Monday, September 18, 2006


Ordinary Time

When the church is true to its calling to exist as a separate polis, a radically alternative society that expresses its values through bodily practices, it will relativize the legitimating metanarratives of the Powers that Be - those stories that a culture of death tells in order to justify its own values and bodily practices.

Consumer choice is dark determinism
Megachurch means you will always want fries with that
Freedom is slavery

If your faith is a private and apolitical thing, you have been owned by the thing called America.

Housechurch people will be this generation's Beat Poets.

(If you're upset because you believe in Freedom, Calvin, or French Fries, direct your nasty letters and hate mail to Josh Hearne, the official 'Captain Sacrament' Criticism Reader.)


Peter said...

My question is if it is the church's call to exist as a separate polis.

But hey, I'm just a curmudgeonly and fat Augustinian :)


Richard from Chico said...

Kyle, you've been channeling Stan Hauerwas, or using Resident Aliens as rolling paper or something.

Peter asks a fair question. Is the church to be a separate polis? If so, could someone from the diocese look into the potholes on my street? Or as a separate political entity are we a parasitical community living off the largess of America, while reserving the right to pretend we are morally superior?

And is the House Church as Beat Poets supposed to be praise or critique? All I keep thinking of is Mike Myers in "So I Married and Ax Murderer." An interesting ecclesial icon, that.

Keep tossing a few theological handgrenades, though! It keeps us on our toes!

Kyle said...

It is indeed a fair question, and I was hoping to be pressed. :0) Thanks, guys.

I say yes, but more importantly, I should say that I think it means the Church is an assembly that looks first (and maybe only) to its own stories for its values and models for participation in the polis controlled by the powers.

Being missional, being a blessing to the people around us, the "neighbors" of the Christian polis is a serious responsibility, but it does not mean valuing what the social order values, and it does not mean working for the State's good on its own terms.

I think it needful to talk about loving our neighbors well without believing in the same things they do, or doing what we do for the reasons they think we should be. And yes, I'm happy to pay taxes so the government can give me roads. Well, at least for now. :0)

I don't think that to say that the Christian community has its own stories that make sense of the world and that those stories can and should actively debunk the legimating stories by which the Powers that Be justify the things they do.

Like freedom. Er, Freedom. Choice. Rights.

WTF, mate?

Did that get us anywhere?

Richard from Chico said...

I'm trying to organize the many thoughts that your post has generated.

One question that I have is is the church this separate and alternative polis? Or is the Kingdom? If the latter, the first thing that needs to be clarified is the relation between the two. Is the church the kingdom, or the anticipatory sign?

Secondly, have you not made too easily and identification (at least rhetorically) between America and the Powers? (Or is your use of the term "Powers that Be" not to be understood within the context of the biblical "Principalities and Powers.")

Rhetorically, your points challenge us. On a deeper level, do the reveal a certain manichaeanism in your ecclesiology?

I suspect the answer is a bit more dialectical than the post suggests.

Peter said...

I like Robert Jenson's phrase -- the gospel is the story of the world. It is not a private religous posture. The church is uniquely called to embody and declare that story (however haltingly until the eschaton.) I hear you going this direction and I am grooving with you.

What I wrestle with is -- to what degree is the secular polis a work of the triune God? No doubt it is a human reality and being so prone to idolatry. But is it also God's work? And then, depending on how one answers that, to what degree do I work/live for the flourishing of the polis as a Kingdom person.

Where's my coffee?

Kyle said...

Hmmm. Okay, Richard, let's see here...

I would say that the Kingdom is the spread of God's rule from 'heaven' to 'earth,' and that the church is an 'anticipatory sign,' the community that has placed itself under his rule here and now before he comes to impose it. As such, it is an alternative polis that seeks ongoing transformation and a greater consistancy between its own life and what it will be upon the eschatological consummation.

It's also a community with a mission in the world, that only makes sense in the context of life in the world - to be a separate polis does not mean to be quietest or withdrawn. It might look that way to people who believe the stories that the Powers use to legitimate their rule - insisting that Christian persons have 'obligations' to the 'society' that are not grounded in the story of God saving the world through Christ.

