A couple of things jumped out at me as I scanned blogdom and Twitter this morning. The first was Jonny Baker's post, it's clearly richard sudworth day – that pointed at Sudworth's post – which, as Jonny puts it, is "a very poignant critique of the over against rhetoric of kester brewin and pete rollins."
i often get asked what i think of pete's work and usually respond by saying that i love having his voice in the conversation but it's not the only voice i want to hear. i loved the book how not to speak of god. but this conversation reminds me a little bit of the book nation of rebels: why counter culture became consumer culture which makes a powerful critique that the over against rhetoric of liberals who talk a good game round the dinner table about the evils of the system and overcoming it are not the people who effect real change in society. it's the people who have engaged in the public square, engaged in civil rights marches and so on – often long slow painful processes – who have done more. on reading that book i was challenged to think that actually being alternative is a poor strategy for change… (emphasis added)
Sudworth commenting on Kester Brewin's Christians as Pirates attempted meme, says,
What I sense in Kester's piece on piracy, and indeed in Pete Rollins' publications, is a de-centred viewpoint. Both are keen to articulate a place from the periphery that is "unorthodox", "heretical" or "piratical", in their terms. I'm reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre's assessment of contemporary society which has lost any sense of objective morality or authority; one that is working with the "fragments" of moral traditions. The arguments are pieced together, magpie-like, from sociology, philosophy, contemporary culture, with the occasional leitmotif of scripture (I won't even begin a critique of the cod-populist vision of Jesus the de-bunker of Jewish tradition, the anti-authoritarian on a mission that is all about correcting the wrong road of Judaism that Kester offers!). But this de-centred moral perspective forgets the one essential lesson of postmodernity: that all our standpoints are situated; there is no "view from nowhere".
What I feel I am left with if I'm to take seriously "the fidelity of betrayal" and a "plea for Christian piracy", is a moral vision centred on the individual and thus a "theology" that is yet another rotten fruit of modernity, (there are times when I wonder whether I should read this material acknowledging a wink and tongue-in-cheek at the hyperbole, but the gravitas afforded published books, my experience of their persuasiveness amongst Christians and the earnest hopes of the project (?) suggest I should be treating them seriously!). Kester and Pete are in danger of articulating something that is always and intrinsically "over and against" (the "empire" of the church). So where is it? Kester poses the question "what should we think of the Somali pirates", suggesting the global geopolitics of western oppression might give an alternative vision of who the real baddies are. Well, if you ask a poor Somali woman whose children have been killed by the Somali warlords growing rich on the piracy (for that is yet another side of the story), the answer would be a no-brainer. The point is that there is a coherent moral vision to be applied, inescapably, and we practice that moral vision in community and in our tradition. What i would describe as "an ecclesiology of iconoclism" is in fact licence for the individualism and self-referencing that i know Pete and Kester would otherwise disdain. The example of the shift from "pirate radio to BBC" and "Napster to Spotify" betray more than a whiff of the romance of the new, the trendy and the latest: a vision of consumerist heaven confirming my suspicions?
In the comments on Sudworth's post, Jason Clark adds,
I remember reading a well-known emerging-church blogger who wrote an autobiographical piece on why he had left his church. He described how the members of the church drove in their cars past the poor, the homeless and drug addicts, on their way to spending their money on putting on a Sunday worship service, having bypassed the needs around them.
It was enough for him, showing how the people of his church had failed to engage with the poor, to justify the leaving of his church. He had taken 'action' against the failings of his church community.
I did wonder why the author was unable to stop himself on the way to the service, why had he not tried to minister and invite the other members of his community to serve the poor with him.
Perhaps then something amazing and truly revolutionary could have taken place instead.
And beyond romanticizing ourselves as pirates, we know that real pirates do not form a life with others, but conquer, control, steal, loot, pillage, and bends all things towards their own ends and self creation, controlling others with fear and intimidation.
I confess a profound weariness with the kool kids who want to blow up the present church to create what – a groovy new way of doing church? Who spend more time dancing with the words of Foucault, whilst wearing Lyotard's – than struggling with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
But then I see something like this – via @lensweet on Twitter. The Horner Homemaking House.
"Having a facility that truly models the home environment will allow students to put into practice the foundational principles learned in the classroom.This is an exciting and practical way to impact a future generation of families in a way no other conservative theological institution can," Terri Stovall, dean of women's programs, says.
It is only the healthy fear of the strong Estonian-Canadian woman I am married to that prevents me from writing words of which Patrol Magazine completely approves. You have got to be kidding me! A Homemaking House. This isn't a "conservative theological institution," it's a white bread, lost-in-the-50's school that has confused American Consumerism with the church. God help us all.
Both stories remind me of Imbi's favourite lyric from a Bruce Cockburn song, The Trouble with Normal is it Always Gets Worse. And the normal at both ends of the Church conversation just seems to get worse.
The last word goes to Sudworth,
What story are we a part of? If we own the Christian story, we have a responsibility to bless and be blessed by the whole church; to challenge and be challenged by the whole church. There is truth and there is authority; we just don't have the complete take on what that truth and authority is.