On Not Quite Agreeing With +Will Willimon

Tony SigIn the most recent edition of The Christian Century (of whose blog network we are a “featured blog”), Methodist bishop Will Willimon addresses some of his previous work – most of which was done in tandem with his holiness Stanley Hauerwas – with a bit of embarrassment.

“In the student’s puerile response you hear an echo of your own pronouncement – but on undergraduate lips the thought sounds unbearably stupid.  I’ve come to feel a bit that way upon rereading Resident Aliens” p22

In the article +Willimon goes on to repudiate the idea that “Christianity is a practice” because he thinks that it fails to account for the distinctives of Christian belief.  He worries that the approach previously espoused by himself can run the risk of old style Christian liberalism that universalizes and unparticularizes the faith, rendering it one practice among many with a formless god.

I absolutely sympathize with the bishop’s belief that emphasizing “practice” can collapse any sense of “orthodoxy” into a moralism of “praxis.”  Liberalism is pretty lame. BUT…

The idea of separating one from another is indicative of a wrong view of both “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy.”  Not too unlike the false separation of “theology” from “spirituality.”

If I might be allowed the indulgence of disagreeing with someone who will most likely forever be known as one of America’s greatest bishops, it is by our “practices” that we can come to know anything of “the qualitative difference” between God and ourselves.

On the one hand there is the practice of daily devotion and the celebration of the Mass, especially the Eucharist.  These are the “practices” which shape our minds, bodies and hearts to think as the Church.  Reading Scripture, praying in word and in silence, confessing our sins, praising in doxology – these in part teach us how to the know God as the Church knows God.  +Willimon should fear that we will have any content to our faith without these “practices.”

And on the other hand, we put our worship into action with other “practices…”  Justice, mercy, compassion etc…  These too teach us of the God we worship.  If we “practice”  just the “devotion” and neglect the “justice,” we fail to be Christ in the world; and if we reduce the faith to moralism we malign our God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But, and here’s the kicker, it’s all “practice.”

So don’t despair of your previous work bishop Willimon, it’s still good as gold.



  1. Please explain for the uninitiated the addition of the (+) sign to Bishop Willimon’s name?

    As far as the rest of the post – “lex orandi, lex credendi.”


  2. Thanks Andy, I followed the link through Halden’s site. I thought the bishop’s response surprisingly curt. I don’t really understand the anti-religion of Barth because I think it is so obviously untrue when a human life, mind and it’s formation is examined phenomenologically. We just don’t have un-mediated, or non-“religious” access to being formed into Christians.

    But then again I sympathize with “post-liberalism” and “radical orthodoxy” so I’m sure you already knew that!


  3. This is a nice response. I think the point that human life consists entirely of practices of some sort and that there is no reflective starting point from which we set forth in to a set of “practices” is a key point, summed up well in your comment about the phenomenology of the formation of the human mind.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s