Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Book Review: Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life.

“For the scientist the formulation of questions is almost the whole thing.
The answers, when found, only lead on to other questions.”
--D.W. Winnicott

Robert Banks’ Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life serves as a case in point of Winnicott’s observation, but in the context of a theologian. Dr. Bank’s text’s greatest strength is also perhaps its most frustrating weakness.

On the one hand, the book does a superb job asking probing, practical questions. In so doing, Banks connects theology to what might be considered mundane and perhaps ostensibly insignificant activities of modern life, such as commuting and even sleeping. He correctly diagnoses the deep chasm that often exists between beliefs and everyday lives. (pp. 66, 139-40; 142.)

On the other hand, Banks got carried away when he strung together overwhelming lists of questions. In one instance, Banks rattled off a staggering litany of seventeen (17) questions in a row. (pp. 18-19.) He didn’t pause to suggest answers, and didn’t pause to suggest even how to approach answering them. He didn’t pause at all.

Like Winnicott, Banks makes the asking of questions “almost the whole thing.” Perhaps worse, Banks correctly concedes that the questions, or at least some of them, are unanswerable as ambiguous (p. 122) and largely without explicit Biblical guidance. (p 137.) Further, Banks’ proffered solutions really only lead to more questions. Bank suggests as antidotes house churches, workshops, and work groups.

However, in making his suggestions, Banks acknowledges that there are questions in how to make these pragmatically work. (p. 109.) I agree. Under Banks own observations, “it is difficult to find other people” to form such groups. (Id.) Then, to compound matters, as Banks has argued, people are overly programmed. How are such time-poor people going to be able to commit to and then conduct yet another regular meeting, interactions and relationships? Banks does not really provide any practical answer.

Nevertheless, Banks’ message of the “house church” resonated with me in a certain respect. While I wouldn’t subscribe to a view that the house church should supplant the formal congregation, it is, in my opinion, a necessary supplement. Banks is on to something when he criticizes the traditional church model of the professional ministers as performers while the laity are audience members. (pp. 155-56.) The reversal of this scenario is one primary merit of small groups or house church models. They allow for personal interaction and involvement that a “service” at a formal church does not. Each person in the small group has an opportunity to speak and to listen to others in the group. In so doing, the level of intimacy, connection and involvement that cannot possibly by obtained simply watching others—the professionals—conduct the service. Banks is spot-on when he argues for such small groups or house churches can form the basis for connecting theology to everyday life. (p. 103.) The other people in the group are usually similarly situated as they too have to deal with everyday issues such as making mortgages.

In one recent example, I was part of a discipleship group where we discussed the Christian response to the workers’ strike against the grocery chains in Southern California. It was truly eye-opening to get different perspectives (one was a member of another union), and also to try to connect one’s faith to this tangible issue.

I recommend this book, despite its flaws.