For many years there has been a trend amongst churches to become a sort of “third place” (other than work or home) much like Starbucks. Starbucks revolutionized coffee as a sociological phenomenon by inviting people to take part in a culture away from the stressful side of life that included coffee but that was not limited to coffee. The coffee house has become a place to relax, to meet with friends, to study, and even to do business. Other coffee places have capitalized on this trend and the coffee house in the United States is different than anything we saw a few decades ago.
Now I have seen something interesting evolve. Our culture has had mixed feelings about tradition. Some think tradition matters; some thing tradition impedes progress. Many in the church have shared this concern. Yet it is tradition that many would say bring us a sort of stability, sureness, and even comfort.
The most recent marketing ad for Starbucks says, “Take Comfort in Rituals”. I find this ironic. For years the church has said, “Let’s be like Starbucks.” Now Starbucks is saying, “Let’s be like a religion!”
As I think about this I realize something odd. There is a comfort in ritual; there is a comfort in religion. There is a surety in act of worship (which is how James K.A. Smith would explain some of this). When I am at a mall in January through early November I want to finish as soon as possible, but in late November through December I kind of like being in the mall even though I wish I didn’t. I think this is because the ritual of holiday shopping creates a stability in life when the world around me is changing all the time.
This is why it is so hard to separate materialism from Christmas. I want to make Christmas about the birth of Christ and that alone, but my culture has made it so much more. To deny my desire to go to the mall, see the decorations, and experience the culture of it all is a difficult task at times.
That being said there has been a trend amongst many North American churches to be “less religious”. I think this is mistaken. We are religious beings. We take comfort in ritual. I know it is fall because of the leaves on the sidewalk and because the Pumpkin Spice latte is back. I will know it is almost Christmas, in part, when the Peppermint Mocha is a promoted drink on the Starbucks menu.
While tradition and ritual can be bad it can also be good. I like gathering together with other believers to sing songs, hear someone read from our script/story (the Scriptures), and observe the Eucharist/Communion. To some extent this is the value of liturgical calendars (though I don’t think my current fellowship observes this very closely). While there should be room for freedom of expression, flexibility, and cultralization, there should also be ritual. Ritual stabilizes us. Ritual brings comfort.
There’s a good little book on this by Stephen Holmes called: Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology, esp. the first chapter. Viz. on the issue of “Tradition” and “Ritual.”
Thanks for alerting me to this. A very revealing ad series that shows just how much contemporary ecclesiology and organizations like Starbucks have in common in their central focus on ritual. habit, and stability/comfort through routine. However, I take this to be a far more negative reflection on contemporary ecclesiology than you seem do here. Is worship supposed to be something that soothes us and brings us into a sense of the familiar, the comfortable? To me this seems to be the opposite of what encounter with the free, and living God of Jesus looks like in Scripture.
Very good and interesting thoughts.
You make a very valuable point and I think my language of “comfort” may have been misleading. I do not deny that genuine worship should lead to a sort of “fear and trembling”. If we are worshiping God we will experience something wholly other to ourselves. That being said, I think there is still “love, joy, peace in the Holy Spirit”. There is something assuring of the corporate ritual that we share that aims toward reminding us of the risen Christ and the fellowship we share in the Spirit.
Thanks for pointing this out. I will definitely be using this in my ecclesiology class this semester. And, your “comfort” language had me responding much the same as Halden. I think we could also push on the meaning of “ritual” even more. As you pointed out, this is an important part of Smith’s work, and he would definitely argue that a ritual is more than something that makes us feel at home or even something that “reminds” us of important truths. Deeper than that, rituals are formative. They shape us toward being certain kinds of people. I’d want to push back on Smith a bit in that he often makes it sound like these rituals alone are sufficient to shape people, but I think his basic insight is very helpful. The question then becomes, what kind of person is a Starbucks ritual shaping us into being?
I think it shapes us to be what most companies in our cultures shape us to be–consumers! The whole system tells us that this ritual or that will make us satisfied. It will satisfy a particular need.
I remember when I watched the iPhone 4 commercials I knew that I didn’t need one but my feeling of want came close enough to the feeling of need that I could see what the marketing was trying to do. I now have one!
SBUX is no different. It provides a culture and a ritual but for the sake of making you a consumer!
I would want to push even harder than Marc and say something more to the effect that believing it is the church’s task to “shape” people through ritual at all is the problem. That sort of stability is indeed inculcated in rituals, but I don’t believe it is in accord with the transformation proclaimed and envisioned by the Gospel.
I think the problem is that while we acknowledge that there is a sort of initial disequilibration brought about by the Gospel, there is a subsequent sort of organicism to the Christian life. Thus the life of the church is cast as a sort of ongoing process of cultural construction in which, through our practices, we are fashioned into a communal form that embodies and extends the Gospel in the world (I take this to be Smith’s position for example).
In contrast to this, I would suggest that the life of the church in the world is constantly defined by the disequilibration of the Gospel. The quest for a sort of cultural stability through ritual then, is precisely the problem that the Gospel confronts. “Formation” I would argue, occurs not through an immanent cultural process that the church produces but rather through, as Bonhoeffer describes, “the form of Christ taking form in the world”, that is, it occurs in the free action of Christ and the Spirit through which we are given over to Christ’s radical love. How that occurs cannot be specified in advance as it is Christ’s own free action. That is why I am resistant to any notion of worship-as-naturally-formative-ritual. It is precisely such efforts to fashion ourselves into certain kinds of people that the Gospel interrupts, dissolves, and transforms in God’s own free action for us and our salvation.
I think I am in need of some further clarification in order to understand what you are saying. Do you think our rituals move the act of transformation from the Spirit to a humanistic religious endeavor? What if we saw worship not as “naturally-formative” but being a means by which Christ has chosen to form us?
Short answer is yes. I believe that the fixation in works like Smith’s on the church’s cultural practices as the means of formation occludes the free action of Christ and the Spirit. In this frame of reference the work of Christ and the Spirit becomes “naturalized” so to speak, and is rendered an immanent production of the church. This I find scripturally and theologically problematic.
The problem is that such an account, in addition to tending to absorb God’s free action ends up instrumentalizing worship as well. Worship ceases to be the non-necessary response of praise to God’s action and becomes an encoded means for the production of a certain kind of cultural and intellectual coherence. To me this is a mistake precisely because it forgets the fundamental nature of worship itself. Worship “does” nothing, it “accomplishes” nothing. Worship rather is our grateful recognition that everything is “done” and “accomplished” in Jesus Christ. To the extent that we want to make worship something productive we make it not-worship. Worship seeks to be nothing because God is everything, to the extent that we posit it as an act of “making” or even of “formation” we are seeking to make it something else.
Now, to be sure the free Spirit of God may meet us and transform us in and through worship. But this can never be assumed in advance or presumed upon. To the extent that we try to weld the work of the Spirit to our rituals and liturgies such that they can be the predictable locus of the Spirit’s work we fail to acknowledge the true nature of salvation and divine action in the world. God is just as likely to meet us over-against our rituals and practices as in and through them, indeed I would say it is far more likely that God will tend come to us in a way that disrupts our cultural practices, traditions, and rituals. I think a perusal of the Old Testament, not to mention Jesus’s own career bears this out rather clearly.
This is heavy and it is a lot to chew on. I think my mind will need new categories to fully reason through what is said here. Of course, I think your final paragraph does say a lot that I find valuable, especially as regards the thought that we can guarantee this or that through our rituals as if it creates a scenario where God must do as we plan. My trouble is trying to understand how we can preserve any structure of traditional worship like the decision to gather together or to sing songs or even the Eucharist. Again, I will need to think through what is said here as it relates to these traditions that the church has valued and in the instance of the Eucharist and baptism a ritual that Jesus himself gave to us.
In reference to your last point, let me be clear, I am not calling for the abolition of liturgical practices. Not at all. Rather I am arguing that such practices must be understood in light of Christology and a christologically-informed theology of divine action. Of course Christ commanded us to celebrate his meal in memory of him (though what this means in terms of “rite” and “ritual” needs to be examined more deeply, I think). But the point of these practices is precisely that they point outside themselves to Christ’s own completed action for us and our salvation. The Lord’s Supper is not important in itself, but rather in the One to whom it bears witness. This is the case with all of our worship. It—like John the Baptist, actually—simply points away from itself, and ourselves, to Him.
So how do we understand “traditional” practices of liturgy and worship? Not as Spirit-imbued guarantors of the divine presence but rather as a sacrifice of praise to be offered in prayer and adoration. They exist not to perform any task, not to make us into better people or better Christians, but simply to be offered to the One who has saved us by his blood in thankfulness.
That is fundamentally what I am driving at, and I think this gets to the root of what “eucharist” truly means. True worship of the God of Jesus Christ can never be a technique of formation or some kind of technology of desire. Rather it must be from beginning to end, thankfulness, eucharistia—the giving of thanks. To the extent that we try to make worship more than that we make it into something else entirely.
All of us have traditions that we adhere to and feel uncomfortable if we don’t. We all have rituals which make up a rhythm of life as we go about doing life. All of us live a liturgous life even if we don’t actively think about it.
