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Ashley Woodiwiss

What Is the Church Good For?

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
Our captors said, "Come sing a song of joy!" but how can we sing of joy?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand its cunning lose.

--Adapted from Psalm 137

Rodney Clapp's A Peculiar People is an important contribution to the literature of an emerging phenomenon, ecclesiocentrism. I do not think it too hasty to declare that Christian scholarship stands on the threshold of a potential intellectual revolution at the dawn of the new millennium. And Clapp is sensitive to the issues, concerns, and consequences that ecclesiocentrism holds for the way we understand and live the faith.

One perceives in Clapp a sensibility that animates the whole of the ecclesiocentric literature: it is a sense of estrangement and of dislocation that haunts the thoughtful Christian in our day. The comfortable connection that has bound Christian identity and American citizenship for so long now appears frayed to the point of breaking. Coupled with this unease is the search for a new stability, a new home if you will. In his prefatory self-description, Clapp identifies three different senses in which his work is peculiar for our day: plebeian in a culture of elitist credentialism ("I am not an academic"); postmodern in a culture still dominated by the rhetoric of scientific and bureaucratic rational objectivity ("I have renounced the longing for sure and certain, universal, once-for-all foundations to knowledge and action"); and Christian in a culture not so much persecutorial but uninterested in the faith once delivered ("Be careful whom you hate or dismiss out of hand").

Those already familiar with Clapp's work on the family and consumerism will not be surprised by the employment of the aphoristic or the ironic throughout this text. It is part of the postmodern package: provocation, the sudden thrust and parry, the sense of the absurd or shocking. These are all necessary aspects of the "making strange" that postmodernists ...

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