Ecclesiology as a Rival “Ascetic” of Desire

Ist1_11044593-ornate-butterfly(I have edited this post realising my most of the content was pre-mature, and please forgive any consternation this causes.  And apologies where the comments do not align with this truncated version)

Within my PhD work I have ben trying to understand how capitalist markets affect Christian identity formation.  Within the work of Bernd Wannenwetsch, William Cavanaugh, Reinhard Hütter, Daniel Bell, Vincent Miller, Stephen Long etc, I have come to three understandings about how late capitalist markets function:

1) The market is a form of "ascetic" practice, disciplining our bodies and inducting us with habits and practices in contrast with ecclesial practices.

2) The market then sets up patters of desire through these ascetic practices in contrast to the church in its ecclesial forms and worship and orients us around desire.

3) That comes together in embodiment and social relationship, and individually around desire, of how the market makes a false form of universal communion.

Cavanaugh, Miller, Wannenwetsch et al, have set up an inherently conflictual and rival relationship between the church and the market.  Within these accounts the problem is they present an over dichotomized account.

What ways might we respond to this?  One way I would suggest is a more nuanced reading, and Augustinian reading of the condition of modernity as a saeculum.  
 
A large question I am asking is if an Augustinian reformed account of a missional ecclesiology in relation to capitalism can be made. 

  • Keith Hiebner

    Jason,
    This is brilliant and important work! There must be something in the current zeitgeist that is having people directed towards similar issues. I’ll need more time to soak in some of your references and authors, but I like what I see.
    I am wrestling with some writing projects that have some intersection with what you’re dealing with using different “trajectories”. I’m working on a master’s thesis that started out with hermeneutic examination of exilic prophetic material that uses mythological imagery. The point was to treat such writings in a more literary manner than as false fairy tales or than as literalistic soothsaying. Sparked by G. K. Chesterton’s assertion that “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”, I sought an approach to Biblical texts that questions the modern assumption that truth can only be found in facts.
    As my findings took me through commentaries and Joseph Campbell’s work with the transcendent role of myth for the “hero”, I was struck with how much imagery served as allegory for socio-political realities. For example, in the Western tradition, the dragon is a symbol of a greedy entity. A dragon hoards that which it can not utilize; women and fortunes. Originally, my thesis was going to generally be about using a mythological hermeneutic to rekindle meaning in the Biblical texts for today. But then, I realized that I could integrate hermeneutics with addressing socio-economic concerns/forces of our day. For example, one can find in Walter Benjamin’s writings a view of capitalism and consumerist culture in the twentieth century as bearing the markers of a cult religion. It wasn’t too long before I came across Weber’s less condemning examination of how religion could influence economics. (Michael Löwy had an interesting article titled, “Capitalism as Religion: Walter Benjamin and Max Weber” in the journal Historical Materialism). Following the spurious debate after Weber on such topics, I found some useful material that distinguishes “rational capitalism” that breeds calculable profit from “political capitalism” that breeds corruption and dragon-like greed. (Nee and Swedeberg’s On Capitalism provides a good collection of essays to temper certain misuses of Weber). And, I hope to be able to use such a trail of thought to suggest a positive way forward to reinvigorate a reading of the Bible, as well as to challenge the “principalities and the powers” that be. So oddly enough, I believe I’ll be able to pull off a project that uniquely incorporates biblical studies with a social prophetic engagement for today.
    Like I alluded to earlier, I have yet to integrate what you’re working on and how it may resonate with what you’re wrestling with. I’d be interested in your thoughts, and I’ll try to do likewise. I see that you used Mark Noll, and I also highly recommend
    America’s God as a key companion to God and Mammon. He has become so key to helping me understand the aspects and influences that the American project has had in its synchronizing with Christianity. I was caught off guard seeing how much the religious right has embraced certain Mormons in recent political activities. But I’ve been able to see how the confluence of republicanism, commonsense morality, and Protestant theology has had a unique life in the US. These extraordinary cultural markings not only changed Christianity, but also spawned new religious movements such as Mormonism. (Allan Wolfe’s article “Mormons and Money” in The New Republic is also interesting).
    So, we may be doing different projects, but there are a fair number of connections between them. Good luck on your work!
    -Keith Hiebner

