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February 26, 2007

Comments

dlw

dlw, I noticed on your blog that someone thought I had "blown a fuse"; I certainly didn't mean to come off as angry. I just like respectful dialogue, which I think is now occurring.

dlw: I think my Ukrainian Christian activist friend, who was part of the Orange Revolution over there, was commenting on the fact that most of your points seemed quite disconnected from my args and somewhat "defensive".

Brad:Your theory regarding Christian hierarchy making the church more prone to Constantinianism is intriguing. Have you done research on this or are there sources you could direct us to? It would be worth exploring further.

dlw: A good source is Roger Olson's The Story of Christianity. It is a political theology, but it does document the manner in which Christianity gradually became more hierarchical in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of its existence in reaction to the heresies that emerged due to the translation of the Good news into Greek and its encounter with pagan concepts, which I believe were influenced some by Judaism during its period of exile in Babylon, therein.

Brad:I am sympathetic to much of what you've written here, though I do, with Chuck, believe in a stronger ecclesiology (and this from an evangelical and "recovering Fundamentalist"). However, I do not equate ecclesiology with institutional hierarchy, especially administrative, so I think we probably agree there.

I believe in the import of ecclesiology, but my anticreedal Baptist views make me skeptical of the value of creeds for the life-force of the Church. I can send you my statement of faith that I wrote recently for my graduation from Bethel Seminary if you're interested.

Brad:I see the church primarily as a community (or set thereof), not an institution (or set thereof).

dlw: I think the semantic diff is not that strong. I think we all have institutions that tend to persist in how they collectively constrain and empower our behavior over time. Some are more dynamic than others, more decentralized communities tend to be more dynamic, though they have their own problems, hence the need for both the CST principles of subsidiarity and socialization.

Brad:That said, I think right doctrine does play an important role.

shoot, and here I was hoping to just make it all up as we go along...

Brad: However, with you (and I think many others, including Chuck, would be with us on this), I see orthodoxy and orthopraxis as two sides of the same coin. I would much rather we had some serious action (I've mentioned status confessionis in the past) regarding the theopolitical beliefs and practices in the American evangelical church than simply focusing on particular doctrine. (In that context, the LaHayes would actually still be in the mix, but that's another discussion.)

It's not like "evangelical" is a contested def'n and I'm not implying that because someone espouses a heretical doctrinal view(as they most certainly do) are not genuine evangelicals. I accept that some heresy is inevitable and not per se a matter of someone trying to subvert the Gospel of Christ. They can also just sincerely be wrong, though we shd be open to being persuaded as such and not simply appeal to the creeds as having settled such matters.

Brad: In that context, church discipline is in love, or as Hauerwas (sorry) has written, hospitality.

dlw: I admire Hauerwas. Don't get me wrong. I have the Hauerwas Reader on my desk next to my computer. I just think that his "free church" ethics are too legalistic and that is "Radical Orthodoxy" is too radical and not the true Orthodoxy. I believe that Church-State Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy are an open system that calls on us to be more generous with each other's fallible judgement calls on right praxis/understandings.

Brad: It is explaining to the heterodox that they are outside the fellowship of the church and this is how they enter back in. The desire is always for their restoration.

dlw: Maybe, but there's also a lot of Constantinized Xty embedded in such a statement. If we're to be outside of the main political authority then we're also going probably not to be the ones who decide what is "orthodoxy" or "heterodoxy".

Brad:On your response regarding Jubilee, I'm concerned that such a view of wealth ignores the millions of Christians and non-Christians around the world who are in poverty, and in many cases, desparate and deadly poverty.

dlw: I think that takes the statement out of its context with the OT and the people of Israel. The reason the millions of Christians are in dire poverty is not because they are not devout Christians, but because of the failures of Christians and the policies of non-Christians or nominal Christians, particularly we in the US. Our and Great Britain's int'l manipulations have not served to set up the rules for trade with people in the two-thirds world that makes it "fair trade". There are lots of things we could do in this regard, but I like the idea of setting up a global min wage of $.60/hour for goods to be exported to the US/EU/Japan and others. That would enable someone working 3000 hours a year to almost mak 5 dollars a day, which would be significantly better than the present. It would also reduce our int'l debt to the PRoChina, which has hampered us severely in standing up for the religious freedoms of Christians there.

