Monday, February 06, 2006
Moltmann quote (preceded by some criticism of "The Emerging Church"):
The following excerpt struck me as having helpful critical implications for "The Emerging Church" movement, so well-intentioned and prevalent here in the evangelical wings of the C of E.
Would that all "contemporary" churches held themselves to such a line of thought as the following one espoused by Herr Moltmann! I fear that too many Anglicans (and all denoms with an established theological tradition) are neglecting the advantages their theological roots afford them. For example, the Book of Common Prayer oozes theological and pastoral insight!
In England many have chucked liturgy, the understanding being that its absence is the first ingredient necessary for church (re)growth. Liturgy seems to be associated with Imperialism and slavery, or something like that. On the other hand, in the States, many of us adore liturgy for exactly the opposite (wrong) reasons: We think it makes church seem more legitimate, and less ignorant / naive than the less worldly non-denominational alternatives down the street. Such a caricature epitomizes the make-up of most ECUSA congregations in NYC. Oxford is an even more obvious example of the same thing. It is a place where Americans specialize in exactly that kind of insecurity. I've just come from an Alister McGrath debate at the University Student Union, and over half of the questions from the floor came from Americans! English culture, which is pretty depressing by the way, cannot quell such deep need for affirmation. I feel for my fellow American seminarians who have come all the way to England, the supposed Mother Ship of Anglicanism, only to find the most casual, insubstantial churches they've ever seen, churches where the clergy are eager to hear whether or not you have ever been to Willow Creek, Time Square Church, and the Kansas City Prophet place? You can almost hear these poor Episcopalians muttering under their breath, "You mean the Canterbury Trail ends here?..."
The common line (one of Nicky Gumbel's) is that the church must "keep the message, but change the packaging". Unfortunately, I have yet to find one church that has re-packaged without changing the message, theology, and ecclesiology. The first thing to go seems to be any doctrine of sin as total depravity. To the extent that these Christian estimations of human anthropology slighten that doctrine, the Cross is robbed of exactly that much power. The result is always the same poll-vault over Calvary, a place where, given Easter, morality and churchiness as the content of the Christian faith are preached, or, rather, taught. Christianity of this ilk always becomes what I would call "flaky", either overly glory-based or overly mystical in its leanings. I've heard that, in Sydney, they've done a wonderful job of translating the BCP into intelligibly accessible language without losing the pith. To my way of thinking, that sounds like the right initial approach.
But the fact that much of the evangelical Church is totally consumed with being "Radical" (California-Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtle style) and "culturally relevant" displays the extent to which the (actually) radical Christian Gospel has lost its primary seat in Church. We're right to take the criticism of having been overly aloof and obtuse, too far removed from the reality of human anxiety in the day-to-day. I agree. We need to stop painting clownish smiles on frowning faces, while guilt funnels its tithe directly into the Youth Program in hopes that "at least the children will experience Grace".
But let's not necessarily think the problem has been a lack of arcade games in the nave, or that of contemporary-worship-leader "sincerity" (don't even get me started on the flute-playing a la Herbie Mann, though without the shirt off, which would be an improvement, for that matter). Suddenly Sunday church services are being modeled after their own Youth Groups!
What I want to know is, since when has critiquing the secular world's humanistic, Pelagian thinking not sounded radical and relevant? Or is that practise now completely out of vogue except maybe via Paul Walker, Tim Keller, and / or that Terryl Glenn (?) guy at the AMIA flagship on Paulie's Island? Fortunately, Cranmer does it ad infinitum, and, these days, Sunday evenings find me making a bee-line for what is arguably Oxford's most pathetic traditional sung Evensong, where I get the Gospel I crave straight out of the Book of Common Prayer. Only a God of Grace would show up in that service, and He does!
I say, first, start preaching the Gospel again as described in antiquated Article 11: "The justification of man -We are accounted righteous before God solely on account of the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through faith and not on account of our own good works or of what we deserve. Consequently the teaching that we are justified by faith alone is a most wholesome and comforting doctrine. This is taught more fully in the homily on Justification." Preach it again and again (like a broken record for consistently broken lives)! Preach it to Christian and non-Christian sinners alike! Preach it like you're Augustine and they're Pelagius. Just as G. Forde says, "let that bird fly!" Those that can hear it will lap it up (yes, I believe in Irresistible Grace), for it is a / (THE) "most wholesome and comforting doctrine". It is sufficient.
