Friday, January 09, 2009

Addressing the Evil Empire as Both Monetarily and Metaphysically Materialistic

(The Flying Spaghetti Monster)

Rob Bell and Dan Golden (B&G), in Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto For the Church In Exile, argue for the true church needing to be "not of this world." The real church does not acquiesce into the shape of this culture. Church's that do this become like the "consumer church" Eugene Peterson describes in The Jesus Way. "The consumer church is the antichrist church," says Peterson.

B&G are making a case for the biblical church, to be distinguished from "seeker churches" and other kinds of not-so-Jesus-like churches. Jesus didn't come to serve up Starbuck's and ask us if we're quite satisfied with everything. B&G, like Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and others, are scandalized at materialist churches whose sanctuaries resemble movie theatres where passive spectators watch religio-theatrical productions and, hopefully, give the productions 4 stars.

I like how B&G describe the biblical text as, essentially, an "oppression narrative." Sounds right to me. Jesus came to form a community that would set captives free from things like loneliness and hunger and poverty. I would add - physical and mental illnesses, and even death (ultimately in the age to come and sometimes - for a period - in this age). The empire of darkness is materistic and self-centered and war-making and other things. I agree.

I want to add this to the discussion: the empire of darkness is also, currently in Europe and North America, materialistic in the metaphyical sense; viz., that all that exists is matter and its various collocations. On philosophical materialism such things as the following have no reality: "soul," "mind," "spirit," "angels and demons," and the like. All reality is natural; there are no supernatural events.

But in the Bible-as-oppression-narrative there are supernatural events. There are pillars of fire and tablets of stone and manna in the wilderness and waves rebuked and demons cast out and blind people coming to non-metaphorically see and dead people non-figuratively raised. The present empire of darkness dismisses such things. I think this is important, because such dismissal provides philosophical warrant for the consumer/materialistic church. In fact, if this part of the evil empire of darkness is not challenged evidentially, I think that all the preaching about the selfless empire of God will struggle. Paul himself said that, if Christ is not really raised from the dead, then our theologies are in vain. At this point all we have left is to worship and preach at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

So I think B&G's theologizing runs the risk of being another exercise in vanity if the supernatural now-activity of Jesus (as Tony Campolo calls it) is not embraced and made a necessary, not merely sufficient, condition for the real church to emerge. If this is not made one of the central experiential realities, then I find it hard to see how B&G's theology for the exiled church will not itself remain in exile precisely because the secular air we now breathe cannot embrace the supernatural. (See Charles Taylor, again, here.) The "Jesus Way" is not only anti-materialistic in the monetary sense, it's also anti-materialistic in the philosophical/metaphysical sense. Today's followers of Jesus need to give equal attention to both. (J.P. Moreland helps us here in his Kingdom Triangle.)