Friday, May 15, 2009

We Need All the Help We Can Get

Following one of his typically provocative lectures, Stanley Hauerwas responded to a question about the role of the Holy Spirit with approximately these words: 'Of course, Father, Son, Holy Spirit - we need 'em all. We need all the help we can get.'*

Whether that will do for expounding a Trinitarian theology I leave for biblical scholars to address. For me, the response captures an attitude that needs be recovered by Christians if we wish to hold any pretensions to faithfulness in this feverish world in which we find ourselves.

What do I mean? Three things come to mind:

We need all the help we can get. We need to draw on our rich traditions and feel no shame in doing so. So many of us swallow the modernist presumption that no substantive conversation was possible until the enlightenment. I plead guilty to this presumption: to think, I once viewed Augustine's Confessions as a simple campfire testimony. That may do on some level, but in the end, such psychological readings only surrender these highly political works to counter-forces hellbent on condemning all religious argument to the private sector. We're killing ourselves by letting others evaluate for us the history that makes us what we are. Time to unleash that great cloud of witnesses on our (increasingly) theologically illiterate minds. They had some things going for them.

We need all the help we can get. We need to sink so deeply into the Scriptures that it corrupts our language. It is one thing to make creative use out of the colloquialisms and vocabularies that render modern conversation intelligible, but quite another to accept them as the only terms that determine how such conversations will proceed. For example: it's quite evident to me now, having begun postgraduate studies in Christian ethics, that I have little to no idea how to read the Gospels in a way that critiques my linguistic upbringing. Whatever the Sermon on the Mount is teaching us, it is probably not how we can be better capitalists, materialists, liberals, Americans, the like. If it speaks at all to these categories, it will do so in a language that stinks of Gospel and challenges our presuppositions. Our language should stink and challenge others like that too.

We need all the help we can get. We need some resurgence in the life of the church. Well, first we need some life in the church. No doubt, I'm glad for the many exciting things happening among many congregations across the evangelical world. I pray we keep up the momentum, with preaching, prayer, communion, baptism, and mission defining us. If we realize how much we need each other then this next generation of Christians may yet have some life in it. I pray I'm doing my part in that, as unnatural and strange as church life can be relative to the rest of modern life.

Three things worth pondering. Last, it's a great pleasure to begin posting on this blog, and in this vein, an even greater mystery why I chose the opening that I did. Yet my hope is to follow through with these rough sketches in an attempt to press into service the diverse instruction I've received over the last few years. With some flourish, and maybe some twists, the last thing I want to be is new. Let's hope my sources have merit. I'll need 'em all.
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*I was unable to find the exact audio of the Q&A, but the words lodged in my mind. In which case I may need to stand correction.

2 comments:

Andrew Faris said...

Ian,

Great first post. I love it.

Andrew

Norman Jeune III said...

Ian,
I thought I would also extend a warm welcome to you since we have yet to talk on the phone or in person. I'm really excited to have your contribution to the blog. Andrew pointed me to some of your previous writings, which I thought were very well done; I know you'll be a great asset to this rather eclectic group of bloggers who've managed to survive on the blogosphere for almost a year-and-a-half now. I look forward to reading more!

Norm