Sunday, December 30, 2007

Matter/Spirit Dualism and the Sacramental State

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In my last post I chronicled the rise of empiricism and its political offspring of secularism. In this post I will continue that thread, but focus instead on the effect that empiricism and secularism has had on the church. This will, in turn, feed back into the discussion about the maternal state that was begun HERE and HERE, fulfilling the promise I made HERE to show how epistemology helped to remove the mantle of motherhood from the Church and bestow it on statecraft.
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The Enlightenment would doubtless have exercised the long-term effect that it did had it not been for the fact that most Christians were caught off guard by the new ideas which I have already articulated (see HERE). While rejecting the Enlightenment’s conclusions, few Christian thinkers took the challenge of offering a rational critique of the assumptions on which these conclusions were based, notably the divided epistemology. Like the Romantics in the 19th century, serious Christians at the time of the Enlightenment tended to emphasize the importance of religious truth, while still unconsciously accepting the epistemological package which kept that truth subjective and private. The Church tended to react to the new wave of secular philosophy by taking refuge in an emotional, devotional kind of Christianity that did not require any intellectual underpinning and, as such, fit nicely into the divided paradigm.
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On the surface, Christianity seemed to spread in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Movements sprung up all over the place, including the Quakers and Methodists in England, the Great Awakening in America, Jansenism in France, Pietism in Germany, etc.. However, beneath the apparent progress Christianity was making, there was an underlying, usually unconscious, acceptance of the divided epistemology. This is because these movements tended to emphasize the personal, emotional and inspirational aspects of faith often at the expense of the objective, public elements.
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In his article, ‘The Pietistic Roots of Evangelicalism Today’, Ranald Macaulay shows that these pietistic evangelical movement led to an almost exclusive emphasis on saving souls while the domains of culture, society, politics, art and philosophy were left firmly in the hands of the secularists.[1] The Enlightenment’s compartmentalization of the sacred and the secular, together with their definition of which belonged in which box, seemed to be winning the day. Christianity was fast ceasing to function as a religion in the classic sense of being a totalising system that structured the whole of one’s life, but was instead becoming, at best, a system of strong personal piety and, at worst, a personal worship hobby. Further, as faith became analogous to a personal, inward experience, anti-intellectualism was the natural result.
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As time progressed, these strains only heightened, culminating in the strident anti-intellectual evangelicalism of the late 19th and early 20th century. Evangelists like Dwight Moody began to appear on the scene who boasted about not having any theology (“My theology! I didn’t know I had any”[2]) or Billy Sunday who declared he didn’t “know any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knew about ping pong.”[3]
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The “double-truth universe” bequeathed by the Enlightenment found renewed impetus in the increasing polarization between earth and heaven that was so characteristic of 20th century piety. If religion is about our personal and private experiences with God, then true piety consists in having our minds fixed on heavenly realities instead of earthly concerns. In practice this meant getting as many people into heaven as possible. Once you were “saved” - that is, once your ticket to a happy afterlife was secured – Christian living was thought to involve little more than living by a pedestrian code of personal pietism. No longer was the Bible seen as giving us a worldview that structured the whole of public reality. It became a privatised faith that, as Roszak put it, was “socially irrelevant even if privately engaging.”[4] It is hardly surprising that around this same time (late 19th early 20th century) hymnology began to be increasingly ‘feminised’, with the singing of robust psalms and hymns being replaced by subjective sentiments (“he lives within my heart” or “now I am happy all the day” or “precious memories of everything Jesus has done for me”).[5]
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Religion, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Thus it was that as Christians retreated from the academic pursuits, the Church lost its defences against the influx of liberal theology and deconstructionism in the early 20th century. Secular philosophy and liberal theology a free ride, and it was only when this began to infiltrate the Church that Christian pastors and teachers began to sit up and take notice. As a consequence, in the early 20th century, three Christians wrote a twelve volume work titled The Fundamentals. The Christians who affirmed the doctrines in this book soon came to be known as fundamentalists, a term which has subsequently come to carry pejorative connotations. As fundamentalism began to be a badge to distinguish a true “Bible-believing-Christian”, the emphasis came to rest more on what you believed rather than why you should believe it. The notion of ‘faith’, long since subjectivized, deteriorated further to become an approximation for anti-intellectualism, to the point where the word is now practically useless. All the while, the Church was becoming more and more insular, deliberately isolating itself from the concerns of culture, which was viewed as innately secular. Wherever there was a residue of proper Christian thinking, this tended to be a specialist domain, detached from the concerns of the mainstream evangelical movement.[6]
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This kept the secularists happy, since religion was keeping within the sphere circumscribed to it by the Enlightenment’s divided epistemology, and it kept Christians happy since they were then let off the hook from having to engage with the increasingly hostile physical and intellectual culture.
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It will be useful to pause and briefly recap the ground we have covered so far. I tried to show HERE that the philosophy of Empiricism led to a divided field of truth. On one side of the divide were those truths that could be known through empirical observation, while on the other side of the divide were ideas derived from other means. Since religious ideas were thought to belong within the later category, it followed that religious truth was a personal and private kind of truth, existing in a different sphere. We saw that the Church generally accepted this basic polarity, redrafting faith in subjective and individualistic categories. Our discussion so far has focused primarily on the anti-intellectual tendencies resulting from this epistemological duality. It is now time to turn out attention to another consequence: matter-spirit dualism.