And this practice is transferred to our churches… all you have to do to see this in action is one morning without notice change the room around and move the stage / pulpit across to the other side of the room or start the sermon before having a time of praise etc.
I was a lay preacher in a Charismatic Anglican church for a number of years. I know fellowship in a Baptist church and was given the privilege to preach last week. I believe I will be given the opportunity to do so again.
As I prepare for the next sermon I’m hoping to preach on the Aaronic Blessing and will recount the Anglican practice of the minister saying to the congregation … The Lord be with you… with the congregation responding… Also with you.
While It’s not my intention to change the status quo at church and make bring in new practices, I firmly believe that by engaging with different forms of liturgy can bring about a freshness in our personal and corporate lives.
Amen. There are living rituals and there are dead ones. When a ritual becomes perfunctory and lifeless, revive it – OR – kill it and start a new one.
I agree with your points here. Where would you say Christian formation fits into the scheme of things? If worship is not an act of formation where do we find it or should we even expect it? Do you see it as a passive thing that the Spirit does?
Sorry for all the questions!
Brian, I’m co-teaching a class at our church right now based on Smith’s book. My fellow teacher and I meet at Starbuck’s every week to discuss the upcoming class. We noticed this new ad campaign immediately and thought it was very ironic considering what we were there to do! 🙂
I think Halden has a point, but I’m afraid we often underestimate–not overestimate–the importance of our rituals in shaping us.
Those of us who are regularly being criticized by Halden, Nate, and others have learned how unconstructive it is to respond. I would suggest this: we will be happy to respond to these sorts of caricatures, er, “claims” as soon as Kerr and Halden publish their account in a peer-reviewed journal, preferably Modern Theology, Journal of Religious Ethics, or the International Journal of Systematic Theology, but we’ll also take Political Theology. I’m tired of people being impressed that someone has a laptop with an internet connection. Don’t cow so easily, Brian. Bonhoefferian pieties don’t constitute arguments.
“I’m tired of people being impressed that someone has a laptop with an internet connection.”
I hope not to appear to be backing down easily. What I am trying to do is better understand what Halden is saying. I don’t want to dismiss a work of God, nor fall into the idea that I can somehow “practice til perfect”, but I am concerned that it begins to sound like Christian maturity is a passive endeavor which creates a lot of problems for me. This is why I am more than willing to give him a platform to further explain so I don’t disagree prior to know what he is saying.
I very much welcome your contributions as well or if you have written elsewhere and you don’t want to repeat yourself please send a link. I want to get into your book but my bookshelf is currently experiencing a traffic jam so it may take some time!
Also, I find myself confused, in part, because I hear a lot of what seems to be Barthian (you say Bonhoefferian) language that honestly is very foreign to me since I have read only a little Bonhoeffer and no Barth.
I’m currently sitting in Starbucks as I write this (and I’m a former employee, ha!).
I think the confusion in your post comes from a somewhat equivocal use of “ritual” which then becomes a straw man for some. Certainly Starbucks has not intention of use a deep understanding of ritual (in a anthropological or theological sense) and you use of Christmas shopping (which resonates with me, but for me it is the smell of Goodwill, but that’s a different story…) also links a certain ritualism and consumerism which of course we all lament.
From this baseline, almost trite conflation of ‘ritual’ with consumer/Pavlovian-habit there is an argumentative slight of hand (yes, I’m thinking of halden’s remarks) that this reference to ritual is exactly the same as a theologian’s (a.k.a Jamie Smith’s) deployment of ritual. I think this is patently false. Rituals in the thick, anthropological sense are, as it were, a “de-habituating habit” through encounter with transcendent (which is always uncontrollable). Rituals, at there best, are ‘staged’ (I use that word deliberately, yet hesitantly) encounters which form us through de-formation.
I also want to push back on the over-rapid accusation of instrumentalization. I hear this all the time. If you think worship is “formative” then it is “instrumental.” If it is “instrumental” then it is really nothing because God is already everything and salvation is already present. This is just a reduction of the complexity of redemption and a minimization of humanity. There is, on this side of eternity (maybe still there too) a gap between what we are (sinner) and what we are in truth (redeemed), and confession and thanksgiving are two practices which admit the truth (reality) while also forming us into that truth (instrument). Certainly these practices (rituals if you will) don’t guarantee anything outside of the fact that Christ guaranteed them and we strive to be faithful to them.
I’m not trying to defend my book or anything like that. I was intrigued by your post because I had also just noticed the Starbucks campaign (which, as a Calvinist, also resonates with the first Q/A in the Heidelberg Catechism: “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong–body and soul–to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ…”).
I think the disagreements between me and Nate, Halden, & Co.–while purportedly about “liturgy”–are really about a theology of creation. At least, that’s where I’d want to push the question. As I wrote in my response to Willimon, I think the Spirit’s grace gets hold of us through material, communal practices because that’s the sort of creatures we are. In other words, worship and spiritual formation are a reflection of the kinds of beings we are–material, finite, embodied persons.
Oddly enough, I think your post and Halden’s response restates rather than critiques Jamie’s work. He argues that rituals are inevitable and have a formative influence. Some cultivate wrong desire; some rightly order it (his Augustinianism). To concede that Starbucks could be dangerous because it has this formative, ritualistic character as a simulacrum of the church tacitly concedes the analysis. If it didn’t have this formative character, why even bother with it? Pass the mocha, cappu-grande, latte. To then argue that Starbucks can do this but the Holy Spirit cannot through the liturgical practices that have sustained the church since at least Justin Martyr (see Robert Wilkens’ The Spirit of Early Christianity) would be to suggest that the market is a more potent material force than God’s incarnation and ongoing presence in the church. Is that really what anyone wants to argue? Starbucks has the power to form us, but the church’s worship does not? Of course Halden is correct that worship is not instrumental; it is an end in itself — something to be enjoyed not used. Nowhere does Jamie deny this. But that doesn’t mean it lacks a formative character. Geoff is right that there is an improper equivocation going on between instrumental reasoning and phronesis or formative reasoning. I do like Jamie’s response, and don’t see it as dismissive of Halden, but as a charitable gesture. If Halden wants to take on Jamie’s book as he did in this post, he should do a serious review in a reputable journal outside the comfort zone of lifestyle enclave blogposts. Otherwise such offhanded references to literature come across as uncharitable and sniping.
True, I am sure I brought a lot under the umbrella of “ritual”. I do think there are similarities in that what we love we do and what we do we seem to become over time. So in that sense there are similarities though it surely falls short of what Christian practices try to accomplish.
What I am trying to figure out from Halden’s perspective if he is worried that this is going to slip into some sort of Pelagianism where we can guarantee God will do this if we do this. I don’t want to say that at all, but as James says above, God does seemed to have formed us in such a way that particular rituals do result in some sort of change. If it is God given this is not a coercion of God but only a response, no?
James K. A. Smith,
How do you avoid collapsing grace into creation?
Brian, you should really put Smith’s book at the top of your stack of books to read. He answers a lot of these questions. Smith doesn’t argue at all that if we just change our habits then, like magic, we’ll be more spiritual and godly people. Rather, he argues that the affective nature of our “liturgies” — both secular and sacred, both thick and thin — is built into who God has made us as humans. It neither discounts the role of the Spirit nor the role of daily liturgy. In fact, he says, “Cultural institutions and practices are ‘charged’ not only with an implicit telos, but also by spirits or the Spirit.”
Thanks for providing some extra data. This is helpful. I think a strong Pneumatology is needed and it seems you are saying this is suggested as part of James project. I would assume this to be so since he has done so much work with Pentecostal scholars and we know that for better or for worse this is the emphasis of the Pentecostal movement.
I think there is an underlying dualism shaping this discussion that is really unhelpful to discussing the issue of grace and nature/creation/rituals. We shouldn’t be able to speak about grace or nature in ways that are somehow abstracted from who God is in the hypostatic union in Christ. That’s what I see taking place in this discussion. Further, grace, in this situation is being spoken of in substance or quality terms; i.e. not personal, which is problematic.
See this helpful piece:
Thank you for the helpful input. What you say of James’ book does not seem to contradict Halden’s statements. I would like to hear more from Halden to why he says what he says. One thing I am coming to see is I need to read this book for myself!
Wow, apparently unless one is a tenured academic who has published in all the right journals they haven’t earned the right to disagree with Jamie Smith. It’s sad that it has come to this. I find it ironic that a comment accusing others of inhibiting constructive conversation offers nothing more than a trite dismissal which doesn’t even seek to engage what had, up to this point been what I take to be a fairly helpful back-and-forth conversation. If these plebeian internet discussions are so worthless and pathetic, why are you wasting your infinitely precious scholarly time with them, Jamie? Bonhoefferian pieties aside, I would hope we could all agree that passive-aggressive backhanded bitching doesn’t constitute an argument either.
As to your question Brian, I would say that we need to spend more time re-envisioning the meaning of “Christian formation.” In that I don’t think the transformation proclaimed by the Gospel is fundamentally about a communal socialization which produces a certain kind of “self” or identity, I think we need to look more at this transformation in terms of a kenotic sort of “de-formation” in which, through the free action of the Spirit we are conformed to Christ. Moreover I believe that any account of transformation must be centered, not on what sort of self we are to become, but rather on the call of the Gospel to give ourselves away in love to others. We need a more ex-centric and missionary understanding of what transformation means. Of course this is obviously just a broad gesture as I am speaking towards work that is currently in progress. These sorts of conversations, in which questions like this are brought up continue to help in pushing me to clarify and re-think things, so thank you for that.
