthodoxy series -- Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II -- Tracey Rowland turns to Alasdair MacIntyre for her critique of liberalism. At one point, she refers to MacIntyre's assertion that the dominant political perspectives of our time are all liberal, whether radically liberal, liberally liberal, or conservatively liberal. From the other reading in RO that I've done to this point, that seems to be a perspective whole-heartedly agreed upon by virtually everyone "in" or associated with RO.

More recently, I had occasion to read Mark Henrie's essay "Understanding Traditionalist Conservatism" in the New Pantagruel, which distinguishes much of what passes for "conservatism" today from the conservatism of, for example, Russell Kirk.

Which leads me to my question for other posters and commenters here at RP: how compatible is Henrie & Kirk's conservatism with the RO project? Or: would it be correct to say that H&K's conservatism is not conservative liberalism as described by MacIntyre et al.?

I'm also very curious about the socialism which at least some RO proponents (e.g. JKA Smith) say is part of the overall project, but that'll have to wait for another post. :-)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Megachurch (Grinch) Who Stole Christmas

Sorry the posts have been slow. I will post days 6-7 probably in the next week. I have a major paper due this week along with a hectic church calendar and sick little girls and wife.

Anyway, I found this article on Yahoo News, and it so well reflects how the evangelical megachurch has succumbed to capitalist discipline.

Evidently, a number of evangelical megachurches will not hold Sunday services on Christmas Day since it is a "family day." Northpoint in Atlanta will not hold Sunday services on either Christmas day or New Years day the follwoing Sunday.

Here is the rub, and what I believe to be the capitalist discipline to which they have succumbed. When asked why they would not hold Christmas services,
Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said."

"If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" she said.

Others added,

"If we weren't having services at all, I would probably tend to feel that we were too accommodating to the secular viewpoint, but we're having multiple services on Saturday and an additional service Friday night," Willison said. "We believe that you worship every day of the week, not just on a weekend, and you don't have to be in a church building to worship."

Troy Page, a spokesman for Fellowship Church, said the congregation was hardly shirking its religious obligations. Fellowship will hold 21 services in four locations in the days leading up to the holiday. Last year, more than 30,000 worshippers participated. "Doing them early allows you to reach people who may be leaving town Friday," Page said.

Here are some of the problems as I see them:

1) Christmas as "family day."
2) Making decisions about worship based on attendance.
3) Reducing worship to a form of evangelism aimed at a "target audience."
4) Reducing worship to individual expression and emotive experience.
5) Believing that worship can take place apart from the body of Christ.

What do you think?