English: Church of the Brethren, 6611 Germanto...

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I’ll be honest and admit that I partly chose this title because of the irony. However, the primary reason is that in as much as Brethren have emerge from among the sects of North America to find itself in the midst of numerous faith traditions, it has been unable to avoid the seeming culture war that is being waged in North America. In my last entry I posed the question “as to whether it is possible to remain bound to the same story (narrative tradition) while veering so far from the core narrative convictions expressed and communicated through said tradition.“ Before I finish my summary please note that I do believe it is not only possible but that the diverse Church of the Brethren could thrive by remaining together. Okay, back to my summary. By the end of my last entry I concluded that it would be necessary to critically assess the cultures and presuppositions of these categorical communities.

What has ensued via the comments and outside conversations has been helpful to where I believe this conversation needs to go. It is an unfortunate event that has occurred over the years. What has happened is that while Brethren have attained places of influence in the wider community and certainly affecting changes to some degree within the wider culture, in the process we have allowed ourselves to accept the modern hermeneutical lens (or imaginary) and the resultant presuppositions dictated by the prevalent culture. The problems of this becomes especially evident when we consider the various narratives which articulate dogmatically the claims for what consists of the “good-life” within this complex matrix we call the American culture.

Without going all the way back to the birth of the Enlightenment or the primary voices that emerged (i.e., Kant, Hegel, etc.) it is necessary to note that there are particularly powerful narratives (voices) such as, capitalism, consumerism, democracy, nationalism, patriotism, etc., which aggressively assert values and standards for moral behavior. In an important book recently published, James Davison Hunter argues convincingly that in spite of the ardent attempts of North American Christianity to change (redeem) the American culture (and these voices) it has failed spectacularly because it has mistaken the means of change and sources of power within this dynamically complicated culture.[1] In essence we have been trying to answer the wrong questions.

While his assessment is on the larger scale, I believe that it has relevance for the Brethren community in a couple of ways. First, if we consider the developments that have led to our current position of conflicting diversity we will begin to learn something of ourselves and why we think the way we do (in all its diversity). Second, I believe that his argument for faithful presence may provide a way forward from here. I will address the first consideration in the rest of this entry.

In past blog entries I have complained about the effects of modernity upon the church.  As Brian Gumm has so amusingly put it in his response, “we all drank the cool-aid” (http://restorativetheology.blogspot.com).  What is especially significant about this event is that there is no constituency within the larger fellowship that is exempt. Conservatives may think they are remaining faithful to a form of belief that is uncontaminated but this is a false belief exposed by the nature of their arguments which fall in line with Evangelical theology. Progressives on the other hand may unabashedly embrace modernity and (at least some of) its children believing that it is part of God’s progressive revelation. Evangelicals or centrists may also believe that theirs’ is a faith that has appropriately used the findings and arguments of modernity for the benefits of their faith. I admit that each of these descriptions is a generalization and may not adequately represent their stances. However, regardless of whether any of these accurately represent the positions, what matters is that because of the way it has been universally accepted it is manifested in the very diversity represented regardless of constituency. In her book Beyond Fundamentalism and Liberalism, Nancey Murphy demonstrates how both Liberalism and Fundamentalism share the same philosophical origins.[2] Admittedly there are both positive and negative effects resulting from modernity. The question is, however, “how do we retain and nurture a unified identity that is able to deconstruct contrastingly the predominant culture of our various contexts?”

I suppose the point here is that we cannot continue down this same road. At some point we must begin asking the right questions. We must effectively identify appropriate ways to interact and ways position ourselves in relationship with power. It will be necessary for us to identify and assess our own systems of power and structure and respond in ways that will effectively bring change in our systems. My wife, Laura, a formational counselor and chair of the Shalom Team in northern Ohio, has repeatedly commented on the dysfunctional ways our systems and organization work relationally. As long we function dysfunctionally striving to force change through legislative means we will fail spectacularly and continue to be at war with each other.

[1] See chapter 3 of James Davison Hunter, To Change the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[2] Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1996).

  1. bgumm says:

    Lots I resonate with here, Andrew. Thx for these two posts!

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