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Matter-Spirit Dualism
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It does not take a prophet to tell that once you introduce a separation between beliefs about the material province vs. beliefs about the spiritual province, with the former being objective (because empirically verifiable) and the later being subjective (because allegedly not to be empirically verifiable), the next step will be a separation between matter itself and spirit itself.
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Unlike anti-intellectualism, which was a distinctly religious reaction to Enlightenment secularism, the upstairs-downstairs partition between spirit and matter (or equally between nature and supernature) was characteristic of both secular and Christian thought following the Enlightenment. From the perspective of Enlightenment Deism, God was impersonal, having set the world in motion but then abandoned it to its own devices. Since the God of deism has no active part to play in the world after the initial act of creation, matter can exist independently of spirit in the same way that a watch can run independently of the one who originally wound it up. Matter thus becomes ‘dead.’ What a thing is– whether it be a star, a tree or a human person – is reduced to what that thing is made out of. This radical materialism has no use for ritual or sacrament, both of which work on the assumption that there is more to matter than meets the eye. As such, one of the key aspects of modernity has been a revolt against ritual.[7]
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Christian theology has unknowingly colluded with the deism of the Enlightenment. We have a God who creates the world as well as a set of laws for its operation, occasionally intervening through the acts we call miracles, but whose presence is essentially the property of the ‘upstairs’ region of the supernatural.[8] The latent Gnosticism within such a dualism is reflected in the pervasive assumption within evangelicalism that one’s internal salvific relationship to God operates independently to the physical world and external means. In such a schema, the relation between matter and spirit is accidental at best.
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To this we might add the pedigree left by the reformation and the pessimistic view of matter that we find in some of the reformers.[9] Calvin, for example, says, “And when Christ commended his spirit to the Father [Luke 23:46] and Stephen his to Christ [Acts 7:59] they mean only that when the soul is freed from the prison house of the body, God is its perpetual guardian…. It is of course true that while men are tied to earth more than they should be they grow dull…[10] Elsewhere Calvin refers to ‘this earthly prison of the body…’[11] The latent Gnosticism in such a position also led Calvin to suggest that Galatianism was found wherever there is an emphasis on ritual.[12]
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The practical consequences of this outlook are legion, affecting the Church in areas as diverse as how we view the sacraments to the d├ęcor (or lack thereof) in our Churches. Where the external-physical is of little or no importance compared to matters of the heart, there is no need for Churches to be beautified. We prepare our hearts for worship but not our walls.
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Significant as well has been the effect that matter-spirit dualism has had on Christian theology. Instead of a fully orbed Biblical theology structured around the story of the world’s redemption, as outworked in the visible space-time universe, the emphasis is placed on systematic treatments of abstract doctrines. The story of salvation history is then viewed as flowing out of theology rather than theology flowing out of story. Redemption history is seen as valuable to the extent that it illustrates particular doctrines or as the mechanism whereby God gets us to our ultimate destination of heaven. The rationalism of the former and the semi-gnosticism of the later both do homage to the great legacy of matter-spirit dualism, namely a discomfort for things earthly.
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The striking example of matter-spirit dualism applied to theology has to be dispensationalism. By making a distinction between the physical promises to Israel in the old covenant and the spiritual promises to the Church in the new, dispensationalism has done more to entrench the evangelical community in matter-spirit dualism than any other idea.
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Dispensationalism comes in many varieties, all involving the idea that God’s dealings with man can be divided up into different compartments. Each dispensation represents a time of testing for human beings, ending in judgment.[13] Dispensationalism is over and against the reformed view of covenantal continuity, which sees all God’s dealings with man as being a single work with various administrations. It follows from the reformed view that God has only ever had one people, to whom He relates through a covenant of grace administered in successive phases. The people of God in the Old Testament are the same people of God that we find in the New Testament.[14] This subverts the dualism between physical-public-corporate-old-covenant vs. spiritual-private-individual-new-covenant that has slotted in nicely to the post-Enlightenment assumptions of modern evangelicalism. Over and against this the reformed covenantal paradigm has argued that the physical is spiritual and the spiritual is physical because there is no intrinsic distinction between matter and spirit.