I think this answers your question. But would pressing for such a min-wage as Christians make us "Constantinized" or can we agree that this label is being abused? It applies to an overall sort of deal, when I think the matter is more existential dealing with particular issues and how we fallibly decide to use our existing political capital on them wisely.

dlw

dlw

Chuck, tell that Jim Wallis friend of yours that if he doesn't give my pragmatic prolife manifesto(http://sodsbrood.com/antimani/2006/08/02/new-wineskins-for-prolife-political-activism/) a chance to get a hearing at his blog then he's falling short in fostering political dialogue among Christians. Or maybe he's neglecting how the opposite side of the coin of calling for dialogue is Power. There is Power in being able to determine whom and on what issues one is willing to dialogue with. I'm not saying that he shouldn't have Power, but I felt upset on the way coming home from watching the movie Amazing Grace. The abolitionists in England didn't succeed until they changed their political strategy, realizing that their existing strategy wasn't going to work. I think that, in terms of getting Abortion not to be a wedge issue crowding out other issues in election, there needs to be a change in strategy as Wallis' current strategy is not working.

We don't always get to pick the issues that threaten to be decisive in elections and his frames on this issue fall short in that they don't deal with the issue theologically and are too easily twistable in a manner that could be used to support the legalization of infanticide, something that I think goes very much against past Xtn practice.

dlw

chuck

dlw, I didn't read Tom's poem that way. But the Wilberforce movie was great. Did you read my piece responding to the folks who thought bush was an analog to wilberforce? Also, in your next post, the question about a minimum wage is helpful. At some point, we have to move from abstract theory to specifics--what ought we Christians do about this problem? as all might expect, I am very sympathetic to the Wilberforce model.
I'll see Jim in a few weeks, and might have a chance to discuss this with him.

Brad Anderson

dlw,

How do you know your anti-creedal Baptist views themselves don't need critique and correction?

As far as Hauerwas goes, as I said before, Radical Orthodoxy is not "his" (what I think your were saying - the sentence wasn't clear); it's a completely different school of thought, but with some affinities and common scholars with Yoder & Hauerwas. Since you admitted you're not familiar with RO, I'm not sure how you can state that it is neither radical nor orthodox.

Moreover, I'm not sure you've given Yoder/Hauerwas a fair reading. There are several points worthy of critique in their work, but yours seems off the mark. Even amongst their critics, charges of "Judaizer" and legalism would seem bizarre.

There's nothing constantinian about my suggestion regarding church discipline; its precedents are much earlier. The church community has the authority to provide discipline in orthodoxy and orthopraxy; it's not about external or even (centralized) ecclesiastical power structures.

I quite agree with your final assessment, and have no problem with your suggestions - I'm well-acquainted with the situation of which you write. Nor would Hauerwas or Yoder or RO have a problem with what you suggest (their writings are full of such assessments). However, what they would say, and what I would reiterate, is that our efforts shouldn't be *primarily* directed toward that end, but first and foremost, to that of the church in the North and West sacrificing tangibly for the suffering in the South and East, not only monetarily but through resistance to the powers that be in any number of ways (here's my sympathy for Liberation Ethics coming through), ways that can include martyrdom. The policy suggestions you make would be one part of the church's strategy, but not the only or even the most central part (though this is not to say they cannot be conducted simultaneously). The point is first and foremost to embody as the church the economics, politics, and culture of the Kingdom of God.

dlw

my apologies for my impudence above. I don't want to impose on Chuck, but I believe that Jim Wallis' success inevitably breeds some envy and that some, like myself who largely share his values/ideals, will question some of his strategies for changing the direction the political wind is blowing.

I have spent a lot of time this past four and half years working on the politics of abortion and it disturbs me greatly when Wallis and others exclude my distinct perspective from the dialogue. From my experience, my positions has held well in discussions with both more orthodox prolife and prochoice positions.
dlw

dlw

dlw, I didn't read Tom's poem that way. But the Wilberforce movie was great.

dlw: I got very worked up over it and sent an email to a non-Christian political activist friend of mine telling him to watch it and that he stood on WW's shoulders.

CG:Did you read my piece responding to the folks who thought bush was an analog to wilberforce?

dlw: You'll forgive me for not being bowled over. I am not your intended audience, but I suppose I could pass it along.

Also, in your next post, the question about a minimum wage is helpful.

Helpful wrt my ideas? I think we need to connect the abstract with the concrete, but we also need to avoid being perfectionists about the concrete or sprinkling holy water on a particular concrete course of action. Though, we also need hierarchy/order or a willingness to accept an agenda apart from our own preferences in bringing about changes.

