My body is not something I have, but something I am; it is the “me” that dwells in the world. This means that my body, for the most part, is not something of which I am conscious; rather, it is the condition of possibility for my consciousness. It is my constant background.
James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 49.
Having fallen prey to the intellectualism of modernity, both Christian worship and Christian pedagogy have underestimated the importance of this body/story nexus - this inextricable link between imagination, narrative, and embodiment - thereby forgetting the ancient Christian sacramental wisdom carried in the historic practices of Christian worship and the embodied legacies of spiritual and monastic disciplines. Failing to appreciate this, we have neglected formational resources that are indigenous to the Christian tradition, as it were; as a result, we have too often pursued flawed models of discipleship and Christian formation that have focused on convincing the intellect rather than recruiting the imagination.
Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment - by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world.
The renewal of the church and the Christian university - a renewal of both Christian worship and Christian education - hinges on an understanding of human being as ‘liturgical animals,’ creatures who can’t not worship and who are fundamentally formed by worship practices.
The upshot, that Oppenheimer can’t consider (nor can Smith & Regnerus, apparently), is that there are no “neutral” or “unbiased” scholars. So it’s not a question of whether faith informs scholarship, but which. Let’s just take the example of sociology: maybe there isn’t a “Christian way to crunch numbers,” but the number-crunching is only an instrumental slice of sociological scholarship. Social scientific research is governed by deep notions of flourishing that are not “objective” or universal but rather emerge from stories and narratives and mythologies that are believed. (Here I’m just repeating Smith’s own argument in Moral, Believing Animals!)
This means every social scientific instrument is already freighted with a thick, normative, albeit implicit, vision of what it is to be human and what human community ought to look like. Those deep commitments don’t make it into the data in any explicit way, but they frame every question that is asked, every bit of data that is selected as significant, etc. There isn’t a single social scientific scholar (or journalist) who doesn’t believe some fundamental story about the world. We’re all confessional scholars.
In short, the creational work of culture - unpacking the stores of potential latent in creation ‘to the praise of his glory’ - is what we’re made for. Since redemption is precisely the renewal and restoration of creation, then good culture-making is also what we’re saved for.
I have a hard time believing that the denial of limited atonement is the most pressing matter of discipleship right now. We should be more worried about Walmart.