Tuesday, June 26, 2007

humbled and baffled

I came to this conclusion today as I skimmed through a book review on Graham Wards, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice by Randi Rashkover. The review appears in the latest issue of Modern Theology.

Rashkover comments,
“Both Cities of God and Ward's more recent Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, offer a Christian apologetics in which Christianity is both part of contemporary culture, committed to reading the signs of the times, and also outside that culture, committed to reading those signs through the lens of its own calculus of desire. Ward's apologetics arises from Augustine's analysis of the relationship between the city of man and the city of God. The encounter between the two cities is governed by two different logics, that of analogy and that of parody. On the one hand, the two cities share the same language and can provide occasions for mutual interpretation. On the other hand, the city of man is a parody of the city of God and can be read as a perverted imitation that is therefore subject to Christian critique. For the city of God, as the representative of eschatological reality, contextualizes and corrects the meaning and use of the city of man and its language; indeed, the intelligibility of the city of man is inextricable from its need for correction through the city of God.”
Talk about walking the line! Or maybe it’s not about walking the line. There is a crafty weaving of the wheat and the tares that somehow the Church must embrace. I am humbled by our task and confess my utter ignorance.



urbanmonk said...

Yeah, it often feels like walking the line for me. I'm glad for the articulation, but the discipled existence is where the rubber meets the road.

I think that this is precisely where modern evangelical piety has failed to understand the ground between the goodness of God's creation and its misuse. I'm thinking here of Augustine's understanding of misdirected loves.

Case in point, alcohol has thoroughly destroyed the lives of individuals and communities. The impulse to release those captured by its pull was to spurn it without regard. The social and religious abstinence was encoded as piety then legalism divorced from its context.

So now in hindsight we recognize our foolishness and eccentricities and rightly begin to deconstruct this encoding. But its not simply about rearticulating a proper understanding.

Enjoying the goodness of the creation without misusing and abusing it requires a careful balance, which will call some to abstinence and others to disciplined participation, however such discernment require a certain kind of discipleship.

This discipleship is eroded by our strict boundaries that rigidly call somethings good and other things evil. (I think this critique has a lot of implications beyond this current conversation)

The effect, continuing with my current example, is that you have a bunch of young evangelicals rightfully tossing aside legalism, but unprepared to discern or participate in the goodness of creation without abusing it.

Now, I think this example falls apart at some point, and it is better extended to our innocent or tacit participation in the cultural milieu (ie, technology, media, film, sexuality, economics,), which all for me are defined within the context of the latemodern city.

Does any of this make sense?

Thanks for the great quote, and the chance to do some thinking.

Scott Savage said...


Thanks for your comment. Even though your example was for the sake of a larger picture, I have not heard the question of alcohol articulated quite like that. Thank you!

The more I think about the centrality of our faith, that God was in Christ (i.e. incarnation), the more I realize the necessity of an intimate involvement with the world. Blind participation in the world displays ignorance and total withdrawal from the world makes the church obsolete. But, if we are present and non-participating in misuse of creation as well as present and affirming of that which is good then we can truly be salt and light.

This is so tricky. For example, the Church can talk about non-violence all the while forgetting that the structures and foundations of American society are founded on violence. We often forget how involved our lives are in the gross injustices that we confess we stand against. The Church is called to witness against these injustices but can do so only as involved in the structures that permit them for the be absent is to have no voice.

I really dug in the quote the play between analogy and parody. By sharing the same “language and mutual interpretation” we can recognize where the kingdom of God displays itself in the systems and structures of the world. In the same way, we share the same “language and mutual interpretation” so as to recognize when the world parodies the Kingdom of God, e.g. the Hotel industry, of which I am intimately a part.

You bring up a good point about deconstruction for it allows the Church, in a sense, to open up our assumptions about the way things are so that they might be reconstructed according to the way things are, i.e. the Kingdom of God.

Incarnational living is dirty and risky business. Perhaps, so that we might not forget, that’s why we were made out of dirt.

Thanks Brian. Your comments are hopeful.


Thomas Bridges said...

Have you read Ward yet? One of the things I really like about his reading of Augustine, is that he admits that it is just that A READING of Augustine, and may not be the way Augustine would read himself. But that is not the point. On can 'play' with the texts of the Fathers, as with Scripture, when one stays in the 'spirit' of the author.

Scott Savage said...

I have not read Ward but my interest has peaked as of recent. I have Genealogy of Nihilism on my shelf waiting for me. I think I might want to read Cultural Transformation and Christian Practifce first. I have been thinking a lot these days about the implications of the incarnation on our lives as people who find themselve in cultures that embrace alternative conceptions about the way things are in the world than does the Church. I look out for his reading of Augustine. I think I need a good dose of it these day. Thanks Thomas!

Thomas Bridges said...

Sounds like a reading plan.