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Chapter 4 The Practice of Community Formation James Wm. McC/endon, Jr. Editor's Introduction It may be good to remind the reader at this point of the purposes of this book. Our goal is to bring together the work of Alasdair Macintyre in philosophical ethics with the writings of a variety of Christian ethicists in such a way that the latter exemplify the patterns of moral description and moral reasoning defended by Macintyre, while allowing Maclntyre's philosophical concepts to shed light on the shape and justification of the theological positions. To this end, we in­ troduce each of the following chapters with a brief essay that summarizes its Maclntyrean features. The goal in this part of the book is to highlight themes that appear central to the Christian moral life when it is viewed through a Maclntyrean lens. Thus, we begin this part with a chapter from James Wm. McClendon, J r.'s, Ethics in which he argues that community formation is the central practice of the Christian church (Ethics: Systematic Theology, Volume I [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1 986]). McClendon writes from the perspective of the "little 'b' baptist tradition." By this he means to refer to a broad spectrum of Christian life that has been influenced by (or simply happens to be like) the churches of the Radical Refor­ mation. McClendon argues that Christian ethics must take account of a threefold complexity: ( 1 ) Christians are (along with others) embodied, a part of nature; (2) Christians participate in the social structures of society but also develop their own social structures; and (3) the ongoing life of the church is open to the con­ tinuing activity of God in its midst. Thus, there are three interwoven strands of thought, all needed in order to give a complete account of the Christian moral life: the body strand, the social strand, and the resurrection strand. This chap­ ter by McClendon focuses on the social strand of Christian ethics and makes effective use of a concept of practice comparable to Maclntyre's. In short, the formation of a community of disciples is the sum and substance of Christian social ethics. McClendon reflects on two subpractices that effect community formation. One is sharing in the covenant meal. "At the fundament of missionary, Gentile Christianity, there is a rite not magical, nor even (in many usual senses of the term) sacramental - but moral and ethical first of all; that is, aimed at the shaping of the common life of Christian community. . . . The meal 85 86 James Wm. McClendon, Jr. is part and parcel of a practice . . . which we might roughly name the practice of establishing and maintaining Christian community." The rules for the meal are constitutive of the life of the church. They are linked to the life story of Jesus: to follow, to witness, to remain faithful until death. Mcclendon describes a second practice constitutive of community formation: reconciliation. How was it to be possible for the Christian community to take the costly way of Jesus? How was it to be kept on track? "In terms of technique, the answer lay in a never-ending congregational conversation - a conversation that may now engage only two or three, but again will involve the gathered ekklesia itself." McClendon points out that the rules for communal discipline in Matthew 1 8 are wisely calculated to result, in the happy case, not in the expulsion of offenders but in forgiveness and reconciliation. Finalty, McClendon finds the concept of social practice useful for exploring the question of the church's relation to the world. It is not helpful to set up the question, as H. Richard Niebuhr did, in terms of Christ and culture, for cul­ ture itself is not one global u nity. Better, says McClendon, to recognize in it an indefinite congeries of powerful practices, toward which Christian witness will necessarily take a variety of forms, ranging from conscious engagement to complete withdrawal. So McClendon's work illustrates the rich use that can be made in Christian ethics of the Maclntyrean concept of a practice. I n Maclntyre's work we find a theoretical account displaying the relations between practices and the traditions they help to constitute, and between practices and the virtues that make them possible. We also find in Maclntyre's work a justification for employing an anal­ ysis in these terms, in contrast to the analyses in terms of rights and duties and utility that have become so common in modern ethical discourse...


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