And of course don’t hesitate to follow up with more questions, I don’t mean this comment to close off the thread. But I may not be able to respond for a little while as I am actually about to hop on a plane to visit my family. Thanks again for the discussion and questions.
There’s nothing passive-aggressive about it, Halden. I mean it quite seriously. Think of it as a gauntlet if you will: if you guys really want to carefully articulate your critiques and constructive proposals, then please do so and then see how they fare the peer-review process. The peer-review process is slower, more deliberate, and is expected as part of scholarly life, so when scholars have a manuscript put on their desk, they’re expected to take the time needed to carefully respond. And their institutional expectations and “reward-systems” (so to speak) will grant them the time to do so.
I’m also encouraging you to do this in order to “field test” both your critiques and your ideas to see how they fare in more mainstream theological discourse. I have a hunch about whether the caricatures you guys purvey will make it through that level of rigorous attention. Perhaps they will. In any case, you should receive significant, helpful feedback. As Steve’s already suggesting, you might be pressed to actually provide textual evidence for the positions you attribute to people. That’s a good thing, I’d think. This is what makes it so hard to get this conversation off the ground: you keep describing positions that nobody holds, and then append our names to them.
Anyway, I fail to see how my suggestion is passive-aggressive avoidance. I want to engage these ideas, and I’d love to see them in a peer-reviewed journal article. Steve and I would be the first ones to sign up and write responses.
I wonder why folks even stoop to engage the blogosphere environment if it’s such a drag on their intellectual sensibilities. Why even comment, Smith or Long?
I didn’t say the blogosphere environment is a drag on intellectual sensibilities. Please stop attributing to me things I didn’t say. I’m also on the record that there can be good use of theological discussion in the blogosphere. On the questions at issue here, I think we’ve hit a saturation point.
Why comment, then? Because I think there are students and emerging scholars who are easily impressed by the swagger of theological bloggers, and thus demur too easily. Sometimes comments are just meant to be a reminder that there’s not a consensus, or things might be more complicated, etc. A lot of students read blogs, and I’m concerned about the “education” they’re receiving there.
That’s fair enough. Yet, your reply to Halden definitely gives an “untouchable” sense. I’m unaware of the history between you and Halden, but I imagine your response, along with Long’s, has something to do with that. Nevertheless, if you’re concerned about student’s education, then why didn’t you respond to my question on how you avoid collapsing grace into creation. [remember, I have no idea of the history between you and certain theo-bloggers; beyond that, I’ve never read a word of what you’ve written prior to this combox. My previous question to you was an honest one based upon what you said on the “Spirit’s grace” and how it “gets hold of us”]. It looks like you’re saying that grace become coordinate with material things as if grace is some kind of “quality” abstracted accidently from the life of God. All I was looking for was some clarification.
@Grow: sorry, that question got lost in the shuffle of comments. Part of me is wondering what other shoe’s going to drop when I answer your question. E.g., if you’re Orthodox Presbyterian or PCA, then I’m wondering if behind your question are some assumptions about the covenant of works vs. covenant of grace, etc. I’m going to guess not and thus answer this way:
My inclination is to say that creation is the first grace–it is the first participation of creation in God’s life, in a sense. And redemptive, restoring grace is a further invitation and incorporation into the life of God. In my mind, the Spirit and grace are almost synonymous–but that might be showing my pentecostal cards and the influence of my friend Amos Yong.
Wow, this has been a fascinating conversation and I’ve got quite a number of thoughts. So, please bear with me.
I’d be intrigued to know whether Halden thinks that rituals are formative in any sense (regardless of whether they are formative in the sense that he thinks is most important). I would argue that we are being formed by any practice that we engage in regularly; this is simply unavoidable. Thus, worship practices are necessarily formative and should be viewed through that lens. You are welcome to argue that this isn’t the kind of formation that is of most importance to the Christian, but that doesn’t entail that they are insignificant either.
One of the reasons that Halden objects to the idea that worship is formative is because worship that’s not what worship is “fundamentally” about. And, as he says, “To the extent that we try to make worship more than that we make it into something else entirely.” But, that hardly seems to follow. The fact that worship may have secondary effects in addition to its fundamental purpose does not somehow undermine that purpose. I can argue that communal worship has the effect of manifesting and creating unity in the community without suggesting that this somehow undermines the fundamental purpose of responding to God’s grace. This does not seem to be an either/or situation.
I think the same can be said for Halden’s argument that transformation is not “fundamentally about a communal socialization which produces a certain kind of “self” or identity.” Instead, biblical transformation is missional and about serving the other. Fine. But, why do these need to be set against one another. Indeed, I would argue that serving the other is itself formational. Have I then robbed serving the other of its fundamental significance by recognizing that it has a transformative effect? I agree that we shouldn’t turn this around and make self-transformation the fundamental purpose of the Gospel, but that doesn’t mean that self-transformation is excluded either.
I’m also not convinced by Halden’s argument that any appeal to ritual necessarily means that we have captured, tamed, or “naturalized” the Spirit’s work in forming God’s people. He critiques the idea that of “worship-as-naturally-formative-ritual.” Now, I have to admit that I’ve been critical of Desiring the Kingdom precisely at this point. I would have loved to have seen more of a Christological and pneumatological framework explicitly laid out in that work, grounding the portrayal of ritual and its formative significance. But, as I’ve followed Smith in other places, it sure sounds like he has clearly emphasized that these are not “natural” rituals. These are practices fully grounded in grace and empowered by the Spirit. Granted, Smith sees this as part of the way that God created us from the beginning (hence his comment about creation above), but that doesn’t mean that they are “natural” in the sense that Halden seems to suggest.
No, I’m Evangelical Calvinist, you can read more about that here; and we are producing a book on it (due out late 2011), which you can read about here. The anti-OPC and PCA 😉 .
. . . it is the first participation of creation in God’s life, in a sense. I’m not sure what you mean by this; do you see a distinction, logically, between God as Father and God as Creator? God as Father in relation to the Son being primary to who we see externalized in God as Creator.
I think Grace should be seen as ‘personal’ and not qualitative as well. So you’re not a neo-Thomist then?
I probably just should read something from you on this. Any suggestions?
I know next to nothing about all this (the subject of ritual) except what I have read in Heibert et al, Understanding Folk Religion (Baker Academic) – I am an AG pastor and we typically have little no serious ritual in the liturgical sense.
That said, I side with J. K. A. Smith, Marc Cortez and others that rituals are very formative if not altogether transformative – they shape who we are and who we become both as individuals and in relationship with others – even our daily life rituals be it the rituals we go through at work or home or in various social settings and yes, even at church (liturgically based or not). Smith notes creation. I probably misunderstand but rituals can be “creative” or “re-creative” (basically same as formative probably)(and like Bill stated, if they get dry or routine, create new rituals or re-create them to give them new life). So, I too have trouble following Halden and his suggestions that ritual isn’t as formative as some think.
About Halden’s comments of Christian formation not being communal socialization, but instead a “de-formative” work of the Spirit to conform us to Christ, isn’t that what being in community is about – being formed as the People of God and People of the Spirit through our fellowship with one another through the Spirit so we can be conformed to Christ? I could we way off and completely out in left field on this so help me out. Thanks. Grace and Peace.
I would agree with Halden that the Holy Spirit must deform us even while the Spirit ‘forms’ us our ‘makes’ us new. I don’t think those are options. Every baptism is an exodus/exile as well as a promise of ‘possession,’ which is our participation in God’s eternal rest. I didn’t mean to imply blogs had no validity. I read a few and occasionally make comments. I certainly don’t think they are somehow beneath us academics. My blog comments are often not well “formed” (pun intended) because of the kind of writing blogging is. I do think they tend to garner like minded folk together, which is not bad as long as they do not become self-enclosed.
It seems that several are asking why this must be an either/or between Halden’s view and James’. I am wondering the same thing. Does a de-formation not result in a reformation to follow? And as Marc said, do we have to discount secondary purposes of worship or can they remain with primary purposes?
I had no idea this post would become such a fascinating discussion!
I think it’s Halden that pushing the dichotomy, not me. I think Marc’s comment above does an excellent job of summarizing the issues, and presents a very fair account of my model. I explicitly note in the book that the telos of worship is the glorification and praise of the Triune God; and that worship (as understood in the Reformed tradition) is a dialogical encounter; but I also note that formation is an inherent (and divinely desired) “side effect” of sorts. These are all just lessons I first learned from Marva Dawn, I think before I ever read Hauerwas.
Just to totally ignore the above conversation, Starbucks works well as a comparison for missions too. They have successfully contextualized an Italian coffee culture into an American setting so well that it is now an American cultural export. The analogy works on so many levels, but that is a bit off topic here.
