Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Inclusion? or deliverance? the problem in the churches

David Hart notes (in his much-acclaimed book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?) that modern, theologically liberal Christians have great difficulty grasping “the cosmological idiom of the New Testament.” The struggle in the mainline churches tends to take shape without reference to the malignant activity of a powerful external Enemy. The Enemy is conceived, instead, as racism, colonialism, sexism, homophobia and the like—orientations which, it is assumed, can be corrected if only those who exhibit them can be properly educated and redirected by the more enlightened. When the Enemy is defined in this way, the next step is to divide the population into racists and non-racists, colonialists and anti-colonialists, and so forth, so that those who have seen the light can instruct those who dwell in darkness. Thus you have a situation in which the impatient, politically correct constituency is rampant on one side and the recalcitrant traditionalists man the defenses on the other. This essentially superficial bifurcation is a major symptom of our larger problem. What needs to take place is a deep appropriation by all sides of the idea that all of us are in need of being rescued from the power of the Enemy whom Jesus called Satan, whom he defeated in the wilderness, and drove out in his exorcisms. None of that would make any sense without "the cosmological idiom of the New Testament."

This truly radical understanding of the human predicament has been the lifelong project of the writer-theologian-activist Will Campbell. He is greatly revered in the church, but some of his most basic teaching sails over the heads of many theological liberals. He has spent his entire life teaching us that, left to ourselves, we are all racists, sexists, etc… (fill in the blanks). To use biblical language, we are all idolaters, apostates, blasphemers—worshippers of Ba’al. That is why the Book of Common Prayer features a General Confession; when we say it in unison, we confess that we are all in the same predicament together. Yet this seems not to carry much weight with liberal Christians, who continue to repeat the mantra of our time, inclusion. This ubiquitous notion, well-intended though it almost always is, simply cannot stand up to the job. A psychotherapist pointed out to me that the word include implies a lower status. If a person responds to an invitation by saying, “Thank you for including me,” that person is unconsciously indicating that she doesn’t really feel quite worthy of it (a better alternative would be something like "Thanks for inviting me!") The notion of inclusion subtly reinforces a difference in status; those doing the including are in a more privileged position. (Thus Miroslav Volf's celebrated book is entitled, not Exclusion and Inclusion, but Exclusion and Embrace.)

The biblical account of the human situation is altogether different. The Son of God did not come to include people. He came to deliver them. We don’t need to be “included,” thank you very much. We need to be radically reoriented. All of us. Believing this means profoundly to repent. If we could see more of this in the churches, we might be able to begin groping our way toward the Light which is already advancing toward us.


I put myself in the front of the line of those in need of this radical reorientation.