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In emphasizing the discontinuity of God’s purposes, dispensationalists find themselves without a sense of story. The history of God’s dealings with man do not form a continuous metanarrative because scripture is viewed as many isolated bits and pieces. Yet because the sense of story-telling remains a uniquely human impulse, dispensationalists have a psychological need to create new pseudo-stories for themselves, such as their end-times mythology. The reason dispensationalists are so obsessed with the ‘end times’ is because that is the only place where they get a sense of story, even though it is a pessimistic story with a tragic ending.
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Dispensationalism has also contributed to the post-Enlightenment sense of cultural retreat. It is not hard to see why this is the case. Dispensationalism, at least in its premillennial variety, affirms that unbelief and apostasy will increase, the gospel will be preached to all nations unsuccessfully, the Church will eventually lose influence, fail its mission and become corrupt. To make matters worse, at some point the anti-Christ will appear in the temple of Jerusalem, and he will become ruler of the world and persecute Jews and Christians. He will try to put the mark of the beast on everyone’s foreheads, and many Christians will be deceived into letting him do this. Then, when no one expects it, the, so called, ‘rapture’ will happen[15], in which Christians will go to heaven while the rest of the world endures a seven year period of tribulation.[16] God eventually pours out His wrath on the earth until the battle of Armageddon, where Jesus comes back physically to the earth and then the millennium finally gets underway. When that happens, the Jewish temple will be physically rebuilt and the sacrificial system will be reinstated.[17] Such prospects not only fail to provide an incentive for Christian cultural involvement, but in presenting the present physical earth as beyond God’s saving power solidifies the assumption that earthly culture is ‘secular’ in the true Enlightenment sense. Because everything will get worse and worse, all we can do is watch impotently as the devil wins. In fact, if we are consistent we should even hope that things get worse in the world since that signals Christ’s imminent return. Thus, the purpose of the Christian’s mission is essentially negative rather than affirmative for the dispensational premillennialist: the best we can hope to do is avoid the mark of the beast, keep ourselves from the corruption and apostasy that will take over the world and the Church, and bide our time until the rapture. The belief that the Church and culture are beyond reform this side of the rapture inevitably leads to an isolationism, at least for those who live consistently with this eschatology. Thus, many evangelicals who hold to this paradigm withdraw from the world and practice an insular private Christianity that has little relevance to the public arena. Though they may be involved in the political right (especially in America), their vision is necessary truncated precisely because they do not, and indeed cannot, have a long-term vision for the Church and culture. As Os Guinness explains it,
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the dispensational movement reinforces anti-intellectualism by its general indifference to serious engagement with culture. Put simply, it is a form of the earlier false polarization and shrunken pietism reinforced by a distracting preoccupation with the end times…. Dispensationalists at the popular level tend to overlook creation as they emphasize salvation… [exchanging] the visible present for the invisible future, and the normal and everyday for the dramatic and the apocalyptic.
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Little wonder that popular dispensationalism has cultural consequences. When the house is on fire, life is worth more than books and precious objects. When the end times are on the slipway, such cultural pursuits as art and music are frivolous. Where earlier Christians fell into dualism by placing the spiritual above the secular, contemplation above actions, “full-time Christian service” above ordinary life, and “soul saving” above study, many dispensationalists have followed the course of “end times” events with the consuming fascination of a betting man at a race track. In doing so they have virtually turned their backs on the world in which they live.
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The negativism of the dispensationalist paradigm also breeds an anti-intellectualism which slots nicely into the sphere circumscribed to religion by the epistemology of the Enlightenment project. It does so by promoting a simplistic “just-the-simple-biblical-truth” kind of populism. The result is hermeneutical anti-intellectualism manifested in an irresponsibly literalistic method for interpreting apocalyptic literature.
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It will be useful now to summarie the ground we have just covered. So far in this post we have explored the ramifications of matter-spirit dualism, focusing primarily on those aspects which have proceeded out of empiricist epistemology. We touched briefly on the matter-spirit dichotomy within the secular philosophy of Deism before looking at theological formulations which take a similar reductionist approach to matter. This was illustrated in aspects of the reform reaction against Rome, anti-sacramentalism, the preference for systematic theology over Biblical theology, and finally dispensationalism. We will now go on to explore how matter-spirit dualism has affected the Church’s role as mother.

