You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Ecclesiology’ category.

How’s this for an excellent conclusion? From the final page to Lyndon Shakespeare’s Being the Body of Christ in the Age of Management:

When Aquinas focuses on the bread and wine, he is not merely addressing the elements associated with the Eucharist, he is making the larger claim that matter matters, it overflows with meaning. For what are human beings but a certain kind of material item in the world, and yet animals that are meaning-making and symbol-sharing embodied souls? It is, for Aquinas, one of the wonders of what it means to be human that we are animals of a kind, ones with potential abilities to transcend our materiality through the formation of communities defined by divine caritas (204).

jc-ceo

I have been looking forward to Lyndon Shakespeare’s Being the Body of Christ in the Age of Management for some time now (found here and here). Lyndon and I have been in brief contact over the years, mostly with Lyndon graciously taking the time to answer my questions about Herbert McCabe. So when Lyndon reached out to ask if I’d like a review copy of his latest book, I jumped at the chance.

Rather than present the standard book review, however, I’d like to try something different. I plan to offer brief snippets and quick reflections on the book as I make my way through. I think that this mode of review syncs with Lyndon’s approach to ecclesiology with its emphasis on the social, living body. And so, I’d like my reflections to follow suit, more akin to joints and sinews rather than a static, single-sheet recap.

But before I begin, a brief summary:

Lyndon details how managerialist ideology has crept into contemporary ecclesiological thought and practice. The gospel of efficiency, marketing, branding, and bureaucratic rationalization have usurped sacramental forms and traditions. Although this technique-based approach purports to offer a more efficient church structure, the net effect is anything but. As Lyndon explains, functional managerialism is “supremely impractical when examined in the light of the church’s fundamental orientation to the kingdom of God” (13, emphasis mine). It’s important to note at the outset that Lyndon does not offer a simple declension narrative. Rather than pining for the good ol’ days when Bishops ruled, Lyndon offers instead the critical distance necessary to examine how and why management theory holds the ascendancy that it does.

Admittedly, there’s nothing quite new in critiquing management theory. But Lyndon’s reflections take us a step further. Where Lyndon parts ways with his predecessors is that he comes “at the reality of the church in the same way Aquinas comes to the reality of any existing thing, through examining the particular way the items in the world and our understanding of what constitutes our world (i.e., how we talk about it as existing and having a purpose) hangs together in a coherent way” (3).

This unique approach allows Lyndon to detect, specifically, where the rot begins: with the metaphysical biases of physicalism and managerialism – two sides of the same dirty coin. As Lyndon argues, if the body, social or individual, is nothing but an assemblage of mechanical parts or a “Cartesian machine” (96), then so too will be one’s ecclesiology. Cast in this light, the only appropriate response then is to exercise managerialism on the lump of dead ecclesial matter (5).

I’m glad that Lyndon’s book arrived when it did. With the election of Donald Trump, Americans just witnessed one of the most colossal failures of the pundit class, the liberal intelligentsia, and the so-called experts. A consistent theme emerging from post-election data shows that a immense swath of the electorate (particularly, the “white working-class”) was largely driven by their utter disdain for the liberal managerial class incarnated in Hillary Clinton. Going deeper, a recent Harvard Business Review article found that what specifically motivated this class to vote against Clinton was the onerous experience of everyday managers and bureaucrats. About this pervasive resentment toward professionals, Joan Williams observes that “most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day.”

Given that so many Americans clearly detest the mechanisms of managerialism, why does the church even think about dabbling in this strategy? What does it signal to our congregations when leaders bring in church growth experts or consultants?

Part of me doubts that the tradition Lyndon and I share will read the election results in this way. The steady diet of experts and managers rather than theologically astute bishops or deacons will likely continue, at least in the near future. But I hope that as more and more peoples around the globe continue to reject neoliberalism’s hegemony and it’s ugly spawn, managerialism, our church leaders will also “get the memo” that the business strategy of applying managerial techniques is doomed from the get-go.

I highly recommend Lyndon’s book and look forward to sharing more thoughts as I continue reading. More to come very soon.

A fire hydrant is seen with an "Out of Service" sign on a blighted street on the east side of Detroit

From Patrick Deneen’s How Red (State) is Marx?, in The American Conservative:

Here’s what Marx got right—profoundly, overwhelmingly, admirably right: capitalism is unforgiving to “conservatives,” those who care about neighborhood, Church, family, loyalty, tradition. As Marx and Engels eloquently described in The Communist Manifesto,

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation….