The problem with your book, Jamie, is not that it instrumentalizes worship per se (though it undoubtedly does) but that there is simply nothing of the gospel in it; nor do I think you can really call it a work of theology. After all, as you say, it is something of a ‘philosophical anthropology’ or a sociology of ritual or something; the little theology that one finds is saved to function mostly as a qualifier or as a way to justify the formative ‘intensity’ of Sunday morning worship. I don’t know though; perhaps judgments cannot be made on this score, because you don’t really have the academic credentials to speak to theological issues anyway.
@ R.O. Flyer: Indeed, I’m a Christian philosopher. The book describes itself as a “philosophical theology of culture,” which I take to be a philosophical project fundamentally. I don’t make any claims to be a theologian. If I was as smart as you, I might hope to be a real theologian. A guy can dream, can’t he?
This is actually quite a helpful clarification. Perhaps the real problem is that we have been criticizing it on specifically theological grounds. If it is a “philosophical project fundamentally,” I, for one, will look at it very differently. And you know perfectly well that I’m not a “real theologian”; I’m a department adjunct with nothing but an MA!
@R.O: no, I didn’t know that. So in hindsight, my smart-ass-ness was probably pitched just a bit high.
Of course, I expect we have different understandings about the nature of philosophy, and the very idea of a Christian philosophy, but that’s certainly for another time and place.
I can’t tell if your initial comment was meant in earnest or not. Are we really dichotomizing anthropology and theology?
Again, your statement seems to engage in what I said before as the “over-rapid charge of instrumentalization” that makes things either entirely God focused/active and human/passive vs. human focused/active and God/passive.
Are non of the above comments to be contended with here that try to unite the primary goal of worship as praise and the secondary effect of formation? This is the same problem with Flett’s book that always claims that a secondary movement of mission is invalid, but should instead be inscribed into the very being of God (indeed, this is the mirror of your position…we can’t instrumentalize worship so we have to instead absolutize mission).
I think this over-rapid charge of instrumentalization stems from the lack of an adequate theological anthropology which people like Smith are supplying.
I am not sure how I have left you think I want to ‘dichotomize anthropology and theology.’ I simply think there is an important distinction between Smith’s work, as a (self-described) philosophical anthropology of how rituals work to form us, and a theological account of worship. The problem I have with Smith’s account of what you call the ‘secondary’ movement or what he calls ‘side effects’ of worship is the primacy of place it is so often given. There is the affirmation that worship is really “an end in itself” (which, by the way, I don’t really know what to make of) and not primarily about what it does for us, but then Smith moves on to talk almost entirely about what it does for us–how it works like other rituals to shape us into certain kinds of human beings. The practices–specifically the traditional liturgies of the church–are then super- ‘charged’ with an appeal to the Spirit’s action which inheres in them. I suppose I would disagree with both statements. Theologically speaking, I don’t think “worship is an end in itself” nor do I think its primary ‘side effects’ is something like “character formation.” So, I think one problem in this whole discussion is a misunderstanding of what Nate, Halden, and I are trying to say. And perhaps this is mostly our fault. But our main preoccupation is not with some worry about ‘instrumentalizing’ worship or keeping worship as some pure ‘end in-itself’; nor is it about getting mad when people talk about the sociological ‘side effects’ of rituals. whether it be the Mall or the sanctuary. I think what we’re trying to say is that this is simply not the gospel. It’s what Paul, Luther, Kierkegaard, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Yoder all called religion!
Viva la Reformation! Now I get it: you care about “the Gospel.” Yes, yes, I remember this Gospel-centered critique of “religion” from my days in the Plymouth Brethren and the Assemblies of God. This is very helpful. Clears up quite a lot.
I don’t think you’ll want to miss a chance to team up with others who are committed to “the Gospel.” Be sure to check out http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/
Honestly, I don’t think we’ve dissembled on this score. Our point has never been to have proper ecumenical manners. We’re not trying to bridge continental philosophy with Pentecostalism, ‘participation metaphysics,’ and Reformed theology in order to arrive at some ‘catholic’ point of view. Halden and I are Anabaptists and Nate is a Nazarene and we do theology precisely out of this context. So, yeah, I do think this should clarify a lot for you.
I don’t want to sound too snippy, but your statement about Paul (et. al) regarding his critique of “religion” seems to ignore all the research by the New Perspective which suggests that this critique is exactly NOT what Paul is doing (even if Luther et. al were). Even Lou Martyn is not so careless in his critique of the New Perspective and his deployment of “rectification.”
And “theologically” speaking, to not place primacy of importance to worship as the end of both creation and humanity is to go against huge biblical and traditional (which is reflection on the bible) support. It is almost overwhelming. But not insurmountable, just overwhelming. And I haven’t see the case for not making worship central.
I know that Flett tries to make mission the eternal movement of God (which it might will be) but he also wants to make mission an eternal vocation of humanity (against worship) which I find just confusing. Actually, I know why he does it I just disagree.
And the Gospel is only intelligible within a backround outlined by creation (where are we) and anthropology (what happened to humanity) which I haven’t really grasped yet. And to say “religion” happened to humanity does not clarify except in a polemical sense, and you haven’t shown how against all of Smith’s best intentions he succumbs to religion (you only assert such, which is great for blogging, but not “theology”).
well, RO, i guess that does make it clear. but why drag all of us into your provincial dispute among (some) Anabaptists and Nazarenes around a loaded theological key-word like “religion” which is shorthand for a position that very few others take. You attribute positions to others who don’t hold them because they remind you of a family dispute.
Just like Stendahl showed that Luther (mis)read Paul through his own issues with the Catholic Church, might it not be time to do the same for some knee-jerk reactions to “religion” which stem from the same misreading of Paul? Certainly there is a valid critique of much of evangelical Christianity, but your theological targets aren’t perpetuating that mess, they are also working against it.
You’d hear me say Viva la Reformation! before I’d say ressourcement!. That’s for damn sure.
@ R.O. Flyer:
Fair enough. Good luck with that.
har har at Jaime! Yes many do care about “the gospel” but on differing terms than the fundie group “The Gospel Coalition.” 🙂 I think the ritual performed in the church (i.e., the liturgy) should in a sense, in one form or another, tell the gospel story, no?
I don’t know if this thread is beyond actually engaging the issues, but let me at least try, if for no other reason than to at least get Jamie and others to try to address the issues that Halden and Ry are trying to point up.
(1.) My particular problems with Jamie’s book stem from the almost total claim it gives to “culture” itself, and the tendency therein to reduce worship to a cultural phenomenon. I find much talk of the church as counter-cultural and its cultural task of counter-formation, but I find precious little talk of what it might mean to reconsider “the church” not as alternative culture or as an alternative strategy of “cultural formation,” but rather as a challenge to and subversion of “culture” as such. That is, even for all its talk of worship and liturgy and mission, I remain suspicious that a generic conception of “culture” turns out to be the ultima ratio of the analysis itself. One might point to Smith’s treating of the Great Commission as a “cultural mandate” (pp. 205ff.). In the end, Smith doesn’t adequately investigate the correlation of the long history of “culture making” with pagan practices of “mythical construction.” Perhaps what is needed is a theological unmasking of the “myth of culture” — or, cultus. Whatever else the Gospel is about for Paul, it is certainly about the undoing of the mythos of religious cultus. Religious cultus, or “culture,” is depicted by Paul not as what the Gospel calls us to, but rather as the constant temptation of the Christian communities under the sway of the “the Teachers.”
(2.) From this perspective, I am equally suspicious that the casting of worship as fundamentally counter-cultural formation can provide the vantage point to undermine and to subvert the total claims of other the “counterfeit liturgies” and “cultural parodies” to which Smith refers. This has to do here with the status of ontology with respect to the church (which I cannot flesh out fully here, but which is the subject of the first chapter in my next book). I’m not convinced that the the kind of cultural critique that Smith is after can so easily be conceived as the replacement of false ontologies with the true, ecclesial ontology. Smith seems to operate with a presumed conception of the church (in line with a number of recent, contemporary ecclesiologists, such as Milbank and Hauerwas) as a cultural entity sui generis, with its own claim to “reality.” My question is how this can yet avoid falling prey to a mode of ecclesiological positivism, by which I mean an account of ontological givenness of the church as self-justifying. Furthermore, my real concern is that by casting the church in this mode of ontologically determinative counter-culture, Smith actually ends up granting to the cultural powers of this world an ontological weight and significance which they do not in fact possess in light of their overcoming and defeat in the event of Christ’s cross and resurrection. Or better, it grants their ontological claims to reality and fights them on their own turf. What is needed is a refusal of these claims as such, a mode of living and working and praying that unmasks these claims as delusionary and illusory. I should rather think that it is the church’s renunciation of all ontological claims for itself as its own sui generis culture and constructions of reality (and so all “natural theology” as such) that the church undermines such ontological claims by other cultural powers, and unmasks their inherent powerlessness in the face of Christ’s cross. In a footnote near the end of his book, Smith appears to concede my point here. Having to face the question of whether parishioners who for years have week in and week out participated in the ligurgical and cultural forms of worship for which he has been advocating continue to participate unapologetically in various egregious practices of cultural formation falsifies his claims for worship’s formative power, he responds that we can account for this disconnect on the basis of the fact that “some liturgies trump others.” “[I]n this case, we could suggest that though these parishioners participate in Christian worship, their participation in other secultr liturgies effectively trumps the practices of Christian worship” (p. 208n.115). But this is to give away the ontological game. Either the Spirit is at work in Christian worship in such a way as to effectively form us in ways counter to these false liturgies, or, the Spirit is in some cases quite impotent to such counter-formation. We can leave that an open question. At any rate, my point here is that I am not at all convinced that “recognizing cultural practices and institutions as liturgies somewhat undercuts their formative force” (208); I rather think that the ontological concessions necessary for such recognition gives them a power they do not ultimately have (and this is due to the fact that I’m not convinced that ultimately we should think of “liturgies” in the plural; there is one liturgy, Jesus Christ, via participation in whose work we alone become a “people”). So perhaps what is needed here is an unmasking of the “myth of ontology.”
