Posted by: Dan | January 21, 2006

Bobos, Montanists, and Impotent Lovers: A Response

[This is an article I wrote in response to another article in the Regent paper.]

“All we can do with the Bible, if postmodernity is left in charge, is to play with such texts as give us pleasure, and issue warnings against those that give pain to ourselves or to others who attract our (usually selective) sympathy.”
~ N.T. Wright

It was with a sense of sadness that I read “Gender Adventures in Bible Land” by Sarah and Brian Marek. I can empathise with their struggle with traditional interpretations of Scripture that subordinate women – and I wholeheartedly agree with them that Christians must spend their time identifying with the victims of religion and society. Yet this is precisely why their article saddened me. I fear that the Marek’s culturally-conditioned approach to Scripture is one that ultimately makes their compassion impotent.

The cultural-conditioning that I suspect underlies this article is a “bobo” mentality. In his book, Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks explains that “bobos” are an amalgamation of the bohemians and the bourgeoisie – they are free-spirits who work for corporations, wealthy people who look down their noses at materialism, and sellers of goods who are not sell-outs. As the new ruling class bobos create the social codes and boundaries that structure our national lives and this has implications for everything, including spirituality. Thus, borrowing a term from Rabbi Winkler, Brooks calls bobo spirituality “Flexidoxy”. As proponents of Flexidoxy, bobos mix freedom and flexibility with rigour and orthodoxy. One of the major consequences of this approach is that bobos are no longer willing to recognise spiritual authorities. Bobos feel that it is important to be a part of a faith community but are not interested is any form of external authority. Thus, Flexidoxy is orthodoxy without obedience, morality divorced from any sort of established divine revelation.

The Marek’s article illustrates how this bobo mentality has influenced Christianity. They assert that Scripture is not an authority we are to wrestle with. We can simply “wink at Paul”, “turn the page”, and “disagree with some things written in an important [but far from authoritative] book”. Similarly, tradition is not something we need to come to grips with. We can simply “step outside” of it. This is the condescension of Flexidox Christianity – more temperamental than creedal, and more decent than saintly. The Marek’s, like most bobos, seem to have made themselves the sole spiritual authorities in their own lives. Of course, I’m sure that they would quickly reply that God is the sole spiritual authority in their lives but it seems that they are the one’s who have the authoritative revelation of what God approves of, and what God disapproves of. Thus, the Marek’s can be confident of the steps they have taken because they are possessed by the Spirit of God and “have felt God smiling in affirmation”.

However, the Marek’s article also reveals just how often a bobo-spirituality drifts into an old heresy. For, as Roger Olson writes in The Story of Christian Theology, whenever personal revelation from the Spirit is elevated to a level higher than Scripture we are, once again, confronted by Montanism. The early Church refused to give credibility to Montanus’ assertion that, due to the presence of the Spirit in his life, he possessed a greater authority than the Scriptures or the apostolic writings – and the contemporary Church would do well to learn from this. Indeed, it is essential that contemporary Christians learn to recognise authorities outside themselves. If we do not do so we will inevitably end up making God in our own image – instead of being transformed into the image of God. Faithfulness requires me to worship a God that I will sometimes disagree with. If I worship a God that ever only agrees with me than I am only worshipping my own reflection – which rarely stops “smiling in affirmation” whenever I look in the mirror. My point here is not to argue for a particular hermeneutic, but rather to emphasise that we must continue to struggle seriously with Scripture and tradition and this means that times will arise when we will have to submit to them even when we disagree with them.

Yet the most saddening element of the Marek’s article is the fact that at least part of the reason why the Marek’s have taken this approach to Scripture and tradition is because of their love for those who have been wounded by the Church and society. This is tragic because, by throwing aside all external Christian authorities, the Marek’s can offer little to those with whom they are seeking to journey (I suspect that this too is the result of a culturally-conditioned understanding of love and solidarity). Salvific transformation is found within the apostolic Church and the Word of God and, apart from those things, the love that I, the Marek’s, or anybody else, offers is incapable of making anything new. When we reject Scripture and tradition we end up perpetuating the very cycles of exile that our love seeks to overcome. Only when we are rooted in Scripture and tradition can we truly come alongside of the marginalised as Spirit-filled representatives of Christ. And if we are rooted in Scripture and tradition we must come alongside of the marginalised and declare the forgiveness of sins and the end of exile.

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