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Deneen adds an important note about Christopher Lasch, “Marxism’s best heir”:

Conservatives would do well to read some Christopher Lasch, who in the 1980s wrote a series of devastating critiques of the elite as those least likely to advance the cause of the working classes. An atheist Marxist early in his career, Lasch’s late work—especially his books The True and Only Heaven and The Revolt of the Elites—exposed the intellectual and financial elites for their irresponsibility and deep hostility toward the working classes. His fears that the society they envisioned—globalized libertinism—has come to pass, with these elites now reaping the advantages while the (unemployed) working poor “enjoy” the fruits of sexual liberation: the de-linking of individuals from robust and settled communities, the destruction of networks, cultures, and traditions that supported families and neighborhoods. He identified liberals especially for special and searing scorn, exposing their sentimental pity as a veneer that covered their main aim of outsourcing actual responsibility toward the less fortunate to a faceless, uncaring, distant and irresponsible government while they enjoyed the fruits of their outsized gains and organized license.

This is the kind of Marxism we need today. People who really want to work, make things, build families and communities and dig deep roots—Unite!

 

Reading through Justin Lewis-Anthony’s You are the Messiah and I Should: Why Leadership is a Myth (and Probably a Heresy) , I came across a startling quote from former Archbishop George Carey. When asked about his leadership style, Carey responded,

“People have described me as a ‘management bishop’, but I say to my critics: ‘Jesus was a management expert too.”

And we now are seeing some heated debates over a proposed baptismal rite that omits mention of the devil.

When Jesus becomes the CEO and the church becomes a managerial institution, what need is there for the devil? Can he not, like any business problem, be streamlined away by “creating efficiencies” or “removing redundancies,” and other business-based solutions?  Is not the fervor over the new experimental rite but a logical consequence of a managerial church?

evensong

It is now old news, but Rachael Held Evans CNN piece caused quite a stir over the past month or so. There was no shortage of responses, some good and some very, very bad.

At least one response has hit the nail on the head: Why Are Fewer People in Church? It’s the Economy, Stupid.

Because of economic pressure on the middle class, marriage itself is becoming a less-attainable goal (compare and contrast with this article about urbanization and the family from 1969). When people have to work two full-time jobs to raise a family, they don’t have time to go to a worship service on the weekend. Speaking of jobs, Wuthnow pointed out that it is less likely that anyone will be employed by the same employer in the same place for more than a few years. With all that job-and-place-changing, people don’t settle down anywhere, nor do their children get habituated to church attendance. At a recent church-planter training, Jim Griffith pointed out to us that since people can’t afford to take two-week vacations anymore, they wind up taking multiple weekend trips during the year, decreasing the time they have to participate in church activities. All of these lifestyle and economic influences make it less likely that people will commit to a church.

In short, church attendance is declining because the concept of a Sunday, let alone a Saturday, is declining. Catherine Pickstock made a similar observation in the late 90’s, stating that one of the characteristics of modernity is the flattening of all time for capitalist instrumentality. “People tend to eat at any time; shops are open all night long; and every week is a week without a Sunday,” writes Pickstock.

“The church in the United States shaped itself around the middle class, and grew as it grew. We do not live in that world anymore.” Amen to that. Though I do not agree with Dave’s solution about creating more Church plants. In fact, this would only seem to augment the very economic forces that destroy churches – and by extension, humanity – by creating more and more divisions and more and more markets.

What we need  is a sociality itself working to re-enchant reality in the face of a system that puts a dollar sign on everything. What we need is the classical notion of the Parish. That strange place where the smell of incense looms; the strange chanting noises of evensong; people taking time out of their day for the office of Compline; and by all means, and if at all possible, taking Sunday back as political act.

Bishop

In a recent article by The Other Journal, “Power, Economics, and Christian Faith from Below: An Interview with Joerg Rieger,” Joerg Rieger offers a powerful reminder about the importance of beginning with production and labor rather than distribution.

Labor is what people do. And that means that it is not just a necessity but that it is something much bigger than us. For people of religion, it would mean that we have to see God involved. God is laboring alongside us, with us… Normally we are talking about distribution, the fairness of distribution, and who gets paid what. We are not talking about production. I talk about this in one of my earlier books, No Rising Tide, where I say we have to shift the discussion to production because then we will be talking about the value of what it is that people are doing, how we are valuing that as a society. And then, from there, you can ask questions about how people are compensated, for instance, but in a way that takes the question beyond a simple discussion of a minimum wage or even a living wage.

It’s important to note the “participatory logic” at work here, the fact that God is present in our labor and creative activity as much as God is present in our abundance.