Further, I do make the identification between America and the Powers, and it might be too easily: governments bear the sword, and cannot be 'converted.' Sometimes the 'principalities and powers' might be tamed, but they still are what they are. It means that the thing called 'America' probably ought not to be 'believed in,' but rather taken with a grain of salt. At least.

Ecclesiological manichaeanism? Do tell...

Peter, I think that is where I'm trying to go, and I also think that's a valid question to ask. I don't want to assume that God cannot or will not 'use' the secular state, but one must be pretty darn careful when trying to sort out the ways in which he might be.

Peter said...

Admittedly, I am shaped by the reformed/neo-calvinist vision of sphere sovereignty and I am beginning to explore the idea from R. Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity (I don't know enough yet to understand how the two views are alike and how they are different.)

So I tend to see the secular polis as a means of God's work in the world. I don't think this means identifying the secular polis as the powers is wrong.

Identifying the church as polis is very important. As I wrote above I'm grooving with you on this. It is very, very, very helpful in sorting out the church's vocation and clarifying Christian discipleship.

Where I wrestle is with the modifier "alternative." Is the church an alternative to the secular polis? If so, to what degree is it an alternative? If not, how does the church as polis intersect the secular polis -- especially if it is the case that the secular polis is a work of God.

Oh I better make a qualifier to my language of secular polis as work of God. I absolutely do not mean something like, "America is a special nation chosen for God's purposes in the world." When people say things like that I think they are making a huge category error. They are seeing the secular polis as a work of God's REDEMPTION. Nope, nope, nope. That is what the church is. I see the secular polis (government, family, economy, etc.) as a work of CREATION. That's why I can see it as both a work of God and fallen and corrupted -- like all of creation that is need of redemption. So, if the secular polis is a created sphere of God's work in the world, to what degree is it good and to what degree is it cursed?

This is getting too long! I hope this makes some sense. I guess your blog scratched an itch I have been having about these questions. Thanks for letting me wrestle with these things in response to your thoughts.

This is good stuff you are surfacing!!

Richard from Chico said...

Wish I had the time to engage more completely in this.

Gentlemen, for the most part I am on a similar page, if not the same one, as are you.

To some extent I am responding to the rhetorical flourishes, I realize, other than the concepts discussed. "The Thing called America" sounds like "The Thing that Ate Detroit." The connotation is entirely negative. However, when couched in the biblical concept of the Powers, it is much more nuanced. "Tamed, but not converted" is a good way of putting it.

However, what about the Great Commission, where our Lord calls us to "make disciples of all nations"? We tend to read this as convert individuals (a move that I think Kyle is critqueing in the earlier posts on the Bible). How does this fit into the "tamed but not converted" schema.

As for the church as a polis living out of its own stories rather than the metanarratives of the Powers: Yes! Yes! But now the issue of the House Church arises: where does this entity derive its narrative? Does it not arise from a voluteerism and separation from the existing ecclesial structures and beliefs? Does the House Church not ultimately value freedom and choice in choosing to disassociate from the church as it has been embodied in history? Will they be known for hanging out in coffee houses with bongo drums, Turkish cigarettes, and bad haircuts?

Ultimately your argument, in my opinion, will, if followed to its conclusion, make us all Catholics, which does have a separate narrative and polity that can critique the narrative of the Powers.

Whole lot of thoughts rolling around in my brain... Wish I had the time to sort them out...

Anyway, thanks.

The Archer of the Forest said...

If it helps, you can blame me. Though I have never met him personally, I think your official "criticism reader" is a friend of a friend of mine.

Panic, chaos, disorder...The Archer's work here is done. ;)

J Hearne said...

Kyle, I'm dissappointed because I got NO HATE MAIL. You should be much more controversial. Perhaps you could exclude some group from the Kingdom? Cast out some anathemas or, at least, some dispersions.

Archer, how?

Kyle said...

I threw out Quakers and the Salvation Army some time ago, remember?