Thursday, 10/23/14

  1. The whole is less than the sum of the parts
  2. American idealism and values returning?
  3. Lesson #5 from the Extraordinary Synod
  4. Parish, auto, megachurch


All great questions are theological at heart, but the theological is usually excluded from our universities. Some time ago I spoke to a Christian student group in our university’s business school. I asked why they had to leave their Christian faith outside the door in order to pursue knowledge about business and management. We noted together that universities specialize in small and medium-sized questions, and have largely removed the big questions from consideration, except in philosophy or perhaps classics. The logic of academic specialization means that we have our disciplinary logics, ground rules, and accepted theories that define what we count as proper. Academics have no higher allegiance than their academic disciplines, and thus choose not to, or cannot, explore questions outside of those disciplinary confines. Thus, universities are one of the few institutions where it is true that the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

(Robert Osburn, Good News for the Naked Public University, emphasis added)


The Naked Public Square has not served us very well in foreign affairs, either.

[A]fter the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the West took a nap, having lost interest in great ideas and “grand designs.” … The West also failed to revitalize the liberal democratic model; today it seems dysfunctional. It is becoming increasingly less appealing to the outside world, and it has also failed to prevent the global authoritarian march.

Historical determinism (how Marxist!) has become the justification for no longer worrying about either the world or the world of ideas. “Liberal progress was inevitable, and therefore nothing need to be done to promote or defend it. Such thoughts were echoed though the 1990.

To be sure, Putin isn’t exactly holding a strong hand. He’s trying to save an obsolescent civilization in an advanced state of decay. But for now, he looks like a winner not only because he is a risk taker and the West is risk-averse; he wins because the West has trapped itself into seeing the current crisis only as geopolitical tug of war (or a battle for areas of interest), in which the Kremlin has more chances to gain the upper hand. The current generation of Western leaders is afraid to acknowledge that this is a clash of normative systems. But the new anti-Western phenomenon does not resemble the Soviet Union or other authoritarian states of the 20th century: It is more arrogant; ready to defy the rules; able to corrupt the West from the inside; more efficient with its propaganda; and has broad commercial ties with the West. Thus, the West can neither contain this phenomenon (by revitalizing NATO), nor acquiesce to it, nor wait patiently for its collapse (because waiting may only prolong the pathetic interregnum).

Liberal democracies have to prepare themselves for a tough new chapter, compared to which the narrative of the past twenty years was an easy read. Nuclear-armed authoritarian systems fighting for their lives and ready to turn the world into their arena—now this would really make for a new and gripping drama. The Western powers would need, first, a new generation of experts and politicians—a generation not responsible for today’s myth-building and able to deal with the fluid and confusing situation we find ourselves in (and where would we find this generation, one wonders?). Second, the West must rebuild itself. “No one living in an established democracy should be complacent about its survival,” warns Fukuyama, calling on us all to address the “political decay” of liberal democracy. Returning to “Idealism”, which means values- this is Kagan’s recipe for dealing with the present bout of Western declinism is a return to “idealism,” which means values.

(Lilia Shevstsova at The American Interest) H/T Toma Mallet on Facebook, who lived and loved several years in the former Soviet Georgia.

Toma didn’t explicitly endorse this article, but I have extreme doubts that we are any longer capable of any idealism or collective values that aren’t vulgar or perverse.


George Weigel at First Things, a heavyweight whether or not I always agree with his neocon ways, enumerates six ways the recently concluded Synod was “extraordinary” in common as well as ecclesial parlance. I especially like number 5:

The 2014 Synod was extraordinary in its demonstration that too many bishops and theologians (and bishop-theologians) still have not grasped the Iron Law of Christianity in Modernity: Christian communities that maintain a firm grasp on their doctrinal and moral boundaries can flourish amidst the cultural acids of modernity; Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries become porous (and then invisible) wither and die.


Add to consumer choices among bandaids and “genders” the choice of Churches:

Cars have made distance less of a factor in our lives. For this reason, church goers can choose from a marketplace of churches. But in order to decide, they have to narrow down the options, and when they do, they (naturally) consider their personal preferences first. They’ll try on different churches and see what “fits.”

Pastors, in reaction, are today forced to account for these new dynamics of affinity. Because church shoppers are exploring their options, area pastors often respond by targeting “felt needs.” For pastors, attracting and retaining church goers often means preaching on the topics people are looking for.

(Adam Graber via David T. Koyzis)

I wish I could say my church is immune, but there’s only one of us within a 15 mile radius, so it’s hard to say. I do know, though, that one family drove past us for several years to go 15+ miles away to another, for reasons I won’t characterize (for fear of misrepresentation).

So what do we do?

Now it is not quite right to blame the automobile as such for this defective ecclesiology. After all, it is our use of the automobile that lies ultimately at its origin. Yet no technology is neutral. The automobile has exacerbated the individualistic tendencies already at work in our culture, empowering individuals to treat even so central a community as the church as a mere extension of their personal tastes.

We cannot, of course, return to a pre-automotive past. That option is closed to us. However, what if every new church building were to forgo the ubiquitous parking lot in the interest of restoring a normative ecclesiology? …

(David T. Koyzis) Well, professor, I’m afraid that would be illegal, and they’d never get a building permit. The automobile is hard-wired into our law now.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

One thought on “Thursday, 10/23/14

  1. I’m glad you picked up on that article. I do endorse it, because I think that this crisis has only been viewed through one prism – us versus them.

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