Quarreling with Orthodoxy- more post-orthodoxy

Here is a book review from internetmonk.com, the blog from which I first adapted the term post-evangelical to post-orthodox. The problems of emphasis on body count and any technique or argument is good is it makes someone religious are obvious in the Orthodox community. The sentimentality and materialism of the community are standard critiques of Orthodoxy. His first problem of provincialism takes a bit more imagination to understand. Provincialism means that Orthodoxy means following the opinions of Teaneck, Riverdale, or YU and not the full gamut of the tradition. It also means that Orthodoxy is following the social enclave and mores of frum neighborhoods more than following God. The blog notes that now we need a book of solutions.

From internetmonk: A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church

By Chaplain Mike
Warren Cole Smith’s book, A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church has a title with which I resonate. If you’ve been reading Internet Monk for any length of time, you’ll know that we describe ourselves in two ways: We are evangelicals. We’re having struggles with the church. We are engaged in a critique of the church which bears Jesus’ name. We have become convinced that it is not very Jesus-shaped these days.

Many of us call ourselves “post-evangelical”—that is, we no longer feel comfortable within the system known as the American evangelical church.
In this book, Warren Cole Smith sets forth the question many of us are asking: What is it about evangelical theology or evangelical practice that is both so appealing and so troubling? (p.8 )

One of the great contributions Smith makes is that he gives names to the chains that bind us in cultural captivity. These are:
The New Provincialism: Evangelicalism has so cut itself off from history and Biblical and church tradition that, “the evangelical church risks ceasing to be a Christian church at all.” (p. 60)

The Triumph of Sentimentality: “Sentimentality is the result of our unwillingness to realign our desires with the reality of the world, but rather to remake the world in accordance with our desires” (p. 67). Having rejected history and our theological legacy, today’s evangelicalism is all about creating an alternate reality—through highly efficient, full-service megachurches, through technologically-generated “worship experiences,” through therapeutic, positive-thinking, and prosperity-Gospel preaching.

The Christian-Industrial Complex: The “Christian market” has expanded so dramatically over the past generation, that a vast industry has grown up to supply products to satisfy its desires. It’s the American way. Now, many aspects of church life are driven by target marketing rather than by theologically-informed, pastorally-sensitive ordained and accountable leaders.

Body-Count Evangelism: As any evangelical will tell you—size matters. Smith shows how today’s evangelicalism, fueled by such trends as the growth of the parachurch movement, has bought fully into the revivalist tradition with its emphasis on numbers, scale, and spectacle.

The Great Stereopticon: Rejecting the long understood fact that “the medium is the message,” evangelicalism has adopted the philosophy that any means is OK as long as one is communicating the right message. However, as Smith observes, “When you change the medium, you change the message, whether you intend to or not and though the words remain exactly the same. It is a lesson the evangelical church has not yet learned.”

I would love to see Warren Cole Smith write a second book for us—A Lover’s Proposal for the Evangelical Church—in which he might flesh out these suggestive ideas and help guide evangelicalism back to a more Jesus-shaped way.

From the Amazon review
Smith argues that we evangelicals are just as prone to being power-hungry, materialistic and being builders of our own empires as anybody else, to the detriment of community.
Evangelicals are also often guilty of a new provincialism. Provincialism usually means our outlook is narrowly determined by our small localized setting. For evangelicals, our narrowness is due to being stuck only in the “now.”

Now how would we solve each of these? What would be the chapters of the book about orthodoxy?

Copyright © 2010 Alan Brill • All Rights Reserved

6 responses to “Quarreling with Orthodoxy- more post-orthodoxy

  1. ‘Reviving Orthodoxy’

    Chapter 1: On re-reading the Nevi’im and Ketuvim
    Chapter 2: Mitzvot and Ma’asim Tovim – an affirmation of basics
    Chapter 3: On the high value of individuality
    Chapter 4: A new halachah – l’kulah velo l’chumrah
    Chapter 5: The latest ‘Jewish Catalog’ – practical Jewish living for the new Jewish family – bringing Jewish practice back in reach financially and spiritually
    Chapter 6: Rabbinic training – new frontiers
    Chapter 7: Other Jewish denominations – partners not enemies
    Chapter 8: Women in Jewish life – a new model for ‘Eshet chayil’
    Chapter 9: Renewing our universalistic vision
    Chapter 10: Reinventing the suburban synagogue

    —– the other twenty chapters are optional!!!


