So first off, why am I doing a blog series on a thin little book from the mid-sixties, written by a man I’d never heard of before this month?
Well, William Stringfellow comes highly recommended. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called Stringfellow “Probably the most creative and disturbing Anglican theologian” of the 20th century … a century that includes C.S. Lewis. That got my attention. Who is this guy, and why haven’t I heard of him before?
It turns out Stringfellow was a lay theologian, a lawyer by trade. He lived in New York and spent a lot of time practicing law for the benefit of the poor and otherwise unrepresented. He “walked the walk,” as it’s said. So this “most creative and disturbing theologian” wasn’t even seminary-trained? Now you really have my attention.
But where do I start? Dr. Richard Beck (of Abilene Christian University’s Psychology department and the Experimental Theology blog) called Imposters of God the best single-volume survey of William Stringfellow’s theology. And it’s about modern-day Western idolatry, one of my favorite topics (if by “favorite topics” you mean infuriating things I’m slightly obsessed with).
So obviously I wanted to see what the fuss was about. Imposters of God is only 66 pages long in its current printing. But if the first chapter is any indication, it has more real meat than most 400-page tomes.
In his foreword, Stringfellow gets to the heart of the matter: the jarring disconnect between sanctuary and society, especially in a nominally Christian society.
Six days a week, Christians seem identical to everyone else. One day a week, we enter into various worship ceremonies ranging from the ornate to the causal to the concert-ish.
What does this mean? Is our worship more than a sentimental or superstitious practice?
Is it more than a social club or opportunity to network?
Is it more than a prerequisite for respectability in the Bible Belt?
Why is the most religious of the industrialized nations also the most violent, most calculating, most ambitious, most status-seeking?
Stringfellow proposes an answer: we have been led astray into idolatry. And idolatry is, at its heart, the worship of death.
We’ll explore what this means over the next few weeks. I believe that as Stringfellow pulls back the curtain on our treasured Western Christian American culture, we’re all going to bleed a little.
But that’s a good thing. Sometimes the only way to heal is to cut out the infection. And sometimes the only way to serve God is to tear down your father’s idols, as Gideon learned.
Next time, Chapter 1: The Mystery of Idolatry.