  • http://profile.typepad.com/paultyson Paul Tyson

    This is a very interesting project. It is wonderful to discover that there are evangelicals out there thinking hard about what evangelical ecclesial identity might be built from and where it might be good to go with that. The market as a discipline of desire in which all modern people are embedded needs close theological attention, and I’m very glad to see this serious evangelical attempt at it (though I’m inclined to find us evangelicals far too deeply at home in modern consumerism, which gives me considerable sympathy with Milbank’s view). I’m an evangelical going along the Barry Harvey lines of recovering catholicity and sacramentality within the evangelical tradition, as well as holding firmly to a Yoderian radicalism regarding power, and the non-conformist rejection of establishment religion which entails an ongoing sorrow about Constantine. In short, I think evangelical Christianity has some very important things to offer the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Body of Christ, but equally I believe we evangelicals need to recognise the manner in which our distinctive ecclesial illnesses can be identified and healed via a deeper engagement with the ‘mainstream’ Christian traditions of the East and of the West (both Protestant and Roman Catholic), and of the pentecostal global South. So I find myself at odds with mega church evangelicalism, as much as with emerging evangelicalism, as much as with staunchly Protestant conservative evangelicalism. In fact, Barry Harvey is the only evangelical I know of with whom I feel ‘on the same page’. So, all power to your project Jason – I will be very interested to see where you arrive via your explorations.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Keith: Thanks for your encouragements. And your research sounds intriguing and very interesting.
    Have you looked at Charles Taylor? Julian Templeton has a paper on Taylor, with regards to the self and accessing the Gospel of John. Taylor might help you with that connection between myth and images for socio-economic realities?
    I will be using all of Noll’s works, including America’s God. Just a short bibliography here at this point.
    All the best with your research and it would be good to see some of it here! Jason.
    ———-
    “Charles Taylor draws a distinction and contrast between the ‘porous’ self of the enchanted world and the ‘buffered’ self of the disenchanted world. The porous self is open to good influences (God, angels, relics) and bad (Satan, evil spirits, spells). The buffered self assumes a boundary between its autonomous self, governed by mind, and everything else outside it, with which the buffered self may choose to interact. For those whose default understanding of the self is buffered, the theology of the indwelling of Father, Son, Spirit and believers in The Gospel According to John may seem puzzling or even disconcerting in its apparent neglect of all-important boundaries. I will argue that there are aspects of the Johannine theology of indwelling that can liberate the atomist and solipsist tendencies of the buffered self through a renewed understanding of union, communion and empathy.”

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Hi Paul,
    I find myself in a similar location to yourself, and thanks again for your encouragements.
    I am at odds with much of evangelicalism, in terms of it’s ecclesiology, and see the mega church and much of the Emerging Church as flip sides of the same coin on a continuation and ecclesial trajectory.
    A resourcement by the great tradition is my hope, hence my turn to Augustinian reformed theology. I have found Reinhard Hutter most helpful, he has been my Barry Harvey. However Hutter ultimately converted to Catholicism.
    This ecclesial consideration around mission and the desire for a turn back into the church and tradition is one we see in Newman, it has happened continually within evangelicalism. As is the turn out of the church, that we see with large segments of the emerging church.
    Personally I am wanting to remain within a missional evangelical identity and wondering if I can be an anglo-catholic baptist vineyard church pastor/minister, without having to converted to Anglicanism/Catholicism ;-)?
    And in that regard I remain at odds with large parts of the anglican and catholic church, due to some inherited missional imperatives from my evangelical traditions :-)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/geoffh geoffrey holsclaw

    jason,
    like the others, I definitely support this type of research. I looks great. a missional, evangelical ecclesiology is so important right now.
    as you said, “Personally I am wanting to remain within a missional evangelical identity and wondering if I can be an anglo-catholic baptist vineyard church pastor/minister, without having to converted to Anglicanism/Catholicism.” I feel the same way, and I’m in the midst of a Jesuit university here at Marquette.
    i would love to figure a communion/eucharistic (political) ecclesiology without becoming Anglican.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/geoffh geoffrey holsclaw

    also,
    have you read much of Paul Fiddes and his take on sacraments and baptist ecclesiology?
    its pretty good.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Thanks Geoff. Is you research centred around that hope?
    That’s my hope. I just emailed Stephen Long, I forgot you were at Marquette?!
    Jase

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    I’ve not read any Fiddes, any suggestions of where to start with him? Tnx.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/geoffh geoffrey holsclaw

    he has a book called “tracks and traces” which is what I’ve read. he doesn’t directly deal with the issues of evangelicalism like you are, but he mines the baptist heritage (which is broadly where evangelical came from) and shows the sacramental-ecclesiological roots.
    for me, he is the antedote to Volf’s ecclesiology (which I don’t like) in “After Our Likeness.”

  • Alan Thomson

    Hi Jason,
    This is a great set of premises to be working through. I agree with Keith that there must be something in the air leading some of us in this direction. I have a PhD thesis currently under examination looking at a theological statement of culture using Milbank, Barth and Kwame Bediako. Not surprisingly James K A Smith’s book has been of great interest but even before that I was interested in intersections between Bell on desire, Bourdieu on practices, MacIntyre on virtue and of course Augustine, all as foundations for future work.
    I like the way you formulate the issue and the particular approach you are taking. As my thesis indicates I have a Reformed/RC interest coupled with a Pentecostal (Vineyard) and Baptist framework so this post is quite exciting.
    One question that arises for me is how you can avoid a dichotomized account given the rival teleogies and accounts of human flourishing driving each perspective. I would be interested to know how Augustines understanding of the saeculum helps mediate this for you as I read him as perpetuating something quite similar (though I have not read very much Augustine so this view is quite open to change).
    Cheers,
    Alan.

  • http://www.jasonclark.ws Jason Clark

    Thanks Alan, I love the way you bring things together and said, ‘I was interested in intersections between Bell on desire, Bourdieu on practices, MacIntyre on virtue and of course Augustine, all as foundations for future work.’
    That’s just the kind of work I’m trying to do to connect analysis to practice. I’d love to talk more and compare methods and readings etc. Could you drop me an email, I can’t see one in this post to respond to you? I’m at jason@jasonclark.ws.
    For Augustine and re-readings perhaps see Charles Mathewes”Theology of Public Life’, Eric Gregory ‘Politics and the order of love : an Augustinian ethic of democratic citizenship’, and O’Donovan ‘Resurrection and Moral Order’ & “Desire of Nations’, and Markus, R. A., ‘Christianity and the Secular’, and Graham Ward, ‘The politics of discipleship : becoming postmaterial citizens’. That’s where I am starting.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/geoffh geoffrey holsclaw

    jason and alan,
    as i said before, I definitely love this line of research. and those are the books that I would recommend for Augustine also. I’m just starting through some of them myself.
    Also, have you all seen William Connolly on Evangelical and Capitalism, and on Augustine. you will probably need to account for his critique in some form.
    Alan, where are you studying?

  • http://www.jasonclark.ws Jason Clark

    Hi Geoff, I’ll be using Connolly to set up my introduction and thesis…:-)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/geoffh geoffrey holsclaw

    well there you go. sounds great. please keep us posted as you go.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jkasmith James K.A. Smith

    The only distinction I’d suggest is this: it couldn’t be that “ecclesiology” is a rival ascetic, because ecclesiology is a second-order reflection (“the study of”) the church, whereas I take it that you want to claim that the practices and disciplines of the church (the ekklesia) is a rival discipline.
    I’ll be interested to see what you do with Augustine on saeculum. Robert Markus still seems to think that’s the way to make Augustine hospitable to liberalism. I’m less sanguine about that, but I do think appreciating the temporal nature of the saeculum gets us away from “sphere”-talk, which is a surefire way to misread Augustine on two cities.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jkasmith James K.A. Smith

    One more proviso: let’s be careful with the charge re: dichotomies. We sometimes think that any strong distinction reeks of a (false) dichotomy. But if your reading of Augustine doesn’t yield a strong distinction between the two cities akin to Cavanaugh et. al., then I’ll be suspicious of whether we’re really getting Augustine.
    A favorite way people try to do this is just to identify the saeculum with the earthly city, but that’s clearly false on Augustine’s terms. (Not saying you’re doing that.)

  • Alan Thomson

    Hi Geoff,
    I am at Otago University in New Zealand although doing a little work for Laidlaw College in Christchurch. It’s great to meet you – I was very interested in your article on Bediako a while back where you discuss the need for the emerging church to shift from relevancy to identity. In some respects my thoughts on desire and ecclesiology are being shaped by this background question.
    Cheers

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Just got the book, looks superb, tnx again for heads up

