Advent and the Importance of Liturgy

For those of you who haven’t read Halden’s post, you should. This is an issue I tried to raise with Jamie Smith’s book, but wasn’t able to do so as well as Halden. After reading the post, my initial thought was: Liturgy is the fruit, and not the root, of devotion. The church, in my mind, continually makes the mistake of getting this backwards.

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13 thoughts on “Advent and the Importance of Liturgy

  1. I agree, I wonder how you think this relates to Thomas Aquinas’ habitus spirituality?

    And I wonder how Jamie Smith makes this jive with his thinking jive with his “Affective” theology? I still haven’t really read, Jamie; I should probably do that some day.

    Now over to Halden’s place.

    • Bobby, that is an interesting question. I imagine he will try to answer them over the next two books in the triology. After I read it, I was left wondering how all of the major pieces fit together as well.

      • Well, I definitely need to read Smith in this new year. All I’ve read of him, thus far, is his newest little book “Letters to a Young Calvinist;” it’s quite good, he makes a good point on the Heidelberg Catechism :-) .

        Merry Christmas!

  2. I am afraid that I have to side with James on this one – it is a false dilemma to force a choice between “fruit” or “root.” And might not Halden’s concerns be addressed in a worship setting in which the liturgy is doctrinally orthodox and historically affirmed (e.g., classic Anglican Prayer Book liturgy), thereby accomplishing a bit of sanctification in the worshipping congregation each time it is accomplished?

  3. James and Bill, first, my quip about “root” and “fruit” was hardly an axiomatic statement – hence my comment about my “initial” response. Play that out, as James did, and it is obviously incoherent. My point is simply that there is a necessary feature of interiority to the spiritual life, and, therefore, against Bill, I would say that sanctification is not necessarily accomplished during liturgical events. My point, with Halden (I think) is that liturgy can be a meaningful avenue of setting apart oneself for God to work – James seems to be missing the point of Halden’s claim here, as if it were somehow denying that liturgy is meaningful or important. That was not the claim. Halden’s claim, as I understand it, was simply that liturgy just does not accomplish sanctification ex opere operato. My quip was merely meant to highlight how liturgy actually is a meaningful tool in the Christian life. Last sunday’s root never becomes next sundays root because the root is Christ.

    James’s second point only illustrates my point. Although I don’t buy the “everything is liturgical” argument, I think the point is worth keeping nonetheless. People know what we mean when we say “liturgy,” but, I would add, liturgy can’t merely exist in its own sphere of logic (with James). I think this hits directly to Halden’s point – again, if I understand him – that there is an academic inclination to wield all of this really impressive sounding foundation or, with James, “logic” of liturgy that simply does not have any real legs when it hits the ground. James is right in the sense of talking about what liturgy was meant for, but is that what liturgy is? Liturgy is something that is individual and corporate, and therefore cannot be defined in a classroom or an academic paper, but must be known in communities of faith. Does liturgy have a logic of praise? Sometimes, certainly. Is this true all of the time? Certainly not.

    In this sense then, the only question is not the quality of liturgy, because you can take a bunch of atheists through a “quality” liturgy and that does not mean that they somehow responded to God’s grace. There is simply no interiority on this view. James is correct to say, with my point, that liturgy is not a means of formation but is meant to be a human response to God. My point, again, is that this is not the case without interiority. Like I said against Smith’s book, saying the pledge of allegiance, contra Smith, is not a deeply formative event – however liturgical – for most, but only those who have deeply engrained interior postures towards a God-country syncretism. In a similiar way, liturgy plays a very important role in the life of a Christian, but, with Halden, too much weight is being put on it as a formative event ex opere operato.

  4. That might very well be true, but it cannot be grounds for rejecting Halden’s premise. Halden’s point, again, as I understand him, is in distinction from people who do claim that liturgy accomplishes some reality in the lives of people (which is, I believe, a much more standard understanding of liturgy, but I very well may be wrong here). Halden’s whole case is dependent upon people saying things like, “Liturgy takes people off of worldly time and puts them onto kingdom time.” Halden’s point seems to be that this is just not the case.

    The point, therefore, is only really addressing people who do make this claim. Since you do not, it is irrelevant for your view.

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