Pointing to Distinctives

Larry reflects on God’s Politics

Recovering Biblical Justice

When Christian faith gets too cozy with any culture, it is at risk of being diluted and losing its voice. Justice requires independence and integrity. All of this is to say that as I reflect on the need for the mainline church to find its voice, I believe Jim Wallis is pointing the way by pointing toward the Bible.

I think this is Wallis’ greatest gift during this time of political turmoil and enmity. The vision of the prophets for a world as God meant, and the announcement of a Kingdom bu Jesus. The “better way” as envisioned by the people of God, via Israel, and the church.

I have often defended Wallis lately , in spite of the use of some language that some find troubling, but yet I cannot help but feel that he has brought , in an accessible way, an awareness of the dangers of Constantinianism that is much more esoterically rendered by the adherents of Radical Orthodoxy. Even though I am delving ever more deeply into the writings and thought of Stanley Hauerwas, and have gained valuable illumination and insight from James K.A. Smith’s account of Radical Orthodoxy and the history of theology from that perspective, I cannot but wonder that it might not be such a distortion to speak as he does, if he is able to raise awareness to the extent that he has about the idolatries of nationalism that have set themselves up as rivals to the vision the Kingdom engenders.

I have serious doubts that the criticism is conducive to the accomplishment of a needed consciousness/spirituality centered in the church, and emanating from that center. I have often said lately that I owe a great deal of my “formation” that has allowed me to read and understand Radical Orthodoxy and what I like about it, to Wallis and Sojourners (and of course, in similar ways, to others such as Tony Campolo, Clarence Jordan, The Church of the Saviour, and others).

I would probably rank The Church of the Saviour as the most shaping of the list, but the length and breadth of the Sojourners conversation over these past 20+ years makes it difficult to pinpoint exact “credits” to the forming of this particular story of mine.

I think that all this would take would be some serious reflection (and conversation) on the goals of both these groups, and I would say that the visions each to that “City of God” are highly similar. I think Smith’s rhetoric obscures that more important aspect.

I just finished Hauerwas’ chapter on Rauschenbusch in A Better Hope, and it showed me that in spite of obvious differences between Hauerwas’ view of church and that of Rauschenbusch, Hauerwas was highly appreciative of the importance and eccesiology of Raschenbusch, and careful to make sure he paid due reverence to the depth and intent of Rauschenbusch’s “Social Gospel”. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of Radical Orthodoxy critics that the same dialogical and reconciliing stance be taken in regards to groups such as Sojourners, whose history of works of mercy are unmistakable and ongoing. The people who are actually doing such works, and collating forces aimed to enable the increase of such awareness; and yes, “build a movement”. We all know this phrase is often secularized, but Clarence Jordan liked to translate “The Kingdom of God” in his Cotton Patch Gospels” as “The God Movement”. Lets keep in mind that this is not “widdling down” the Kingdom of God to “secular levels” and “concepts”, but an attempt to connect the concept and reality of “The Kingdom of God” to something which is active, moving, indwelling, pervasive, hopeful, eschatalogical, and ever present.


About Theoblogical

I am a Web developer with a background in theology, sociology and communications. I love to read, watch movies, sports, and am looking for authentic church.

3 Replies to “Pointing to Distinctives”

  1. Theoblogical


    You hit the nail on the head as to my deepest frustration with the theological divisions today. As much as I resonate with much of what Radical Orthodoxy uncovers (and does a very thourough and scholarly job of it at that), I cannot see that they advance their “stock” in the larger world very well by perceiving such a significant chasm between themselves and other voices who sound alarms that have the same concerns at heart as theirs, but these common assesments of what’s wrong and what’s needed are obscured or seem to pale in comparison to their theological one-upmanship. (it’s a little funny that I said “they aren’t advancing their stock very well, given RO’s deep critical stance toward the near worship of capitalism in this country, and the deceptive assumptions about “how things work” coming from those who operate with an “eye to the market” rather than notions of Biblical justice.)

    It all comes down to the value of inviting people to participate in the Kingdom, and in lining up people’s deepest passions with the needs in the world which could use their talents to alleviate suffering. When movements such as Sojourners who seek to join people of faith in some greater work are called in to question by those who share much of the same “telos” or ultimate goals of history, this is a shame. Those who share a vision of a better way need to concentrate on how to achive that together , rather than letting what I would consider to be secondary, less urgent questions to dominate our dialogue (based not in theology , I believe, but in , as you said, “theological conceptualization”; “academic disintinctives” rather than what they claim, too haughtily I believe, “Christian distinctives”.

    Thanks for your expressing your resonate feelings on the topic. Eric, my devoted RO friend, is really the main reason why I read JKA Smith’s book in the first place, and whose desriptions of what the RO movement is about was the original impetus to my seeking out the details, and as such, is also the main reason why this critique of Wallis causes me such dissonance. I’ve also been reading a lot of Hauerwas, who is a hero to many RO-ers. His treatment of Rauschenbusch, which is done with high regard despite Hauerwas’ differences with him, stands as a much better example of how to carry out dialogue with others , especially those who end up in the same needy places, bringing God’s peace and respond to those needs.


  2. larryhol

    I think I posted this in the wrong place. I was responding to a later post in which you commented on criticism of Jim Wallis by some in the radical orthodox movement. But the point holds anyway. 🙂

  3. larryhol

    The issue you raise is both important and current. We exist in a culture of individualsm that results in alienation that undermines community. I believe the Christian community in a culture such as this should be affirming and inclusive. However, my experience with RO proponents is not that. It’s been an experience of exclusion, based on langauge and more importantly, conceptualization of authentic faith. Given the hyperventilated quality of the public dialogue today, I search for those voices that offer me hope, compassion, affirmation and support. I attribute these quallities to the incarnation of God’s love in Jesus. Then I look to the communities who claim Jesus to see if they embody these values. My experience is that these qualities are hard to find anywhere, not only in connection to voices of RO. When religious folks call the faith of others into question, it seems very much like all other voices who critique and exclude on the basis of langauge, race, class, education, gender, age or sexual preference. The difference is that the rationale given in this instance is the content of one’s faith, or the language one uses to express the content of faith. I know these are hard words but having been in the crosshairs of lots of people over the years in a long career in public communication, I can tell you that when you experience exclusion, or when you experience criticism because of your expression of faith, it’s pretty much the same, no matter who is doing the criticizing or the excluding.
    That’s the great challenge to RO, I think. How does one both articulate faith with as much integrity to the historic teachings of the community as possible and at the same time include those who are authentically seeking deeper faith but do not express the search in the same language?
    Your point that Jim Wallis has been critiqued from all sides illustrates how difficult it is to live faithfully today. While I do not subscribe to the same theological positions that Jim does, I hold his commitment to the faith and his living out of the prophetic voice of the faith in very high regard. And that probably excludes me from membership in some circles.
    You raise a very pertinent point.

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