By Paul Louis Metzger
One thing that stands out to me as I read this collection of articles is that Christ’s church is much bigger than you and me. Contrary to inflated popular opinion, the church did not begin with us; and it won’t end with us either. As the church presses onward toward its destiny in Christ, we need to be sensitive and receptive to the wisdom that can be gleaned from the church in its diverse historical and contemporary contexts if we are to contend for the one true and historic faith against “isms” and ideologies aligned against the church in the present setting. While two heads are better than one, a multitude of sanctified imaginations are better than two. That being said, this issue introduces us to the wisdom of Celtic Christian practices, the present Pope, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, diverse worshiping communities, mainline Protestant pastors, and a young emergent-evangelical activist. Let’s see what our conversation partners throughout the ages and across the ecclesial spectrum have to teach us.
Rodney Clapp’s discussion of “green martyrdom” leads off this collection of essays. Clapp argues that consumer capitalism competes with the nation state as one of modernity’s most imposing leviathans. While consumer capitalism contends against classical Christian faith, the modern church in the West has largely surrendered to it. Clapp says of consumerism: “Consumerism inculcates desire for desire’s sake, in fact, a kind of deification of insatiable and free-ranging desire. Ever new experiences and goods are demanded. The perfect consumer is an addict who can never rest and never has enough.”
If the Western church is to have any hope of rising up and rebelling effectively against consumer capitalism, it must embrace martyrdom, which was esteemed by the ancient church. However, given the sophisticated and ever-adapting nature of consumer capitalism—realizing that it is more advantageous to seduce and utilize Christians than to kill them—Christians in the West must embrace green martyrdom, just as Christians in other times and places have embraced red (bloody death) martyrdom and white (suffering short of death) martyrdom.
Clapp stretches the use of “green martyrdom” beyond its Celtic origins, where believers withdrew to Ireland’s wilderness for solitary lives of prayer. Clapp speaks of green martyrdom for three reasons: first, green is the color of money, subverting capitalism’s fixation with money; second, green is the color of the earth, as in the case of the Celts, challenging consumerism’s reduction of the creation to a base commodity; and third, green is the church’s color for “ordinary time,” signifying that we must always be mindful of the ever-seductive presence of consumer capitalism. Characteristic traits of green martyrdom include laying our lives and bodies on the line for our way of life rather than making others suffer for it, as well as challenging idolatry and specifying greed as a chief manifestation of it. Among other things, green martyrs will remember “that early Christian martyrdom was a head-on confrontation of idolatry—a refusal to name and treat Caesar, rather than Christ, as Lord.”
We Christians can never reasonably claim to be on Christ’s side with all that his lordship entails if we succumb to consumer capitalism’s reign; nor can we ever claim in our intercultural discourse that God is on our side if we take seriously the claim that the Word became flesh. We now turn from consideration of ancient and Celtic Christian practices to the present day pope. Peter Casarella weighs in on Pope Benedict’s controversial speech at Regensburg and its importance for a post-September 11 world. The intent of the Pontiff’s address was to foster intercultural dialogue rather than hinder it, especially with the Muslim world. In his own interpretation of the Pope’s address, Casarella draws attention to the significance of the Word becoming flesh for intercultural dialogue.
Casarella puts the dialogical significance of the incarnation of the Word beautifully: “It requires the courage to do more than to be tolerant of the other just by virtue of the different viewpoint. Love comes into the equation, a love incarnated in the person of Christ. When we love with the logos, we are not abandoning our principles. On the contrary, we show our cards, so to speak, so that they can be tested by the public scrutiny of rational discourse. . . .”
Intercultural dialogue is the task of the university today; we cannot relegate the importance of such dialogue to a few special courses and lectures on the subject. Casarella shares from his own personal experience how important dialogue became to the faculty and students at Catholic University in Washington, D. C., in a post-September 11 world. While the current setting makes it clear why such dialogue is important, the incarnation provides the basis for such discourse in the university: “. . . if dialogue takes place within the broad expanse of the logos that takes on flesh, then there is no way that we can act with this logos to advocate that God must be on our side because he contravenes the normal rules of civil discourse. . . . Faith in Jesus seeks understanding, and this search is the authentic basis for intercultural dialogue.”
The Christian community’s needed opposition to consumer capitalism and pursuit of authentic dialogue find profound resources for meaningful engagement in ancient and medieval practices centered in the eternal Word made flesh. Our sanctification as Christians which includes confrontation of the fallen powers and charity in authentic dialogue is itself centered in Christ, according to Luther and his expositor, Olli-Pekka Vainio. While many will consider this point to be a no-brainer, it does not take much to think through how little consideration is given to Christ as the center of the Christian life, ethics, and sanctification. All too often in our discussions of such matters as ethics, interfaith dialogue, and the environment, we miss the forest while looking at the trees. Fortunately, this is not the case with Casarella, Clapp, and Vainio.
