To reiterate from my previous post: Christianity as a philosophia has three important components: a fundamental principle (or principles), or logos(-oi); in which is rooted a distinct discourse and discursive method, or a way of speaking and thinking; around which are built specific “soulish exercises,” or askeses, which serve to inculcate the fundamental principle(s) and to further the communal discourse. Apologia, or defense, is certainly part of a way of life, but is not necessarily a dominant feature of such discourse, and in any case is meant as a defense more than as a proselytizing method. Proselytization of converts occurrs via the public nature of the way of life in which a particular philosophia is lived. Potential disciples “drop in” as it were on the dialogoi and instruction that goes on in philosophia (which philosophia is an embodiment of the three primary components noted above) and in an existential pre-theoretical choice, attracted by the beauty and goodness they perceive in that philosophia, enter the community as a disciple and take up that way of life, its principles and its particular disourse.
Modern Christianity, and modern society in general, has lost this conception of a particular philosophy (or religion, or, more broadly, worldview) as a way of life. Belief has been so separated from life-ways, that one can hold any number of beliefs, even systematically, which are in conflict with the way one lives ones life, and yet still be considered a faithful adherent of the belief system one espouses. Take, for example, the affluent Buddhism of various celebrites, or consumerist Christianity, or what have you. This may well be why a statistically large percentage of the American population thinks of themselves as Christian, but whose lives do not significantly resemble the way of life that has been Christianity through two millennia. It is certainly how it is that members of our society can, over a period of a lifetime, adhere to any number of differing belief systems without significantly altering the way they live.
Modern evangelization efforts tend to feed rather than correct this phenomenon, centered as they all too often are on a change of belief prior to a change of life. In methodology that reflects more a market consumerism than historic evangelization, modern attempts at witnessing focus on “relevance,” and therapeutic solutions to life critical scenarios (all oriented toward the improvement of one’s own life) that will inexplicably occur simply by changing one’s belief system.
This is backward from the practice of ancient Christianity wherein converts were first inculcated in a way of life and then were catechised in the more systematic beliefs and doctrines that Christians held. Whereas today we seek salvation prior to conversion, ancient Christianity sought salvation through conversion. One did not register a “decision,” later to be instructed in the faith. One first took on the way of life the Church lived as an inextricable part of the process of conversion. Ancient Christianity understood salvation not as a point in time but as a life-process extended through time and into eternity.
That is to say, if Christianity is primarily a way of life rather than a confession, then evangelization will be by way of that way of life. It will be incarnational, and centered around and in the community that is the Church. Indeed, no evangelization could take place apart from the Church. Potential converts will be “won” to the faith in and through the very means by which the life of the Church is expressed: the Liturgy; the devotion to the apostle’s teaching; the Sacraments; communal fellowship from home to home, with each home an ecclesiola, or “little church”; prayers around the table and at the undertaking of various tasks, especially the utilization of the Jesus prayer and the tchotki; the care of the widows, the orphans, the poor; the commitment of each home to care for its extended members, especially the old and infirm; the emphasis on procreation and the celebration and protection of the new life; and on and on.
It is through the intersection and intertwining of non-Church members with the life of the Church of her members that the beauty and goodness of the Christian philosophia will open pathways for the listening and the reception of Christian discourse in the Scriptures and Liturgy, the sermons and catechetical instructions, the written texts of doctrine and the lives of the saints. Only in the context of a way of life will Chrisitan discourse make any sort of sense or in any way be warranted. Not even pragmatic arguments meant for the secularized public square can provide justification for Christianity’s unique principles, or Logoi, and the revelation that proceeds from them.
Regrettably, modern Christianity resembles too much the various philosophiai which oppose it, and the explication of its doctrines are then at intuitive variance with the ways of life presented to found those teachings. The judgment of those outside the Church on us as hypocrites is only too well-matched. It is not for us to strengthen our discourse so much as it is for us to strengthen our way of life in the life of the Church.
Specifically this means, of course, daily repentance from being conformed to the mind of the society outside the Church and the daily offering of our bodies as our reasonable act of worship. That is to say, the incarnate embodiment of our faith. Pragmatically, this means inviting non-Christians into the circles of our way of life, to allow them to see this Faith embodied. On the strength of the beauty and goodness they see, like the disciples of antiquity, they will make the pre-theoretical existential choice to take on this way of life and be inculcated in its principles and discourses.
I will, in the next reflection, draw these posts to a close with some concluding thoughts.
[The remainder of the posts in this series can be found here.]