CG:At some point, we have to move from abstract theory to specifics--what ought we Christians do about this problem? as all might expect, I am very sympathetic to the Wilberforce model.

dlw: I think his model failed though when it came to the USAmerican Abolitionists. One could also ask whether it would have been worthwhile to press for regulations that would have reduced the mortality rates and improved the living conditions on slave ships, when such changes might later complicate attempts to end the slave trade.

There are always alternatives that politicy-activists do not push for. This is why the issue is both Values(as JW trumpets reguarly) and Strategies. One can agree on the Values, while dissenting on the Strategies(as I have periodically from JW). But we also need to be willing to submit to those in authority without denying our rights to seek to alter the manner in which they wield their authority.

I'll see Jim in a few weeks, and might have a chance to discuss this with him.

dlw: I'd appreciate that greatly.

dlw

dlw

Brad:How do you know your anti-creedal Baptist views themselves don't need critique and correction?

dlw: I can't know for sure. I can listen to critiques and suggested corrections. I know that I come across as condescending sometimes. This is in part due to my academic training and my difficulty in being more irenic like Chuck.

Brad:As far as Hauerwas goes, as I said before, Radical Orthodoxy is not "his" (what I think your were saying - the sentence wasn't clear); it's a completely different school of thought, but with some affinities and common scholars with Yoder & Hauerwas.

dlw: which sentence? I will concede this is true.

Brad:Since you admitted you're not familiar with RO, I'm not sure how you can state that it is neither radical nor orthodox.

dlw: I said I wasn't familiar with Milbank. I have had some exposure to Radical Orthodoxy. But I think I may have gotten carried away rhetorically. I agree that RO is radical by today's standards. My disagreement is with its "Orthodoxy". I do not find Augustine and Neo-Platonism to be "Orthodox", though they have had a long influence on Christian thought and practices.

Augustine failed seriously at the ministry of reconciliation, in particular with his dealings with the Donatists. He may have been right that their theological polemic against the Catholic Church was off-based, but he shd have realized that that wasn't really truly the issue with them. The issue was more the social and economic fissures between Christians from before 313 and those who became Christians after 313, when it was more fashionable to be a Christian. Justo Gonzalez in his "Story of Christianity" tells how the ongoing acrimonious divisions among different brands Xty in N Africa eventually helped Islam wipe out Xty there.

Brad: Moreover, I'm not sure you've given Yoder/Hauerwas a fair reading. There are several points worthy of critique in their work, but yours seems off the mark. Even amongst their critics, charges of "Judaizer" and legalism would seem bizarre.

dlw: I agree and think they more stem from interactions with people influenced some by Hauerwas than them themselves. I need to better formulate my views. My apologies for my presumptiveness in that regard before and perhaps above. I think there is something quite wrong with how so much of Xtn theology has been done on Augustine's shoulders, to the exclusion of other Christian fathers.

Brad: There's nothing constantinian about my suggestion regarding church discipline; its precedents are much earlier. The church community has the authority to provide discipline in orthodoxy and orthopraxy; it's not about external or even (centralized) ecclesiastical power structures.

dlw: We agree on the need for church discipline, I may have lost track of what concretely you were suggesting though. I fear though that my diff is that the ecclesiastical power structures matter for what sorts of disciplines we undertake (I think trying to understand and act adequately in our situation is a form of discipline that ought to be encouraged among all Christians. We need not be distinct in the terms/frames we use in this regard, if we are distinct in our relative selflessness in ensuring more voices may participate in working out the conflicts that affect our communities.) or what sorts of good works we manifest.

I also hold that there is always some selectivity that cannot be settled by precedent, as our traditions are complicated and we face new situations. So I think from a practical standpoint, I am wary of how RO might privilege the views of the professional theologian or church historian. Similarly, I appreciate Hauerwas' creative reframing of issues, but do not believe that he has disposed of issues, such as the issue of the politics of Abortion. Likewise, I have appreciated Yoder, but think that his Anabaptist dualism is theologically wrong. I am probably better informed about Yoder than I am about Hauerwas. I tend to read Hauerwas thru the lense of people like Jamie K Smith.

Contra Yoder, I believe that Christian participation in the administration of the sword of the state and the reform of how specifically it is wielded can be part of how we overcome evil with good, without hypocripsy. Although, we probably are inevitably stained some by hypocripsy some in this regard. It's hard to admit openly that we are making fallible choices on which strategies we employ to pursue values that we see in part as through a mirror darkly.