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Say hi to Tim Keel for me Alan :-)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Tnx Jamie, I should have out ascetic in scare qoutes, “ascetic”.
    Yes I will that’s what I will be doing. I’m exploring the ‘inter-relationship ‘ ecclesial and political life. I’ll be using Cavanaugh, Wannwetsch, Milbank to assert that it is the institutions and practices of the church that constitute the church as an ecclesia res publica.
    And within that I am trying to address a methodological problem of the philosophical turn to religion as a resource for second order reflections that has no interest in lived communities and experience.
    As an outworking for E/C critique I want to address how this manifest in the epiphenomenon of ‘churchless-faith’ and post church ecclesiologies. The ‘blueprint’ ecclesiologies that N Healy frames. And in that regards I am making use of Healy’s suggestions for the need for ‘ecclesiological ethnography’.
    I’m using an historical account of evangelicalism to generate analytical conceptualisations of ecclesial life within capitalist markets, that I can then explore with socio-poltilcal theories. I hope that enables me to understand the complex ways christian belief functions in lived contexts, so that I may in turn a theological framing and understanding of those accounts. I hope that will allow me to establish ekklesia as a rival and embedded discipline.
    Robert Markus and Eric Gregory are my starting points for Augustine, but I have alot of work to do before I get to them and into other sources. As you say ‘sphere talk’ is a misreading, as is the collapse of all into the secular that many post-church ecclesiologies are undertaking.
    And Alisdari MacIntyre will feature heavily for me as I make the case for virtuous and self critical institutions, around practices and habits.
    Tnx for your comments Jamie, Jason

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    I will be ‘pushing’ those account of Augustine to explore their limits and at present suspect (but need to establish) that they go to far, in that they result in the Church being over ontologised. In that sense they do maintain enough of a strong distinction between the two cities. The Church overwhelming the world.
    But I think they push us (interesting how evangelicals make more of them than the mainline protestant or catholic church), back into a giveness for ecclesiology. But the ‘eucharist’ (‘world in a wafer’) is not enough. I think Wannewetsch points the the way to an embodied life and conception of worship as ‘political’ within a healthy reading of Augustine.
    I won’t be collapsing the saeculum into the earthy city, it’s that kind of dichotomy that I want to avoid. Tnx again for taking the time to comment, it is very helpful.

  • Alan Thomson

    Hi Jason,
    Just a small cross reference regarding ecclesiological ethnography – have you come across Christian Scharen’s article in the Scottish Journal of Theology 2005. He builds on Milbanks suggestion regarding ‘Judicious Narratives’ by developing ethnography as ecclesiology. It might be of interest.
    Cheers,
    Alan.

  • http://www.jasonclark.ws Jason Clark

    I wasn’t aware of that article, I have his book, Public Worship and Public Work: Character and Commitment in Local Congregational Life’.
    Tnx for the heads up, jason

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jkasmith James K.A. Smith

    Yes, Chris’ article is very important. And the fact that he’s drawing on Milbank (even if he’s also taking Milbank to task) shows that we can’t work with this neat-and-tidy distinction that seems to think Milbank, Cavanaugh, et. al. have some kind of “a priori” ecclesiology whereas Healy the hero comes in and makes us attentive to the empirical. Scharen deconstructs that picture, even if he rightly criticizes tendencies in the RO crowd. That article by Chris is one of the most important I’ve read in the last 5 years.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jkasmith James K.A. Smith

    I don’t mean to be contentious about this, but I really do worry that you’re working with rather caricatured views of, say, Cavanaugh. Do you really think Cavanaugh isn’t concerned about “an embodied life and conception of worship?” I’m not saying there isn’t room to criticize Bell, Cavanaugh, et. al., but I do find that many of the critiques are rather lazy.
    For example, I think Luke’s account of consumerism in chapter 4 of his new book (which is otherwise excellent and outstanding!) just kind of misses the boat. It’s already decided beforehand that it wants to be nicer to capitalism, and thus criticizes Bell for an “absolute” opposition. But that’s only a critique if one has already decided that you’re going to settle for a “reformist” approach which basically tries to encourage a moral, honest, “just,” fair-trading capitalism. And then this “reformist” approach tries to give itself a pedigree by hooking its wagon to Augustine. I don’t deny that Augustine takes an ad hoc approach, but that’s not the same as a reformist approach.
    My criticisms of Gregory are similar (as a forthcoming article will show).
    So I’m worried that you’ve sort of set up two (extremist) poles and then come in with a middle-of-the-road third way. Congratulations–you’ve just become an Anglican! ;-)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jkasmith James K.A. Smith

    I find this line of critique of “post-church ecclesiologies” (emergent?) to be intriguing–that they collapse everything into the secular. But please, please, please tell me you’re not going to set that up by saying that Milbank collapses everything into the church, right?

