You Can't Think Your Way to God
My burden is that a lot of North American Christianity has reduced worship to expressive practice, where the most important thing is that we are sincere in our expression. We think of worship as primarily upward expressions of us to God. Whereas, if you recapture the formative, God-oriented action in worship, in funerals, in baptisms, and in the Lord's Supper, there is something at stake in making sure that the shape of the ritual tells God's story, so it gets planted in us.
You write that rituals not only form us as Christians, but they conscript us into the story they tell. Conscript is a very strong word. Some people feel their religious upbringing conscripted them against their will.
I invoke the conscription metaphor to recognize that in fact, we are recruited to visions of the good life apart from our conscious choosing. It's not a question of whether you're being conscripted to some vision of the good life; it's which vision of the good life.
Of course, we want everyone to own the Christian faith as their own. On the other hand, if you don't recognize the power of secular liturgies to conscript your imagination to other visions of the good life, you won't come up with adequate countermeasures. We can't simply say conscription—or recruitment—per se is a problem. We hope the imaginations of the kids in our homes and our churches are captured. It shouldn't be coercive, but it is not just presenting information and then leaving the decision to them. It's not really just a decision; it's whether you have been enfolded into the right story.
What do you mean when you call for an "erotic comprehension" of the faith?
To say that we are desiring creatures is to say that we are erotic creatures. It is sad that the notion of the erotic has been co-opted by pornography. For Augustine, eros meant much more. Many of us have imbibed from Swedish theologian Anders Nygren an opposition between agape (the love that gives) and eros (the love that desires). But Augustine's understanding is that agape is rightly ordered eros toward God. Agape doesn't erase our nature as erotic creatures. I'm trying to overcome the dichotomy between the two while also recognizing that a lot of what passes for the erotic in our culture is completely disordered.
Christian formation, you say, is not just teaching us to see the world from a particular perspective but also intending the world to be a certain way. How does that relate to the renewed emphasis on justice among younger American Christians?
The biblical vision is not just a vision of my own personal salvation. It is God's renewal of all things. The end we hope for is shalom, the flourishing of all creation. That means reordering injustices and the disordered social life. The whole point of worship is actually our sending, to go out and do cultural renewal and caretaking. The renewed appreciation for a more holistic sense of justice we see among younger evangelicals is a great expression of that.
I am concerned that it is so easy to let passion for justice replace other aspects of the biblical vision. The only way that we can have our imaginations primed to pursue the biblical vision of justice is to be regularly immersed in the practices of Christian worship. They keep re-centering us in God's story so we aren't captivated by the latest progressive fad. That keeps us anchored.