Friday, September 05, 2008

Cracking the Cavey Code

I sent my review of The End of Religion to the author Bruxy Cavey and received a prompt and detailed response. I thought it would be helpful working through those points before shipping the Review off to Canadian Mennonite.

Cavey begins with the most important response stating,

I believe that understanding the target audience for my book helps clarify many things, which you have not mentioned in your review. The End of Religion is written primarily to non-Christians who could be described as religion drop-outs - people who are open to "faith" (whatever they mean by that), but would tell you (often in impassioned and colourful language) that they have a negative take on organized "religion". From that starting point I want to engage these readers in a "from here to there" journey toward the biblical Jesus and New Testament community. I believe I state this clearly at the start of the book and follow this approach throughout. . . .
So this book is my attempt to describe the biblical gospel in language these people might have ears to hear. If I were writing a book to a primarily Christian audience my approach may be very different. I see the approach I take in The End of Religion as comparable to the Apostle Paul's communication style in Acts 17, communicating the message of Jesus in words and images that beckons his pagan audience to go further in their investigation of Christ. No doubt he would phrase his teaching very differently if he were writing to a Christian audience (for instance, the New Testament demonstrates that Paul is not in the habit of quoting pagan sources in place of Scripture and calling all people, whether believer or not, "God's children").
I trust that if you read The End of Religion keeping in mind that you are eavesdropping on a conversation between me and a specific target reader - one who comes to the table with baggage that they need help putting down - it will go a long way to clarifying why I take the approach I take and emphasise the things I do.
The claim is that because Cavey is writing to a non-Christian audience the approach will be different. As I mentioned in my review I get the impression that for Cavey 'Christians' are stuffy old fuddy-duddies blinded by the lure tradition. But to these people I suspect he would want to bring the same message. In addition the lecture I heard at a Christian event ten years was also in the same medium. Perhaps he was unconcerned with those who already had a meaningful religious expression. I agree that when I teach Sunday School for 10 year olds and when I prepare a college lecture I will be using a different vocabularly and syntax. In the case of Cavey however, I see his medium and message so intricately tied together that I am not convinced he is interested in articulating the Gospel in any other way (though I have not heard his church teaching), which of course is fine only that his comment does not apply to my criticisms. I guess I am simply not sure why this would not be the same message preached to the church, because according to the book, the church sure needs it!

In my review I viewed Cavey's work as inappropriately seperating himself from church history. In response he says that he is interested in responding to the cynic who stumbles over the atrocities that the church has perpetrated and that he does acknowledge "that Christians are responsible for many wonderful examples of charity and benevolence through the centuries. But these positive examples cannot nor should not undo the repulsive effects of the judgmental bigotry and horrific violence that permeates church history" (58). It is fine to have that caveat but then it would be important to state that the chapter is dealing with a particular aspect of church history, as opposed to a near blanket statement. And this chapter would then be even more palatable if there were any sense that Cavey was interested in drawing from the wells of church history (other than the quotes that preface some of the chapters). The way Cavey overcomes the challenge of church history is seperate himself from it. My concern is that if the reader accepts Cavey's basic positions how could they then not also be swayed into thinking that Cavey's expression of irreligion is the climax (or return) of true Christian spirituality. Cavey explicitly acknowledges that his work is within the stream of evangelical/Anabaptist. I suppose it is the tendency of working within this stream to not elevate the role of church history and tradition. This, however, makes it no less of historical religious expression.

In my review I stated that Cavey's book led towards an individualistic 'me and Jesus' view of spirituality. Cavey responded by saying that in the end of the book the final thing the reader is encouraged to do is seek out intentional community (230). In reviewing the book I can more understand the role he gives for the community of believers. For instance baptism is a sign of the iniatition into a community and not just a personal experience of forgiveness. Communion, however, appears to have a much lower view of community. There is neither the act of economic distribution emphasized in Anbaptism nor the communal formation emphasized in more mainline traditions. It is rather a replacement of the the sacrifice for the individuals forgiveness. I understand that Cavey emphasizes the need for community I just find it in the end subordinated to the role of the individual in his overall work.

Finally, Cavey feels as though I have misunderstood and so misrepresented his intention for 'organized irreligion' which is what he sees as the natural expression flowing from the Gospel. I appreciate that his book is an attempt at helping people to take the next (or first) step in their faith. And I was almost ready to admit that I was in fact very wrong in how I understood his intention but then he made this strange statement, "I can only leave you to draw your own conclusion about the theology of The End of Religion, and certainly no human effort to communicate the gospel of Jesus is necessary. God doesn't need us - we need him." This I assume is in response to my statement that indeed we need to rely on the things Cavey rejects because they are the realities of life. Indeed they are God's medium as God was the one who came as the word. This is I suppose what I can't get around. All of these things, all of these things of faith are ultimately wedded in the material world. I never said God needed us and yes we need God, we need all that God offers us.

Cavey asks in his book that I do not get caught up in semantics. That I look to the essence of his message. But semantics are indeed part of the message. Yes many have come and found this message attractive (and I find hard to argue with a transformed life) and many others have found their way out the backdoor of similar 'emergent' expressions. So as Cavey asks in his book, So What? I suppose each should be convinced in their own minds and may any friction add to a fire that warms, illuminates, and purges.

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