Brad:However, what they would say, and what I would reiterate, is that our efforts shouldn't be *primarily* directed toward that end, but first and foremost, to that of the church in the North and West sacrificing tangibly for the suffering in the South and East, not only monetarily but through resistance to the powers that be in any number of ways (here's my sympathy for Liberation Ethics coming through), ways that can include martyrdom.

I agree that any particular policy-change is to be seen 'secondarily'. I think though that these "ends" of altering public policy in some way are part of the whole of being self-sacrificial on the behalf of those who are marginalized. I don't see them as "primary" but rather a subsidiary part of what is primary. I also think that within the US, in general, we have pretty lousy habits of political deliberation and activism and that is what has led the religious rights to throw away their votes for less than a torta in return(Tortas are paid for votes among poorer Mexicans).

Brad:The policy suggestions you make would be one part of the church's strategy, but not the only or even the most central part (though this is not to say they cannot be conducted simultaneously). The point is first and foremost to embody as the church the economics, politics, and culture of the Kingdom of God.

dlw: I think first and foremost is the need for us to admit that the kingship of God is never a wholly embodied by any system of Economics, Politics and Culture. And yet, we still need systems both to help us communicate more clearly our various ideas and how they relate and to make it easier for others to criticize us for being inconsistent or to explain what it is that they disagree with us about.

dlw

dlw

Chuck, you are mentioned at length in this article. http://www.spectator.org/dsp_article.asp?art_id=11073&msource=MR_001

It may not be worth responding to, as it seems to beat the bogeyman of pacifism and posit endless enmity between the evangelical left and US Christianity.

It's pretty bad, but I thought you shd at least know about it.

dlw

chuck

Yep, I saw that one the other day, but thanks for pointing it out. It was a pretty weak response, and I thought to myself, why'd the guy bother. I'm not going to bother:>)

James K.A. Smith

I was intrigued by this post (pointed to it by Dale Lature at Theoblogical)--and I see that Wallis has also pointed to it. I am intrigued because I think I was the first person to formulate the critique specifically in terms of "the Constantinianism of the left" at http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2005/05/constantinianism-of-left.html (on May 6, 2005). There I explicitly referred to Dan Bell's discussion as "statecraft," which is a crucial ligature for making sense of my claim.

chuck

Thanks, James, for joining us and for your comment. I had not seen your piece before, but was responding to the popular use of the phrase. I'll take a look and see if further posting would be appropriate.

James K.A. Smith

No need for further comment. Your post just got me thinking about the history of the phrase. I've been racking my brain trying to think of whether I absorbed it from somewhere. As I understand it, Constantinianism is usually a charge more often associated with the Right, and thus more on the side of theonomy--which is why I tried to suggest that Wallis' framework was, ironically, on the same continuum as the Right. But I'd be very interested to know if others have seen the term used differently.

chuck

There was some discussion of this, I think, on the generous orthodoxy site. I don't recall if your piece was linked in that or if you participated. Do you know of it?
By the way, we have some interesting folks here for discussion. If you'd like to work with a couple of us to create a series on this, we could probably get some exposure for it.
let me know what you think.

dlw

I remember reading Jamie's post not long after he made it.

I don't think "liberal individualism" is really the issue. I think the issue is us seeing political deliberation and activism apart from our self-interests as part of how witness to others as Christians. We don't need to act as "The Church" to make such discernments, but it would be good if we could dialogue in an even-keeled manner on such matters, as part of how we display a deeper unity than political solidarity.

I'd rather get mystical on j-st-s(http://sodsbrood.com/antimani/2005/06/11/i-believe-in-j-st-s/) than deny the importance of statecraft, which is really just a funky word for what has been learned from past strategies' successes and failures. This is necessary as we formulate our fallible political strategies.

dlw

James K.A. Smith

I don't know if I have much to say beyond my posts at Generous Orthodoxy and Fors Clavigera, Chuck. But I'd certainly be an interested reader of further discussions. I'm glad to learn of the conversation here.

chuck

Thanks, James (is that what you prefer to be called?). I am thinking about a series on the topic of the relationship between Christian faith, political involvement, etc. Several of us (you, DLW, Brad, me, evagrius, etc) could take particular points, and we could post one, say, every other day for a week or two. I probably could get Jim W to reference the discussion from his blog to up the discussion level. What say ye, interested? If so, I could work out some possible topics and go from there. Of course, borrowing heavily from previous pieces would be fine.

dlw

I'd be happy to participate, please email me, Chuck.

dlw

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