This is not about the Olympics.
Some have suggested that the last couple of posts and the comments they elicited are worth a longer discussion. I agree. After spending two years in the M.A. program at Southern Nazarene with Dr. Steve Green, the one thing I've absolutely come to believe is that practices are what matter. Practices? Yes, as understood in the MacIntyrian sense. Here's MacIntyre from After Virtue:
'By a practice I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established co-operative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realised in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.'
Think of Christianity or Christian praxis as "the form of activity." The goods internal to that form are the virtues for which we strive, and secondarily, the benefits we derive from those virtues. I am assuming that the goal of Christianity is to be Christ-like, or to act virtuously. The beauty of MacIntyre's (and McClendon's) thought on this is that the virtues not only lead to good in the form of character, sacrifice, generosity, community, etc., but it is the development of those virtues through practices that make us better able to develop other virtues. So, apart from the practices which constitute Christianity, there really is no such thing as Christianity. In short, we have to try to be Christian. We have to practice virtue. Practicing virtue leads to acting virtuously.
"Legalism!" Some will say. Again, let's quote the Apostle James: show me your faith without your works and I'll show you my faith by my works. It's not an either/or equation. You can't have Christianity without Christian practices; you can't have virtue without practice; and you can't practice virtue without practicing. This is really simple stuff, but the Protestant movement has been so afraid of legalism that we've sequestered salvation in a cognitive realm which has led to an artificial bifurcation of faith and praxis. It's time to approach the Gospel wholistically again. It's time to say that you can't be a Christian if you don't act like a Christian.
We've focused on atonement theology for so long that we've failed to focus on the ethical side of Christianity. Desperate to preserve sola fide, we've allowed salvation to come to mean a decision made once with little or no change in behavior required. For people who do feel changed, who feel like they should live differently, there are no guides in Christian practices. Read your Bible. Pray every day. Great, but is that all there is to it? Because we've ceased to practice Christian ethics, we have no mentors or models to show us the way. That's what Jesus did for three years with that band of scraggly men. It's what we're supposed to do too. (Incidentally, this is a powerful argument for smaller communities. How do you pull this off in a large church?) It wasn't just his death that mattered. His life mattered too. If it was just his death that counted, Herod might just as well have killed him and gotten it over with. The way he lived mattered because it's the way we're supposed to live.
That'll do for an opening salvo. God bless us all, every one...