And all of God’s people said…”UGHHH!” So help me, I tried. I really, really tried. But I only got through 39 pages of this book before I concluded that I had reached the point of diminishing returns. The weird thing about it is, I have a really high tolerance for pain when it comes to reading books. I can sludge through books that no human being should have to sludge through just because I hate starting a book and not finishing it. But Mr. Sweeney is to be commended for breaking me of that habit once and for all.
I was fascinating by the description of this book and I picked it up because I do appreciate many elements of ancient, liturgical worship. Thanks to Steve Harmon and D.H. Williams and a few others, I believe that catholicity is admirable and necessary and ought to be explored. In other words, I was prepared to appreciate this book even when I knew I’d likely disagree with some of the things in it.
But I was not prepared, frankly, for the postmodern buzz words that were delivered in a such a way that you would think some angry fundamentalist had written them in an effort to caricature postmodernism. I, for one, think that the conservative critique of postmodernity is often (but not always, mind you) wrongheaded and shallow. But then I read the first 39 pages of this book and realized that maybe the caricatures do, indeed, exist.
Let me just share a few of Sweeney’s comments:
“I’ve never been a big fan of religious authority, especially not when it is made out to be the stuff of foundational or even propositional truth – as if following Christ is impossible without first believing or doing this or that or the other thing.” (p.5)
“The way we believe or don’t believe in the propositions of religion is entirely different from faith.” (p.7)
“I make the assumption that tradition and scripture are equally important.” (p.14)
“I don’t seek Truth with a capital T.” (p.18)
“Also, I think that Christians today are beginning to accept that notknowing is actually essential to faith.” (p.18)
“To look at faith through the lens of belief is to be stuck in some sort of rationalism that makes little sense today.” (p.19)
“Many of us today acknowledge that we live in a new era – some call itpostmodernity – in which propositional truth, certainty, and even papal infallibility play the same sort of smaller role in a spiritual life that they played in the pre-modern worldview. We decide what is true in different ways.” (p.21)
“But my spiritual life is not ready for any conclusions, at least not yet.” (p.21)
And that’s just the first 21 pages! It gets worse over the next 18.
A couple of ironies: Sweeney likes Flannery O’Connor. Flannery O’Connor! She’s one of my favorite writers and she understood things better than most. The irony here is that anybody who’s read Flannery O’Connor can imagine what she would think of the drivel being served up by Sweeney here.
Finally, it is odd for a man who doesn’t believe in propositional truth to write an entire book full of propositions, isn’t it? It’s the irony of all these exercises in not-knowing. You’ve got to know a lot to be able to convince folks we can’t know and you’ve got to say a lot to convince folks that we can’t really say anything.
Anyway, I don’t know. Read this thing if you want. Just email me and I’ll mail you my copy.