Thursday, 10 April 2008

God against religion

A new book has just landed on my desk, and I really like the look of it: Matthew Myer Boulton, God against Religion: Rethinking Christian Theology through Worship (Eerdmans, 2008). “There is today,” Boulton observes, “a kind of pious haze that clouds much Christian writing about worship” (p. 4).

Boulton’s argument develops as a new appropriation of Karl Barth’s critique of religion – and at the heart of the book is the claim that Barth’s critique is fundamentally a critique of worship. “It is worship, most fundamentally, that has this double aspect, both veil and clothing, ‘fall’ and ‘reconciliation’. And thus it is worship, finally, that God will cast aside” (p. xviii). Worship constitutes the “fatal disease”, the “wound of human life” – and it is this very wound which God sublimates, transforming it from within in order to effect our reconciliation. Liturgy is both the wound and the cure, both fall and reconciliation. The Eucharist is paradigmatic here: “For whenever it is celebrated, it is simultaneously a meal of consummate betrayal and desertion … and a meal of consummate joy and reconciliation” (p. 17).

Anyway, so far I’ve only read the opening pages. But this looks like a very promising and very provocative work of constructive theology. “As a brief systematic theology of invocation, this book proposes that Christian theology be thought through worship, that it be conceived, developed, and articulated in liturgical terms…. In what follows I argue that God’s reconciliation of humankind is a radically liturgical solution to a radically liturgical problem: the problem, as Barth puts it, of ‘religion’” (p. 12).

As Boulton rightly (and discomfortingly) reminds us, Barth’s critique isn’t merely directed against some vague religion-in-general. It is directed against Christianity – and especially against Christianity in its highest and noblest and most exalted expressions and activities.

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