(3.) One question that hasn’t been considered here is that perhaps the emergence of parodical cultural liturgies in modern and contemporary society has a perverse Christian core. What Smith doesn’t consider is the way in which the path for the kinds of parodies of Christian liturgy and ritual that we find all around us was in many ways forged by medieval Christianity’s self-satisfaction with its own sui generis ritual power. You want to take over the world? Do it the way the Christians did it. Become a religion. Construct your own cultic myth.
(4.) Now, to Geoff, let me address the question of John Flett’s book, which is brilliant on all kinds of levels. But to say that Flett’s account of the missionary God makes mission the eternal vocation of humanity at the expense of worship is an absurdly egregious misreading. It is neither to understand what he means by “mission” nor “worship.” The upshot of Flett’s work is actually that the consideration of mission as fundamentally a “cultural mandate” (to use Jamie’s terminology) is what shortcircuits worship. For it is a reduction of worship itself to cultus. (And such a reduction, regardless of what we might say about “religion,” is what is ultimately and above all anathema to Paul.) The prioritizing of worship to mission within the church-as-culture scheme short-circuits cordons off the eternal transfiguration of human worship into doxa, into participation in the very glory of God. Such transfiguration is what mission both is and is for. And such transfiguration is nothing if not perject joy. Such joy is worship transfigured as participatioin in God’s glory. On the other hand, to treat worship primarily as a given “matrix” out of which a “Christian social imaginary” emerges (Smith, p. 230) tends all too dangerously in the direction of “peddling God’s word” (2 Cor. 2:17) via our own cultural constructions of reality. That’s not worship; it is, to use Flett’s word, propaganda.
Okay, Jamie. I’ve done what you and Steve have asked. I’ve laid out my critique on the basis of my reading of your book. Now, allow me to make an appeal to you to dial down the ad hominem rhetoric a bit here. It is one thing to say, as Ry does, that one does not hear the gospel in something that someone has written or is speaking. That is a valid point to make within the process of theological polemics. It would seem that an appropriate response would be to articulate how it is that you understand what you’re doing to be consistent with the Gospel to which we are ultimately called to be faithful. But to respond by implying that this is just a kind of naive cry on behalf of “the Reformation” (whatever that is), or by implying that one’s cries for faithfulness to “the Gospel” put one in bed with a certain faction of the evangelical religious right, or worse yet, to personally attack another’s teachers in a public forum (as you have done previously), is just to show bad faith. I don’t care whether it is “passive-aggressive,” or mere academic bullying, or just your own smart-ass personality showing through. Whatever. My concern is that it is, quite simply, unbecoming the gospel. So, please, cut out the ad hominem and snide dismissals. If you can’t respond in good faith, don’t respond.
P.S. For the record, the only reason I have responded to this thread is because my name was brought in as having offered a critique of yours and Steve Long’s positions previously on blogs somewhere. That is patently false. I have never directly criticized either your or Steve Long’s published positions on a blog (before now, I guess), and so for you and Steve to accuse me (or anyone esle for that matter) of having done so (by making assertions without supplying textual evidence) when I have not is patently false.
OK, Nate, you got it. Here’s a reply (with some quotes from my book, because while people keep talking about it, based on what they say I’m not convinced they’ve actually read it. This way maybe people can compare the version of my book you guys keep talking about and what’s actually printed in the volume from Baker Academic):
Ad 1. (a) We clearly are working with different understandings of culture, and this stems from the fact–that I’ve suggested before–that we have different theologies of creation. I don’t believe there should be any “subversion of culture as such”–I don’t even know what the hell that would mean. On my account, we are created to make culture, for poiesis, to unfurl and unpack the potential latent in creation–in farms and art musems and schools, etc. So this is not a “generic” notion of culture–it is an explicitly Christian account of culture as poiesis rooted in a reading of Scripture (see DTK, pp. 71-73). So on my account, culture is what we’re made for. For you, on the other hand, it seems that “culture” is something to be overcome.
(b) I also explicitly point out that the church is not just an “alternative” culture; it is not defined by being “counter-.” I explicitly state: “It is Christian worship that is normative and constitutes the creational norm of human love and desire. But we must begin from where we are, and for most of us, we find ourselves first immersed in disordered secular liturgies” (p. 88).
(c) I do treat the Great Commission in relation to the cultural mandate, but not primarily at pp. 205ff.–which is what someone might think if they, say, just read the Table of Contents. Rather, I articulate the link on pp. 159-166. In that context I note that “The very reason that we are gathered for worship under the cross is because of humanity’s fundamental failure to carry out the task and mission of being the image of God. The imago Dei is not a thing or property that was lost (or retained); it was a calling and a vocation that Adam and Eve failed to carry out. Because of this failure to be God’s vice-regents, God’s cultural agents mediating his love and care for creation, a fundamental brokenness ruptures the world—and robs us of the ability to even measure up to the task. Thus God has to re-call and re-constitute a people for this task—a new call extended in Abraham, through Israel, called to be a peculiar nation among the nations, a people who would image what God’s love for the world looks like. But they, too, failed in taking up this creational and human vocation. Thus the task of properly being God’s image bearer is taken up and performed by the Son, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). As the second Adam, Jesus shows us what it looks like to undertake that creational mission of being God’s image bearer to and for the world. Jesus takes up and completes the vocation of Israel, whose vocation was a recommissioning for the creational task of being God’s image bearers” (pp. 163-164). On the next page I then emphasize: “We are called to an encounter with the life-giving God, who imparts transformative grace through the Spirit’s empowerment, making it possible for us to entertain the vocation given to humanity at creation, but now with more than was given to Adam and Eve: with the perfect exemplar of Jesus, who shows us what it means to be human, and the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit, the fruit of the New Covenant (Rom. 8:1–11).”
Ad 2. (a) Just to point out once again: nowhere do I argue that worship is “fundamentally counter-cultural” as you claim. I do argue that it is de facto counter-formative because of the mis-formations we have received from “secular liturgies.” But Christian worship is meant to be rightly-ordered formation is not some reactive, remedial response to contingent cultural configurations. Christian worship is not defined by being “against.” Nowwhere in the book do I claim that.
(b) I think as soon as there is human community, there is culture–and that’s a good thing that susceptible to disordering. So I don’t think that the church is a “cultural entity sui generis. I narrate an account of how this is a Spirit-empowered community in continuity with (even a dis-ordered) creation.
(c) What you mean by “ontology” in the rest of this section is just unintelligible to me. This might be a matter of disciplinary differences (me a philosopher, you a theologian).
(d) I disagree with your dichtomous claims about the Spirit and “effectiveness.” I eschew “effectiveness” as a measure; the Spirit is objectively present in Christian worship–or better, we meet and encounter the Triune God in Christian worship. Where we disagree, it seems, is whether you think it’s at all legitimate to think about something like the “mechanics” of sanctification. Please also note that in the footnote you cite, I’m conceding a point to Chris Scharen, who’s criticizing Hauerwas.
(e) Related to (d) above, you seem to ignore my account of how other liturgies might be “charged” with other powers, even the demonic, in a passage where I explicitly reject a “naturalization” of Christian worship (p. 150)–so if you all have read the book, it’s strange to me why you keep attributing to me what I explicitly reject. But more to your point at the end of (2)–I take it that liturgies are different configurations and orders of human culture, and those can either be rightly-ordered to the ends of God’s desire for his creation, or they can be dis-ordered to other ends (this is pretty much straight-up Augustine). So yes my “ontology” has room for multiple liturgies–rightly-ordered and disordered–because it recognizes the significance of human cultural formation.
Ad 3. Hmmm…I pretty clearly remark in the book that my paradigm rejects “taking over the world.” On p. 164 (you might have missed this), I explicitly say: “Thus Jesus is our exemplar of what it looks like to fulfill the cultural mandate. And he shows us what that looks like when the world is broken and violent: the shape of such image bearing will be cruciform. Imaging God to this world we now inhabit—this world “between times,” suspended between the “already” of Jesus’s announcement of the kingdom and the “not yet” of its consummation—will require following Jesus’s perfect image-bearing as the new Adam, an image-bearing that was not triumphant conquering of the world but submissive suffering for the world.” I also have absolutely no reservations about “religion.” In this respect, I’m an unapologetic disciple of Augustine and Calvin who suggested that being human was a matter of “true religion.”
