Walter Brueggemann’s review of Douglas John Hall’s latest book, Waiting for Gospel: An Appeal to the Dispirited Remnants of Protestant “Establishment” (Cascade), in the current issue of The Christian Century, sums up well the depressing state of the mainstream American church: Brueggemann describes the first part of Douglas’ book as a critique of “the systemic reductionism of both evangelicalism and liberal pietism, two traditions that have reduced the gospel to ethical urgency or been so preoccupied with public issues of justice that they have not paid attention to the mystery of God in the life of persons” (Brueggemann’s words).
I can think of no better way of giving voice to the exile that so many of us face.
We long for a Meaning that inhabits the main of our personal experience, a Meaning that cannot be encapsulated by easy answers or urgent calls to evangelize that in the end ultimately rest on our own piety or savior complexes- and here is where I am suspicious of grand, evangelical metanarratives that would reduce the Gospel to one great commissioning of disciples and little more.
If the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is real and true, then it is real and true for the whole world and for every dimension of human experience.
If God really does wear a cross, then Reality itself does, too.
This Reality holds true on any given evening when my daughter- who for no easily identifiable reason was born into this world with a diagnosis that most closely resembles “cerebral palsy”- drifts off to sleep next to me just as my fears awaken, materializing into inchoate prayers for my daughter and her future.
This Reality holds true on the day when I’m on the phone with reps from the hospital and the insurance company: they’re explaining with the most circular, self-defeating logic why I’m responsible for a $1,000 bill for a one-hour appointment that they required just to diagnose my daughter’s speech disorder, and why treatment of my daughter’s more “chronic,” medical condition may not qualify for ongoing coverage- until, one hour later, I’ve become a mess of tears, my words laced with angry, “unChristian” language.
This Reality holds true when the symbols, rituals or the words of a preacher on any given Sunday fall short in describing the last six days of my life in the world.
This Reality holds true when I’m a poor disciple or none at all.
And maybe this is where Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity” remains timelessly relevant.
The main of life, not the margins- including any triumphalist expression of “church” that would disingenuously claim ownership of this Reality or pretend to be at the middle of It- is where the truth of Christianity will rise or fall.
The main of life is where I have hitched my wagon- and where I, as one of the “dispirited remnants” of the church Hall addresses, will wait along with the rest of the world for Gospel.