When I'm not crying over my dissertation I'm slowly working my way through John Stackhouse's horribly titled book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World. It is a book advocating a "third way" and so I am, I have to admit, predisposed to hate it, just like I hate Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional despite having not read a single word of it. Third way? More like Turd way. Besides, it doesn't seem right to compare a "way" that has spanned two thousand years with a way that lasted about two years until the founders decided that church isn't cool any more and left their orphan to conservative evangelicals in emergent clothes. What's more, there is no "beyond" the Christian tradition. The tradition is always already a beyond.
Speaking of annoying book titles, how about Brian McLaren's The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix. Postmodernity doesn't really exist, so we really need to stop thinking of ways to respond to it! I opened the book and came across a passage that seems vintage Brian McLaren. It went something like this:
I was asked to do a talk about something. Instead of doing the talk the usual, conservative way, I did something different. I told stories and asked question. The people there responded with such enthusiasm. They told me tales of the evils of conservatism and how this talk has opened their minds to a fresh way of thinking. We asked questions of each other and had some of the most enriching conversation of their lives. See, this postmodern crap really does work!
Anyway, back to Stackhouse. Here is a snapshot of the notes I'm taking:
“The political dimensions of human life embodied in the Old Testament people of God are not directly manifest in the voluntary, spiritual community of the New. Indeed, the church carries on those dimensions in the quite different mode of encouraging the state under which it lives and the broader society in which it lives to realize as many of the values of the Kingdom as they will.”
This is the non-political church, which has handed over all political responsibility to the state so that the church becomes a handmaiden of the state; or, perhaps, so that the state becomes a handmaiden of the church, doing what the church is too “voluntary and spiritual” to do for itself.
“Yet is [the Christ-against culture] option so unthinkable in Nazi Germany? Stalinist Russia? Maoist China? What about in cultures such as some we know of from ancient times that were built around human sacrifice, whether the Canaanites who burned their children before their god Moloch or Mesoamerican civilizations drenched in multiple adult sacrifices? And consider contemporary North Korea, Iran, or Sudan. Are we sure that Christ is not standing against these cultures as interlocking institutions, values, and practices of ungodly and inhuman oppression?”
In the introduction to the book Stackhouse tells us that he is writing from a Western perspective, but after such a paragraph that disclosure is rendered redundant. Stackhouse may not be sure that Christ is not standing against North Korea, Iran, and Sudan, but he seems quite certain that Christ is not standing against the U.S., or Canada, or Great Britain, or Ireland. For Stackhouse, to take the Christ-against-culture standpoint in the West makes no sense. It is unthinkable.
And therein lays the problem that the church in the West faces. It can’t imagine that there is anything to think about.