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The De-Mothering of the Church
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Central to the Church’s role as mother is that she feeds us. The maternal Church is Eucharistic. The importance of a mother feeding her children is not simply that it nourishes her offspring and keeps them alive, although that is certainly important. Rather, it is also that this teaches the children who is the source of life. It seems to be a universal human instinct to follow and cling to the people who provide food. In the gospel, it was after Jesus fed the crowds that they were ready to follow Him. We expect food from our parents and that is why we pray to our Father in heaven – not the government – “give us this day our daily bread.”
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The Eucharist, and indeed all the sacraments, become especially troubling among evangelicals for whom the spirit/matter dualism is the uber-presupposition. Since the modern evangelical finds it offensive that God’s grace would be mediated through physical means or instruments (even as classical Gnosticism found it offensive that God would be incarnated in flesh), so the sacraments are reduced to being a symbol for what goes on inside the individual. The ‘physical manifestations’ are simply epiphenomena of a relationship that can be fully defined apart from those physical manifestations.[18] The Protestant tendency to separate spirit from matter means that the Eucharist is merely an appendix to the Word, a disguised sermon or an approximation for our own spiritual interiority instead of a rite that objectively conveys grace. The kind of radical Protestantism ends up doing to the sacraments what Schoenberg tried to do to music. For Schoenberg (1874-1951) the tangible sounds of music became swallowed up in the abstract idea behind the music. As Jeremy Begbie put it,
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“Schoenberg believed that music’s sensory pleasure – how beautiful it sounds to the ear – is irrelevant to the question of artistic significance… Music should be concerned chiefly with the creation and development of artistic ideas; the pleasure it affords should be primarily intellectual”.[19]
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In a similar way, radical Protestantism believes that the physicality of the sacraments is irrelevant to the question of spiritual significance. The sacraments should be concerned chiefly with the buttressing of our intellectual assent to the propositions of faith or our psychological ‘heart-felt’ relationship with the object of our faith but have little or no value outside these ego-centric categories.[20]
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This feeds on the assumption that “the created order isn’t really important because secondary, mediating causes are at best unnecessary and are often problematic.”[21] This is the error that B. B. Warfield makes in his book The Plan of Salvation. He asserts that “precisely what evangelical religion means it immediate dependence of the soul on God and on God alone for salvation” and is critical of any theology that “separates the soul from direct contact with and immediate dependence upon God the Holy Spirit…”[22]
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Central to the Church’s role as mother is that she exists in a visible, tangible, physical and public sense just as our mothers are visible, tangible, physical and public. Yet after each person’s personal relationship to God has been divorced from all external means, it is hard to understand the Church as having any significance beyond simply being God’s mechanism for bringing more solitary souls to himself, an opportunity for our personal relationship with God to be recharged or else a stopgap in the gaping parenthesis between the age of earth and the age of heaven. While Church is beneficial, according to this schema, it is not necessary, since a personal relationship with Jesus has been effectively severed from His Body and from the ministry and sacraments she provides.
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When, on the other hand, we appreciate the visibility and physicality of the Church, it immediately becomes a rival to the kinds of socio-political structures considered in the first part of this essay. The rival to maternal statecraft is not an invisible non-physical Church, nor is it individuals exploring their own spiritual interiority. The natural rival to bloated government is the announcement that new creation has burst forth in the midst of our physical world – a new creation which is social, temporal, political, earthly and physical.[23] Instead, as Peter Leithart laments,
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We have made the Church strange and alien to the world, as if she were of a completely different order than the institutions of common social and political life. Paradoxically, the result of this estrangement has been to reshape the Church into the image of the world….
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The Church can cut across the grain of existing human social and cultural life only if she bears some likeness to existing societies. If she is a completely different sort of thing, then societies and nations and empires can go on their merry way ignoring the Church, or, equally deadly, find some murky alleyway to push her into.
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But if the Church is God’s society among human societies, a heavenly city invading the earthly city then a territorial conflict is inevitable.
[24]
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Central to the Church’s role as mother is that she constantly tells us stories, just as a good mother tells and retells her children stories even before they understand what the stories mean. Through story telling, the Church imparts to her children the Christian metanarrative – that grand story that begins at creation and ends at new creation. This story is told in word, symbol, sacrament and ritual. Through such means, the Church constantly reminds us who we are in the story and where we are in the story, just as a good mother helps her child develop a sense of identity in relation to the larger world.
