Jesus Creed

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Divine Embrace 9

posted by xscot mcknight

Chp 5 is one of the more important chps in Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace. Here’s why: it addresses the postmodern provocation in spirituality noted by neo-Gnosticism.
Secularism moved away from historic Christianity and spirituality into (1) a world without God, (2) a theory of progressive evolution of the species, and (3) the worship of the self. It led to heroizing the counter-cultural anti-hero and the committed free thinker. It rejected accountability to God, to others, and to one’s community.
New Age spirituality stepped in to the gap and it looked for God within the self. Here’s what Webber sees:
1. The love of the world spirituality.
2. The experience of mystery
3. A life lived by sacred principles
4. The embracing of spiritual disciplines.
The problem: each spirituality is grounded in a story. The new spirituality has a theory of God and the world, of the self, and a message/gospel. The goal is release from material existence. What are its features?
1. No beliefs.
2. No particular community
3. No demands.
How can we respond:
1. Resist by intellectual defense.
2. Adapt to the trend to shape a me-shaped spirituality.
3. Return to the ancient-future option of truth and passion grounded in God’s story of God’s embrace.

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James Petticrew

posted December 14, 2007 at 3:04 am

I think the biggest challenge I face as a church planter is that just about everyone today wants a spiritual dimension to their lives but resist the idea that such a spiritual dimension should have any ethical dimension beyond some general talk of love for others.
I am interested in how Webber’s ancient future spirituality addresses this issue. In my own thinking I am musing on how we make the Kingdom of God subversive again so that people see it as a viable and powerful alternative way of life which encompasses all dimensions of existence of life

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posted December 14, 2007 at 7:31 am

I am hoping the Divine Embrace shows up under my Christmas tree, but until then, I’m responding to the post. I have spent a good deal of time in the company of New Age and Webber seems to nail it pretty well, except for one major difference from what I have seen. New Age spirituality as I have seen it does not look for a release from material existence but is more of a neo-pagan celebration of material existence: more nature worship, solstice celebration, focus on trees, plants etc rather than the creator, and a worship of the physical self as temple that sometimes can get extreme in terms of food, herbs, monitoring of every bodily sensation, etc. However, I do agree with the rest.

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posted December 14, 2007 at 7:34 am

One more thing: As far as I can see, New Age is a northern hemisphere, middle class (and upper class) response to our privileged and empowered lives and because it rests on those half truths, it is delusional and, I would argue, dangerous. I have also noted it to be extraordinarily individualistic to the point of being dangerous or damaging.

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posted December 14, 2007 at 7:37 am

I agree with you and would add there is a resistance to any “spirituality” that deviates one micron from what the individual wants.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 14, 2007 at 12:30 pm

I keep coming back to the issue of story and narrative. Creating communities that are grounded in the biblical narrative and have liturgy and life practices that give flesh to the story. As people walk into the story it becomes less about “do and don’t” and more about “I want this story. Therefore, I will adapt to what I need to become to be in the story.”
I’m not suggesting we can or should abandon ethical teaching but ethical teaching is merely the banks of the river between which the river flows. I think all sorts of postmoderns can tell you about how the church sees the banks but what is the river?

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posted December 14, 2007 at 12:32 pm

To build on previous comments somewhat, the real danger I see is when this confusion of individualist consumerism gets confused with the nature of spiritualism becomes institutionalized. To this degree I see Scientology and much of what Osteen has to say on par with the same set of cultural phenomena.
This is where I think the postmodern critique of both capitalism and ephemera is a nice balance to the other postmodern understandings of ambiguity in meaning and space for mystery. early postmodern thought was far more political in scope especially if you read Baudrillard’s early critiques as well as DeBord and his experience with the French Situationists. There is something pragmatic and applicable there to the kinds of spirituality described here which are far removed in substance from something like the Threefold-Way in Christian spirituality.

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posted December 14, 2007 at 2:49 pm

What is “story,” and what is “narrative?”

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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 14, 2007 at 4:20 pm

Becky #7
Off the cuff, I’d say it is an arrangement and connection of events into a coherent whole that allows us to ascribe meaning to specific events and relate them to a larger dynamic reality.

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