Newsletter 15 (Winter 1993)
With the Thanks of All Concerned
Rev Philip Morgan
Chairman of Interim Management Group
Four people played major roles in thinking through and carrying through The Gospel and Our Culture Programme in recent years, including the Swanwick Consultation.
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin provided so much of the initial challenge, and has been indefatigable criss-crossing the world in extending the range of the Programme and developing its ideas. Following the Consultation and his removal from Birmingham to London he has retired from the Management Group and the day to day operation of the Programme.
Bishop Hugh Montefiore, first as Chairman of the Management Group and then as editor of the book of preparatory essays, but also through his range of contacts and his inimitable way of seeing additional questions or the other side of some of the original questions, made an unique contribution. He also has now retired from immediate involvement in the Programme.
Bishop Hugh was greatly assisted by Lawrence Osborn in creating the teams which eventually produced the book. His understanding of the theme and skill in communicating it to a very diverse group of people enabled him to assemble a significant group of writers who contributed the chapters of the book. Lawrence, fortunately, is not retiring, rather the reverse, for he will be taking over as coordinator of the Programme from 1st February 1993 until the autumn of this year, by which time we hope to be in a position to make plans for a longer-term future.
Which brings us to the fourth major contributor, the present coordinator Dan Beeby. In many ways Dan has been Lesslie's alter ego, the closest of colleagues and consultants, rivalling him in his number of contacts and his ability to girdle the earth. Whilst coordinating and administering the Programme, most ably assisted by Rosemary Hay, Dan has continued to develop both the theology and the strategy of the Programme. He will retire from his post at the end of January, to enable him to take up some of the many projects he has held back from developing during this period of service. Not surprisingly these projects are all developments of some field or another of the Programme!
Our profound thanks are due to all four, but especially at this moment those who now retire from immediate involvement in the day to day running of the Programme. It may not be known by all that all three, whilst giving so much of themselves to us, have, at the same time, been caring for wives whose health has been a matter of great concern. Our prayers and support are offered to Lesslie and Hugh for Helen and Elizabeth. As many of you will know Dan's wife, Joyce, died on November 21st.
Dan and Joyce met in 1937 and were married in 1945 before being together in China and Taiwan from 1947 to 1972 when they were forced to leave, Dan having been declared persona non grata, an accolade in itself in those days. From 1973 to 1981 Joyce was bursar at Crowther Hall, Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, and then shared with Dan when from 1981 to 1986 he was Principal of St Andrew's Hall. Dan and a multitude of others have paid tribute to the 22 years in which Joyce gave so much to so many. In these last years, although seriously limited in health, she remained a source of inspiration and joy to Dan and to those who knew her. We have been singularly privileged to have the gifts and service of such colleagues in these recent years.
We are grateful to Lawrence for making himself available, at some con siderable adjustment to his personal and family affairs, and wish him well in this next formative period of the Pro gramme. We are sure he will not be smothered inheriting such mantles!
The Gospel as Public Truth: Epistemology
Rev Dr James Walker
Principal, The Queen's College, Birmingham
The following is based on what was said to a plenary session of The Gospel and Culture conference in July 1992, on the subject of Epistemology. I had the privilege of chairing this group, and of making the presentation. Many will have seen the summary of the deliberations of the Epistemology Section, but the following employs a freer style, attempting to convey, partly through a supposed dialogue with myself, something of the excitement and interest which the subject generated. Much theology occurs too, for, to adapt a dictum of Kant, 'theology without epistemology is blind, epistemology without theology is empty'.
"How do I know anything? What is the 'click' - that 'aha', that 'eureka' that is involved in discovering something new? It comes at times in a sudden form, at other times gradually, but when it comes, it excites and tantalizes. It leaves me with the impression of being on tiptoes. A new world is about to dawn!
"But wait! I may be excited, but how do I know I am not deluding myself? Perhaps I am off on my own, up a cul-de-sac? I may be excited, but so what? What tests can I bring to bear in order to discern if there is anything in what has 'clicked'? Yes, it does seem to bear fruit in other areas of life? Yes, other areas are illuminated? Yes, I can see things in fresh ways? It does lead to new possibilities.
"Even so, maybe I am still in my own little world.
"I know! I need a community! I need a community to help me to think - a community of people willing to take the risk of looking at things from this new perspective - a community of people for whom also the new perspective could become or already is (for perhaps they may be further along the road than I) real.
"But then, are there not many other communities with different 'clicks'? Why assume I, or rather that my community and I, have the only true one?
"Hang on a minute! Is all this not the wrong way around? I have talked about my 'click', my knowing, the community's knowing. Surely what is known is just as crucial, in fact, more crucial, for it is that that triggers the click!
