Holy Anarchy: Dismantling Domination, Embodying Community, Loving Strangeness
SCM Press, 2022, £19.99
Theologically, Holy Anarchy is a challenging book to read. As preachers, I venture to suggest that it is an essential one too. In it Adams challenges our ideas of faith, truth and God and presents us with a different horizon where Holy Anarchy reigns. The book is radical, it goes to the roots of institutionalised religion and shows that things need not be as they are. In place of order, structure, purity and power, Adams suggests that the realm of God is uncertain.
The book consists of four parts, each with an introduction and two chapters. Part one considers Holy Anarchy, truth and the ‘other’ God. Adams’ commitment is that ‘God’s will is done precisely by virtue of God’s not “ruling over”’(page 15) but instead through the work of ‘anti-domination.’ Three challenges result from this – how do we hold a Christian identity generously? How do we take account of our own limits and value the understandings of others? And how do we recognise and transform power structures? Here is a challenge for preachers: we must resist whitewashing our own stories, we must acknowledge difference and we must challenge the silencing of others.
Chapter two introduces two types of truth: ‘truth-as-correctness’ and ‘truth-as-openness,’ ‘truth-in-hand’ and ‘truth-in-process.’. The former truth is complete in itself, the second is always becoming. Belief focused Christianity is presented as truth-in-hand - its beliefs are to be defended, and its aspirations are colonial, seeking to dominate or silence alternative views. Preachers need to ask which truth we appeal to as we speak.
Part two digs deep into justice. The church has been remiss in building a ‘kingdom of God’ that emulates other kingdoms and empires. We have so imbibed dominant western philosophies that we imagine our faith in its terms. Here Adams makes one of his most powerful arguments: we need to move from TANA (There Are No Alternatives) to TASA (There Are Several Alternatives).
Part three turns to the alternative community of Christians, in which unity is rooted in an alternative paradigm where there is no domination – either by God or by others. Part four turns to xenophilia, love of others, rather than xenophobia should be a mark of the church. Again, the challenge to preachers, is how we demonstrate this.
Of particular value in this book are the new hymn words, set to well-known tunes, that are spread throughout. They offer preachers a rich source of supportive material for congregational singing that pick up on the themes of the book. They are inclusive and thought-provoking, but eminently singable because of their musical settings.
Holy Anarchy is a challenging but worthwhile read, that will raise many questions for preachers about how we speak of truth, faith, and God and whether our thoughts are dominated by paradigms that should be alien to communities of faith. How might it help our preaching at times when unchurched people, or visitors from other faiths and traditions might be with us? Perhaps hospitality might characterise our preaching at baptisms, a focus on including all who are there, instead of instructing them in what we believe, an approach to truth that admits all know something.
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