So why is this important? As Rieger continues,

Unfortunately, we think of religion, particularly Christianity, mostly in terms of leisure: Sunday mornings, evening meals, and meetings outside of our regular work schedule. But what happens when we bring these things back together again? The main point of my book is that we can learn something from looking other directions. We can learn something about Christianity and other religious traditions by looking from the perspective of labor, which includes organizing labor, the plight of workers, and the treatment of workers. We can also learn something about labor by really going to the depths of our religious traditions. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there is a strong concern for the fair treatment of workers. But way beyond that, there is a concern for appreciating the positive contributions that workers can make. This is back to the bottom of power, understanding that this world is built in so many ways form the bottom up, rather than the top down.

Rieger touches here on one of the most critical issues facing our communities today: in the demise of Christendom and concomitant rise of ruthless capitalism and instrumental reason, how do we think the relationship between our jobs (where we spend the bulk of our time) and our ‘religious’ commitments? Aside from Rieger’s poignant analysis, it seems that our only options our a flattened version of the Protestant Work Ethic, a lazy non-contents position casting everything back on ‘original sin’, or a simply acquiescing to the secular/sacred divide. But as Rieger points out, by focusing on labor, which is to focus on questions of value, we can begin to recover the sense that the world is charged with “the grandeur of God.” The question of labor doesn’t simply reduce the Christina message to an individual ethic, such as “WWJD scenarios,” but calls us to see all of creation charged with glory and to envision a social-ecclesial response. Isn’t this a much for fruitful way for the church to again capture the imagination and rethink its vocation in a post-Christendom era?

It’s worth pondering St. Paul’s materialism :

To say that the Church is the body of Christ is no more of a metaphor than to say that the flesh of the incarnate Jesus or the bread of the Eucharist is the body of Christ. None of them is ‘like’ his His body (Paul never says this): each of them is the body of Christ, in that each is the physical complement and extension of the one and the same Person and Life. They are all expressions of a single Christology.

Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology, 51.

Kiss of Judas

In A Brutal Unity, Ephraim Radner poses an interesting question regarding Judas’s role as both betrayer and integral part of the the Church. Judas, according to Radner, “stands as the mirror of the Church, even if he is not of the Church’s exhaustive reality” (119). Ultimately, Judas “is ‘one of us,’ not some other” (120).

On the basis of Judas, Radner attempts to undo the clean distinction drawn between the Church “as such” and the sins of her members.

So the Church’s stories and histories are multiple: she lives with the rebels or with the disciples or with the indifferent, as Jesus her Lord comes to her and takes her as just one of them, “as such”; but in so doing, she learns to live with him in his giving, and her story becomes his … though his is given over to theirs ever and again in time. In a sense, then, the contrast between the “sins of the Church” and the “sins of the Church’s members” is not a helpful one to make because the center of the Church’s “nature” is the being given over and the being taken up as sinner by Christ, within the particular contours of the Church’s history and histories. The church is historical; hence, any sin from the past cannot be sloughed off but represents the very order of her life as she lives in the world. Obviously, then, the Church must know her past. Indeed, the Church can know herself only by looking backward and thereby judging the character of what she sees in the mirror. (And this, of course, tells us not only about the sin from the past but also about holiness from the past.) Still, we are who we have become; these are not just passing shadows but actual elements of our own being (155).

As the other is always within the Church, there is no point in which we can leapfrog the messy parts of ecclesial history. Like the question of Judas, the betrayals and many failures of the Church are integral to the Church as such. As Radner continues, “the ‘other’ is always within the Church, not simply without. The sinful Church knows this to be the very constitution of ecclesiality itself – the ‘otherness’ that Christ would take to himself” (157).

The problem with the notion of separation is its expressive, self-purifying character. It will not wait for God to purify his own church in his own time. Schisms may come, but woe to that church through whom they come! There is no right, or duty, of schism. As unity is given to the church as a gift, so it is taken away as a judgment. But on no account can disunity be a course of action that the church may embrace in pursuit of its mission or identity. 

Oliver O’Donovan, Church in Crisis, 33-34.

+Dan Martins aptly summarizes one of the main difficulties facing Catholic Anglicans:

Under what circumstances is it appropriate to sever formal institutional ecclesial communion? This is a question I have lived with and struggled with for years turned into decades. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I come at this question from a fundamentally Catholic perspective, which is to say that I understand the Church as an essentially visible organism. Institutional disunity is real disunity. My friends of a more Protestant bent (Anglican and otherwise) are able to be less anxious about schism, pointing to an underlying spiritual unity among believers that smooths out those rough places where we are still at odds with one another at a visible level. Catholics enjoy that luxury to a rather more limited extent.

Archives