Over against those who would focus consideration of the Christian life in ethics or sanctification—giving rise to the moral matrix whereby we gauge how good or bad people are based simply on what they do or don’t do—Vainio’s Luther would have us see that “the Christian life is structured by the notion of transformation according to the image of Christ. This transformation is essentially Christological, where everything is managed by Christ present in faith.” Christ is not simply an exemplar for our sanctification; he is also the agent and content of our sanctification. This leads us to participate in a matrix of a completely different kind. Only after Christ is formed passively by faith in the believer does the believer actively engage through faith the law and society in a profoundly transformational manner.
As with most things, Luther got to the heart of the matter, not concentrating his attention simply on the external form. He was after the spirit of the law, not the law as an end in itself. No wonder then that Luther was determined to translate the Word of God into the language of the German people (rather than leave it in Greek, Hebrew, or the authorized Latin translation) and turned bar tunes into hymns. Luther understood the need for contextualizing the Gospel to diverse cultural settings. The same holds true for Stephen Bailey, who helps us see the importance of content being wed to cultural context in view of the Spirit’s particularization of Christ’s work and his message in diverse settings.
Bailey argues that worship styles mirror the social experience of God’s people to a greater extent than we may realize. He employs Mary Douglas’s “grid and group theory” to analyze the relation of worship preferences to their cultural sources. In the end, Bailey hopes to help Christ-followers see how God’s Spirit bears witness to Christ in a diversity of cultural forms and identities. Bailey’s insights can assist us in getting beyond our worship wars in the States, where we often measure spirituality based on conformity to the dominant style (whatever that may be), and aid contextualization of the gospel overseas where so often the dominant Western culture globalizes its form rather than globalizes the gospel in terms of local cultural mediums. Bailey helps us get beyond the Babylonian Captivity of the church’s worship to imperial forms so that God’s people can move in keeping with the harmony birthed at Pentecost—where everyone praised God in Christ in their own tongue.
Just as those in the dominant culture often fail to listen to marginalized voices, all too often professors in the academy fail to listen to the voices of pastors and their people. Not so with Michael Jinkins, who provides us with much needed reflections on current issues facing the church by those with the greatest investment in the church’s life—the clergy. Jinkins asked those he interviewed the following two questions: “What are the two or three biggest challenges facing your congregation as it looks to its future?” “How do you go about reflecting theologically on these challenges?”
The five issues Jinkins explores as a result of his investigation are pluralism, stewardship, “therapeutism,” consumerism, and Pelagianism. What is surprising is the shape the meaning of these terms take in view of the contexts of those interviewed. I will leave it to the reader to discover their surprising shape. The reader should not be surprised, however, by the significant reflections provided by those surveyed. What should be surprising is how seldom those of us in the academy take to heart the questions and considerable practical wisdom of those in the church. Perhaps if we did, those in the church would take to heart our theological musings a bit more? Jinkins helps us—if we are listening—get beyond this gulf. While he claims his methodology is unscientific, his findings hardly lack significance for scientific investigation on behalf of the church in our seminaries and universities.
Academics must learn to listen to all voices—including those from within the young emergent crowd. In our “Cultural Reflections” essay, Brandon Rhodes reflects upon the shattering of long-standing religious and political allegiances and theological claims; many young evangelicals like himself are looking instead to center their faith in an embodied politic grounded in a missional theology of hope. In place of understanding the gospel as focusing primarily on “how to get into heaven after you die,” Rhodes and his comrades are seeking to live out an understanding of the gospel as more prominently emphasizing “how to share little bits of heaven here on Earth before you die.”
In reacting to an all-too future eschatology, the young emergent crowd must guard against an overly-realized future where the kingdom is completely present and where sight is lost of the transcendent ground and goal of our faith, which can never be reduced to the political systems of this world or to church practices. This being said, Rhodes’s reflections provide important safeguards against both extremes, namely, his call for an embodied faith grounded in a missional theology of hope. Without such embodiment, the vacuum exists whereby the state or market can so easily replace and displace the church as the alternative politic and economy of the kingdom. Without such transcendent hope, the church will tend to take matters into its own hands, and as a result will not have the strength or resources to contend against communal and kingdom counterfeits in the here and now.
At the outset of this editor’s introduction, I remarked that one thing that stands out to me as I read this collection of articles is that Christ’s church is much bigger than you and me. In conclusion, I would add that Christ is much bigger than his church, though united to her for all eternity. Far from leading to escapism or paralysis, our hope rooted in faith in God’s loving wisdom poured out through the incarnate Christ in the Spirit makes it possible for the church to move forward from ancient times into the future of this new millennium. This collection of essays gives us food for thought and strength for the journey, as we become sensitive and receptive to the wisdom that can be gleaned from the church in its diverse historical and contemporary contexts, even as the church herself bears witness to Christ’s inexhaustible wisdom that serves as a light for our path until our faith in Christ becomes sight and we reach our eternal home.
