Expressive or Formative?
When you have only seen forms of piety that value spontaneous expression and clichéd sincerity, to be given the cadences and rhythms of the Book of Common Prayer can be like receiving the gift of tongues.
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love, via Jon Ward, Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation.
This quote was what finally persuaded me to buy a highly-touted book by a Protestant academic. There is at least one other Protestant religious academic, Hans Boersma (author of Heavenly Participation), for whom I have high respect.
Having raced (considering my usual book-reading pace) through the book, I pronounce Smith not quite as good as Boersma, at least for my interests, but he has his moments, and there are quite a few of them:
[W]orship is formative, not merely expressive, … When you unhook worship from mere expression, it also completely retools your understanding of repetition. If you think of worship as a bottom-up, expressive endeavor, repetition will seem insincere and inauthentic. But when you see worship as an invitation to a top-down encounter in which God is refashioning your deepest habits, then repetition looks very different: it’s how God rehabituates us. In a formational paradigm, repetition isn’t insincere, because you’re not showing, you’re submitting. This is crucial because there is no formation without repetition. … If the sovereign Lord has created us as creatures of habit, why should we think repetition is inimical to our spiritual growth?
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
The distinction between worship as expression and worship as formation pervades most of the first two-thirds or so of the book, which strikes me as very congenial to Orthodox Christianity (as Smith is at least partially aware).
Orthodoxy theology defines only what is necessary and always leaves unspoken that which cannot be explained. This approach was part of the Christian faith from the beginning. But the Western phronema often suppresses, dismisses, minimizes, or ignores this stance. The Western mind is compelled to define and explain everything, since without a rational explanation a concept or fact cannot be considered true, or, conversely, all truth can be proven rationally.
Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind
Just-So Stories, conversion edition
Years ago, when I converted to Orthodox Christianity, I heard a common explanation that passed a number of folks. They said that “Stephen could not deal with modern uncertainty and has run away to hide inside Orthodoxy.” On the one hand, nothing was more “certain” among them than the platitudes of modernity. My rejection needed an explanation. The reality was that I was abandoning the false certitudes of mainline American Protestantism for the frightening journey of the soul into the mystery of Christ that lies at the heart of the Orthodox faith. Orthodoxy is not a bastion of answered questions. Rather, it is a way of life, whose teachings are the abiding testimony of those who have walked that path and borne witness to what they found. Indeed, apophatic theology, the preferred manner of Orthodox thought, draws us towards the nakedness of our ignorance and dares to stand in that state before the wonder of God.
I am not suggesting that we elevate ignorance to the exalted position it holds in the panoply of anti-Christian rhetoric (for our adversaries hide from their own ignorance). Indeed, I do not suggest beginning with our ignorance at all. Rather, I suggest that we begin with what we know and move towards its depths.
When I converted to Orthodox Christianity, I initially expected great doctrinal certainty, in the left-brain sense of certainty that had earlier drawn me to Calvinism. What I found instead was the Nicene Creed without the filioque and seven ecumenical councils that posted warning signs to keep me from falling over Christological cliffs. That left a remarkably capacious plateau in which to move without losing the right to be called “Orthodox.”
I think that field is part of the concept of “catholicity,” which concept I fear I’ll never grasp due to 50 years of sectarian baggage.
Oh, heck! Let’s Just Go Shopping
Given the destructive fruitlessness of religio-political conflicts in the Reformation era, Catholics and Protestants alike built on trends that antedated the Reformation and decided to go shopping instead of continuing to fight about religion, thus permitting their self-colonization by capitalism in the industrious revolution. In combination with the exercise of power by hegemonic, liberal states, a symbiosis of capitalism and consumerism is today more than anything else the cultural glue that holds together the heterogeneity of Western hyperpluralism.
Bradford Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society
You see, the Anglicans in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) represent the growing (in some cases booming) churches of Africa, Asia and the Third World. They do not, however, represent the zip codes in which the major newsrooms of the Western world are located. They also do not represent the world’s richest Anglicans. Thus, to be blunt, what these “lesser” Anglicans say is NEWS is not news until the New York Times says that it’s news. Right?
Anglicans in Africa, Asia and the Third World need to know their place. They’re supposed to be stage props, diverse tokens to make First-World Anglicans feel virtuous. They’re not supposed to contend for the faith when the First-Worlders are fleeing it.
Who qualifies as “Christian”?
[J. Gresham] Machen, for his part, published numerous articles insisting that modernists were not Christians because, no matter how much of the Christian doctrine they affirmed, they affirmed it as a matter of inner experience and not as a fact.
Frances FitzGeraldThe Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America.
I had quite forgotten that little tidbit, which intrigues me more than it probably should if I’m to honor the admonition “judge not.”
For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.
Ross Douthat, Bad Religion
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