Graham Ward's book The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens is a work of contextual theology. In a "Proviso" before the introduction, Ward recalls his previous theological reflections on "the postmodern city" or "the global city" (p. 15). He promises that he is now moving from cultural analysis to "political discipleship." "What I am attempting to do here," he writes, "is to develop a Christian theological imaginary that might modify and transform aspects of that civic imaginary that is so antithetical to Christian living today." Ward does not promise a prescription (for, say, "a Christian politics or a Christian polity"); instead, he hopes that a theological "description" of the postmodern world will lead to a new imagination, and in turn to a new way of life.
Ward begins his introduction with a warning: "This is a political book. It is not a polite book" (p. 21). His reasons for impoliteness include the tense times in which we live and the fact that he writes from a particular perspective that makes particular claims (he writes as a Christian). Moreover, the claims he makes in this book will constitute "a religious stand against the materialism engulfing the West." If the current state of the world had to be summarized in one word, then the word would be change. Ward explains:
The world is changing. And we have to understand how even if we get lost in the thickets when we try to sort out the complexities of why. The world is changing, and religion is one of the drivers of this change. The spirit of new capitalism is another. These changes shape us and therefore shape our futures. This book analyzes these changes and their religious import so that we theologians--Christian, Jewish, and Islamic--might make better peacemakers. (p. 23)The book's introduction continues with a discussion of the difference between micropolitics and macropolitics (the first refers to the public actions of individuals while the second "is the operation of power when we treat not individuals but governments" [p. 30]). Jesus, Ward observes, chose not to be "engaged in macropolitics"--despite opportunities for such engagement. Ward adds, "[I]t was probably not until the conversion of Constantine that Christianity shifted from the micropolitical to the macropolitical" (p. 31).
The introduction concludes with an outline of the book's first section, which will be a three-chapter description of the world focusing first on democracy, then on globalization, and finally on religion. He hopes this description will serve as a map for Christians, helping them to navigate the choppy waters of the postmodern world. Politeness will not be helpful; "there is a genuine struggle here" (p. 33).
The first chapter picks up the discussion of "a distinction between micro- and macropolitics and to a trend away from the former toward the latter" (p. 39). Before offering examples, Ward draws another distinction, this one between liberalism (in the broad sense of the word, not the sense in which it is often used in American political rhetoric) and democracy. Liberalism, with its emphasis on human rights, predates democracy. On the one hand, "[t]he moral and political virtue paramount in liberalism is liberty"; on the other hand, "the moral and political virtue paramount in democracy is equality" (p. 42). Ward asserts that these two different emphases exist in uneasy tension, with one or the other emphasized more in response "to the fluctuations of time and circumstance" (p. 43). He recognizes that democracy has taken many different forms (it looks different in Iceland than in Sweden, for example), and "democracy" or "liberal democracy" is therefore "a slippery term, a term always under negotiation" (p. 40).
Ward offers three historical examples to illustrate how "the balance between these calls [to freedom and to equality] is tipped one way or the other." The first two examples (from the early 1930s and the 1970s, respectively) show a tipping "away from liberal democracy to social democracy" (p. 49)--that is, from individual liberty (micropolitics) to structural equality (macropolitics). The third example describes Western politics since the beginning of the 1980s, which Ward argues has been characterized largely by "a new authoritarianism and decisionist politics" (p. 58). The result? "Although...democracy seemed to recover from the crisis of the 1970s, it did so by morphing and bringing to power a range of new decisionist leaders who effectively reasserted the liberal principle over the democratic" (p. 63). In other words, the pendulum swung from an emphasis on equality over freedom to an emphasis on freedom over equality. Ward recognizes that neither of these options is ideal: "Absolute equality is the erasure of difference and distinction, the flatline that signals death, the nihilist's void. Absolute freedom is lawless, anarchic, and answerable to no one--the true terrorist" (p. 56).
Part II: http://postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com/2010/01/engaging-global-city-theologically-book_11.html
Part III: http://postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com/2010/01/engaging-global-city-theologically-book_13.html
Part IV: http://postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com/2010/01/engaging-global-city-theologically-book_14.html
Part V: http://postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com/2010/01/engaging-global-city-theologically-book_3248.html
Part VI: http://postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com/2010/01/engaging-global-city-theologically-book_15.html
Part VII: http://postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com/2010/01/engaging-global-city-theologically-book_16.html