Guests on Volume 123
• NICHOLAS M. HEALY on some of the practical and theological weaknesses in the writings of Stanley Hauerwas
• CHRISTIAN SMITH on the spiritual lives of emerging adults raised within the Roman Catholic Church and taught at Catholic schools
• JAMES K. A. SMITH on Charles Taylor's explanation (in The Secular Age) of how modern culture came to unlearn the theistic assumption of the West
• ESTHER LIGHTCAP MEEK on why pitting “objectivity” against “subjectivity” in describing the nature of knowledge isn't helpful, and on why all knowing involves making a commitment
• RICHARD VILADESAU on the relationship between formal, propositional, academic theology and the theological expressions found in works of art and music
• JEREMY BEGBIE on why theologians should be more interested in how music and modernity have interacted
Nicholas M. Healy
“If one looks at the lives of Christian communities, there is much less formation going on than I think [Hauerwas’s] theory seems to need. . . . It’s not as if one goes to a Christian church and is then formed by that Christian church. It is that we decide to join this church rather than that church because we find it appealing. In other words, we already have a kind of taste for a particular kind of Christianity. We go there and we get more of that. . . . Each and every one of us is formed to a very limited extent, I would say, because we live so much in the world . . . and the world is forming us all the time.”
— Nicholas M. Healy
In his book, Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction, theologian Nicholas M. Healy agrees with Stanley Hauerwas's project to build a church that establishes practices which inform theology and shape character; however, Healy takes issue with the modes of argument Hauerwas has typically employed. Healy is concerned that Hauerwas's focus on ethics over-emphasizes community identity at the expense of trinitarian and soteriological doctrine. At stake, Healy argues, is whether the Church is viewed as a human institution or a product of God’s work.
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“Even though the Catholic church has the theological resources for a sort of rich communal sense of the faith, I think the American experience today is actually very thin.”
— Christian Smith
To Christian Smith’s continued study on the religious lives of adolescents and emerging adults, he and his colleagues have recently appended a narrower study on the religious lives of young Roman Catholics in America. Smith’s study reports a general decline among young Catholics, which he attributes to a particular cluster of events that significantly reshaped American Catholicism. Beginning in the 1960s, Catholics began to encounter a greater increase in social upward mobility that allowed for the Catholic ghetto community of the fifties to be more fully assimilated into the surrounding culture. However, as Smith notes, many of the broader cultural currents that were developing during the 60s—such as the sexual revolution and the turn towards therapeutic values—emerged as hostile to historic Catholicism. Coinciding with these trends, the Second Vatican Council of the early 60s marked an institutional softening and openness towards many aspects of modernity, which—in the absence of proper clerical instruction—made many Catholics vulnerable to adopting the beliefs and presuppositions of their secular, non-Catholic peers.
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James K. A. Smith
“As I started having conversations with church planters and pastors in urban contexts, I started to realize that—oh man, actually, this should be like a DMin course in a box, because this might be the kind of ethnography of Manhattan or Seattle that they need [in order] to make sense of their new context.”
— James K. A. Smith
Philosopher James K. A. Smith discusses the evangelical and ecclesial ramifications for Christians living within Charles Taylor’s third wave of secularism. In contrast to the classical-medieval paradigm in which the secular designates the temporal and earthly, and in contrast to the Enlightenment paradigm of a metaphysically detached or neutral secular realm, Taylor’s third wave of secularism is one in which belief in God is merely one choice among a plurality of choices or, for many, completely implausible.
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Esther Lightcap Meek
“Somehow in the water of our approach to knowing, whether we’ve done philosophy or not, we just assume that knowledge is certainty, and if you don’t have certainty, you don’t have knowledge.”
— Esther Lightcap Meek
Philosopher Esther Lightcap Meek talks about how our presuppositions about knowledge have been deformed by a mind/body dualism inherited from Enlightenment thinkers such as Descartes. As a result of divorcing the mind from the body, how we think about knowledge (a.k.a. epistemology), in turn, became divorced from our selves as whole persons. In her book, A Little Manual for Knowing, Meek argues that knowledge is not something we pin down and put in a box, nor is it something that pins us down; rather, knowledge is that which simultaneously opens up, and guides us through, future possibilities. In Meek’s epistemology, knowledge is inseparable from personal interaction with the world, requiring both commitment and profession. In this way, knowledge accumulates attributes that it shares in common with hope and, quite often, leads us toward hope.
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“[A]esthetic theology has always been the main form of theology in the Church—although sometimes the way it’s presented by the hierarchical, or the official Church, it seems like it’s the other way around. But in fact, I think it has always been the aesthetic theology that’s been preached—at least when the preaching is effective—and that has constituted the main body of the transmission of theology in aesthetic modes. One of the problems is that frequently people haven’t recognized that; they’ve mistaken aesthetics for dogmatics and vice versa.”
— Richard Viladesau
In Richard Viladesau’s series on aesthetic theology, Viladesau examines how an artwork is more than its subject. A painting or a piece of music is not merely a conduit for an abstract doctrine or lesson. It is, in its form and presentation of the subject, its own commentary. In other words, theology is irreducibly aesthetic. In his third volume surveying the theology of the cross in art, entitled The Pathos of the Cross, Viladesau explains how the Baroque era emphasized the viewer’s emotional response to, and participation in, the subject of Christ on the cross.
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“I think, at the risk of gross generalization, what we’ve witnessed in the move from the medieval to the modern—as far as music is concerned, as far as theorizing about music is concerned—is a shift from, what I call, the cosmological to the anthropological. . . . What we see from the 1500s onwards, perhaps even earlier, is the tendency to see music more and more as a humanly constructed tool, a tool of persuasion (especially emotional persuasion), and the sense in which music is embedded in the cosmic order at large begins to wane.”
— Jeremy Begbie
In his book, Music, Modernity, and God: Essays in Listening, theologian Jeremy Begbie discusses the role that music played within the larger cultural shift from a medieval to a modern outlook. Despite the challenges that music presents for referential certainty, Begbie argues that the ubiquity and prominence of music during many historical transitions and among every people-group demands that it be given its due attention by those theologians wanting to fully understand the ramifications of modernity.