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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Responding to Hirsch and Catchim: Am I a "reactionary"?

My essay in Books and Culture reviewing the book The Permanent Revolution has resulted in a number of letters to the editor of the publication, two of which have been published and are now up online here. At that same link I have a 500-word response with particular attention being given to Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim’s (from here on, “H & C”) lengthy letter. In my response I mention that I will be responding further at my blog to these three specific charges made against my essay by H & C:

1) They claim my article “engages in an injurious attempt of guilt by association” with respect to the New Apostolic Reformation.

2) They assert that I demonstrated “scholastic obfuscation” and “completely” miss “the point of their book” in order to defend “an outworn status quo” and ignore “the distinctively missional significance of our material”.

3) They label me a “reactionary” meaning someone who “opposes political or social liberalization or reform.”

In this post I will respond to point #3. It is interesting to me that the definition H & C chose for “reactionary” focuses on opposition to “political or social” reform. Here is the relevant part of the letter in full, with emphasis in their original:

It is reactionary and close-minded: “Reactionary” is defined as a person, organization, or ideology that opposes political or social liberalization or reform. This article is predictably traditionalist and takes a stand for the status quo, whereas we are calling readers to reassess the viability of the inherited ecclesiology in light of Scripture as well as the challenges presented by the 21st century.

I want to take up the suggestion that the views expressed in the essay somehow indicate opposition to “political or social liberalization or reform.” This seems to me to be a case of reducing biblical and theological discourse to the norms of political and social debate. I fail to see how my disagreements with H & C’s biblical exegesis, patristic interpretations, historical conclusions and contemporary church assessments in anyway prejudges my political or social views. In fact, I have absolutely no idea what political or social applications H & C make from their five-fold ecclesiology and I don’t know how they would discern mine from how I assess their five-fold defense. Furthermore, if H & C have spent the time at my website indicated by their judgment of it as “crusading” how could they fail to pick up on my explicitly anti-reactionary political views? Which one of these posts on healthcare, drone warfare, Muslim rights, or African-American Church history indicates opposition to liberalization or reform? In terms of theology or biblical interpretation, I don’t know myself where I fit on a reactionary/reform grid these days given my status as some sort of blend of a Commonweal Catholic/emergent evangelical/missional-ecumenist. What I think has happened is that my appreciation for solid reasoning, my hesitance to dismiss the consensus of Christian Tradition and my aversion to conspiracy-based critiques of people’s motivations has been confused with reactionary theological conservatism and mindless obedience to ecclesial norms which would then somehow indicate political and social retrenchment. I think it would have made more sense for H & C to just respond to the specific criticisms of their book.

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