Saturday, November 12, 2005

The purpose of Christian community

My cell is thinking about what it exists for at the moment. It's trying to regain some vision. I am desperate that we do not fall into the trap Peter Leithart describes, although I suspect I am the worse offender.

From the paean to nineteenth century New England community offered by conservative David Wells to the social Trinitarianism of the trendy postmodern theologian Stanley Grentz, evangelicals across the theological spectrum are singing the praises of community. I have great sympathy for this recent interest in (obsession with?) community. At the same time, I fear that much of it is driven by a thinly veiled nostalgic romanticism. In the face of rampant secularization and brutalization of public life, a retreat into the safe bounds of old-fashioned "community" is attractive. We can hole up in our little ghettos and wait for the storm to pass. We can nurture community life on a small scale, and leave the world to do what it likes, which is mainly to go to hell.

This is a snare, and a foolish, dangerous one. It is foolish because it perpetuates the modern heresy that confines the church to a private sphere. When we act as if Christian community is a "safe haven" in a heartless world, we are making common cause with the secularists, who are only too delighted to let us indulge our infantile communal fantasies in private, so long as we leave the public world to the (inevitably secular) grownups.

More importantly, treating community as a private retreat is a snare because it is a betrayal of the church's nature.

As an aside, I think Lesslie Newbigin would passionately agree with it all.

...When will I listen?


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