Friday, August 29, 2008

A New Kind of Politics? Or the Same Old "Religion?"

Barack Obama's acceptance speech was historic, forthright, even "specific" at points. And as expected, it exhibited his rhetorical gifts, echoing the cadences of MLK's preaching.

That said, what purports to be a "new kind of politics" sure sounds pretty familiar. In particular, the following stood out to me:
  • Though Hillary didn't get the nomination, and despite all the blather that this is no longer the party of the Clintons, surely the fact that a big promise of tax cuts was central to his speech is a clear sign that this is a post-Clinton Democratic party which amounts to little more than Republican Lite. Coupled with a focus on family prosperity and an (albeit tempered) reliance on "the market," this continues to show that what passes for "the left" in this country is almost laughable.
  • More significantly, despite all the talk of newness and change, the rhetoric and religion of Americanism still sounds the same from where I sit. In language that could have just as easily appeared in Bush's second inaugural or the National Security Strategy of the Bush administration, Obama promised to "restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace and who yearn for a better future." And immediately following this, he ramps it up a notch, associating America with the proverbial "ultimate sacrifice," spilling blood for the flag:
    I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.

    So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.
    Ah, yes, that last point recalls something I noted two years ago in Obama's widely praised "Call to Renewal" speech: that Obama exhibits the same sort of politics as Jim Wallis who, at the end of the day, claims the religion must be "disciplined" by democracy. To put the question starkly: Can any Christian really say that they put their "country" first? Both Republican-speak and Democrat-speak remain committed to the god of Americanism.
  • Finally, Obama's speech draws on the borrowed capital of Scripture in exactly the same way as the Religious Right: it invokes powerful, symbolic language of Scripture which refers to the church and transposes it to the United States of America. For instance: the speech closed with a veritable benediction: "Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess." The allusion is to Hebrews 10:23: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised if faithful." The context makes it clear that this is the church's hope in Christ, but here Obama idolatrously transposes that to the "American promise." This is a "new kind of politics?" Sounds like the same old sort of civil religion we've heard from the Religious Right for years--the same (idolatrous) civil religion of Americanism.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is "the American Dream" a Christian Dream?

I have been--and will remain--relatively quiet about the presidential campaign. (I can muster enthusiasm for municipal politics, and perhaps even state politics, but remain completely cynical about federal politics.) However, my patience for leftish evangelical infatuation with Obama is spilling over a bit this morning (almost equal to my cynicism for an evangelical right that could get behind McCain).

I'll just register one question, given the fact that even Stanley Hauerwas has said, "I'll probably vote for Obama." It seems that the thrust of this week's Democratic Convention--presaged in Michelle Obama's speech last night--will be to emphasize that Barack Obama is a "mainstream American" who has benefited from and lived out "the American dream."

But is the American dream a Christian dream?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Orwell Diaries

The Orwell Trust, administrators of the Orwell Prize, have created a blog publication of George Orwell's diaries from 1938-1942. They describe the project:

The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. From 9th August 2008, Orwell’s domestic and political diaries (from 9th August 1938 until October 1942) will be posted in real-time, exactly 70 years after the entries were written.

Orwell’s ‘domestic’ diaries begin on 9th August 1938/2008; his ‘political’ diaries (which are further categorised as ‘Morocco’, ‘Pre-war’ and ‘Wartime’) begin on 7th September 1938/2008.

The diaries are exactly as Orwell wrote them. Where there are original spelling errors, they are indicated by a ° following the offending word.
An intriguing way into the mind of one of the century's best writers ("political" or otherwise).

Friday, August 15, 2008

On Evangelicalism at Immanent Frame

The Social Science Research Council's blog, The Immanent Frame, has become the arena for discussion of issues related to religion, civil society, and public life, with a particular focus on issues of (post)secularity. They are now hosting an ongoing conversation about evangelicals and evangelicalism, somewhat in light of the shifting political climate in this year of an American presidential election. They recently included a post from my colleague Joel Carpenter on the global complexion of evangelicalism, and today they've posted my own contribution, "Who's Afraid of Sociology?," which makes a theological case for affirming sociological definitions of "evangelical." The conversation will continue with posts from many others.

Monday, August 04, 2008

"Desiring the Kingdom" is Finished!

A big part of my blog silence over this summer stems from the fact that I've been holed up, hermit-like, trying to finish my next book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. Today I'm rewarding myself with a day off because, thanks be to God, it's done! I submitted the manuscript to my patient and gracious editor this past week. I've been so mired in this for so long, my initial response was "good riddance!" But I hope that when I get the galleys back, I'll have gained sufficient critical distance to make some further improvements. I have an overwhelming sense of the inadequacies of the book; but at other times, when I've gotten feedback from others, I also have a bit of hope that it might be helpful. (This is the first volume of a trilogy, so I have two follow-up volumes to fill in some gaps. This first volume is meant to be an overview of the argument accessible to students and practitioners; the follow-up volumes will be more scholarly monographs.)

The animating impetus of the book is rethinking the shape and practices of Christian education, particularly in Christian colleges and universities in North America (I recognize that these are strange beasts to those in Europe and elsewhere). In particular, I'm pressing the limits, even distortions, that attend "worldview"-talk which tends to now dominate Christian higher education. Such worldviewism, I suggest, continues to reduce Christianity to an intellectual system that can be grapsed apart from the church and is then "taught" as information to be merely transferred from one head to another. In contrast, I argue that Christian discipleship is a matter of formation, not mere information--and that "Christian" education should be fundamentally a matter of shaping our love, our desire, to be oriented to the shape of the kingdom of God. And such formation happens not primarily via the heady, cognitive "lectures" (whether in our Protestant sermon factories or our Christian college classrooms) but through embodied practices that seep into our imagination and get hold of our gut, our heart, our kardia.

In short, I'm suggesting that before we can ever articulate a Christian "worldview," we are engaged in the practices of Christian worship. Drawing on Charles Taylor, I argue that the practices of Christian worship "carry" within them an "understanding" of the world that is better described as a "Christian social imaginary." Thus Christian education needs to be more integrally and intimately connected to the church and her worship then has generally been the case in North American Christian higher education.

There's also a correlate to this analysis: that cultural practices and institutions are not just venues for conveying "messages" or "abstract values;" rather, they constitute liturgies which function as pedagogies of desire bent on getting us to love rival kingdoms, visions of human flourishing that are antithetical to the biblical vision of shalom.

I paste here the Table of Contents which provides a bit of a map of the book, which should appear in the late spring of 2009 from Baker Academic:



Beyond “Perspectives”: Faith and Learning Take Practice

Making the Familiar Strange: A Phenomenology of Cultural Liturgies
The End of Christian Education: From Worldview to Worship (and Back Again)
Picturing Education as Formation in Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier
Elements of a Theology of Culture: Pedagogy, Liturgy, and the Church


Chapter 1
Homo Liturgicus: The Human Person as Lover

From Thinking Things to Liturgical Animals
From Worldviews to Social Imaginaries
From Spheres to Aims: Liturgical Institutions

Chapter 2
Love Takes Practice: Liturgy, Formation, and Counter-Formation

Why Victoria’s In on the Secret: Picturing Discipleship at the Moulin Rouge
“Thick” and “Thin” Practices: Ritual Forces of Cultural Formation
Formation, Mis-Formation, and Counter-Formation: Liturgies Secular and Christian

Chapter 3
Lovers in a Dangerous Time: Cultural Exegesis of “Secular” Liturgies

“Reading” Culture Through the Lens of Worship
Consuming Transcendence: Worship at the Mall
Marketing (as) Evangelism: Picturing the Liturgy of Consumerism in The Persuaders
Sacrificial Violence: The “Military-Entertainment” Complex
Cathedrals of Learning: Liturgies of the University
Picturing the University’s Liturgies in Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons
Apologetic Excursus: The Persisting Witness of Idolatry
Picturing Resistance in 1984


Chapter 4
From Worship to Worldview: Christian Worship and the Formation of Desire

The Primacy of Worship to Worldview
The Sacramental Imagination: Resisting Naturalism and Supernaturalism
Picturing the Sacramental Imagination in Graham Greene and Anne Sexton
Excursus: The Shape of Christian Worship

Chapter 5
Practicing (for) the Kingdom: An Exegesis of the Social Imaginary Embedded in Christian Worship

Liturgical Time: Rhythms and Cadences of Hope
Call to Worship: An Invitation to Be Human
God’s Greeting: Hospitality, Community, and Graced Dependence
Baptism: Initiation into a Royal Priesthood/Constitution of a New People
Song: Hymning the Language of the Kingdom
Confession: Brokenness, Grace, Hope
Law: Order, Norms, and Freedom for the Good
The Creed: Situating Belief
Prayer: Vocalizing Desire
Scripture and Sermon: Re-narrating the World
Eucharist: Supper with the King
Offering: Kingdom Economics
Sending: The Great Commission as Cultural Mandate
Worship, Discipleship and Discipline: Practices Beyond Sunday

Chapter 6
A Christian University is for Lovers: The Education of Desire

A New Monasticism for the University: Why Christian Colleges Should Corrupt the Youth
Christian Education Takes Practice: Three Monastic Opportunities
Excursus: Christian Worship as Faculty Development: From Christian Scholars to “Ecclesial” Scholars