—Paul Louis Metzger, Editor
Green Martyrdom and the Christian Engagement of Late Capitalism
By Rodney Clapp
Consumer capitalism rivals–and perhaps surpasses–the nation-state as one of the two most powerful and formative “leviathans” of modernity. Though consumer capitalism in central aspects contradicts and obstructs the convictions and practices of classical Christianity, the modern church in affluent countries has largely capitulated to it. This essay suggests that purchase for real and really Christian engagement of consumer capitalism may arise from returned attention to one of the crucial aspects of New Testament and classical Christian witness—martyrdom. But capitalism, in contrast to communism, has learned that it is more effective to seduce and co-opt Christians than to kill them. So there is needed an account of martyrdom that does not entail physical death by violence (red martyrdom), but which, after the way of the cross of Christ, resists personal and corporate formation as self-interested, addicted, envious, and un-self-controlled consumers. White martyrdom, recognized particularly in the monastic movement, is one historical manifestation of such an account. Another and lesser known is the Celtic-based green martyrdom. This essay briefly reprises green martyrdom’s origins, then concentrates on playfully but seriously imagining how green martyrdom might embody a true faith of the cross in our day, when the excesses of consumerism threaten not only Christian formation but the very fate of the earth itself.
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“The Great Task of the University”: Reflections on the Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI
By Peter J. Casarella
Pope Benedict’s address at the University of Regensburg created a firestorm. But far from trying to incite controversy, the Pontiff outlined a cogent argument for intercultural dialogue. This essay examines the theology of dialogue in the address, including Benedict’s claims regarding the real basis for dialogue between Christians and Muslims, the violence implicit in certain forms of nominalism, and the practical foundations for dialogue in the modern university. By interweaving experiences with students at The Catholic University of America during the attacks of September 11, 2001, the author of the present essay proposes his own interpretation of the infamous speech. He argues that if genuine intercultural dialogue takes place within the broad expanse of the logos that takes on flesh, then there is no way that Christians acting with this logos can reasonably advocate that God must be on our side because he contravenes the normal rules of civil discourse.
Imitatio Christi in Late Modern Culture: A Late Medieval Contribution
By Olli-Pekka Vainio
A religious conversion raises always a question on how the religious identity should be articulated in the given culture. In the late modern culture, typical choices are rugged individualism, which sets only very abstract, if any, directives for a genuine Christian way of life, or authoritarian conformism. The question is: How should the identity of a follower of Christ be articulated in our culture while avoiding both too severe and too vague expressions? In the Bible and in the subsequent spiritual tradition, conversion was understood as imitatio Christi. The reformer Martin Luther understood conversion as transformation into the likeness of Christ. This transformation is depicted through Christological rules and language, which then are linked to concrete forms of life. His account of conversion provides a well-developed and creative articulation of redeemed human agency, informed by Christological reflection, for late modern age.
Social Life and Worship Preferences: “And Now,…Here’s God”
By Stephen K. Bailey
This article suggests that worship styles reflect the social experience of God’s people to a greater degree than we may think. Using Mary Douglas’ grid and group theory, the author looks at four basic types of worship in an attempt to trace worship style preferences to their social roots. The goal is to enable the Church to have a deeper appreciation for the diversity of worship in the Church and to help us understand how God incarnates Himself in the midst of our social/cultural identities.
Theology in the Twenty-First Century Church: Or, A Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Last Century
By Michael Jinkins
Based on a presentation for the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, this essay profiles major theological, social, and cultural challenges confronting the Church today in North America. Using an informal and thoroughly unscientific survey of a small group of respected congregational leaders (the survey was conducted by the author in preparation for the presentation), the paper allows two questions to focus attention on concerns facing contemporary Christian communities of faith. The questions asked were: “What are the two or three biggest challenges facing your congregation as it looks to its future?” and “How do you go about reflecting theologically on these challenges?” Five challenges emerged and are explored in the paper: pluralism, stewardship, “therapeutism,” consumerism, and Pelagianism. The meaning of each of these terms takes a sometimes surprising shape because of the particular contexts of the congregational leaders surveyed.
Writing with Both Hands: Reflections on What’s Moving Under the Church Carpet
By Brandon Rhodes
Old political allegiances and loudly-thumped theological maxims are being shaken to their core as younger Christians imagine an embodied politic rooted in a missional theology of hope. Rhodes muses that the “post-Republican” winds whirling through American evangelicalism has a lot to do with cultural forces, but also explores the theological underpinnings of that transformation. Near the heart of the matter is an understanding of the gospel message shifting from “how to go to heaven after you die” toward “how to bring heaven to earth today.” There are many beautiful ways to live that gospel out; he concludes with an exhortation to embody a Kingdom politic before (and for) the watching, wailing world.