Archive for June, 2012

Imagination Station: Grounding Church Innovation in Tradition

church, innovation, imaginationI have written previously on how Christians should embrace an entrepreneurial spirit in pursuing God’s will (here and here), grounding their innovations and risk-taking in a holistic Biblical worldview and executing their callings through active fellowship and spiritual discernment.

Over at Faith & Leadership, James K.A. Smith provides some related thoughts on Christian innovation, paying specific attention to the role of individual church bodies. For Smith, “good culture making” comes from a properly oriented Christian imagination, and such imaginations are most reliably fostered and achieved through “intentional, historic, liturgical forms.”

First, Smith’s survey of modern evangelicalism:

The entrepreneurial independence of evangelical spirituality leaves room for all kinds of congregational startups that require little if any institutional support. Catering to increasingly specialized “niche” audiences, these startups are not beholden to liturgical forms or institutional legacies. Indeed, many proudly announce their desire to “reinvent church.”

Clearly, the cultural labor of restoration requires imaginative innovation. Good culture making requires that we imagine the world other than as it is — which means seeing through the status-quo stories we have been told and instead envisioning kingdom come. Yes, we need new energy, new strategies, new initiatives, new organizations, even new institutions.

But if we hope to put the world to rights, we need to think differently and act differently and build institutions that foster such action.

Next, his solution:

If our cultural work is going to be restorative – if it is going to put the world to rights – then we need imaginations that have been shaped by a vision for how things ought to be. Our innovation and invention and creativity will need to be bathed in an eschatological vision of what the world is made for, what it’s called to be — what the prophets often described as shalom. Innovation for justice and shalom requires that we be regularly immersed in the story of God reconciling all things to himself.

That immersion happens most powerfully in worship — in intentional, historic, liturgical forms that “carry” the Christian story in ways that sink into our bones and become part of us. This is why the unfettered, undisciplined “reinvention” of the church actually undercuts our ability to carry out innovative, restorative culture making. The story cannot shape us, cannot become part of us, in a church that is constantly reinventing itself.

I certainly agree that “unfettered, undisciplined ‘reinvention’ of the church” diminishes our ability to “carry out innovative, restorative culturing,” but I’m curious as to how we might start (re)defining standards for Christian worship in modern evangelicalism—how we are to pick and choose “intentional, historic, liturgical forms” and how we are to gauge the success of any Read the rest of this entry »

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Religion, Babies, and the Limits of Economic Analysis

Data-visualization guru Hans Rosling recently gave a fascinating TED talk contemplating the relationship between religion and babymaking. (For some of my commentary on his previous instances of wizardry, see here and here.)

This week at Values & Capitalism, I offer my thoughts on the lecture, focusing specifically on the limits of Rosling’s analysis as it relates to the economic implications of religion and culture.

You can watch the full talk below:

Rosling argues that religion has nothing to do with decreasing birth rates, but getting out of poverty does.

Ah, but what hath religion to do with that?

As I’ve written previously, economists have a tendency to shy away from and/or mistreat any factors that might rattle their neat categorical frameworks and cause “#VALUE!” to pop up throughout their intricate Excel spreadsheets. Observing countries according to “majority religion,” for example, provides little insight into the unique cultural differences and political climates of the countries involved while also Read the rest of this entry »

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Liberation Theology and Marx in the Mainstream

Jeremiah Wright, liberation theologyOver at the New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer is worried about a renewed “liberation-theology scare” in the upcoming election (HT), wherein folks are once again forced to contemplate whether race-injected Marxism is a good idea.

According to Oppenheimer, any critiques of President Obama’s (former?) connections to black liberation theology—nay, any critiques of black liberation theology itself—are much ado about nothing:

While Mr. [Jeremiah] Wright has said his ministry is inspired by James H. Cone, the author of “Black Theology & Black Power,” the founding text of black liberation theology, Dr. Cone’s 1969 book is far subtler than any one sermon, no matter the preacher. Contrary to the simplifications of the past four years, liberation theology, which has become hugely influential, teaches not hate, nor anti-Americanism, but a renewed focus on the poor and the suffering, as embodied by Jesus.

“Liberation theology, at its most simple, is the Sunday school Jesus who healed the sick or took care of the poor people,” said Shannon Craigo-Snell, a theologian at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “It’s what your Sunday school teacher taught you if you grew up in a church. It isn’t something people should be afraid of, unless they’re invested in poor people not getting fed or sick people not getting healed.”

…In the words of Dr. Craigo-Snell and Dr. Cone, it sounds obvious: Jesus identified with the oppressed, not the oppressor. But Dr. Cone notes that many theologians have ignored poverty or subordinated it to other concerns. After the Social Gospel of the very early 20th century passed, the poor largely slipped from the agenda of Christian theology.

I’ve written on this subject several times (e.g. here and here) and have already thoroughly outlined my misgivings with a Jesus whose primary mission is to offer political salvation from earthbound tyrants. What I find striking in Oppenheimer’s analysis is his attitude that liberation theology’s Marxist orientation should be shrugged off as uncontroversial, plain-Jane, pro-poor do-gooderism.

First, he attempts to dispense with what he thinks to be the actually controversial stuff, i.e. claims that black liberation theology is “ethnocentric.”

His evidence that it’s not:

As a category, liberation theology, which often draws heavily on Marxist analysis, is not ethnocentric. It has been taken up by oppressed groups including third world peoples, Latinos, Asians and other American ethnic minorities…Since [Gustavo Gutiérrez's] and Dr. Cone’s books, lesbian, gay and other queer theologians have developed a liberation theology of sexuality. Black women propound what they call womanist theology, and Latina women have taken up “mujerista” theology, for the Spanish word for “womanist.”

When folks critique folks like Rev. Wright, they are not talking about generic, “category” liberation theology. They are talking about black liberation theology, and there’s a tiny little thing that distinguishes black liberation theology from Read the rest of this entry »

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