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In a simple, regular meal

Too often we look for the Spirit in the extraordinary when God has promised to be present in the ordinary. We look for God in the fresh and novel, as if his grace were always an “event,” when he has promised that his Spirit faithfully attends the ordinary means of grace—in the Word, at the Table. We keep looking for God in the new, as if grace were always bound up with “the next best thing,” but Jesus encouraged us to look for God in a simple, regular meal.

— James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love

Miroslav Volf summarizes the four ways that we can assert and bolster our self-worth by excluding others. We can literally kill or drive the Other out of our living space. A more subtle and common way is exclusion by assimilation. We can demand that they conform completely to our own patterns and standards, not allowing them to express any difference at all. “We will refrain from vomiting you out . . . if you let us swallow you up.” A third form of exclusion could be called “dominance.” We will let you live among us and maintain your identity, but only if you assume an inferior place— not getting certain jobs, attaining particular levels of pay, or living in certain neighborhoods. The fourth kind of exclusion is abandonment. That is, we exclude the Other by disdaining and ignoring them, taking no thought for their needs. The reason we indulge in these attitudes and practices is that by denouncing and blaming the Other it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.”

— Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical 

[A] renewed Christianity should be ecumenical but also confessional. From the postdenominational appeals of Billy Graham and his megachurch-building heirs, to the “deeds not creeds” activism of Mainline Protestant accommodationists, to the culture war co-belligerency of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, the quest for greater Christian unity has been one of the defining projects of the modern era. Newer movements like radical orthodoxy and the emergent church partake of the same vision. So does this book: both my emphasis on the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy and my argument that Protestants and Catholics have an interest in distinguishing their shared patrimony from the pseudo-Christianities of Oprah and Osteen and Glenn Beck assume that what unites Christians is more important than the issues that divide them.

This vision must not be abandoned. But neither can ecumenism become the source and summit of the Christian life. “Parachurch” efforts and “emergent” communities cannot replace institutional churches. The common ground of a “mere Christianity” cannot be allowed to become a lowest common denominator. The political causes that often unite believers from different churches cannot be allowed to become more important than the gospel itself.

This has happened too often in contemporary Christianity. In their quest to woo the biggest possible audience, megachurch pastors have watered down Evangelical theology and ignored much of their own Reformation heritage. In the pursuit of relevance and dialogue, a large swath of post–Vatican II Catholicism has made itself liturgically and theologically indistinguishable from Mainline Protestantism. In the pursuit of social change, both the accommodationist project of the 1960s and ’70s and the resistance movement that followed have too often confused political and religious goals, and made elections and legislation an end unto themselves.

Here C. S. Lewis is worth heeding. The man who coined the term “mere Christianity” also warned against its misapplication and abuse:

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.

Similarly, believers who inhabit the various rooms can enter the hall for the sake of dialogue and mutual support. But they cannot afford to remain there, chatting and cooperating and maybe even throwing up some tents, while their own rooms fall into neglect. A conversation has to reach conclusions in order to actually stand for something; a community has to define itself theologically in order to be able to sustain itself across the generations. In an age of institutional weakness and doctrinal drift, American Christianity has much more to gain from a robust Catholicism and a robust Calvinism than it does from even the most fruitful Catholic-Calvinist theological dialogue.

— Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics

For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way. Both sides must say to the other, “I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.” If only one party does all the sacrificing and giving, and the other does all the ordering and taking, the relationship will be exploitative and will oppress and distort the lives of both people.

At first sight, then, a relationship with God seems inherently dehumanizing. Surely it will have to be “one way,” God’s way. God, the divine being, has all the power. I must adjust to God—there is no way that God could adjust to and serve me.

While this may be true in other forms of religion and belief in God, it is not true in Christianity. In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us—in his incarnation and atonement. In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition—as sinners—and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, “I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means a sacrifice for me.” If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others. St. Paul writes, “the love of Christ constrains us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

A friend of C. S. Lewis’s was once asked, “Is it easy to love God?” and he replied, “It is easy to those who do it.” That is not as paradoxical as it sounds. When you fall deeply in love, you want to please the beloved. You don’t wait for the person to ask you to do something for her. You eagerly research and learn every little thing that brings her pleasure. Then you get it for her, even if it costs you money or great inconvenience. “Your wish is my command,” you feel—and it doesn’t feel oppressive at all. From the outside, bemused friends may think, “She’s leading him around by the nose,” but from the inside it feels like heaven.

For a Christian, it’s the same with Jesus. The love of Christ constrains. Once you realize how Jesus changed for you and gave himself for you, you aren’t afraid of giving up your freedom and therefore finding your freedom in him.

— Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

“Christianity,” writes Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, “came into a world of divided loyalties.” Each race, tribe, class, nation, and empire lived to itself. Peoples had different gods, different customs, different political structures. Each pagan history “begins somewhere within time,” with the founding of Rome or the Olympic games, and each history is therefore the history of a single people. Pagans had no single history because paganism did not conceive of the human race as the kind of thing that might have a single history. Paganism meant “disunity, dividedness of mankind.” Christianity did not “simply erase these loyalties,” which would have been nihilism. Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill, and “by its gift of a real future, Christianity implanted in the very midst of men’s loyalties a power which, reaching back from the end of time, drew them step by step into unity.” This is what salvation means, “the advance of the singular against the plural.” Salvation enters a world of “many gods, many lands, many peoples,” many histories, and it proclaims instead a set of singularities: “one God, one world, one humankind.”

Rosenstock-Huessy is right: “One God = one humanity” is axiomatic for Paul. The reunion of humanity in Christ is the gospel, the revelation of the one God against his many rivals. The unity of the church is an “evangelical” unity, a unity proclaimed in the good news of Jesus, a unity that must be realized among those who believe it.

— Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism

Too much of our cultural analysis is rooted in thinking-thingism: we scan culture, listening for “messages,” bent on rooting out “false” teachings. But if we are first and foremost lovers, and if our action is overwhelmingly governed by our unconscious habits, then intellectual threats might not be the most important. Indeed, we could be so fixated on intellectual temptations that we don’t realize our hearts are being liturgically co-opted by rival empires all the while. The point of looking at culture through a liturgical lens is to jolt us into a new recognition of who we are and where we are.

This means we need to read the practices that surround us. We have to learn to exegete the rituals we’re immersed in. We need to become anthropologists who try, in some way, to see our familiar surroundings with apocalyptic eyes so we can recognize the liturgical power of cultural rituals we take for granted as just “things we do.”

— James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love

[I]dentity is determined not by our feelings and desires but rather by our beliefs about our varied, contradictory, changing feelings and desires. …

Our identity, then, is not, after all, something we can bestow on ourselves. We cannot discover or create an identity in isolation, merely through some kind of internal monologue. Rather, it is negotiated through dialogue with the moral values and beliefs of some community. We find ourselves in and through others. “We never get to the bottom of ourselves on our own. We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning.”

— Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical