Archbishop Schnurr claims his new “clustering” initiative for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is based on The Changing Face of Church: Emerging Models of Parish Leadership, by Marti R. Jewell and David A. Ramey. This 2010 book is chock full of the buzzwords and concepts used by chancery officials and other professional Catholics, e.g., the vacuous Whole Community Catechesis and, alarmingly, the downright pernicious Reign of God theology. The latter is promoted by noted local dissenters Paul Knitter and Ken Overberg of Cincinnati’s Xavier University. Here is what Pope Benedict had to say about “regnocentrism” in his modern classic Jesus of Nazareth:
Since that time, a secularist reinterpretation of the idea of the Kingdom has gained considerable ground, particularly, though not exclusively, in Catholic theology. This reinterpretation propounds a new view of Christianity, religions, and history in general, and it claims that such a radical refashioning will enable people to reappropriate Jesus’ supposed message. It is claimed that in the pre-Vatican II period, “ecclesiocentrism” was the dominant position: The Church was represented as the center of Christianity. Then there was a shift to Christocentrism, to the doctrine that Christ is the center of everything. But it is not only the Church that is divisive — so the argument continues — since Christ belongs exclusively to Christians. Hence the further step from Christocentrism to theocentrism. This has allegedly brought us closer to the community of religions, but our final goal continues to elude us, since even God can be a cause of division between religions and between people.
Therefore, it is claimed, we must now move toward “regnocentrism,” that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This at last, we are told, is the heart of Jesus’ message, and it is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future. “Kingdom,” on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It also means no more than this. This “Kingdom” is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the “Kingdom.” They are of course perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the “Kingdom,” a world, in other words, where peace, justice, and respect for creation are the dominant values.
This sounds good; it seems like a way of finally enabling the whole world to appropriate Jesus’ message, but without requiring missionary evangelization of other religions. It looks as if now, at long last, Jesus’ words have gained some practical content, because the establishment of the “Kingdom” has become a common task and is drawing nigh. On closer examination, though, it seems suspicious. Who is to say what justice is? What serves justice in particular situations? How do we create peace? On closer inspection, this whole project proves to be utopian dreaming without any real content, except insofar as its exponents tacitly presuppose some partisan doctrine as the content that all are required to accept.
But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious “traditions” claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count for nothing. Faith and religions are now directed toward political goals. Only the organization of the world counts. Religion matters insofar as it can serve that objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation.
A quick and dirty take on some of the assumptions of this understanding of the mission of Christ and the purpose of the Church would be:
1) multiple economies of salvation (Jesus is salvific only for Christians at best);
2) repudiates the crucifixion as in any way redemptive because that would place an act of violence at the very center of God’s purposes;
3) asserts that the Incarnation is an end in itself (God just wanted to share human life so much) and that objective redemption was not the purpose of Jesus’ earthly life;
4) regards Jesus not primarily as Savior but as Announcer/Prophet of God’s reign;
5) regards the Church strictly as a prophetic servant of the Reign of God which is independent of the Church and much more important; and
6) understands liturgy as a celebration of community which prepares us to go out and work for God’s reign.
As Pope Benedict points out: “But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage.”
The Kingdom without the King. Instead of the Kingdom flowing out of relationship to the King.
Of course, much of the impetus behind the development of “reign of God” theology was an experience of an impotent/corrupt/self-satisfied local Catholic community who did little or nothing to aid the poor and aided and abetted their oppressors. The King was sacramentally present but the fruit of a transforming relationship was not.
According to Mission of the Redeemer, 16, the Kingdom ( Reign) of God is already present in the person of Jesus. It is slowly established in humanity and the world through “a mysterious connection with him.”
What is that mysterious connection? One of the main ways the kingdom is established is through the life-changing fruition of sacramental grace in the lives of individuals and then whole communities (often sparked by and fostered by those same individuals whose charisms and vocations emerge out of a living relationship with Christ).
Changing structures of injustice takes a long, anointed, patient, enduring, sacrificial obedience in the same direction. To change large scale, complicated structures of injustice takes many such people who engage it as a personal vocation and spend their lives doing so because Christ has called and is sustaining, inspiring, and guiding them.
The Kingdom emerges out of obedient relationship with the King.
Read through some of the testimonials included in the Changing Face of Church. They practically seem lifted from Sherry’s “quick and dirty” take. On page 50, a pastoral associate from the “Upper Midwest” claims, “I hope the community will be ‘life-now focused’ rather than ‘life-hereafter focused,'” an eery echo of points 3 and 4. The overall thrust of the book is much the same. In the comment box for the first “clustering” post, someone asks, “What can we DO?” Get ready to fight this tooth and nail.