M-o-m!!

Hope43

It began with Scott Culpepper attacking the American syncretism of “Christianity”. An important discussion but one that left out a key detail. As Cyprian noted, “one cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother.” Christianity, however understood, must come with an ecclesial structure; the problem with American syncretists may not be their thinking but their lack of groundedness in the Church.

Enter reader RLG who complains

 It’s the church that has gotten Christianity into so much trouble, from the beginning to the present. The Jewish mentality was, you weren’t a true Jew unless you belonged to the Jewish community. And Jesus, certainly, did not support such a concept. How many verses can we quote that suggests that a Christian believe and be a member of the church and he/she will be saved? How many can we quote that suggests, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved? It’s kinda like saying, you need a marriage certificate to really be married.

Contrary to this, the question is whether we can live separately, apart from each other; we are constituted as social beings. Individual commitment stands as part of an ongoing life of the community. Not only are we linked to each other in the present, but we are those who also remember; memory and imagination connects us across time. So we read a Calvin, an Aquinas, an Augustine in part as our contemporary even as we understand them to be distant — this is what empathy, imagination and memory produce. And if we’re honest, we also understand how our current life has been shaped by this remembered past.

Christianity then is not some sort of free-floating, perhaps Kantian entity, but an embodied reality. We start there.

Here’s where Scot is correct. The Christianity is always deeply permeated by cultural assumptions. Always. The Church, tacitly or explicitly functions as a counterbalance to this cultural capture; thus, we cannot speak about Christianity without speaking about the form that Christianity takes. (Note also, the idea that we can drop the label — apart from its rhetorical impossibility — belies the fact that even in disobedience we remain with our identity; it’s much stickier than that.)

And while Scripture may not prescribe the exact nature of this community, there is no doubt that we exist together, linked, a church. Take the vine and branches in John; consider Psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the House of the Lord” (and all the Psalms of Ascent); consult Hebrews where we are not to  forsake the gathering together. Or simply consider the plural when Paul addresses his letters. It’s all there. We belong together, and that shared life informs and on occasion challenges the cultural form of faith we understand as Christianity.

The counter to a syncretistic American Christianity is not a countering piece of theology, but a better church.

 

Scott Culpepper, Let’s Stop Calling it Christianity, The Twelve.
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The Carpenter

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We live in our home, heedless of the carpenter who first gave it its frame. To live theologically in the late 20th C meant living in the post-liberal house build by George Lindbeck. Ephraim Radner gives a very sympathetic understanding of his project:

The point of his theory was to outline how religious communities might better understand other communities, such that dialogue might be fruitful. Lindbeck proposed a now well-known threefold typology that contrasted more conservative scholastic communities (at least in their self-understanding) with more liberal experientially oriented communities, commending finally a third type that was construed in a more “culturally” ordered fashion, in which language, social rules, and coherence provided the framework by which truth is identified. Doctrine, Lindbeck argued, functions differently in these three types of religious community. In the first it is a set of cognitive propositions regarding truth; in the second, it is the articulation expressive of some common religious experience; or finally, in the third “cultural-linguistic” understanding of a religious community, doctrine functions as a kind of ordering “grammar” for practical life with God, and truth is somehow evident in this coherent life.

Another very nice tribute can be found at the Christian Century, where Matt Fitzgerald explains how Lindbeck rescued his faith.

in my last semester, I was assigned The Nature of Doctrine. The force of Lindbeck’s argument overwhelmed me.

The book explained to me why God felt close when I slept on Noah’s Ark sheets, but utterly vague when I tried to be religious without the story I was raised on. If you learn a particular religion’s vocabulary—its strange, unique way of ordering existence—the Divine will become clear (or at least clearer). It is not possible to take a superior stance to a faith tradition and also experience the power it holds. In Lindbeck’s words: “One can no more hope to be religious in general than one can hope to speak language in general.”

As beguiling as the appeal to general knowledge, to the universalization, faith is only known (and practiced) in the particulars, the local, this place and time, this tradition.

Quiet, Modest Pioneer
George Lindbeck saved my Christianity

 

Finding Trump, Missing Jesus

Sometimes the pain of politics gets us, robs us. One plaintive cry from Facebook

I have been questioning Christianity since Trump took office. A lot of church members supported him (to my complete surprise) and I just couldn’t understand. I stopped going to church and I am now starting to question my faith, which makes me sad. I wonder “am I believing in something for good reasons or am I just following”. At first it just gave me pause for church but now has me questioning my faith. Does anyone have any advice?

Yes the faith map is so discouraging sometimes, especially if you are accustomed to gathering with conservative Christians of the Evangelical variety. So to break on politics means that you also give up a community that has in some sense nurtured you or given you a sense of place. Part of the underlying fear is that if you go to one of those “other” churches you will find an expressed faith that is not as vibrant, the thing that holds you currently with the church.

 
Spiritual communities give some needed resources in this time. First, there is simply the solace of friendship arising from a common task (not to dis the political, but in politics we tend to think instrumentally, that we are only as good as we give. the best spiritual gatherings have a sort of baked-in acceptance, as you are, where you are.) A second reason to consider a spiritual community is because the critique of this Trumpian time has such spiritual qualities, the turning away from others for the exaltation of self, say. The unwillingness to work for the common good. The shrinkage — the absence! — of compassion. Churches and other spiritual communities have some pretty deep wells that can help here.
 
And I do hear how alone you are in this. There are others of us out there, and we very much want you to know how embraced you are. Peace.

Walking Away (but keeping the memory)

 

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Matthew Loftus links to Peter Beinart’s article, “Breaking Faith” and asks

What if being secular makes you more tolerant towards things like gay marriage or pot legalization, but makes you more intolerant towards other groups? If you thought the Religious Right was bad, wait ’til you see the Post-Religious Right:

For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were.”

One is tempted to reference those who “have the form of religion…” This cultural faith, of course, is always there. And when it’s connected with one party, then the other side is likely to reject the entire apparatus — good riddance! 

On both sides, the secularists think that religious faith is primarily a matter of culture, and so a matter of politics. Yet the practice of the religious community points in another direction (as does its own moderation). Faith always lies askew of the culture, and so the church provides an alternate affirmative good of community. the shape of this community is not built on the internal values of that community (what it does in gathering), but on its appeal to the transcendent. This “otherness”, this faith gives us permission to walk away from ourselves, our natural “tribe.” Otherness gives a breadth, a counter-cultural narrative, that is not only theological, but experiential. This aching need for connectives is all around us. Old guys long for it and often die for lack of it. Likewise there was a terrific article a couple weeks ago on the Epidemic of Gay Loneliness on the Huffington Post — read subtly, there was still this longing to connect (the folks at Spiritual Friendship have it right). We thirst.

Partisanship, this divide, feeds off of a lack of inner life. When all we are left with is our externals, than it is easy to appeal to the stuff of the tribe.