Everyday Theology (6): Concluding Case study

The last entry on Everyday Theology is from chapter 11 “Putting It into Practice: Weddings for Everyday Theologians.” As Vanhoozer states in his editorial introduction to the chapter, “The case study is aEveryday Theology practical counterpart to the opening essay on methodology…This case study focuses on how to apply the methodology and take steps towards becoming everyday theologians.” p. 228

The chapter briefly offers an overview, making sure the reader has followed both explicit and implicit themes throughout the book. In so doing, they offer the following thought to summarize what has preceded, and to ground the case study:

“Since the ultimate goal of a Christian hermeneutic of culture is to cultivate men and women more faithful to the gospel in the culture in which they live, the importance of the texts and trends does matter.” (p. 231)

That said, the authors utilize the cultural text of a wedding to walk the reader through what it looks like to apply these concepts in the everyday world in which we live. While walking through the analysis of weddings and how they have morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry would be beyond the scope or purpose of this entry, I do want to leave you with a quote from the concluding section, “Beyond Discussion: Becoming a Cultural Agent:”

“Our mandate to live wisely as Christians includes all of life. Our response, therefore, should be holistic, encompassing hands and the heart, the individual and the group…Proposals for the heart focus on what we believe and value. Cultural agency starts with the heart, because it recognizes this is where cultural texts most fundamentally want to shape us. Our response, therefore, must match accordingly. All other cultural agency flows from the heart.”

I think that this encapsulates the task of this volume well. In closing this discussion then, I wonder if we could come up with an area of either North American culture, or even North American “Christian” culture (or sub-culture), that we believe is most in need of a distinctly Christian exegesis. Could it be the value of rhetoric, status, or maybe the way we have adopted marketing and leadership from a consumer culture? What do you think?

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4 thoughts on “Everyday Theology (6): Concluding Case study

  1. I would question the assumption that ‘cultural agency starts with the heart’ and thus that ‘ALL other cultural agency flows from the heart.’ Although I agree that cultural forces do shape the heart – they do so by means of shaping the body and mind. It is, of course, biblical to be concerend about and focussed on ‘the heart’. But it is also biblical that the heart’s desires are bound up with the whole self; all of these ‘centres’ of identity – body, mind, heart – are bound together.

    In short, I would ask the authors – what is this emphasis on cultural agency that ‘starts with the heart’ doing? It is one thing if that is a call to the church’s praise of God, which opens up the heart to God’s work by putting our minds and bodies in an appropriate context. It is another if it is suggesting that Christians need to be focussed on their ‘inner self’ rather than focussing on living in the world in different ways. The latter, it seems to me, has often been the strategy of the conservative Christian right.

  2. Scott, I obviously can’t answer for the authors, but let me take a jab at what I think they might say.

    When it comes down to it, what culture “is” as we know it has arisen because of the reality of people’s hearts, in one way or another. Talking about culture then, is talking about our loves, albeit loves as a society, sub-culture, etc.

    In light of that, I think they are trying to mediate between the inner self and living in the world in different ways, or to put it a bit more classically, contemplation and action. I imagine, although I am pretty far from their text at this point, that they would argue that cultural exegesis is doing both – it is the contemplation of God and his kingdom, while at the same time, seeking to engage with culture, and therefore the world, in a way that is Christian (however that gets parsed out).

    I’m not sure that it is biblical to say that the heart’s desires are bound up with the whole self (although I might be pushing your language too far here), but rather, that the whole self is bound of with the heart’s desires. In other words, I don’t know what it would mean to talk about the heart and the mind separately. The fact that we do so, I think, represents contemporary anthropology more so than biblical (at least, that is my initial inclination).

    In any case, I think the author’s point would be something along the lines that contemplation and action are not mutually exclusive, but are, in fact, necessary aspects of kingdom life.

  3. Kyle,

    Thanks for your response. I’m sure you’re right they’re trying to do what you said – mediate between the inner self and living in the world, or between contemplation and action, etc.

    I just don’t think the anthropology that assumes really grasps the scope of the biblical witness – it still priveleges something called ‘the inner self’, which is not, in my view, what Paul means by ‘the soul’ or the Psalmist or evangelists mean by ‘the heart’. Those latter realities are, I think, bound up with ‘the whole self’ insofar as the people whose hearts and midns are set on the kingdom are those who go to Temple, worship God, and as a result, live in certain ways.

    My point is not that you have to privelege the heart over action or vice versa, and that I’m arguing for the latter, but that I’m not sure it makes sense to call for a renewal of the heart that is something other than a call to renewed worship of God – which is a set of actions through which we contemplate the kingdom – and to let that worship shape all our doings.

  4. Scott,

    I think you are right about where the conversation has to go. There is definitely an integration of these concepts in the biblical witness that make a robust anthropology difficult at times. I tend to lean in the opposite direction, and think that Paul’s language about the “inner man”, the heart, and the flesh/spirit dichotomy tends to (just not always), point towards the core of where our action arises from. I think the Spirit’s work then, in part, is a renovation of inclinations and dispositions towards God and his will, which play themselves out in the drama of redemption.

    But I am focusing on Jonathan Edwards!

    Good thoughts, I appreciate the aim towards worship to shape our doings. Blessings.

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