Suddenly, good old-fashioned Parish ministry looks pretty radical to me. I can't wait! -- JAZ
p.s., Along similar lines, I like Luther's first thesis of his famous 95, where he basically says the following: "When Jesus said 'Repent and Believe' (because the latter is contingent upon the former), he meant that the entire Christian life should be made up of 'Repenting' (and, thereby, 'Believing')." As far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty good model.
p.p.s., As far as church for the post-modern world goes, I've never seen a better model than the one offered in John Ford's 'Donovan's Reef' (1963). In the movie, we find a church community gathered on Christmas Eve, in Hawaii, during a severe rain storm. A seemingly traditional, children's Christmas pageant begins. The congregation, which includes John Wayne (!), sits (each holding a candle), in their most formal, floral-printed shirts and muumuus, singing Silent Night in traditional Hawaiian tongue. On the stage, the setting is much the same as one might imagine, a small manger, children dressed as angels, and the narrator reads from the beginning of Luke. Only, in introducing the Magi, the wise men are entitled: The Prince of Polynesia, The Emperor of China, and The King of the United States of America. Instead of baring gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, the Polynesian, clad in loin cloth and tropical wreath, carries a platter full of pineapples, the Emperor of China brings a tray of different teas, and the King of the USA, strangely enough, carries a phonograph and wears a crooked crown. The scene is peculiar and the “same old story” has vibrancy, and renewed power. Yet the elements include an old German hymn translated into Hawaiian, an old story retold with modern elements (pineapples and a phonograph), an ethnically diverse congregation, children and adults, etc. Truly postmodern! And its poignancy still brings tears to the eyes. This photo of the astronaut on the moon, worshipping the Cross is another favorite image of mine for similar reasons.
(from The Crucified God) --
"A Christianity which does not measure itself in theology and practice by this criterion of Christ crucified loses its identity and becomes confused with the surrounding world; it becomes the religious fulfilment of the prevailing social interests, or of the interests of those who dominate society. It becomes a chameleon which can no longer be distinguished from the leaves of the tree in which it sits.
"But a Christianity which applies to its theology and practice the criterion of its own fundamental origin cannot remain what it is at the present moment in social, political and psychological terms. It experiences an outward crisis of identity, in which its inherited identification with the desires and interests of the world around it is broken down. It becomes something other than what it imagined itself to be, and what was expected of it.
"To be radical, of course, means to seize a matter at its roots. More radical Christian faith can only mean committing oneself without reserve to the 'crucified God'. This is dangerous. It does not promise the confirmation of one's own conceptions, hopes and good intentions. It promises first of all the pain of repentance and fundamental change. It offers no recipe for success. But it brings a confrontation with the truth. It is not positive and constructive, but is in the first instance critical and destructive. It does not bring man into a better harmony with himself and his environment, but into contradiction with himself and his environment. It does not create a home for him and integrate him into society, but makes him 'homeless' and 'rootless' (yep, we become extra-terrestrials. JZ), and liberates him in following Christ who was homeless and rootless. The 'religion of the cross', if faith on this basis can ever be so called, does not elevate and edify in the usual sense (i.e., in the mystical sense. JZ), but scandalizes; and most of all it scandalizes one's 'co-religionists' in one's own circle. But by this scandal it brings liberation into a world which is not free. For ultimately, in a civilization which is constructed on the principle of achievement and enjoyment (not including the USA. JZ), and therefore makes pain and death a private matter, excluded from its public life, so that in the final issue the world must no longer be experienced as offering resistance, there is nothing so unpopular as for the crucified God to be made a present reality through faith. It alienates alienated men (i.e., it won't allow them to understand themselves as Gods, as having ultimate control. JZ), who have come to terms with alienation. And yet this faith, with its consequences, is capable of setting men free from their cultural illusions, releasing them from the involvements which blind them, and confronting them with the truth of their existenc and their society.
"Before there can be correspondance and agreements between faith and the surrounding world, there must first be the painful demonstration of truth in the midst of untruth. In this pain we experience reality outside ourselves, which we have not made or thought out for ourselves (one of the ways in which liturgy is so helpful! JZ). The pain arouses a love which can no longer be indifferent, but seeks out its opposite (Grace = unmerited love for a sinner. JZ), what is ugly and unworthy of love, in order to love it. This pain breaks down the apathy in which everything is a matter of indiffernece, because every one meets is always the same and familiar.
"Thus the Cross in the church is not just what Christian custom would have imagined...It does not invite thought, but a change of mind. It is a symbol which therefore leads out of the church and out of religious longing into fellowship of the oppressed and abandoned. On the other hand, it is a symbol which call the oppressed and godless into the church and through the church into the fellowship of the crucified God. Where this contradiction in the cross, and its revolution in religious values, is forgotten, the cross ceases to be a symbol and becomes an idol, and no longer invites a revolution in thought, but the end of thought in self-affirmation." (pp. 34-35)
Posted by John Zahl at 6:53 PM