“What is a Southern Baptist doing reading Walter Brueggemann?” The email questioner was a fellow Southern Baptist pastor. From his perspective Brueggemann was not on the approved reading list for those in our tribe. I politely replied and kept reading. In my last post I was hopeful to disabuse us of the idea that those within the Christian Tradition outside our particular stream are indeed not scary whether they are identified by another denominational affiliation or at a different place than us on the idealogical spectrum from fundamentalist to liberal. Something I recently learned about C.S. Lewis may provide another illustration.
My favorite C.S. Lewis book is The Abolition of Man. Over the years I have read excerpts from Mere Christianity. Steve suggested it be our next book to read for our Theology Cafe at Snow Hill on Thursday mornings.
This past Thursday we watched The Magic Never Ends: The Life & Faith of C.S. Lewis. Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College, shared with the audience, via DVD, Lewis’ reference to the variety of Christian Traditions and their interplay as living in a building with a common hallway lined with doors to various rooms. It is in the hallway those from the different streams of the Christian Tradition mingle and get to know one another. But, at some point we go through one of the doors along the hallway into a room and gather around the particularities of our individual traditions for worship, fellowship and discipleship.
The “hallway” becomes the metaphor for the differing Christian Traditions. Mere Christianity was written, actually broadcast as talks then put into print, not to calcify any one position against the other, but instead to offer to those not in the hallway some sense of the basics around which we all find fellowship in the hallway. Lewis’ imagery helps us establish that others in the different streams of the Christian Tradition are not scary, and we may learn from them, we are left with those really scary others not in the hallway. What about “them”?
I have three illustrations to demonstrate we have more to learn and may do so from those not in the hallway, and sometimes they are happily so.
1. We always need another pair of eyes. James K.A. Smith is editor of the Baker Series, “The Church and Postmodern Culture.” He wrote the first in the series, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Fouccault to Church. The quick answer is everyone. That is everyone who needs/needed a whipping post and found postmodern anything to suit the cause celeb around which we could rally the Christian army in hopes of a swift defeat. But, the quick fury to bury the new enemy may have left us with spotty vision, if not blind spots.
For some reason many Christians, Evangelicals anyway, think they arrive at a “biblical philosophy” unencumbered by the influences of prevailing culture and its reigning philosophy. We often couch that in terms of “worldview.”
Think Copernicus and Galileo. The reigning cosmology came tumbling down but not without a fight. The Church had established dogma tied to an inherited “science.” Once it was observed to be decidedly different, the struggle was on. Faith had become inexorably tied to a vision of the earth at the center of the universe. We seem to face faith quakes like these from time to time and since we look to offer a cohesive explanation we eventually tie in our doctrines/faith in a way that almost disallows any future discoveries. It is as if what we know gets planted in a given point and time.
Enter Smith. Artfully he helps us understand that variant readings of the way the world works, is apprehended, and consequently structured helps us discover ways in which we may be complicit in, for instance, structures of power that foster injustice. Decrying deconstruction would have ruined many a Christian reform movement.
Newbigin helped us see the same when he made use of Berger’s “plausibility structures” to describe the way in which we are inclined to become more holden to reigning paradigms than following semper reformanda. Listening to those outside the hallway may be more beneficial moving us beyond a Christian ghetto and a hunkered down apologetics out of which one may find himself or herself answering questions no one is asking.
When Newbigin returned to the West after 50 years in India he offered poignant critiques of Western Christianity we are still benefiting from. Evidently seeing the world through different eyes, maybe while sitting with Hindu monks, Newbigin brought a clarity to our theology and practice helping us to see the ways in which we had become captive to our cultural environs. And, we face that prospect in every generation, if not more frequently. Once we subvert an incomplete vision we sometimes entrench those new patterns and habits as if they have addressed the complexity and changes we face carrying the Good News to those living in any and every era. They become the new reigning plausibility structures.
Listening and learning from those not in the hallway may help keep us from experiencing cultural captivity held under the spell of the new reigning plausibility structures. Hard work to be sure.
I would certainly admit that it seems hard for many to hop off the deconstruct everything bandwagon. The aim, as I think pointed to by Smith, is to offer something constructive going forward. For instance, in the wake of memorializing 9/11 ten years later there appeared at least one who suggested in the after math of 9/11/01 Christians, again mostly Evangelical, “reached for the flag and not the cross.” The alliance of church with a particular vision of the State is expressly anti-Baptist, if not anti-Christian.
Another pair of eyes observing the world from a different vantage point is a contribution made by those scary others not in the hallway. We need not summarily dismiss their observations because their opinions are not formed out of convictions common to us. Sometimes there is truth present and we would be foolish to ignore it.
Ahead . . .
2. We always need guides to illustrate how we appropriate the observations of those not in the hallway.
Illustration: David Fitch and Slavo Zizek
3. We always need those wiling to risk beyond what we think we are capable.
Illustration: Phillip Clayton and the Jains