Monday, April 08, 2019

The Church Should Be Distinctive, Not Relevant

(Michigan flowers)

I'm slow-cooking in Yale University theologian Miroslav Volf's Public FaithI'm reading what he says about "the relevant church." The culturally blended, relevant church accommodates. Accommodationism is rooted in the fear of irrelevance. Volf writes:

"The accommodation is necessary because otherwise the faith would remain tied to the relics from the past—implausible interpretations of reality and outdated moral convictions—and cease to be compelling to people today. From this perspective, the choice is between accommodation and irrelevance. (Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith, p. 84).  

Volf argues that liberal Christianity's accommodationist strategy has failed. For two reasons.

1. Contemporary culture is changing at too fast a pace. What is relevant today is irrelevant tomorrow. The popular church names of today lose relevance as the signs are being made. Perhaps we could change the name of our church daily. We could have a changeable street sign, which would be a sign of what God was doing in us at the present moment.  

Volf quotes G.K. Chesterton, who said: “those who marry the spirit of the age will find themselves widows in the next.” (Quoted in Ib.) Pay attention, all ye relevant churches.

2. Christian communities who accommodate to culture to be relevant "are in effect giving up on promoting change," since they "are accommodating to what they have not shaped and are only able to shape in a limited way."

Volf writes:

"Reconstructions of the Christian faith guided by the strategy of accommodation carry in themselves the seeds of possible Christian self-destruction. After they have accommodated, for the most part what remains for Christian communities to do is to appear after a non-Christian show and repeat the performance in their own way for an audience with Christian scruples. The voice of the Christian communities has become a mere echo of a voice that is not their own." (Ib., 85)

Volf cites Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, who say: “Alas, in leaning over to speak to the modern world, we had fallen in. We had lost the theological resources to resist, lost the resources even to see that there was something worth resisting.” (In Ib.) 

So what shall we do?

3. We should nurture our distinctives. "Christian communities will be able to survive and thrive in contemporary societies only if they attend to their “difference” from surrounding cultures and subcultures. The following principle stands: whoever wants the Christian communities to exist must want their difference from the surrounding culture, not their blending into it. As a consequence, Christian communities must “manage” their identity by actively engaging in “boundary maintenance.” Without boundaries, communities dissolve." (Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith, p. 81)

The Jesus-community is different from the surrounding culture. Shore up that which is distinctive to Christian culture and strengthen that which is central.