I’ve been puzzled a bit about Jamie Smith’s new volume (reviewed in several posts) and its popularity. In one sense, it isn’t surprising – he is a great writer, a deep thinker and he addresses concrete problems in our congregations and lives. But there is another sense where it is downright shocking that his program is so universally well-received by American evangelicals (my focus is on North American evangelicals in this post). First, his conversation partners are not the conversation partners evangelicals typically turn to (e.g., Yoder, Hauerwas and Radical Orthodox). Second, his emphasis on liturgy is not something (sadly) that evangelicals are typically excited about. Third, his exposition of practices, particularly the ex opere operato nature of liturgical practices runs directly against the sensibilities of evangelicals who fear, almost above all else, rote practices. So why such enthusiasm?
I have a theory. Evangelicals hate theology.
My point is not to attack Smith, he is a philosopher and is simply doing what he believes he is called to as a Christian philosopher. My point is to note that evangelicals seem continually poised to try and answer the question: How do we make this God thing work – without addressing dogmatic theology. Or, in other words, the evangelical starting point is fundamentally anti-theological. It tends to baptize philosophies, images, metaphors and anthropologies (in the case of Smith), and turn to rough-and-ready frameworks to adopt as solutions. Doctrine, when finally considered, is brought in to “Christianize” an account. Nowhere is this more evident than discussions of practices in churches, where former CEO’s write books about leadership that has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ or the gospel, but with time management and subtle manipulation of others, where preaching is boiled down to rhetoric and growth is simply human self-realization with some Christiany stuff thrown in.
Therefore, it seems that evangelicals, like moth to the flame, find themselves strangely drawn to an account simply if it is common-sensical and a-theological. Theological reasoning, to put it more positively, is too foreign to make sense. Theology,therefore, is simply left to decide who is good and who is bad, which then morphs into movements whose fundamental orientation (like almost all movements in evangelicalism) is idolatry (for my post outlining this see here).
I am curious to hear any theories about this development. Is it simply the pragmatism that is inherent in American evangelicalism? Could it be that there is, hiding under the surface, a subconscious belief in the post-millennialism of Edwards, which creates a curious church-world relation, and the assumption that God’s eschatological advancement will equal a rise in both church membership and Christian experience? Any ideas?