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Put another way, the maternal Church will provide her people with a metanarrative with which to structure the whole of their lives. A meta-narrative is an over-arching story or thought structure that lends meaning and context to the particulars of experience, normally group experience. Human societies will always gravitate towards meta-narratives as water runs downhill. For example, many pagan cultures revolve around a religion of harvest gods. The harvest, and all the symbolism that surrounded it, would be a meta-narrative that gave cohesion to the society. Or a meta-narrative can be an ideology, like the way in which the elevation of the working class became a meta-narrative in the communist state, or the way in which national socialism and fascism provided a framework in which to organize Nazi Germany. Both Marxism and Fascism told stories about history that enabled the participants to mark an X and say “We are here.” This gave eschatological significance to the struggle of the proletariat in the case of Marxism or the struggle of the Arian race in the case of Fascism. In ancient Athens the Homeric epics were the Greek people’s meta-narrative, since their whole society was, in some sense, structured around the mythology that derived from these texts. When Darwinism came along it was more than just a theory: it was a story, a grand story about life’s unceasing struggle to survive. Evolution provided its own answer to the question “Where are we?” by answering the question of where we came from and where we are going. During the time of the Enlightenment, a new meta-narrative was formed in which rational thought allied to scientific reasoning was thought to lead toward an inevitable progression for mankind. This meta-narrative was utopian and created a sense of optimism about where we are in the story of human progress which survived well into the 20th century until the world wars, and finally Vietnam, brought an end to all that. In the Bible, the meta-narrative for the Jews as well as the early Christians was the story of God’s kingdom. They told and retold a story about history that God had told them and which enabled the participants to mark an X and say “We are here in redemption history.” Modern dispensational premellenial evangelical theology has its own twist on this story, ending with the antichrist, the rapture and finally Armageddon. That story places great emphasis on where we are in the story, and it will always be the second to last chapter, that period known as the “End Times” which is forever just about to end.
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Postmodernism, like post-Enlightenment pietistic evangelical individualism, tries to ignore metanarratives by fracturing them into a myriad of mini-narratives that each one of us is personally writing. In the case of postmodernism, the new metanarrative is that there are no metanarratives and postmodernism, so ironically like its precursors, has its own pantheon of symbols with which to tell this story. In post-Enlightenment pietistic evangelical individualism, however, all the individual stories look remarkably similar: it begins the moment we choose to be ‘saved’ and ends when God rewards us by taking us away from the earth to live eternally in “heaven.” The external means of symbol, sacrament and ritual are then finished off by matter-spirit dualism, which says that since the real stuff is what happens in the mind and not in matter (the assumption being that because matter and spirit are distinguishable that they must be divisible), it follows that symbol, sacrament and ritual are only approximations for that higher reality. As such they are unnecessary at best and a practical hindrance to true spirituality at worst.
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Central to the Church’s role as mother is that she gives us a language for communicating with our father, even as our earthly mothers taught us to speak by giving us language to imitate. This means that creeds and liturgy can play an important part in the Church’s role as mother. However, the spirit/matter dualism implicated by the Enlightenment’s divided field has manifested itself in an approach to prayer and worship that is distinctly anti-liturgical and an approach to theology that is anti-creedal. Because the individual’s internal state and not any physical means is the nexus of the Christian life, prayer must proceed directly out of the reservoir of the individual’s own thoughts and feelings in order to be authentic, just as theology must proceed from “just me and the Bible.” Prayers that are composed at any time other than the present, and by anyone other than myself, like theology that is taken on the authority of the Church, are greeted with a degree of suspicion at best, and viewed as completely invalid at worst.[25] Modern evangelicalism attempts to achieve a ritual-less Church, equating liturgy with formalism and formalism with vanity. However, since routine is necessary to avoid chaos, new taboos are inevitably created, not least the taboo against ritual, which only means that informality becomes the new ritual. Spontaneity is pursued with a ritualistic tenacity. It should not be overlooked that motherhood is innately ritualistic. Early life is characterised by the rhythms our mother establishes. Initially, this is simply the rhythm of feeding, sleeping and eating. Very soon new rhythms are given. Language is introduced through the rhythms of nursery rhymes and song. Food is introduced through the recurring rhythms of mealtime. Life is sustained through the recurring rhythms of exercise and sleep while life is celebrated through the recurring events of festivals and feasts, in particularly birthdays. This mimics the recurring rhythms that lie at the heart of the universe: days and nights, seasons and years. All life revolves around rhythm and ritual because it lies at the heart of what it means to be human in general and to be mother in particular.
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The Sacramental State
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My theory is that as the Church ceases to be viewed as mother, it has created a vacuum that is being filled by the maternal state. Sometimes this can be seen in obvious ways. In America, evangelicals who would never dream of making the sign of the cross will put their hands on their hearts every morning to say the, so called, “Pledge of Allegiance” with liturgical devotion. Similarly, modern evangelicals who have long ceased to tell the story of redemption through the yearly cycle of Church holidays – and who have a natural antipathy to Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Pentecost (but not Easter and Christmas as if their secularisation has legitimised them) - will celebrate Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Veterans and Independence Day with almost religious regularity. In place of the rejected church year, these holidays become public festivals of a new civic order. Or again, how many evangelical Christians, having no sense of the Biblical metanarrative, tell the story of liberal democracy as their own, operating in what Leithart calls ‘Eusebian mode’, treating America as the culmination of redemptive history?[26] Or again, those for whom religion has been individualised find corporate, covenantal identity living out the drama of what it means to be American.[27] We may also note with irony that when the egalitarianism levelling began sweeping through the 20th century Church[28], it was the priestcraft of political bureaucrats that became the new hierarchy – a trend which survives to this day despite the pervasive cynicism the average person feels towards the political institutions in general and their political leaders in particular. They are the ones we look to for security and they are the ones who offer intercession and make sacrifices. As Ellul put it in his book New Demons: “It is not the state which enslaves us, not even a centralized police state. It is its sacral transfiguration…which makes us direct our worship to this conglomeration of offices.”[29]
