Wednesday, June 1, 2005

American Church Issues

Well, here's the initial post concerning the issues I sent the email about. To get things started, here's some reading material that I would recommend to, I believe, better understand the dynamics of what it means to be a Christian in America. These books will largely come from a theologically "conservative" perspective, yet not necessarily in a way that fits with other senses of the modern term conservative. A large part of what has made it so difficult to deal with issues accurately has been the degradation of the language and its misuse. Terms need to be explained more than ever if we are to clearly understand what is being said. In any case, here's a foundational article by Christian Smith that I believe helps tremendously in extricating us from our cultural blinders. A very helpful book that I recently read by conservative Lutherans called "The Anonymous God" opens up much of what the problem is in identifying the god of America with the God of Scripture. And while this isn't necessarily directly (though indirectly it certainly is) related to the issue of the church in America, I believe the book by Meic Pearse called "Why The Rest Hates The West", written from an evangelical Christian perspective, yet from Wales, provides a much needed outside perspective to what is facing our country and culture now. Finally, here's a document that is quite remarkable, in that, apart from its tired use of the 95 theses model (understandable though, considering the appropriate comparison to Luther's environment), actually presents a cogent explanation of what American Christians need to be most aware of, and beware of, in our national religious expression. I hope to soon start putting up my own words on these and other issues. But until then, I thought these links would be a good start.


Steve said...

Response to Christian Smith article:

- classical liberalism's emphasis on the individual is a source of family breakdown. Early teens are attracted to this definition contra their family, and parents let it happen.

- responsibility to society is important, though I have reservations about the environmentalism part of this. Haven't seen lots of stats, but enough to suggest that human negative contribution to environment is less than we tend to think. Could be wrong. Agree, though, that we are stewards. We tend creation to glorify God, just as God tends us to glorify Himself. We want to care for something God made for us. But we should not give creation a personality in our thinking; we are not pagans who remember Gaia.

- We pay for freedom with isolation. Right on.

- classical liberalism's overemphasis on self-interest: I think this eval is overdone. To be sure, cl lib can be wrested from a moral base to end up with selfishness at the center. But a Christian society can also function on the self-interest basis, just with restrained interests. The issue is, who shall govern my desires? Obviously, God first. Who's second? Family? Government? Self? If the baker's self-interest is to get shoes for his child, and the cobbler's interest is to get food for his family, this system works fine. It's all in the morals of the desires.

- materialism: again, I'm not sure if the system per se, of cl lib encourages this, or if there is something else going on. Certainly, the system allows it, but some other balancing force (taken away in recent decades) often restrains it. Coming back from 2 weeks in Israel and Turkey to Chicago was major culture shock - made me aware of the advertising we are inundated with. But ads are not inherent to cl lib.

- We need paragraph very good.

Would recommend Face to Face, by Steve Wilkins for a start on building community one by one.

Andrew said...

I must say that I downloaded the 95 theses, and I get ashamed by them. Sometimes I realize that my attempts to be an American conflict with my attempts to be a citizen of the Kingdom. What am I to do? Did early Christians deal with this problem? I could go Essene- but that seems to raise its own problems. My idolatry would be my beliefs rather than the object of my beliefs.

I'm going to drop a bomb here- let's try our best to stop fighting the church/nation battle, whatever side we are on. Let's fight the good fight of faith and unity in Christ, and not fight the adequete fight of "In God we Trust" written on the idol of money.

Irenicum said...

Thanks to both Steve and Andy for your comments. I've been moving in the last week from my old address to my new one, and I'm waiting for phone service to be hooked up, so my own responses may be somewhat spotty. On one point: Colonial America was not more devout than we are now. The evidence is that we are much more religious than the people of the revolutionary period. I forget where I read the article, but I was really surprised at the findings. I always accepted the assumption that our forefathers/mothers were more devout than we are idea, but the demographics show that they were much less "churched" than we are today. I imagine those that were churched were probably more doctrinally grounded than most of today's church goers, but I'm not gonna bet the farm on that idea either. I think we always tend towards a "good old days" motif when we look at our current problems. And sometimes the good old days weren't so good. Anyway, thanks again for posting!