Dismantling the ‘cathedral of the self’


In a recent post on his blog, ‘The Flaying of the Missional Church Upon The Cathedrals of the Self‘, Mark Sayers’ leaves a challenge to the missional church movement, namely:

The church moves into the cafe, the pub, the home, and the sporting club in the name of mission and as a protest against attractional concepts of Church. Yet the individual sense of entitlement is never truly challenged, there will be much focus on the immanent Jesus who is our friend, yet little emphasis on the transcendent ‘otherness’ of God who reminds us of our falleness and cosmic smallness. The huge danger is that whilst the incarnational, missional approach rejects the idea of the medieval cathedral, the cathedral of the self is never truly dismantled.

As he explains earlier in the post:

The individual now operates as a kind of personal cathedral. Social media arms and aids the growing sense of entitlement in the contemporary therapeutic self. The individual creates a facade that will shock and awe. An exterior that will garner respect and acknowledgement. If the medieval cathedral was an attempt to connect with a palpable sense of the transcendent, the contemporary self attempts also attempts to create a sense of transcendence through the correct assemblage of consumer experiences.
The difference between this and the medieval vision is that the contemporary cathedral of the self is religion free, instead it seeks to eek out transcendence in what David Brooks calls a ‘low-ceilinged world’. Instead of plainchant, stained glass windows and the drama of the liturgy, the modern self attempt to find transcendence in budgets breaks on the beach in Thailand, 3D movies, killer Ipad apps, and in the torque of a SUV.
The cathedrals of the 21st century self like their medieval counterparts demand that you come to them. They demand to be taken seriously. They insist on being the only show in town. Therein lies the danger for the missional church. The missional church which attempts to incarnate, which tries to ‘go to’; can find itself shifting from an attractional mode of church, to becoming enslaved to an attractional view of the self. Incarnation can quickly degenerate into syncretism for the missional operator who is unaware of the cathedral of the self.
Many missional leaders who have critiqued the therapeutic and individualist tendencies of the contemporary church growth movement, can easily and naively find themselves serving an even more pernicious expression of the therapeutic self as Church is completely taken to and rearranged around the habits, locales, tastes and wants of the individual in the name of incarnational mission.

This is well observed and to the point – just because a congregation has moved out into community and no longer meets in a church building doesn’t mean that they have moved away from an attractional construct of church.  They might consider themselves ‘incarnate’, meeting together amongst the people group that they feel called to reach, and yet still live ‘enslaved to the attractional view of the self’ because they haven’t come to terms with the transcendent otherness of God, the King who should be feared and obeyed above all else, and truly recognised their eternal dependence upon Him rather than on disposable and transitory, worldly pleasures.

I think this is a real problem for the church in its contemporary context – or should I make it more personal and admit that it is a real problem for me in my personal context.  Is Jesus really Lord and King of every area of my life?  Have I truly experienced first hand the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10)?

I have just been watching the first of the Francis Chan BASIC series – amazingly entitled ‘Fear God’.  I intend to review it more fully over the next few days, but it has really hit home to me how much I need to get to a proper understanding of the fear of God – and put my understanding of the ‘immanent Jesus who is my friend’ into it’s correct context.

Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their book ReJesus encourage the viewing of discipleship from a Hebraic perspective, focussing on the concepts of orthodoxy, orthopraxy and orthopathy – right thinking, right acting and right feeling.  It occurs to me now upon reflection, and after reading Mark’s post, that none of these adequately incorporate our response and attitude towards the holiness of God.  Maybe another should be added – how about ‘orthodikasy’ (yep, I just made it up but it sort of works) – which I will define as our ‘right standing’ before God.  I think this would complement the Hirsch-Frost Hebraic framework – and acknowledges the need for a proper understanding of the otherness of God in the missional context.

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