MacIntyre And Church Renewal

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I came across this Alasdair MacIntyre quote not long ago and thought it was a fitting reflection for the much-discussed topic of church renewal. Part of MacIntyre’s point is to say that if a tradition is to overcome its own crisis of knowing, it will be through the revision of its narrative in light of its current cultural setting, together with its criteria for truth, by the hands of insiders to that tradition. This revision will never be final or complete, but always open-ended and ready for new changes. It seems to me that any account Convergent Friends can offer, or any other renewal movement within denominations (like Fresh Expressions, the Missional movement, the Emerging Church, etc) must always see itself as only “a best account so far.” MacIntyre writes:

When an epistemological crisis is resolved, it is by the construction of a new narrative, which enables the agent to understand both how he or she could intelligibly have held his or her original beliefs and how he or she could have been so drastically misled by them. The narrative is itself made into the subject of an enlarged narrative. The agent has come to understand how the criteria of truth and understanding must be reformulated. He had to become epistemologically self-conscious and at a certain point he may have come to acknowledge two conclusions: the first is that his new forms of understanding may themselves in turn come to be put in question at any time; the second is that, because in such crises the criteria of truth, intelligibility, and rationality may always themselves be put in question — as they are in Hamlet — we are never in a position to claim that now we possess the truth or now we are fully rational. The most we can claim is that this is the best account which anyone has been able to give so far, and that our beliefs about what the marks of “a best account so far” will themselves change in what are at present unpredictable ways. (MacIntyre 1980:56-57)

And elsewhere MacIntyre reflects on the importance that this “remix” of a tradition’s narrative within a new setting will have a fluid interplay with the past:

“For it is central to the conception of such a tradition that the past is never something merely to be discarded, but rather that the preset is intelligible only as a commentary upon and response to the past in which the past, if necessary and if possible, is corrected and transcended, yet corrected and transcended in a way that leaves the present open to being in turn corrected and transcended by some yet more adequate future point of view” (MacIntyre 1984:147).

Where have you personally witnessed these kinds of open-ended interactions taking place in today’s church?

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

9 thoughts on “MacIntyre And Church Renewal”

  1. Hi Ryan, thanks for the comment. The album link is here —http://tinyurl.com/6uxcb5and in terms of the citation, I think it may be inaccurate. It's one I wrote down awhile ago and I'm currently in Ohio so I can't check the specifics. But I'm pretty sure it comes from his essay “Epistemological Crisisand DramaticNarrative.” If you haven't read that essay it's a must. I can get it to you when I return to Ohio if you can't track it down. One place you can find it is in the book “The Task of Philosophy,” It's also in Hauerwas' edited volume “Why Narrative?” I'm a little aware of what you're doing with the seventh day adventists and from what I hear it's pretty cool. We should share ideas one of these days?

  2. Yes, please! I see you in Coffee by the Books practically every time I'm there, but we've not be introduced. So, when you get back to Pasadena, let's get in touch.

  3. Love the quote as well as your new design. It is as if you are gathering in light and spreading it as well. Peace.

  4. Wess, what is the reference for the first quote. After Virtue was published in 1981 and I'm having trouble locating a 1980 publication. Either way, amazing quote. I'm in the Seventh-day Adventist tradition and what you say in your opening paragraph about the revision of a traditions narrative from within the tradition is exactly what I think I'm going through and struggling so much to articulate. I want to think more about this but it feels just out of my reach.

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