"What is it to know God? But wait! There is a prior question: who is the God we know?
"If God is One then certain things follow. Jesus talked of God as one, but so also did Mohammed. May we not then learn from one another, and possibly decide to take a similar route together? We would then be an even wider community, a more obviously world community. Surely that is better.
"Suppose, however, it is otherwise. Suppose that God is Three - is Trinitarian. To know the One God is then to know God in God's own communion of Persons. Here are Persons in relation to the others - the Father is Father in relation to the Son and the Spirit, and so on. There is a distinctiveness about the Persons - a diversity in unity, a unity in diversity.
"These Trinitarian Persons - do they in their knowing one another take pleasure in one another? Is there an ecstatic delight? - a Trinitarian dance? If so, Trinitarian knowing is not just intellectual. It is far richer. It involves LOVE.
"Suppose, now, that the Trinity opens up its own life, by including us and all creation in it through incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost. Knowing would be as much about participation, communion, feeling, imagination, intuition. It would involve worship listening and speaking - a giving and a receiving.
"If the Trinitarian God opens up God's own life - as God has - our knowing must correspond with the path that has been taken. This is rooted in the past, in Jesus Christ. Knowing, then, involves a commitment to a particular past, in Jesus Christ. Knowing then involves a commitment to a particular history, 1900 years ago or thereabouts ... and to a theological witness, to those who handed on what they received and perceived.
"Knowing, however, relates not only to the past. The present is the key. And hence, the community - persons-in-relationship - is vital. It is a community of God-lovers and neighbour lovers, a society of explorers, a community of verifiers, a people caught up in a mission that is not their own, a reconciled and reconciling community, a people with an ecstatic delight, a people reflecting the Trinitarian life.
"There must also be, because of the Trinitarian mission, because of past and present, a future dimension - not just our future - God's future. Knowing the journey is thus to be on the journey.
"Yet wait! Are there not other people on other journeys, journeys just as real, with their own 'clicks' of insight? How can we decide? There are many public truths in the market place. Those others might be right!
"Let's talk it through then. Let's put on the table the lot - the nature of God, Jesus, creation, humanity, forgiveness, weakness, failure, territory, Christian exploitation of nature and of the poor the denominational divisions world-wide.
"How can we decide what is true?
"What is it that produces the click? Only God - yet it is not unimportant what people say and do. Not unimportant is the life of the believing community the persons-in-relation - reflecting Trinitarian Persons-in-relation.
"But isn't all this too airy fairy? We live in the real world. There are many different cultures, many different approaches to religions and to living. There is, too, hunger and poverty and exploitation. Voices are raised - "I'll do what I want"; "Miracles, forget it! - science shows them to be impossible"; "Nothing is real outside the five senses!"; "Many religions show there is nothing in religion".
"Great! We have now something to debate - in the market place!
"There is of course about the Cross a scandal, a foolishness, a stumbling block! We are committed to the scandal. We are not embarrassed by it.
"There are other kinds of scandals we are embarrassed about - the Church seems at times a public lie.
"Yet somehow, and there must be a miracle here somewhere, the Church is at the same time that group for whom a click has occurred, a click given by the Spirit. We are given to participate in the life of the Trinity. We participate in new ways of knowing and living and being, so that the Church too, as well. as the gospel, may become public truth."
Threefold Cord or Tangled Mesh of Fibres?
Dr Trevor A Hart
Department of Theology and Church History,University of Aberdeen
The attempt to articulate a coherent and identifiably Christian theology in our own historical and cultural context inevitably throws up a series of questions concerning the most appropriate method, source and norms for the task. What are the relevant authorities to and from which, from among the cacophany of voices all clamouring for their attention, the theologians must listen and learn? And which, if any, of those selected must take precedence over the others?
Answers to these questions have generally been framed, in recent centuries, in terms of the so-called `threefold cord' of reason, scripture and tradition (listed here alphabetically!). Such broad differences of approach as have been evident have centered on the question of order or priority. Only when the claims of one of the three have been fully met or satisfied are the others to be allowed to air their legitimate demands: but to which should this primary status be accorded? One classic answer is that to be found in Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (Book V, section 8, London, 1597). According to Hooker "... what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is, whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after these, the voice of the Church succeedeth." But others have ordered the three quite differently, with observable consequences in the content and structure of their theology.
One consequence of my personal engagement with The Gospel and Our Culture project over the last few years has been a creeping disillusionment and dissatisfaction with this model. It is, alas, always true that reality is more complex than the best of our attempts to render it in words indicates. In most cases that need and should not deter us from making the attempt. There are times, however, when the correspondence seems to be so strained that the usefulness of our linguistic models must be placed under continual review and applied only with careful qualification. The problems attaching to the threefold cord of authorities for faith are, it seems, numerous enough to place it, as a model, in this latter category.
