Third Message, C:
The Schleiermacherian Azgothians
I mean, “Let’s face it, self, the NCC would be washed up were it not for the checkbooks of the fairy godmothers at the Knight, Tides, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations (amongst others). Give it a break already. Time is not on their side.”
Okay, okay. But just remember what I said about liberal christianity filling up the background noise, and providing the static snow on a dead TV. Or maybe elevator music is a better metonym (no, I don’t mean metaphor).
So what is a less frowzy critique?
Let me think. I know: Schleiermacher’s folk. Now there’s a mouthful. Say that name ten times.
Or how ‘bout the adjectival construction: “Schleiermacherian”? Boy, did that one ever summon that too frequent, infernal and squiggly red line on my word processor screen.
There is no doubt that Friederich was a great theologian of the protestant sort. That qualification is significant, since, in Orthodoxy, no one should ever call himself a “theologian,” or want to be called one, because it takes a few centuries to gain that title, and it is determined by nothing less than the “catholic consciousness” of the Church. John the Evangelist is a Theologian. Gregory Nazianzus is a Theologian. There is a New Theologian, to be sure: that would be Symeon, and he hails from the eleventh century.
That, by the way, is a good example of what "new" means in Orthodoxy.
Besides, anyone who would want to be a real Theologian would stick to real Theology. That is most definitely not true of Schleiermacher. It’s pretty clear that he was not too keen on explicating Apostolic Tradition to the modern world, as is expected of any Theologian of the Theological Sort. Rather, he proceeded along the lines of re-fashioning Christian dogma into something more palatable to “cultured despisers.”
I have found that the business of making old-fashioned things more pleasing to modern tastes always involves re-fashioning the old-fashioned into a different, new-fashioned thing. Modern tastes do not chew on old leftovers warmed over. They want new and fresh. That’s like the old saw, “you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.”
Schleiermacher is all about new and modern wine. His society (and ours) wanted experience but not so much truth. After all, humankind, in that old line, cannot bear very much reality. It really doesn’t matter what the substance is or the essence. Existence is the game and experience is the way to fame.
Friedrich set the philosophical (not theological) framework for all the ensuing Christian heterodox movements that focused on experience over truth. Before this there had been philosophical frameworks for earlier intellectual departures, to be sure. But Schleiermacher established, with the underpinnings of a fairly robust philosophy drawn from the heady stuff of romantic idealism, a religion that no longer needed truth.
Yes, I mean exactly that. God is no longer the center of religion. The center became, rather, the consciousness of God. The experience of God. The “feeling” of one’s need for God, but not necessarily the “feeling” of God Himself.
Rather than starting with an objective basis of religion in revelation, Schleiermacher began by postulating that religion, at its core, was subjective. The basis of all religious communions was a pious and subjective “feeling” of one’s complete dependence on God.
Some rather too-generous Orthodox and Catholic friendlies have noted in Schleiermacher a possible reference to the Eastern emphasis of the nous’ supra-cognitive and supra-linguistic experience of the Energy of the Trinity. That is way, way too generous, as I think my favorite crew over in Paris and England usually err in this direction (and I really mean favorite, no irony intended).
Schleiermacher does not at all mean a “feeling” or “experience” of God as the Church dogmatizes, as has been revealed by the Holy Trinity in the Apostolic Tradition of the Church. Not at all, because a romantic, experience-oriented society would never abide by so many hackneyed, hidebound strictures as are demanded by the dogma of Orthodoxy.
That would be like saying to Berlioz that there is nothing, nothing in his music that connotes the stuff of his programme without liner notes. That would also be like saying to Wagner that pride is still a sin, no matter how moving and cathartic is the death of the self-sacrificing hero.
Once God is dislodged from the center, and experience is put in His place, all kinds of things happen. One is the re-fashioning of salvation, of course. Sure, there is lip-service or fine-print paid to the idea of eschaton and heaven, and even the remission of sins: but these topics are nested in bookstores and tract racks. Salvation, as defined practically in the megachurch culture, is a lot more sexy than the fine print might allow. As one might expect from the delimitation of religion to the self-conscious, salvation is now articulated in terms of "self-liberation."
Self-liberation is the cognate for more immediate terms like "self-improvement," "self-help," "setting boundaries," "recovery from co-dependency," and (my favorite) "escape from people-pleasing." Some soap-boxers, on PowerPoint bullets underlined by laser highlighters, have gone so far as to finger "people pleasing" for the decay of "self" into becoming (horrors) "a mere shell of myself," with the result that they were no longer "instinctive, intuitive, spontaneous, creative, playful, vulnerable, unpretentious, joyous, free, spiritual, passionate, loving. . . ."
You will be interested, doubtlessly, to learn more of this foe of Cicero. Find it here, at a site which contends that there is not enough doctrine at megachurches to discern much heresy, but there is enough "psycho-heresy."
