I used to say that I thought I’d live to see Africa evangelizing the United States. I was right.
I also find powerful Milbank’s invitation for Christians to rediscover the power of the Christian story. The pathos of modern theology, Milbank says, is its false humility: “We are Christians,” we tend to say, “but we are only a religion after all. We have to wait for sociology and political science to provide the ‘facts’ upon which we can build, to which we can add spiritual truth as a nice gloss.” Milbank says that is wrong. What Christians believe about society, about God, about human beings being created in the image of God are facts. When Jesus talks about loving our neighbors, and tells us that if we have something against a neighbor, we must come together to reconcile before we bring our gift to the altar, that is basic sociology. Let’s not sell ourselves short by saying, “Well, this is just a spiritual principle.” We need to reclaim theology’s place as queen of the sciences, so that Christian theology is sociology.
The church is called into the world to be its salt. A friend of mine used an image – since it is in the very nature of meat to rot, the crucial question is, “Where was the salt when the meat was rotting?” When you put salt into the meat, the salt disappears. That’s the only way it can work. It does not call attention to itself; it is not the thing that is noticed. Rather, the meat is preserved, its flavor enhanced.
Our rotting institutions are concerned about their self-preservation. This must not be the preoccupation of the church. Christians have to be willing, in a sense, to disappear like that salt. We need to go back to the basics, to the sense of Christianity as a story, a story of loving relationship with the world, a saving story, an amazing story. Too often we have nearly lost that excitement. “Were our hearts not burning on the way?” Our churches need a little bit of that. But that requires simplicity and stripping away, as we hear Christ teaching us. One can experience an elemental joy in living very simply.