What follows is a comment made to a post that my pastor, Father Jody Howard, made following an article in the Living Church about the challenges facing the Episcopal Church. At the end of the article, Rev. Dr. Neal Michell, canon for strategic development in the Diocese of Dallas, writes, “The problems facing our church are spiritual in nature. We have not been faithful enough disciples of Jesus Christ. We have not reached out to those around us with the Good News of Jesus Christ.” My response is as follows:
Brueggemann's call for a return to personal discipleship is definitely part of the solution; however, that is simply not enough. That may become a vibrant monasticism or fundamentalism, (which may be the option that best exemplifies God's design for the church in the world. For me, the jury is still out on that one. And if it does come down here, I choose monasticism over fundamentalism.) but it will not solve the puzzle of why there simply isn't traction in the culture. In my mind, this is a problem with language and with anthropology. Language because there is simply no longer a common linguistic "game" that allows people to talk about religious ideas. (And, one might say, this is part of a broader problem: that the public square has so collapsed that even talking about ideas of public consequence has been reduced to grandstanding, party politics, and the manipulation of conspiracy theories.) Anthropology because the formula for a whole human being living a human life no longer includes the habits and practices of faith as a necessity but has relegated it to, at best, an app that can be downloaded and run on the software of the self if one so chooses, for reasons that are highly personable but lend themselves to the psychotic, the aesthetic, the social/political, or even the pragmatic--but certainly not the necessary. Western human beings are practical atheists, one and all, and it is a struggle even to be religious for the religious. The church catholic in the West has ignored these extremely thorny philosophical problems and applied, instead, Western and especially American ideas of individualism and success-through-right-action (channeling Napoleon Hill).
theological anthropology; Walter Brueggemann; missions; culture; atheism; modernity