In light of my recent exploration of the book of Daniel at Eastbrook Church (see “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith“), Alan Jacobs’ blog post earlier this week seemed well-timed for me. Jacobs interacts with Adrian Vermeule’s review of Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, in which Vermeule offers an alternative to Deneen’s plea for a renewed localism, and to the related counsel of Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option. He writes:
So a key question arises: If you need people who are sufficiently skilled in negotiating the liberal order to work effectively within it, but also committed to its transformation, and who can sustain that difficult balance over decades, you have to figure out how to form such people. And it is just this that the churches of the West – all the churches of the West — have neglected to do, have neglected even to attempt. With the (in retrospect quite obvious) result: the accelerating collapse across the board of participation in church life.
What is required, in the face of a general culture that through its command of every communications medium catechizes so effectively, is the construction of a powerful counter-catechesis. Who will do that, and how will they do it? The likely answer, it seems to me, brings us back to the very localism that Deneen and Dreher advocate and that Vermeule rejects. Though I also might reject certain elements and emphases of the communities that Deneen and Dreher advocate, I don’t see a likely instrument other than highly dedicated, counter-cultural communities of faith for the Josephs and Mordecais and Esthers and Daniels to be formed. Those who do see other means of such rigorous formation need to step up and explain how their models work. Otherwise we will be looking in vain for the people capable to carrying out Vermeule’s beautiful vision.
I appreciate Jacobs’ suggestion of a counter-catechesis but empathisize with his questions of “who will do that?” and “how will they do it?” As I suggested in my first message in our series from Daniel, “Faith in Exile,” we must give attention to the role enculturation and socialization in our faith and discipleship. The counter-catechesis that he suggests is something that goes so much deeper than most of us realize. The book of Daniel seems to be a perfect primer on this, combining both the narratives of exile faith (chs. 1-6) and the visions of an apocalyptic imagination (chs. 7-12) as two halves of the necessary aspects of living as a people transformed at the deeper level of social imaginaries for more meaningful engagement with the culture around. This helps us to develop a different grammar flowing from a different imagination.
Somehow, we must live in the tension of our double identity as “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20) who also “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).