Friday, November 2, 2012

Summing up

The normal Protestant objection to virtue, as we've seen, is that it's just hypocrisy, "putting it on" when you don't yet fully mean it. The standard answer is that this is the only way to acquire the deep-rooted characteristics of faith, hope, love, and all the rest. If we wait to start practicing these things until we "mean them" from the bottom of our hearts, we will wait a long time and probably mess up a lot of lives, including our own, in the process. But now we face the opposite problem: the charge that liturgy and other aspects of formal worship have become "just a habit," implying that because worship is a habit you don't really mean it. At one level, the two charges cancel one another out. If you're just putting it on, it isn't a habit; if it's a habit, you're not just putting it on! But there's a serious point underneath this second problem. 
Virtue, whether individual or corporate, is never something that can be taken for granted. Once the habit is formed, by many conscious choices and decisions, it has to be maintained in good running order. Here is the difference between "authenticity" and "spontaneity." Spontaneity objects to all habits: things ought just to happen! Authenticity, on the other hand, doesn't mind habits, so long as they don't become hollow. Fair enough. It would be good, frankly, to think that many of today's Christians were anywhere near the danger of forming habits of worship so strong that they could become "just a habit." That is perhaps a problem that is dying out. But if and when the danger is present, the warning is justified.  
When human beings worship God the creator, articulating their praise and adoration because of who he is and what he's done, they are, whether or not they realize it, summing up the praises and adoration of the whole creation.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] p. 224

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