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In a myriad of implicit ways, liberals and conservatives alike tell the story of progress in terms of statecraft. It is the state, like a good mother, that is there to nurture human civilization to progress. Liberals and conservatives disagree on both the definition of progress as well as the means for attaining it, but they are still working within the same basic paradigm. This is why politicians are increasingly becoming story-tellers, claiming to come from traditions that are bringing civic maturity. In countless ways we are urged to trust them, like we trust our mothers, and to structure our lives around the benefits they bring and the obligations they demand.
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In one sense this is an understandable heresy to commit. By its very nature government is physical and earthy and, as such, offers a substitute for religion after religion has been emptied of its sacramental centre. Government offers to satisfy that innate human need no longer provided by the Church: the need for a communal centre, that need for ritual, rhythm, a sense of story, and a story with eschatological progress. As such, the modern state has become a symbol for the aspirations of humanity. With its humanitarian ethic, its national glory and its sense of endless (and therefore eschatological) progress, it has a religious significance which parodies the vocation of the Church. At the heart of this statist religion is the supper it provides to its votaries, known variously as welfare, entitlements or state benefits.
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God’s answer to the maternal state is the maternal Church. The state makes but a wicked step-mother. God’s solution is for us to run to Mother, to be nourished at her breasts, to listen to her stories, to repeat her words and rhymes, to obey her voice and to be brought to maturity by her loving hand and her nourishing food. The Church as mother is gentle, lovingly bringing her children to maturity over thousands of years. “She may not be able to rejoice at the moment, with all the diapers and infant screams, but she will in the future. She is patient, She knows the frame of her children. Only a tyrannical mother would expect instant maturity and perfection. They have so much to learn and she is gentle.”[30] The state as mother is tyrannical, harsh, impatient to achieve perfection immediately.
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There is one area which the church and the state share in common, and it is the key for the former to present an adequate challenge to the latter. Both the Church and the state are physical. The difference is that only the former is also spiritual. But herein lies the problem: to our post-Enlightenment ears, when we say that the church is ‘spiritual’ we hear this as meaning that it is non-physical, just as we assume that when Paul contrasts the natural body with the spiritual body in his discussion of resurrection, he must be referring to a body that is non-spatial temporal.
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Since the Church is physical, we will never be able to appreciate her significance, let alone draw on her riches, so long as our thinking is plagued by the matter-spirit dualism that has become a truism since the Enlightenment. Instead of thinking of matter as dead and spirit as living, we must learn to have the kind of holistic worldview that we find in ancient paganism, where the earth is literally animated by the spirit of divinity. This is also, incidentally, the view of the Bible. The earth is not an autonomous system that God simply created to get on with its own thing, apart from when He occasionally chooses to interfere; rather, the earth is God’s very footstool.[31] When the earth thunders, we are hearing God’s voice.[32] When we see lightening, we are watching God’s arrows.[33] It is God who sends man the snow and the rain[34] and who feeds the young ravens when they call upon him.[35] It is God who blasts His nostrils to uncover the foundations of the world.[36] The earth quakes and smokes when God is angry.[37] The firmament and all the stars declare God’s glory.[38] Furthermore, we are told that the whole creation groans in eager expectation for the day when God will renew the earth.[39] In that day, we are told that the heavens will rejoice, the earth will be glad and the sea and all its fullness will roar, the field and all that is in it will be joyful, the trees and the woods will rejoice and clap their hands before the Lord, while the mountains and the whole earth break forth into singing.[40]
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With our post-Enlightenment presuppositions, we are uncomfortable with this kind of language, and quick to dismiss it as metaphorical. We are even more uncomfortable to learn that scripture makes no hard or absolute demarcation between inner and outer, the spiritual and the physical.
As Peter Leithart puts it,
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Scripture makes no hard or absolute demarcation between inner and outer. When people eat and drink, Scripture says their ‘souls’ are refreshed (e.g., 1 Sam. 30:12), and exterior discipline of our children purges foolishness from their hearts (Prov. 22:15). So, outer events invade the inner life. And, inner things come to outer expression, for out of the thoughts of the heart come murders, adulteries, and other evils (Mk. 7:20-23). The mere fact that the Bible often names the ‘inner’ man by reference to bodily organs (heart, kidneys, liver) is a hint that Scripture does not sharply distinguish inner spiritual from outer physical realities; even the ‘inner’ man is conceived phsycially, not as an unbodied, ghostly self. Scripture thus teaches a complex interplay of inner/outer in human existence, a duality within unified human being.” (Against Christianity, op. cit., p. 77)
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[1] See Ranald Macaulay’s article, ‘The Pietistic Roots of Evangelicalism Today’, in A Collection of Thirteen Lectures by L’Abri Authors, (Greatham: L’Abri Fellowship), 1991.

