the first blog review of my new book, faith as a way of life, is by Sean Lucas who is Chief Academic Officer and Associate Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
You can read the whole thing here or here. He notes it is a book emerging out of the Lilly-Funded Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program, and that his own institution, Covenant, has one of these grants. He then does a fair if quick summary of the book. He concludes this summary of the book with a rose and a stinker. First this: "There was a great deal here which was helpful: gracefully written, thoughtful and thought-provoking, intellectually-grounded and yet accessible." Then, this: "I was struck by how theologically thin this book felt at times."
Wow, I thought. Theologically thin? The whole thing is hung on a pretty substantial Pauline-Lutheran framework that gives the whole depth beyond what typical works on pastoral leadership offer. Or at least that was my endeavor. What was his worry, exactly? What part felt "theologically thin"? I found the answer to that question telling.
Let me quote Lucas at some length and then offer a first try at a response:
"For example, in each of the four spheres, Scharen offered discrete practices (table fellowship; testimony, communal discernment, making music), all of which may be pastorally appropriate. And yet, I wondered several things--how do these particular practices find their grounding in and flow from rich theological traditions? How do they reinforce a particular view of the world? What stories make sense of these practices over others--why these practices?
As with a great deal of the literature over the past ten years that emphasize practices or rituals (ranging from Dorothy Bass to Catherine Bell), there is almost a misbegotten faith that if we can simply inculcate practices that we will form people in appropriately spiritual ways. My contention is that practices divorced from a grounding in a thick theological tradition--a vision of who God is and who humans are, of sin and redemption, of things past and things to come--will not sustain people in the faith for the long haul. Rather, all they can produce is religious nominalism, which is a far cry from religious or pastoral excellence."
I'd venture to guess that I've been subjected to a blanket critique of a type of theological literature that Lucas is worried about. It is actually telling that he lumps ten years of work that emphasizes practices or rituals, from Dorothy Bass (whom I do quote) to Catherine Bell (whose work I know well but do not quote). It is true that for myself and for Bass, a virtue ethic is in the background. Alisdair McIntyre has been important, and the whole virtue tradition. But not only! The work I've done, and I think Dorthy Bass has done, focuses on things humans do. Those basic practices--making music, eating together, discerning together--are things we Christians share with others, and ought to do in distinctive ways because of the character of our life together. They are not intended to be something distinctive to Christians but rather something Christians do in particular ways because of Christ who lives in us. Ah, and here we see the difference theologically. It is possible that my theological framework didn't ring true to an evangelical covenant scholar. It is a challenge to read one another charitably, and Lucas did very much do so with my book. Yet it stumps me why he trips up on the theological grounding of the book. I'll need to reflect more on this, but if anyone else has giving the book a read and has a comment, please help me think this through.