Some of the thinking I’m doing around the blog series I am currently writing, Why I Stopped Going to Church, has to do with the larger question of what the church is, particularly in its local expression, and out of that comes questions about the role it plays in public life. So it was with interest that I read a review of Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, written by Robert Joustra for Comment Magazine. (Robert and I have several mutual friends, and it was through them that I heard about his review.)
Here are a couple paragraphs that stood out to me (emphasis added):
The first order debate on ecclesiology is where Ballor’s most innovative work is done: are churches competent, technically and ontologically, to make policy prescriptions?
But first, pause and consider why churches and their ecumenical superstructures feel compelled to make otherwise technical prescriptions. Global events have saturated the public imagination for decades now, with the advent of ever-globalizing relationships and instant information. Christians in churches have also experienced this expansion. The conscious awareness of social justice issues must surely be greater now than at any moment in history.
So we can certainly sympathetically see Christians latch onto the first institution they know and trust to speak into the apocalyptic captions on the evening news. For most of us, the church is the most immediate, accessible, and organized institution we know. With Ballor, we might agree the church as institution is not the best platform—but it is at least an understandable one.
I might argue that this recognition should inspire us to ecclesial charity, because while globalization raises awareness broadly, it does not educate deeply. Simplistic call and response on complex economic and political issues may be inadequate, but at least it’s a conversation on justice. And I can get into that.
Ballor is spot-on when worrying that narrowly framing the debate this way can obscure the fact that globalization is about a great deal more than economics or politics. Isn’t it ironic that the ecclesial conversation is essentially a thinly-baptized version of exactly the same disagreements in the secular world, but with less technical capacity and more theological abstraction? This is Ballor’s most important point.