[2] Cited by Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage, 1962) p. 108.

[3] Cited by William G McLoughlin, Billy Sunday Was His Real Name (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955), p. 123.

[4] Theodore Roszak, Where the Wassteland Ends (New York: Doubleday, 1973), p. 449.

[5] On the gradual feminisation of American culture, see Ann Douglas’ book The Feminisation of American Culture (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1977).

[6] See David Wells, No Place For Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993); David Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998).

[7] See Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), chapter 3. “There is a circular relationship between modernity’s aversion to ritual and the Church’s. The Reformation interpreted the progress of history as a movement from ritual to non-ritual, and this shaped a bias against ritual in the consciousness of the early modern Europe. This anti-ritual consciousness, radicalised and secularised, reinvaded the Church from which it had arisen.” Ibid, p. 80.

[8] In his essay ‘The Empty Universe’, C. S. Lewis suggests that in rejecting paganism, we threw the baby out with the bathwater. Lewis traces the progression by which the universe was first perceived to be animating with life, will and positive qualities (the days when “every tree is a nymph and every planet a god”) to the present condition where nature is completely disenchanted. The rich, genial universe is ‘emptied out’ and reduced to depersonalised mater or even less. C. S. Lewis, ‘The Empty Universe’ in Present Concerns: Ethical Essays (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1986).

[9] To be fair to the reformers, many of them were simply echoing the bias against the physical world inherited from the early Christian fathers. See Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision (Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), chapter 7.

[10] Calvin’s Institutes (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, Battled translation), Ixv.2. See Stephen Perks comments in ‘Is There an Afterlife? The Intermediate State Reconsidered’ in Christianity and Society Vol IX, No. 3, July 1999.

[11] Institutes, Book III. Vii.5.

[12] See Peter Leithart’s comments about Calvin, op. cit., pp. 79-80.

