In The Emergent Church, Johann Baptist Metz contrasts two ecclesial responses to the church’s marginalization in modern Western culture. He notes that many in the Catholic church respond to the decadence of bourgeois religion by insisting rigorously on certain points of Christian morality such as the prohibition of divorce and compulsory clerical celibacy as examples of this. While not arguing against the church’s moral tradition as such, Metz does state that rigorism of the church does not call forth an alternative way of life that truly has the capacity to challenge bourgeois society at the level of social and political life. He also notes the distinctive role played by money within the “rigorous” version of bourgeois religion. It functions as a “binding symbol” and indeed as the form of “mediation between the Christian virtues”. What this means is that the “public virtues” related to dealing with societal suffering are mediated almost exclusively by money. On the model of moral rigorism the church’s moral task in the political realm is almost exclusively reduced to “a process of the mere giving of money.”
In contrast, Metz argues that the proper posture of the church in bourgeois society is one of radicalism. What this means for him involves challenging the norms of society through “the all-embracing strategy of love to attack the dominant principles of exchange and barter as these spread insidiously into the psychic foundations of societal life, and overcoming the reification of interpersonal relations and their increasing interchangeability and transitoriness, the church is then radical without necessarily having to be rigorous in the legal sense.” Likewise, here giving money cannot be the center of the Christian political ethic. Rather the radical position insists on the tangibility of Christian love taking shape in actual relationships, rather than simply through various and sundry programs at which money can be thrown.
Metz sums up the contrast he seas as follows: “Rigorism springs more from fear, radicalism from freedom, the freedom of Christ’s call.”