Critiques & Controversies: February 2007 Archives

The Social Gospel

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I've always been a little suspicious of social-gospelers--those who would have it that Jesus came to Earth primarily as politician.

from "Foreword" by Archbishop Desmond TuTu
in Transfiguration
Fr. John Deaf

Traditionally the account of Our Lord's transfiguration and its sequel in the healing of the boy possessed by a demon has been interpreted as providing a paradigm of the encounter with God leading to engagement with the world, with evil, that the spiritual experience is not meant to insulate us against the rigors of life as experienced by most of God's children in a hostile world out there.

The encounter with God would constrain us to work for a new ordering of society, where we would beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and we would study war no more. . . . It is to see a fulfillment of God's dream, a new heaven and a new earth, when God will wipe away all tears and the wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like the ox--"For they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord" (Isaiah 65:25).

This book is a clarion call for us to be engaged in the project for world peace. We ignore it at our peril.

There is nothing in these words that is particularly provocative. It has long been central to the Carmelite tradition that contemplative prayer and union with God was not for the sake of the individual but for the sake of all the world. The plan of life of a lay Carmelite is to practice our faith and pray so that ultimately we might bring the fruits of contemplation to a world desperate for the smallest hint of the presence of God. The cloistered bring to the world the power of prayer and the presence amongst us of those who are God's intimate friends--to use a not-exactly correlative eastern term, Boddhisatvas--those who have attained enlightenment (in our case presence and Union with God) and remained behind to help others along the way--not necessarily by DOING anything, but simply by being a shining example to all.

However, my problem with the social gospel comes when Jesus is reduced to a political emissary from God whose sole purpose is to make things better on Earth for the majority of people. While this is certainly a part of His mission, it is, by no means, the full scope of what He came to do.

I approach this book, written by a disciple of the Berrigan brothers with some trepidation. While I strongly desire to agree with the central premise, I must admit to some prejudice against the case on the superficial evidence.

So, reading the book to record reactions will be an exercise in reining in those straining hounds that want to rip the premise to shreds on the basis of the fact that it appears at surface not to conform with the fullness of the Gospel message.

This is all said before the fact. I haven't read the book nor given the author the opportunity to argue his case. But I do myself and my audience no good if I do not start my undertaking with a sharp sense of my own suspicion and doubt. I want what is said here to be true, and I want to find elements of the truth, but I fear I may be overwhelmed by the tide of incidentals that while having nothing to do with the central argument, nevertheless inundate the central point. Tom, at Disputations, already noted one that I had observed in previewing the book--the constant dunning, drumming reference to the oppressive male hierarchy of the Church and how that is an instance of this same violence toward people. He speaks constantly of a male-dominated Church, while my experience is that it is one of the only Churches to hold up the supreme place of Our Lady, Mother of the Church and in a very real sense Mother of our Faith.

But already, I'm arguing, and I haven't even given my guest a cup of coffee and asked him to sit down. So, I must put myself and my misgivings aside and try to assess the worth of what is said.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Critiques & Controversies category from February 2007.

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