from Alasdair MacIntyre. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame, IN: Univ of Notre Dame Press, 2007 (3rd edition). pp 1-2.
“Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally, a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all they possess are fragments; a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. None the less all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry, and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory, and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realises that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to understand what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.” (p. 1)
“What is the point of constructing this imaginary world inhabited by fictitious pseudo-scientists and real, genuine philosophy? The hypothesis which I wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder as the language of natural science in the imaginary world which I described. What we possess, if this view is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts of which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have—very largely, it not entirely—lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.” (p. 2)
from Jonathan R. Wilson. Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World: From MacIntyre’s After Virtue to a New Monasticism, 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010.
This book is written under the conviction that the church in Western culture is in grave danger of compromising its faithfulness to the gospel. Of course, such conviction is almost always present somewhere in the church. Nevertheless, because of the enormous changes that are taking place in our culture, such conviction takes on greater significance. This book is also written under the conviction that the changes taking place in Western culture present a wonderful opportunity for faithful witness to the gospel, as the church in the West reexamines its own life and witness and discovers once again the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to redeem humanity. (p. xiv)
“Jesus Christ calls the church to particular practices: making disciples, baptizing and teaching them…. [The] good news is an ever-present, unchanging reality: Jesus himself promises to be with us always…. [T]he redemption of Jesus Christ is a present reality that he is actively accomplishing in our world today. Therefore, the church’s responsibility is to participate in that redemption and witness to it. We are witnesses to Jesus Christ, ambassadors of God’s reconciliation which is being accomplished through Christ. This responsibility extends to all peoples, to bring the gospel to them and educate them in the practices of the gospel—baptizing and teaching—so that they may participate in this redemption and become its witnesses.
“This gospel and the mission of the church never change, but the circumstances in which we witness to and live out the gospel do change. With changing circumstances comes the need to rethink how the church lives faithfully and witnesses to the gospel. Changing circumstances bring new opportunities for witness, but they also bring new threats to the integrity of the church’s witness.” (p. xv)
“[T]he church faces many threats to its faithfulness. Words are important here: the gospel is never threatened by changing circumstances—God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is being accomplished and nothing can hinder that. All authority has been given to Jesus Christ. However, what may be compromised is the church’s faithfulness to the gospel. Even here, the church may be made a witness to Jesus Christ by God’s judgment. That is, even an unfaithful church may be used to witness to the gospel by God’s judgment upon it. So what is at issue for us is not the gospel or our witness to the gospel, but the church’s faithfulness to the commission given by Jesus Christ.
“This understanding of the mission of the church must be disciplined by the gospel and firmly grounded in the conviction that ‘relevance’ is an intrinsic characteristic of the gospel, not a demand of the culture. Otherwise, the quest for relevance becomes a quest for acceptance.” (p. xvi)
“We are in danger of failing to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ or of cloaking a nostalgia for the past in Christian language and mistaking its acceptance for acceptance of the gospel.” (p. xvii)
“Since changing circumstances bring new threats, the church must continually discern the characteristics of the particular culture within which it is called to faithfulness. This is true of the church in all times and places.” (p. xviii)
“Such confession and repentance requires an intentionally disciplined way of life that makes such practices integral expressions of life together with God and one another, not a marketing program or public relations ploy.” (p. xix)
“I pursue MacIntyre’s suggestion that we live in a fragmented world rather than a pluralistic world.” (p. xix)
MacIntyre’s story of the mainstream of morality in Western culture and show how the church has compromised its faithfulness by accommodating to that mainstream and how many current conceptions of the mission of the church continue that mistake. (p. xix)
MacIntyre argues that we live in a world in which morality exists only in fragments. These fragments give us only an appearance of morality, not its reality. What the church must learn from this is that our understanding of the gospel, our witness, and our discipleship are also deeply fragmented. We have only a semblance of the gospel, not its reality, at work in our life together. Consequently, “Christians” are deeply vulnerable to ideologies that will use the language of Christianity and make appeals to the gospel in order to co-opt the church for programs and purposes that are contrary to the gospel. We have no firm center in the gospel but are preoccupied with and distracted by peripheral matters that exploit our fragmentation.
In these circumstances, we have much work to do to overcome our fragmentation and recover a coherent, more holistic practice of the gospel. To do this will require hard, persistent work by communities rooted in a provisional understanding of this fragmentation. This understanding must be provisional because the very character of fragmentation means that those whose lives are fragmented only perceive that fragmentation indirectly, through unease or an initially inchoate sense that something may not be quite right.
With this provisional understanding of our fragmentation, these communities will then set for themselves an intentional commitment to a way of life that seeks greater coherence and congruence in their life of discipleship. This again will require hard work, a commitment to stable relationships over a long period of time, and a willingness to share life together (commune) in such a way that this shared life is centered in Christ so that the fragments are pulled together by the gravitational pull of this center. In all of this, these communities must acknowledge and celebrate the grace of God as a power that reveals and heals the fragmentation of our lives. (pp 14-15)
“If we lived in a pluralistic world with relatively intact multiple communities, then the recovery of Christian faithfulness would entail the strengthening and maturing of those communities. We would simply need to work with the social arrangements that we currently have to direct them properly.” (p. 15)
“If we live in a fragmented world, then we do not have relatively intact communities of discipleship in the church. Instead, we have fragments of discipleship in fragments of community. But we persist in the belief (and often the self-deception) that we have a good understanding of discipleship and good communities.” (p. 15)
“In other words, as we inchoately sense and vaguely see the fragmentation of the gospel in our lives, the recovery of wholeness in our understanding of the gospel and our life in Christ may be found in God’s gracious calling of [newly Gospel-oriented communities, thriving upon the environment of grace and the foundation of torah, or the divine application of God’s character to human experience]. (p. 16) *
* beginning with the word “newly” in the last sentence, these are my revision and my perspective on the idea suggested by J.R. Wilson’s words, which are, “…gracious calling of new monastic communities.