[13] Dispensationalism originated in the 1820s in Ireland from the teachings of John Nelson Darby, who founding the Plymouth Brethren. As his movement expanded, Darby visited the United States and Canada seven times between 1859 and 1874. His teachings were not very well received in America and Canada, particular his strong antagonism to the institutional Church and his pessimism about modern society. However, his systematic unfolding of prophetic events, soon known as dispensationalism, did make a lasting impact. Many evangelical leaders of the late nineteenth century jumped on the dispensationalist bandwagon, included Dwight Moody and A. J. Gordon. From there dispensationalism took off through four main avenues: the Bible conference movement, Bible colleges, the Scofield Reference Bible (published in 1909) and the Dallas Theological Seminary (founded in 1924). At some point dispensationalism combined itself with premillennialism, so that now the two normally go together, as in Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ popular Left Behind flicks.

[14] See Douglas Wilson’s book Standing on the Promises (Moscow ID: Canon Press, 1997), chapter 4.

[15] See N.T. Wright’s short deconstruction of the rapture, ‘Bible Review, August 2001’, reprinted at
http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm.

[16] In the older historic non-dispensational premillennialism, the Church went through the tribulation

[17] This again represents a difference between the older historic non-dispensational premillennialism which affirmed that the sacrificial system and the physical temple were done away. Perhaps the most crucial difference between historic premillennialism and the new dispensational variety is that, according to the later, it is not until the millennium that Christ’s kingdom becomes a present reality, while all other eschatologies, including historic premillennialism, teach that Christ’s kingdom is a present reality now even though it hasn’t yet been consummated.

[18] I am indebted to Derrick Olliff, whose ‘American P.I.E.’ series helped me to formulate some of these thoughts. See http://beatenbrains.blogspot.com/2006/09/american-pie-i.html. “Flowing from the spiritual-physical dichotomy, salvation refers to what happens to individuals only. There is almost never any meaningful focus on God’s salvation and restoration of the created order as a whole or the consequences of such. Nature (the created order) and grace/salvation are distinct and one doesn’t have much to do with the other. So while the temporary and weak old covenant may have had some ‘fleshy accoutrements, this baggage was discarded in favour of the much more ‘spiritual’ and much less physical new covenant.”

[19] Jeremy S. Begbie, ‘Music in God’s World’, Books & Culture, September/October 2007, available online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/005/10.28.html

[20] Further, as Olliff points out, this pietistic paradigm presupposes maturity. “Only a non-mentally handicapped adolescent or adult can have the kind of unmediated, ‘heartfelt’ relationship with God that characterizes pietism. And since the sacraments are viewed as testimonies or reminders of that relationship, they only belong to those who are mentally mature.” Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1915), 66.

[23] Jesus never said that His kingdom is not of this world, as a careful look at the Greek in John 18:36 reveals. The RSV translates John 18:36 closest to the original: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’ Christ’s kingdom is certainly of and for this world, but it does not arise out of or (from) this earth. It comes from heaven to the earth. That is why Jesus taught us to pray, ‘thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven’ (Mat. 6:10). The phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the gospels has this same underpinning, referring to the rule of heaven (that is, of God), being brought to bear in the present space-time world. (See N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, throughout) This draws on the theological backdrop of passages like Daniel 7: 26-27 and is the same crowning vision we find in Rev. 11:15, where we are told that “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ…” See my article ‘Political Christianity’ at
http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/Articles/Political%20Christianity.pdf

[24] Peter Leithart, Against Christianity, op.cit., pp. 17-18.

[25] See N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (SPCK, 2006), pp. 164-167.

[26] Leithart, Against Christianity, op. cit., p. 63.

[27] This sense of patriotism to a more or less distinct national identity has not been a regular feature in Britain for a number of years, although there have been recent attempts to change that. See ‘Brown speech promotes Britishness’, BBC News, Saturday, 14 January 2006, available online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4611682.stm. See also ‘Britain rediscovered’ by Neal Ascherson, Prospect Magazine, Issue 109 , April 2005, available online at http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=6832.

[28] See Os Guinness Fit Bodies Fat Minds, section on Populism.

[29] Jacques Ellul, The New Demons (Seabury Press: 1975).

[30] Angels in the Architecture, op. cit., p. 94.

[31] Isaiah 66:1.

[32] Job 37:2-5; 40:9; Psalm 18:13; 77:17-18 & 104:7.

[33] Psalm 18:14; Zechariah. 9:14.

[34] Job 37:6; Matthew 5:45.

[35] Psalm 147:9; Luke 12:24.

[36] Psalm 18:15

[37] Psalm 18:7.

[38] Psalm 19:1

[39] Roman 8:18-22

[40] Palms 96:11-12; Isaiah 44:23; 55:12.

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