I have been a fan of Os Guinness' stuff ever since I read his weird book, The Gravedigger File -- a scary book, I might add, whose dark oracles have all come true. In another book, Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, he identifies the following "four steps to end disastrously in unfaithfulness and irrelevance":
Something modern is assumed (step one). As a consequence, something traditional is abandoned (step two), and everything else is adapted (step three). The outcome is that what remains is not only adapted but absorbed by the modern assumptions. It is assimilated without any decisive remainder. The result is worldliness, or Christian capitulation to some aspect of the culture of its day (pp. 61-62).
When experience is assumed, God is abandoned, and everything else (like salvation, liturgy, and structure) is adapted (or caricatured). Church is body-snatched, and the mega-church has taken its place. QED.
Now I would never suggest that any of the mega-church ringmasters would knowingly or deliberately sidle up to Friedrich and buy him a drink and chat, over a Weizenbock, about their common ideologies. But they surely loved the idea that Christianity didn’t have to be all that dogmatic.
In fact, the ringmasters who work the crowds like Moody did, or Finney with his “new measures” and "anxiety meetings," would probably blow up if they read this blog, much like the Martians did when they heard the “Indian Love Call” by Slim Whitman.
But, I ask you, what would happen if Bill Hybels, next Sunday, decided to roll out a sermon on “Three Persons, One in Essence”? Or how about “Fully Human, Fully Divine”? Or “The Importance of Two Wills”?
Or this, “The Dogmatic Authority of the Apostolic Church: or, You Can’t Have Your Own Opinion”? Or, “There is Such a Disposition as Hell”?
Or how about "Uh-oh, John 6.66"? Or, simply, "Repent."
Don’t wait for Bill to answer, or for Pat Robertson, Chuck Swindoll, Jerry Falwell, Joel Osteen, Robert Tilton, and Robert Schuller to pony up. I’ll tell you what would happen. Attendance would decline, of course. The Board would get miffed. The body guards would get nervous. Less Lexus' (what is the plural of Lexus? Lexi?) lodged in the blasted acres of asphalt. Revenues would go down. The anointing would be kerplunkt.
The brass would say, “Bill, for God’s sake, tone it down. People don’t want all that head knowledge. Being a Christian is all about the heart. People want to feel upbeat, close to God. They want excitement, like they’re part of a big exciting thing. They want a shot in the arm. They want to be involved in an upswing.
“They’re like customers, Bill. We gotta give them what they want … I mean, what they need. Same difference.
“Bill, read Schleiermacher: he’ll show you the way.”
If you smell WalMart here, then you’ve whiffed the right scent. The Revivalists unwittingly unleashed WalMart into the Christian house, but the Church Growth people exploited the wandering spirit and perfected its useage: “it” is the importation of the marketing business model of finance capitalism into the ecclesiology of the Church, displacing every single remnant that might have survived the Reformation and Enlightenment.
The WalMart scam of “market-needs-analysis” is an ecclesiology (if it can be called that) that must militate against any dogma, and can only permit the implicit, below-the-surface Schleiermachian re-fashioning of Christianity into a pablum christianity that provides experience, but misses, utterly misses, the meaning.
The consequences are severe – more so than the relatively less-creepy Ritschlian brand of liberal christianity. One consequence is that most megachurchers consider themselves evangelical, and therefore conservative. They think they are going to Church, but they aren't.
They may sing “Jesus is Lord,” but do not know that He is so because He has trampled down death by death.
They may sing “Alleluia,” but they have not fasted from provocations, or feasted on the Eucharist.
They may swing to the praise band, but they blanch at the Jesus Prayer, because it makes them cough up the fact that they are still “sinners.”
They may sing “God Bless America,” but they cannot believe that God may have called the Republican Party to judgment, for squandering a conservative mandate, and embroiling a great country in the Tar Baby of an absurdist war.
They may await the Rapture, but they are utterly unprepared for any persecution, whether spiritual (which is always) or societal. They want the Rapture, because they already know they couldn’t take a real, full-bore Tribulation.
The Church of the Martyrs knows all about the Tribulation, whether the persecution is dealt by Classical Romans, or Liberal Arians, or Reformational Iconoclasts, or Arab Muslims or Turkish Muslims or Scientological Fascists. Such a Church catechizes simply to raise up Martyrs or Saints, as all Christians are meant to be.
Of course, this takes Dogma, Asceticism and the Charisms of Sacrament. My Church is teaching dogma. But there are empty pews. And there are faithful parents and grandparents who look at the Willow Creeks and the disco temples longingly, because their children go there if nowhere else (which is more usual).
Maybe some of the reason for empty pews and lazy youth is because we have a lot of rough edges, and we don’t make things easy. Our services are long, repetitive and arcane. God knows that we disobey most, if not all, the Church Growth rules of C. Peter Wagner and Carl George (we would be at 100% non-compliance if we still retained the “Catechumens Depart!” statement).
But more of the reason for the empty pews in the Apostolic Church is due to the Big Show going on down the street, out by the McMansions of the fin de siècle nouveau riche who meditate on portfolios while leeching the land.
There, in the theatrical productions, the huggings and laughter, the skits and widescreens, you can feel better, in a foggy sort of way, without the self-denial required of Christian belief.
And in a feel-better age, that factor will make all the difference in the Philistine census. At least for a while.