Speaking on the topic of Christian faith formation Andrew Root, with Charles Taylor as his guide, charted the trajectories of secularism from the medieval period to the present. Prior to the formations of the secular Root said that the church really did not need to think of formation because all of life and culture was shaped by a Christian imaginary. As Christendom shifted through the Enlightenment to secular modernity Christian beliefs became contested and in time all beliefs (including unbelief) became contested leaving personal (un)belief precarious and fragile in our present age.
A while back I noticed a curious phrase in the Book of Kings. I remember it saying something to the effect of accusing the king of ‘causing Israel to sin’. Such a phrase feels pivotal at this point in our political/historical moment. We are increasingly comfortable naming things like ‘structural violence’ but still tend to collapse into very individualistic based responses. More and more attempts are being made highlight how these appeals to individual actions actually fall well within how the powers of our age organize and communicate. Such a system of placing the burden on the individual offloads any guilt or charge of responsibility from those places and people where power is concentrated. One of the places endorsing the responsibility of individual is the church. The church, broadly understood, heralds the virtue of the individual. This emphasis cuts across liberal/conservative divides as both look to the individual whether for personal, spiritual salvation or in discipleship responding to social injustices. [See Adam Kotsko’s The Prince of this World for how the church’s theological traditions have informed our current understanding of the individual].
The first part of this series was an attempt to situate the current theological state of Mennonite Church Canada. The commitment I would like to nurture is a moral commitment to remain attentive to those suffering and struggling in the midst of our churches and cultures. I hope that this commitment will also help us to open up some of our broader theological commitments.
In the next two parts I will look at the two dominant theological forms at work in Mennonite Church Canada. My accounts are neither complete nor exclusive to other influences at work. However, the terms liberal and conservative get thrown around so much that is worth paying attention to them and clarifying their insufficiency in relation to a gospel drawing our unity and attention to the realities of suffering and injustice. After these next two critical sections I will try and offer some more constructive pieces in moving forward (Hint: It’s not a ‘third-way’!).
Since it will come as no surprise to those who know me I am critical of conservative/patriarchal theology instead I thought I would begin with my still developing understanding and critique of liberalism.
My national denomination (Mennonite Church Canada) has engaged the national body of congregations in two major processes. One dealing with an ethical and exegetical matter the other with the overhaul of our organizational structure. These processes as well as my increased involvement with the national church body have heightened my sense of two conflicting ways of being church in the midst of potentially divisive processes. Now what follows is admittedly simplified but I want to take a stab at clarifying at least one basic factor in the division and conflict that we are experiencing. Mennonite Church Canada (as well as many other churches I am sure) is currently a tale of two systems.