    • Paul,
      Most of your suggestions sound like 1978. I do not see how it will overcome the provincialism, sentimentality, or materialism. Individuality and the Jewish catalog were the peak of sentimentality.
      Yours is a little too old time MO nostalgia. Centrism is real, it happened, people are halakhic but now want to solve certain problems. Ethics, lifestyle outside the enclave, reduce the cognitive dissidence with the outside world, and meaning. We want an approach that will curb the rampant skepticism and irony.

      Is your vision for rabbinic training much different than the articles by Eliezer Berkovits or Steven Riskin on creating a new rabbi?

      And people dont mind humrot if they find meaning in them. Students of the Rav dont feel burdened by following Rav Soloveitchik’s minhag becuase it gives them identity.or people gladly follow the humrot of their yeshiva in Israel or of the Carlebach minyan. People dont like forced humrot when several different approaches occupy the same neighborhood. Or when organizations give into pressure or vacillate between years.

      People are bothered by the kiruv by means and the abuse of Rabbinic power. And the topic of the week for those younger liberals out there is certainly GLBT tolerance.

      Can we get a modified list?

  2. (if you have a round peg, everything is a round hole): How about a chapter, “Rote Shmote: Towards a Conscious Judaism (from Piaszeczna and Ha-Olim to today)”

    At least it’s not nostalgia for 1978 so much as nostalgia for a dynamically developing 1940s that didn’t get a chance to happen.

  3. I do not see how it will overcome the provincialism, sentimentality, or materialism. Individuality and the Jewish catalog were the peak of sentimentality.

    ====== c’mon, c’mon ……. for most of the above, see Chapter 1. Individuality is the antithesis of conformity, which is currently the overriding value of the O community. The Jewish Catalog may have been the peak of sentimentality, but I believe it sold several hundred thousand copies, and was very helpful to many people. (We need a J/Cat level guide to sane kashrut, for example). And yes, the gender issue is undoubtedly the ‘issue of the week’, but I thought you would want something a little more long-term……..

    And the ‘Rabbinic training’ that I had in mind was way past 1978. But you only asked for Chapter headings! BTW — I am trying to remember – was 1978 such a bad year?????

  4. If the material forces are pervasive and mostly inescapable, and the spiritual forces are tainted then where does one begin?

    Is the question really what is the most trenchant critique or clever suggestion (Saints?) The question is really how long current trends are sustainable and who will be at the right place and time when they cease being sustainable for enough people.

  5. Kevin Rothman

    • The New Provincialism: orthodoxy is, by its very definition provincialism. It was a response against the enlightenment that entailed a certain historical amnesia from the start. I dont think you can really have an orthodoxy that is not provincial.

    • The Triumph of Sentimentality:
    Again, based on the definition given above, is an orthodoxy possible that does not deny the fundamental truthfulness of the world qua world, where the Torah is not the final arbiter of truth? I think it would be possible to reframe what we mean by “final arbiter of truth”, but in the common sense of it, this is a statement that holds truth for historical and scientific material as well as ethical and doctrinal. To step away from this would be to exceed orthodoxy.

    • The Christian-Industrial Complex: I actually think that there are a lot of young people with innovative ideas regarding Jewish industry. If grants were provided for innovative entrepeneurship I think a lot o f positive change could be obtained. Eg. there is a guy who just graduated from NYU who has started an organic, naturally fed, free-range chicken shechita business. This type of work can, I think, do a lot to subtly change the value systems of the community.

    • Body-Count Evangelism-

    a problem in outreach programs but, I think, not in standard shuls. even in habad, however, I have been hearing a greater recognition that number are not what counts in the end because when the focus is on numbers quality goes down and there is more attrition in the long run. there has, in my experience, been a greater focus on smaller and more intimate events recently.

    • The Great Stereopticon – I agree that ends dont justify means. however, i am not so sure the new mediums for teaching and outreach are problematic. I see them as pedagogic tools. They are not being used to alter actual ritual experiences. I read an article a while ago that suggested that habad’s use of videos of the Rebbe contributes to the sense of his post-mortem life. I think this is only partially accurate. the videos are used to give people a sense of what it was like to be near the rebbe, the way he was in addition to his text-based teachings. However, I think the more wacky beliefs stem from the rebbe’s own theology re: the previous rebbe, they were fanned over the course of a generation and the videos have little to do with it.

    in essence, i see items 1 and 2 as being the most relevant to contemporary orthodoxy and I think the solution lies outside of orthodoxy (though not in other denominations either)… almost something of a return to the past that never was, a variation of a Mendelsonnian “orthodoxy” (i.e. – as in his “jerusalem”, law over doctrine) that never got off the ground…

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