  • http://www.jasonclark.ws Jason Clark

    Jamie I’m sure my words above suffer a deficit due to mid term PhD inanity, and the need for far more ‘finessing’, and for that your comments are helpful. That’s a clumsy sentence above, I don’t mean for one minute to set Cavanaugh against Wannenwestch, rather that whilst I have huge sympathy and support for his diagnosis of capitalism as a false body, his response of the eucharist is not enough.
    I trust that when I get to my critique I will not be lazy. With Bell, I think his diagnosis of competing technologies of desire is very helpful (and convincing), but his blanket dismissal of capitalism as inherently harmful, is misplaced and lacks sufficient attention to the nature of capitalism.
    I think Luke is doing something far more important than to decide to be nice to capitalism, he is trying to avoid lazy opposition and acceptance. Bell does offer a rather stark refusal of capitalism at the start of his work with little supporting work for that refusal.
    I’m not wanting to set up straw men around poles, and shall bear that in mind. But I do want to explore the edges of these accounts, and see how much load they actually bear for concrete mission.

  • http://www.jasonclark.ws Jason Clark

    I hope I’m not reading too much into your comment Jamie, with my previous reference to Healy. I’m not playing Healy as my trump card against Milbank.
    Whilst I lean towards Milbank with regards to conceptions for Ecclesiology and the nature of Church, I find it gains little traction in the real world. Not that epiphenomena are the attention of my research, but lack of traction forms in part the impetus for my research.
    I think that not enough has been made of Milbank, whilst Healy offers the possibility of bring the thick theological description of the church into more contact with the lived day to day life of the church.

  • http://www.jasonclark.ws Jason Clark

    No that is not what I will be doing. I am responding to the charge by John Milbank and William Connolly, that Evangelicalism is almost an apostate child of Christianity born from the muddy loins of capitalism. I am suggesting that Evangelicalism is somewhat paradoxically a more faithful response within Christianity to capitalist markets.
    Evangelicalism rightly identified and responded to problems of modernity. Like unionism, it is a creature of the processes of modernity and the market, in that it embodies modes of response. Evangelicalism is better understood like unions, simultaneously drawing on prior forms of social solidarity (guilds, etc.) as historical antecedents, whilst also being a modern form of social solidarity born out of modern contexts of industrialization. Unions are both a creature of capitalism á la Marx and a way of responding to capitalism. Yet what it does not do is think through its own social logic within those responses. My thesis looks for similar counter movement and modern movements within Evangelicalism.
    I’m suggesting that Evangelicalism can therefore seen as a ‘double movement’ reinvigorating old social forms whilst reinforcing emerging ones. It is a narrative of both declension and ascension. Evangelicalism needs a more nuanced account of this process, and is one I am seeking to provide.
    I am exploring this thesis as ‘reparative action’, to provide an analysis of Emerging Church (E/C) ecclesiology, as I seek to repair and/or enhance the logic of E/C as it continues to inhabit this double movement, uncritically.
    Does evangelicalism have an ecclesiology, or is it a movement always parasitic upon other ecclesiologies? I hope that will be something very different to the set up you are concerned I might be making.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jkasmith James K.A. Smith

    Sorry, Jase: I fear my comments in response to you are really directed at others–it’s just that you were in the vicinity. So it might very well be the case that my worries are not really applicable to your project. It’s just that a little bit of your language set off some alarms. I’ll look forward to continuing to see your work develop.
    By the way, I think Dan Bell will be addressing some of the sorts of critiques directed at him (such as Luke’s) in the new book he’s doing for this series.

  • Alan Thomson

    Hi Jason,
    Regarding the intersection of institutions, MacIntyre and practices Tracey Rowland has a good little RC discussion using these resources framed around the question of expertise in Culture and the Thomist Tradition.
    Cheers,
    Alan.

  • Alan Thomson

    Hi Jamie,
    I love your comment about Milbank not collapsing all into the church! My understanding of Milbank is that he is essentially working on two fronts that both find their locus in the ecclesial question. First he is outworking in a somewhat ad hoc fashion the theology of culture developed in his doctoral thesis and second that his systematics (though of a different type than usual)is developing around a rival set of transcendentals to those offered by Kant. I would be very interested in your thoughts on his overall project.
    Cheers,
    Alan.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Tnx Jamie :-) I’m still climbing the learning curve between general blogging, and placing research ideas into forums like these. Your questions got me to reflect not just on that, but on my research, and to defend it which is helpful.
    It also draws me into the wider critique around my discourse reviews, and essential considerations. So thanks.
    Looking forward to that work by Bell.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/revdjasonclark Jason Clark

    Tnx for heads up Alan, keep ‘em coming :-)

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