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The Dangers of Christian Practice

On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin
Narrated by: Tavia Gilbert
Length: 5 hrs and 50 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Challenging the central place that "practices" have recently held in Christian theology, Lauren Winner explores the damages these practices have inflicted over the centuries.  

Sometimes, beloved and treasured Christian practices go horrifyingly wrong, extending violence rather than promoting its healing. In this bracing audiobook, Lauren Winner provocatively challenges the assumption that the church possesses a set of immaculate practices that will definitively train Christians in virtue and that can't be answerable to their histories. 

Is there, for instance, an account of prayer that has anything useful to say about a slave-owning woman's praying for her slaves' obedience? Is there a robustly theological account of the Eucharist that connects the Eucharist's goods to the sacrament's central role in medieval Christian murder of Jews?   

Arguing that practices are deformed in ways that are characteristic of and intrinsic to the practices themselves, Winner proposes that the register in which Christians might best think about the Eucharist, prayer, and baptism is that of "damaged gift". Christians go on with these practices because, though blighted by sin, they remain gifts from God.

©2018 Lauren F. Winner (P)2018 Tantor

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Spiritual practices are not silver bullets

Over the past few years I have become a disciple of spiritual practices. I have a spiritual director. I regularly use the Book of Common Prayer. I really do think that the eucharist and baptism should be central to worship. This makes me the target audience of Lauren Winner’s new book, the Dangers of Christian Practice.

The rough thesis is that spiritual practices, while good, have weaknesses that need to be paid attention to. Just like the church is made up of human beings that are sinful and make every church community less than perfect, good practices that are commanded by God and advocated throughout history also have some weaknesses.

The easiest illustration and the best chapters is about prayer. Keziah Goodwin Hopkins Brevard is the main illustration. She is a 57 year old widowed owner of two plantations and over 200 slaves. She left extensive journals both of her thoughts and of her prayers as fodder for Winner’s discussion.

As Winner recounts, Brevard prays for pliant slaves, she prays for the death of slaves that lie to her, she prays that Heaven will have a separate location for abolitionists and slaves away from her. (Note the political and rhetorical implications of a separate heaven.) She prays to be a good master and for a heart open to God.

Winner notes that the subjects of our prayers have long been a concern for Christians. Aquinas and others cited have thought and written about praying for things that are sinful or out of distorted desires. But the very nature of prayer is part of the problem. It is not just intercessory prayer, but teaching prayer to others and how public prayer is often not solely directed at God. Prayer can easily become gossip, self justifying or deluded. But even out of bad prayer often includes good aspects.

Winner gives illustrations of the anthologies of prayer that line her shelves. None of them are anthologies of bad or self seeking prayers that could help us understand how our own prayers may be come bad or self seeking. Instead prayer is presented and taught as an almost universal good.

The other two practices discussed in the Dangers of Christian Practice are the problems of the eucharist being held in too high of a value (the illustration is riots causes by accused desecration of the host) and the problems of antisemitism and supersessionism, and baptism and the problems of the privatization of baptism through private christening ceremonies that were held in the home in the 19th and early 20th century as well as the way that baptism can alienate the subject from their family or community as well as drawing them into the family of Christ.

This is a very brief overview. There are lots of side tracks as well as a good introduction to the concept and a concluding chapter that challenges the ideas of spiritual practices especially as it has arisen out of post-liberal theology.

The ideas behind Dangers of Christian Practice are very helpful. One that in someways could be an article or a much larger book and still be helpful. I was very skeptical about the concept of the book and probably would not have picked it up without reading James KA Smith’s very positive review at Christian Century. However, despite my skepticism, I this was well worth reading and a good reminder to not place too much weight or responsibility on any aspect of discipleship, moral formation, or model of church.

All models of church and modes of discipleship have weaknesses. All can be corrupted and tainted. But as Winner rightly notes in the last chapter, they are what we have. Because they are not perfect does not mean that we should abandon them completely. Winner is not advocating that. Instead she is advocating more humility and understanding of the practices so that we can minimize the harm that misusing spiritual practices can bring.

I listened to the Dangers of Christian Practice on audiobook. It was not my favorite narration, but it was acceptable. I kept checking my player because it felt like it was running slightly too fast. Like maybe the narrator read it too slow, and the editor sped the narration up slightly digitally by cutting some of the pauses and space between the words. But for me, it was far cheaper on audiobook than on kindle or hardcover.

#sweepstakes #Christian #SpiritualPracticeOfReading