smith on the nature of the church

I mentioned that I’m reading James K. A. Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? for my Historical Theology class.  A really good read so far.  Smith’s approach to postmodernism is a really healthy one:

Postmodernism tends to be something of a chameleon, portrayed as either monster or savior — either the new form of the enemy or the next best thing to come along.  [This book] introduces  the questions that the phenomenon of postmodernism poses for the church and suggests a strategy for engagement that avoids simple dichotomies of either demonizing or baptizing postmodernism.

Here’s a gem on the nature of the church:

Within the matrix of a modern Christianity, the base “ingredient” is the individual; the church, then, is simply a collection of individuals.  Conceiving of Christian faith as a private affair between the individual and God — a matter of my asking Jesus to “come into my heart” — modern evangelicalism finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God.  With this model in place, what matters is Christianity as a system of truth or ideas, not the church as a living community embodying its head.  Modern Christianity tends to think of the church  either as a place where individuals come to find answers to their questions or as one more stop where individuals can try to satisfy their consumerist desires…

Indeed, we would do well to recover a much-maligned formula: ‘There is no salvation outside the church.’  This doesn’t mean that a particular ecclesial body is the dispenser of grace or the arbiter of salvation; rather, there is simply no Christianity apart from the body of Christ, which is the church.  The body is the New Testament’s organic model of community that counters the modernist emphasis on the individual.

The church does not exist for me; my salvation is not primarily a matter of intellectual mastery or emotional satisfaction.  The church is the site where God renews and transforms us — a place where the practices of being the body of Christ forms us into the image of the Son.  What I, a sinner saved by grace, need is not so much answers as reformation of my will and heart.  What I describe as the practices of the church include the traditional sacramental practices of baptism and Eucharist but also the practices of Christian marriage and child-rearing, even the simple but radical practices of friendship and being called to get along with those one doesn’t like!  The church, for instance, is a place to learn patience by practice.  The fruit of the Spirit emerges in our lives from the seeds planted by the practices of being the church; and when the church begins to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, it becomes a witness to a postmodern world (John 17). (pp. 29-30)

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