So, Nate, I’ve responded as you requested (still not entirely confident that you’ve read the book closely–but you’re not obligation to do so, unless you want to make claims about it). So let’s address your closing concerns:
1. Please quote the ad hominems of which I’m guilty in this thread. I don’t see any.
2. If R.O. Flyer is right, then I should think you wouldn’t be surprised if my conduct is “unbecoming of the gospel”: I don’t even know what “the Gospel” is.
3. To suggest that you have not criticized our positions is a bit sly, Nate. Do you seriously think we didn’t see ourselves as part of the target of your “Theses.” C’mon. Nobody here but you is going to buy that.
I certain am glad to hear that I have misread Flett on this point. I don’t have the book before me so I can’t return to the passage that lodged that idea in my mind. I plan on a second reading of the text and hopefully blogging through it. Certainly I haven’t been initiated in the ways of Barth (and that’s not a wise-crack, I believe for all great thinkers on must endure initiation into their thought), so that nuance may have been lost on me.
But to be honest, I’m not convinced Flett’s work is brilliant, and I don’t think is accusation of “propaganda” lands as well as he thinks it has (in his essay on Hutter). Post-Christendom ecclesiologies and post-colonial critiques of mission as Flett attempts to combine them feels forced and self-service, separated by several continents and over 50 years. The critique of contemporary theologies by contemporary missiologists. Flett occludes the difference in tact necessary between post-Christian faithfulness and the rightful concern by post-colonials not to import western Christianity. But this post-colonial concern doesn’t help Westerners know how to live faithfully. And lastly, he uses the “cross-cultural” mission as the gold-standard for understanding missionary movement, which read through his post-colonial framework seems to tip toward an a-cultural mission (in the unity of God’s Being/Act). But it feels to me like a return to some timeless, transcendent Truth/Gospel, or whatever which irregularly interrupts cultures and lives, but never produces a history, life, or way. I assume this is not what you are aiming at, so please help me understand how if you are not for culture, nor counter-cultural, you aren’t being a-cultural? (my concern is reinforced by your hope to subvert to “culture as such”).
I actually did read your book. And not at my daugther’s soccer practice either. I stayed up last night doing so, because I felt tht if I was going to respond it deserved at least that much. Now, I could very well have misread some of the things you were saying, but to infer that I haven’t read the book simply on the basis that you take my interpretation of some of the things you say as invalid is the example of the kind of bad faith I’m talking about. But, alas, here goes:
Reply Ad 1. (a) First of all, I don’t find anywhere in your book an adequate exegesis of poiesis as rooted in a reading of Scripture. Were you to carry out this exegesis, you would hardly be able to sustain your practical equation of “culture” with “poesis.” When I think “culture” I am thinking “cultic action,” by which I mean, as I take you to mean, the cultivation of those various practices, habits, and laws by which we secure for ourselves a vision of the “good life,” which you seem to take to be synonymous with “the kingdom.” But the New Testament (and Paul in particular) regularly links such “cultic action” with the doing (poiein) of the righteousness of the law that does not lead to salvation, as contrasted with “the righteousness of faith” that does (Rom. 10:5-6; Gal. 3:10-12). There is in the New Testament a kind of poiein that is commanded obedience to Jesus’ way of life in his independence of Torah, e.g. And there is clear indication that this poiein is not the poiein of “human tradition” or “cultic purity” (cf. Mark 7:8 in its various manuscriptural forms). The point is that this poiesis of obedience in faith is unhinged in dramatic ways from the poiesis of ritual practice in the New Testament, so that even the purest of cultural poiesis is left without any claim at all before God. And this is what I mean by the “subversion” of culture, which happens by way of obedience to Christ in his independence from “cultus” as such. This does not mean that “culture” is to be “overcome”; it is rather to be “unhanded” in following after the way of the gospel. “Culture” is, we might say, akin to gathering all of our goods so that we might sell them and give the money to the poor on the way to following Jesus to the cross, as the rich young ruler might be said to be called to do. I’m fine with that. But insofar as you take “culture” to be what we were created for, and redemption to be a restoration to that which we were created for, I cannot but help thinking that salvation is tied to “cultus” for you in a way that renders the poiesis to which you are calling us an instance of “the righteousness that comes from the law.”
Man, I have to go pick up my daughter. I’m already late. But I’ve printed off your reply and will respond as I have time.
In the meantime, as to your use of ad hominem: Your rhetorical linking of Ry’s concern for “the gospel” with the group “the gospel coalition” is a classic example of fallacious ad hominem association. Ry is concerned about “the gospel.” There is this group of people who are concerned about and committed to “the gospel.” Ergo, there is a natural affinity that Ry must share with this group. That’s ad hominem, Jamie.
At any rate, if you’re interested, I’m happy to continue this conversation and my response to your post as I am able (probably not until tomorrow sometime).
Nate said of Smith,
. . . But insofar as you take “culture” to be what we were created for, and redemption to be a restoration to that which we were created for, I cannot but help thinking that salvation is tied to “cultus” for you in a way that renders the poiesis to which you are calling us an instance of “the righteousness that comes from the law.”
This seems to be, if an accurate representation, a repristination of Federal theology themes of restoration. Or, an upacking of the implications provided by a classic construal of covenant theology.
I wouldn’t waste any more time on this, Nate. We’re in different universes: what you say here about “culture” not being able to making any “claim” to “purity”–I just have no idea what that’s about. It bears no relation to anything in my discussion. You seem to be reading the notion of “culture” through some lens of “works righteousness” concerns. I’m not even in the ballpark of that.
For the record, here’s a first definition of “culture” from my book:
“Let’s keep in mind that “culture” is not a thing that is “out there,” but rather is an activity. Culture is, one might say, more of a verb than a noun; it is the fruit of human “making” or cultivation (poiēsis). So cultural institutions are those conglomerations of practices (and built-environment) that have unfolded and developed over time to address human needs, wants, and desires. These institutions don’t fall from the sky ready made; in other words, cultural institutions are not “created,” they are sub-created (to use Tolkien’s term in a different context). They are engendered and unfolded by human creation, responding to invitations that are embedded in the earth, we might say. The family, for instance, is a cultural institution that has unfolded over time in response to all sorts of needs and wants, including bodily needs for provision and protection as well as higher-order cravings for intimacy and meaning-making” (DTK, pp. 71-72).
I’m not sure what else to tell you. You seem to be immediately construing this in terms of “salvation,” but that enters nowhere into my definition.
As for the ad hominem: hmmm…that’s a pretty weak case. I take it that ad hominem means that one rejects the truth of an argument because of who is making it, attacking their character. I didn’t do that. I did suggest that, in strange and surprising ways, the invocation of “the Gospel” coming from R.O. Flyer sounded remarkably like some other hyper-Protestant claims I hear from other quarters. That seems about as fair a shot as someone telling me “there’s nothing of the gospel” in my book. So I think the playing field remains quite level in this regard.
While Smith is only a philosopher and might not pick up on this, I feel you are being a little fast and loose with the Biblical text and your semantic fields. The semantic movement from Smith’s “culture” to your “cultic action” to Paul’s “righteousness of the law” especially throwing in the use of poiein in Gal. 3:10-12 and Rom. 10:5-6) seems to run roughshod over all the texts involved. And as I’ve said before, here to Ry, and elsewhere, this particular reading of Paul has been largely discredited and if you want to follow Lou Martyn in this matter (which is fine), then you have to realize there must be more to your argument to make it stick.
But secondly, alluded to already, your word study on poiein is utterly fallacious as an attack on Smith’s use for Paul and or the author of Mark surely were not refuting an Aristotelian category of human activity, and assume so violates all rules of exegesis.
Of course, you could build a case to critique this philosophical category, but first you would have to pass through Pauline theology (not just Romans and Galatians, the two touchstones of Gospel Coalition theology…and the sometimes myopic reading of Martyn), but all of Paul and his understand and critique of “culture”. But you would also need to move from biblical to systematic theology and its use of categories such as anthropology, soteriology and such. At least that would make for a good argument rather than proof-texting.
So I applaud appeals to Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece, but we need more for a refutation of the positive use of ‘culture.’ And while D.A. Carson might be interested in your ‘religion’ exploding ‘Gospel’, he wouldn’t like your exegesis (as least not as construed above).
Wow! Talk about the balkanization of academe! I’ll respond when you actually show me not only that my references to Galatians and Mark are exegetically fallacious, but also when you show me that my analysis here is theologically unsustainable.
By the way, I was just responding to Jamie’s claim that his is “an explicitly Christian account of culture as poiesis rooted in a reading of Scripture.” Mark and Paul don’t have to be explicitly and conscientiously working against an Aristotelian category of human agency for the ways in which they use poiesis to be fundamentally at odds with a fundamenally Aristelion deployment of that category.
I’m aware of that long passage you quoted. It was that passage and its context that I was paraphrasing when I said that I take culture for you to be “the cultivation of those various practices, habits, and laws by which we secure for ourselves a vision of the ‘good life,’ which you seem to take to be synonymous with ‘the kingdom’.” Again, I’ve read your book.
And again, to say the following is ad hominem: (1.) Ry Siggelkow holds that we need to recommit ourselves to “the gospel”; (2.) the gospel coalition also holds that we need to recommit ourselves to “the gospel”; ergo, (3.) Ry Siggelkow is in some sense associated (even if only ideologically) with the gospel coalition. It is not a connection that appeals logically to any kind of argument actually being made; it is a statement that can only be calculated to associate the person Ry Siggelkow with a particular distasteful ideological faction.
