Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thanks to Amy for starting off our conversation about John Allen's The Future Church. (Note, please, that the comments box is open. Check out her post, and share your thoughts.) Amy's description of Allen's claims and observations with respect to "A World Church" are both thorough and succinct; I have nothing to add to it.
A quick thought, though, about the observation that a “tight identification between the West and Christianity” has “disintegrated” and Catholicism has been turned “upside-down." In some senses (many, perhaps) this observation is clearly correct: Christianity is growing in the "South", and this growth would seem certain to result in (as Allen describes) "increasing attention to matters of pastoral concern in the South" and continued emphasis (I probably wouldn't use Allen's term, "turbocharging orthodoxy") on the moral dimensions of human sexuality.
I wonder, though, if Christianity is not more closely, and deeply, tied to "the West" than Allen's diagnosis and predictions suggest? I'm not talking so much about geography and am (to be clear) certainly not talking about race or ethnicity. But, what if there are certain ideas, associated with "the West" but comparatively underdeveloped in "the East" or "the South", that are not just accidentally, but essentially, connected with Christianity? Can Christianity "go South" without these ideas? Are there substitutes for them?
Amy talked about "the profound cultural differences between the European and North-American mind-frames: e.g., the European tendency to articulate highly abstract principles, and only eventually work its way down to a more concrete discussion, in tension with the more pragmatic problem-solving leanings of North-American culture", and suggests that Christianity's Southern turn could well create new "tensions" related to cultural differences. But I'm thinking -- not very well, at present, I admit -- not only about cultural differences (Christianity has wrestled with the challenge of inculturation for a long time, right?) but about the possibility that some really important (for Christianity) ideas (which, like culture, mediate our experience of the world) might not be present in those areas where Christianity is growing. What are these ideas? I'm not sure. Perhaps some who have thought about this more than I have will say, "actually, the chance for Christianity to slough off the constraining baggage of the kind of ideas you are talking about -- what does Jerusalem have to do with Athens or Rome? -- should be welcome, and will result in a clearer, more authentic and "original" Christianity." Perhaps.