Finally, I don’t think we’re in different universes at all. I understand what you are saying quite clearly; I just disagree fundamentally with its theological premises and believe it has theological implications that are deleterious and that have not been considered by your readers. To say that we are in different universes is a convenient way to dismiss the fact that I am saying things that you cannot acount for on the basis of your own preconceived theo-philosophical schematizations.
More later, I guess.
No, you don’t understand me, and I don’t understand you. That’s not an excuse not to try. But, for example, when I say that my understanding of culture is “Christian” and “rooted in Scripture,” my book appeals to a narrative arc in the entirety of Scripture, and is particularly rooted in Genesis. It seems that the Old Testament is more significant for my understanding, whereas you home in on Pauline passages which I generally don’t have in mind (but can account for). What I mean is this: the biblical narrative portrays humans as created to make culture well. “Culture” then is about “cultivation.” I’m worried this will be misheard, but I’m not talking about “salvation” here. Whereas it seems that as soon as you hear “culture” you think “cultus” and immediately go to concerns about works righteousness in Galatians. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
I don’t think this is just disciplinary. I am also working from the Reformed tradition, so this understanding of “culture” is what’s articulated (and, frankly, just taken for granted) by folks like J. Richard Middleton’s reading of Genesis, or Albert Wolters’ understanding in Creation Regained. We are working from different confessional traditions, which thus shapes how we’re reading Scripture. (For what it’s worth, I think my reading and understanding of culture, etc., also tracks closely with N.T. Wright.)
It’s not that I “can’t account for what you’re saying;” it’s more like I don’t understand what you’re saying because it seems to be couched in such an idiosyncratic set of worries and fixations. I’m not alone in finding this to be true. If you think it’s simply because you’ve so remarkably demolished my position or something, then go with that.
I sometimes wonder: does your theology have any room to make sense of, say, developmental psychology? It seems like you almost think Paul is opposed to “the human.” I’m interested in describing the conditions of finitude which are also the conditions of creaturehood. That, in a way, has animated my work since The Fall of Interpretation. I’m guessing you think such a project is somehow illegitimate, insufficiently “theological.” There’s a weird theological totalization going on here, which I think I might understand better (but still disagree with) if I knew more Barth. You seem to think you’re working with purely “theological” categories untainted by philosophical assumptions. I think that’s simply impossible. The point is to have good philosophical assumptions (and I certainly don’t think such assumptions are “neutral”).
Indeed I wonder: let’s imagine a whole community bought your framework and emphases. Would such a community ever be motivated to found a Christian university?
As for “the gospel” connections: what I’m pointing out is a similarity that is not inconsequential. I’m not attributing right wing politics to R.O. (we all know your crew now loves liberation theology). I’m saying there is an intriguing theological similarity. And to be honest, it was this sort of notion of “the Gospel” that I left behind.
As regards your last comment, all of that is fair enough, so far as it goes. I’ll leave it at that. I will, just for the sake of completing the conversation I started, finish up outlining my reply which I had to leave off earlier to go get Zoe. Probably sometime tomorrow.
In the meantime, I should say to Bobby Grow that indeed I am suspicious that that kind of covenantal nomism is what is implicitly operative in Jamie’s account of culture. And I find this to be a position quite consonant with a number of thinkers loosely associated with the New Perspective on Paul — the trajectory that runs from Stendahl to Sanders to Dunn to Wright (granting their nuances, disagreements, and differences). Jamie, I now know, considers his position to be consonant with that of Wright. I consider the position of Wright to have decivisely been shown to be misguided and surreptitiously supercessionist by Doug Harink in Paul Among the Postliberals and by Dave Belcher in a (to my knowledge) as yet unpublished AAR paper.
Balkanization? Isn’t that when something is illegitimately fractured into enclaves? Isn’t that what Ry did when he quarantined Smith in the philosophical room, while he/you would with theology? I was precisely trying to show how not to balkanize theology be proper interdisciplinary work (biblical, historical, systematic theology) which you had failed to do. I’m all for interdisciplinary work (i’m currently doing cross-disciplinary work here at Marquette), but it has to be done well, not just thru words studies and reading a couple of Pauline commentaries that already agree with you (and feel free to deny it, but I see Lou Martyn in all your references to Paul, particularly the “Teachers” referred to above coming from pp. 141-156 in his Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul. If he isn’t your primary reference then please let me know who is?) I would point us all to Stendahl’s work (Paul among Jews and Gentile), Dune (Commentary on Roman), N.T. Wright, and for a critique of these positions certainly there is Harink, F. Watson and John Barclay (In Longernecker’s “Narrative Dynamics”). But all that to say, and to say again, your reading of Paul hardly carries the day and you can’t be so petulant when others disagree with your reading. It almost seem like you are unaware for this literature, which if true, is balkanization on your side, not mine.
and you say, “Mark and Paul don’t have to be explicitly and conscientiously working against an Aristotelian category of human agency for the ways in which they use poiesis to be fundamentally at odds with a fundamenally Aristelion deployment of that category.” Yes I agree with this. But this is exactly what you haven’t show with your proofs texts. You have to build this argument if it is not explicit. So build it.
To be quite honest, I’m growing really weary of these accusations of shoddy scholarship and charges of unfamiliarity with literature, etc. I’ve been critical of the positions I understand others to hold, but never have I called into question whether they’ve done the work to know what they’re talking about. There are places for such accusations (in relation to published work, e.g.), but to make those accusations within a blog context whose format is more analogous to informal back-and-forth conversations between variously well-read scholars is just bad faith.
You’re right that Martyn is a main influence on my reading of the New Testament text and of the canonical literature itself, but so is the work of Joel Marcus with respect, Eugene Boring, and Clauss Westermann, among others, with respect to the synoptics, Paul, and Genesis respectively. I am familiar with the literature on the New Perspective on Paul and may even concede that its exegesis is sustainable on the basis of a certain presumed Heilsgeschichte account of the canonical trajectory. I think its fundamental failures is that its determinant exegetical framework is “covenant” and not the singularly revelatory event of the triune God in Christ. On this score, I think the reading of the canon that is opened up by Martyn, Marcus, and others of the “apocalyptic” perspective is actually more consistent with the classical regula fidei. That conviction, more than mere word studies and textual analysis (though these are not unimportant to me) is what drives my theological interpretation of the Scripture.
So, just to sum this up: It needs to be made clear that I myself never suggested that we should treat Jamie as the “philosopher” in these conversations, with myself and Ry being the “theologians,” etc. If you can find where I say that, I’d be happy for you to show me.
In the end, if we’re not going to enter into these conversations in good faith, with trust in one another’s work and words even when one is speaking critically and tendentiously, then you can count me out of such conversations in the future. I tried to offer a critique of Jamie’s work on the basis of my reading of his text, and he replied suggesting that I have perhaps misunderstood him. And so, I’m working hard to reply both to deepen understand and to sharpen my critiques. But if we’re gonna start requiring extensive footnotes and citations and an explicit accounting of everything one’s read that makes one qualified to comment critically and to construct arguments with respect to the subject at hand, I will simply recuse myself. Not because I don’t think such things are needed. But there are certainly scholarly spaces for such things, and the blog format is not one of those, as I understand it and participate it. To not understand this is to foreclose on the kind of critical interaction that actually can happen on blogs. In short, these kinds of attacks on one’s scholarly “chops” for not having dropped a few names and proven their a genuine interdisciplinary thinker is just inherently distrustful in a way that is not appropriate to such modes of conversation.
So, please, until you’ve proven your own scholarly acumen, I’d ask you kindly to lay off the attacks on that of others. And even then, I’m not sure this is the place for such attacks. Though I’ve been critical on blogs of the content of one’s ideas and thoughts, I’ve never never made such accusations. It just shortcircuits dialogue and breeds ill will.
Yeah, I thought I was catching traces of this in Jamie’s thinking (which I’ve only come to know through his communication in this thread — never read him before). Don’t forget Simon Gathercole’s work on Paul contra the NPP’s in his book “Where is Boasting? Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response inRomans 1-5” he does a great job in undercutting Wright’s thinking as well (from a textual, manuscriptual and exegetical approach).
Anyway, you guys should keep going here; I actually find this informative and even fruitful (for the most part) — at least when the ad hom stuff can be tabled.
Yes, I confess I exceeded the reasonable bounds expected of blog, and stepped over the line regarding your scholarly sources. Something about how the conversation evolved and your particular response around the theme of “cultus” pushed an old evangelical button, but that is something about me.
Thank you for the clarification regarding your critique of ‘covenant’ readings of scripture and your preference for ‘apocalyptic’ beyond Paul but stemming both testaments.
Would it then be better to characterization your dispute with Smith, that against his narrative-covenant reading of scripture and its positive understanding of cutlure-making, you would counter with an apocalyptic-Christ-centric reading which is not centered on culture-making?
I apologize again for my indiscretions toward Nate and others.
Okay, let me try to finish up offering something of a reply to Jamie as I promised. What I will try to do at each point is to clarify my impressions of the book as I am interpreting it with an eye towards its either explicity or implicit theological assumptions and/or implications.
Reply Ad 1. (a) I’ve already indicated my doubts that “an exclusively Christian account of culture as poiesis rooted in a reading of Scripture can be sustained,” especially when the Scriptural reading is said to accord with an Aristotelian inflection of poiesis as “unfurl[ing] and unpack[ing] the potential latent in creation.” The reason for my tying this to “cultus” (a term which Jamie himself uses, and which I take simply to mean the religious dimensions of our cultural making, or perhaps better, the culture making function of religion, which I don’t take to be disconsonant with Jamie’s phenomenological analysis of cultural liturgies and his concentric analysis of liturgy, practice, and ritual, by which he means to make explicit the religious dimension of our various cultural liturgies) has to do with the way in which poiesis for Aristotle served an instrumentalizing function with regards to politika, and was bound up inextricably with a given theological mythos — as Hannah Arendt has shown, cultural production turns out thus to serve the maintenance of a theo-political status quo. Insofar as I take “culture” for Jamie to be bound up with an ontology of performative production, I takes it telos to be controlled by a vision of the kingdom that is fulfilled in church-as-polis. Christian culture risks becoming the performance of a theo-political status quo — and it is this that I take the New Testament discussions of law, gospel, ritual, etc. to subvert. It is not that I don’t believe or think that there needs to be “culture”; it is that I think culture here is being “functionalized” — it is akin to one of Aristotle’s subordinate “causes” by which is worked out the “entelech-ly” derived end. And I’m concerned that this functionalization of culture cannot let culture be a true event of the poiesis of obedience — that is, an offering that is freely given to be transfigured by the praise of God (and I mean the double genetive), whether than a “production” which presumes our (created) adequacy to a given telos.
(b) I understand, Jamie, that you want to take Christian culture as being “normative” and as constituting the “creation norm of human love.” My point is that within the Heilsgeschichte narrative you tell in (Ad 1.c), Christian culture cannot but appear in history as counter-cultural and counter-formative. This has to do, actually, with your treatment of the incarnation. Jesus appears as the one who reveals what we were originally created for and illuminates us to see what has always-already been the case and purpose ontologically for creation. I see the coming of Jesus as more of a singularly transfigurative novum with respect to what is usually called “creation-history,” and so as not merely ordering our creaturely productions to their true end, but transfiguring us as creatures and subverting the logic of “production” by way of the logic of radical service. That is to say, I don’t take out true end to be given with creation to be “unfurled and unpacked,” and I don’t take Jesus’ import to be reducible to that of a recapitulation — a doing and making possible for us to do now what we cannot merely do as fallen creatures. I do think, following, Paul, that Jesus as the Second Adam does in his obedience what Adam failed to do, but I think in that doing he transfigures creation and what it means to be a human being. That is, he deifies us. I assume you agree with me on that (you indicate as much on p. 165). We would no doubt diverge profoundly on how we work that out. Herein lie my differences with Jamie’s reading of apocalyptic in the book as well — while he treats of the Christ event as a revelatory unveiling of the powers, I don’t think he treats of the whole scope of apocalyptic, especially in attention to the singular reality of Jesus as an irruptive novum. That is, in opposition to Jamie’s “creational ontology” I would want to articulate a kind of “apocalyptic realism” that thought in terms of the ontological prevenience of God’s apocalypse in Christ. All of this is already taking me in the direction of
(c) On pgs. 165, you refer to our mission as being that of “God’s image bearers for the world,” which we image bearing we carry out by “undertaking the work of culture making.” On pg. 163, you describe the image of God as a mission by which we are charged with the task of “cultivating” creation, unfolding and unfurling its latent possibilities through human making — in short, through culture.” Your treatment of the themes here does not at all soften but rather strengthens the case that for you mission is primarily a cultural mandate or calling. My theological problem with this is that it doesn’t take as its starting point for thinking mission the singular event of Jesus Christ as the “sent one” of God; Jesus’ “sending” is interpreted economically in relation to a prior creation-covenantal conception of mission. I think rather that we need to think mission von Gott aus — that is, our starting point should be the doctrine of God.
Reply Ad 2. (a) See my response above in Reply Ad 1.a.
(b) This goes back to my suspicion that you are working with a presumed generic understanding of “culture,” of which you treat Christian culture as demonstrative of the paradigmatic creational norm. My reading of you here is just that you begin with offering a general phenomological of culture and cultural liturgies. Now, I know that you note clearly in your book that for you this is merely a heuristic device for treating Christian culture-making as normative. But, then, the only way for Christian culture to be normative in a way that is not just “counter-” to the various liturgies which you have analyzed is for Christian culture to be considered sui generis, which is just to say that Christian culture embodies an event of culture-making and production that cannot be account for on the basis of more general schematizations of culture. This would fit fine with an affirmation that such culture is “Spirit-empowered.” I’d disagree with the identification of Christianity with the culture, but I’d be more sympathetic to your position if you articulated more rigorously the metabasis eis allo genos that Christian culture requires. However, to say that Christian culture is “normative” still does not overcome the sense that there is a general account of “culture” of which it is the norm. So my point is that your account of Christian culture is sui generis with respect to the wider culture, but in a way that does not break with a phenomenologically defined account of “culture” in general.
(c) I will leave this discussion of ontology off for now. I deal clearly with what I take “ontology” to mean and with its fundamental problematic in the first chapter of my next book.
(d) I think we’d really have to have an in-depth discussion here of what we mean by the “mechanics” of sanctification. This might be one of the key points of disagreement here, for as close as Wesley was to Calvin on thinking the kind of life the sanctified believer was given over to, he positively refused to think the “mechanics” of sanctification in terms of the taken-for-granted ordo salutis of the time. I take his alternative account of the via salutis to overturn how we take the “mechanisms” of sanctification to work in all kinds of quite revolutionary ways. Maybe I’ll write about that some day, but let’s just say I think he’s neither Reformed nor Thomist.
(e) I understand, Jamie, that you are not arguing that Christian worship is simply or “only natural.” That had nothing to do with what I was saying, directly. I was indicating the fact that you recognized that other liturgies are charged with a disordered formative power, and that that formative power overwhelms at points the formative power of worship. I take it that your treatment of apocalyptic is one such that apocalyptic allows us to recognize these powers as formative in the way they are and to see the world in such a way as to recognize our need to be formed otherwise. I’m simply disagreeing with your Augustinian ontology here: to me, it grants an ontological space to these cultural powers that has been robbed from them in the cross of Christ, unveiling them as das Nichtige — as illusory forces.
Reply Ad 3. I am not attributing to you any positions as regards a desire for Christianity to “take over the world,” Jamie. I am just suggesting there is perhaps an interesting line of thought that hasn’t been considered here, viz., that there is a “universalizing” dimension to Christian liturgy and culture as you conceive it in its normativity that makes of the cultural liturgies you analyze a parody of something deformed and wrongly conceived in the first place. That is to say, is there not a certain way of conceiving the Christian cultus’ relation to creation that makes, e.g., the Constantinian move possible, on a number of levels which we of course don’t intend. I was just suggesting the possibility here for consideration and perhaps further analysis. Of course, you’re not going to say “let’s take over the world,” but is there something about Christian culture that, when other cultural and political powers come along and say “let’s take over the world,” they carve out a space for the Christian culture we conceive which forecloses the possibility of Christianity’s subversive resistance of such powers? And is there something within Christianity’s self-conception of culture that itself forecloses on such subversive resistance? You seem to subscribe to a more fluid and symbiotic relation between cultures, and I find this problematic precisely insofar as it cannot think of a real Christian way of life that is lived independent of such cultural forces — as Jesus’ life itself was so independently lived.
It is that way of life of independence and subversive resistance that I’m concerned with in talk of Christian ecclesia, and I simply am not convinced that a fundamenally “culturally” determined account of practical Christian life lives within the space of such independence in a way that gives itself over to such subversive work in service to the coming Kingdom.
Nate, I’m going to effectively let you have the last word. I’ll just say thanks for this, and also note that I think our disagreements–even if snarky at times–has been fruitful and instructive for me. It has very much clarified (for me at least) where–and to some extent why–we disagree. So thanks again.
Thanks. That is very gracious of you. And thank you for bearing with me in patience as I sought to articulate my concerns with your position.
Finally, @Geoff: I think the way in which you characterize the difference between Jamie and myself as one of a difference between narratival-covenantal and apocalyptic-Christocentric readings of Scripture is fair enough, so far as I see it. As to the question of “culture,” I want to make clear that I’m not saying that there could be no “culture” as such. There is no avoiding it. However, perhaps it would help if I were to say that I treat “culture” (particularly in its long history of relation to cultus I briefly outlined above) to be one of the “elementary principles” (stoicheia) of this world. Canonically, this would trace back to a particular reading of the Babel story within the creation-exodus narrative of Genesis.
thank you for allowing us raging bulls to take over your living room for a couple of days. I hope we haven’t ruined all your china or tore up the carpet too much. keep up the provocative posts.
I came down with a cold last Friday and it seemed that the ball had begin rolling on this post to the point where there was no catching up. I will make sure to read through the comments knowing that it will be very informative. Thanks for all the great thoughts you all have thrown out here.
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