First, it is deceptive to speak and to think of each of the three mentioned as if it were in some way neatly and utterly distinguishable from the others, so that a clear line of demarcation might be drawn between them. Further, none of the three is a simple reality in any sense of the term. Each is at best a convenient grouping together or set of closely related elements, all caught up in a complicated web of relationships both internal to the set, and across the three sets themselves. In terms of the model, we do not have to handle three single and neatly distinguishable threads which must now simply be woven together, but a more complex mesh of fibres altogether. Also, the model tends to suggest that the Christian theologian stands outside or over and against these three authorities; that they are essentially detached from her, and she handles them in some objective manner, as a craftswoman might handle the raw material of her trade. Again, in terms of the model, we must reckon seriously with the fact that we are already tangled up in all three of these loci of authority, so that their very intertangledness is not a problem set for us in which we may or may not choose to engage; it is at the same time in some sense the very problem of our own existence as Christians in God's world.
It might, perhaps, be supposed that in addressing the category of `scripture' we are dealing with the least problematic of our three areas. But in reality the scripture to which we attend proves to be far more complex and elusive than is often supposed. The Bible itself consists in a wide variety of literary sources rooted in very diverse historical contexts. Any perceived unity which it might possess as canon (a category of interpretation rooted firmly in church tradition) must therefore be considered over against a manifest diversity of genre, age, authorship and so on which must be taken fully into account. Furthermore, the fact that most of us read our Bibles in particular modern English translations shields us conveniently from perfectly proper questions which might be asked about different possible renderings of particular bits of it into English, or about the textual variants which lurk unperceived behind our own neatly packaged version. We tend to allow the editors of these versions to worry about such things on our behalf. The solutions and answers are not given in scripture in its most primitive form. As an authority for faith, then, scripture is not quite the static and clearly defined entity for which it has sometimes been mistaken.
The matter is complicated further by the presence of another variable in the equation: namely, us. Our use of the Bible as scripture entails continual efforts to fathom the meaning of particular parts of it, to hear them speaking to us afresh. But we do not approach this task of interpretation with empty minds, or as passive recipients of meaning. Rather we come precisely as those whose understanding is already shaped to a considerable degree by numerous factors: our knowledge (or lack of it) of other parts of scripture; the inheritance of a rich interpretive tradition within which we cannot help but stand as adherents to Christ's church; and, indeed, the assumptions, attitudes and emphases which our context bequeaths to us and which we cannot help bringing in turn to the text. All of these things, and others, will feed into the complicated task of answering such apparently simple questions as "What does the scripture say?", "What does it mean when it says it?", and "What does it have to say to us, therefore, as we apply it in and to our own situation?"
When 'reason' is referred to alongside scripture and tradition as an authority for faith, very often what appears to be intended is a reference to some alleged universal standard or set of criteria available to all human beings as 'rational' creatures, by virtue of which the `reasonableness' of a given proposition or belief might reliably be adjudged. In other words, a sort of intellectual litmus paper is presumed to exist, with which one may dip into a point of view or a system of belief and test its intellectual pH. Again, we find that things are in reality not quite so neat and tidy. In practice, however, this category of `reason' often operates as a cipher to be filled by each with the contents furnished by the dominant philosophical tradition of the day, whether that be Platonism, Aristotelianism, Existentialism or whatever. Two points are worthy of particular note here. First, as the contemporary philosopher Alasdair McIntyre has argued, 'rationality', far from being a trans-cultural and universal constant, is bound up closely with particular intellectual traditions and contexts, so that what counts as `rational' for one context (or even one person) may well not be so for another. And secondly, as Lesslie Newbigin has urged with his borrowing of Peter Berger's notion of 'plausibility structures', that with which the theologian must reckon alongside the scriptures and Christian tradition is in fact not just 'reason' in the sense of the received canon of intellectual respectability proper to a given cultural context, but rather the entirety of that context itself, which includes, yet is far broader than, its specifically intellectual aspects, embracing also moral, political, aesthetic, folk-religious and other assumptions. This is precisely why it is both legitimate and important to speak of a missionary interaction between the gospel and culture in all its rich diversity, rather than reason as such.
Turning finally to the category of 'tradition', we may note two things. First, the term has usually been employed in a relatively narrow sense to refer to the written deposit of faith passed down in credal and other forms from one generation of Christians to the next. Second, the notion of a received and authoritative Christian tradition has been subject to severe criticism in the wake of both the Reformation and the Enlightenment: on the one hand allegedly in the name of scripture, and on the other in that of reason. Yet if anything is clear it is that tradition as such (as opposed to a dogmatic and domineering traditionalism) is properly opposed to neither, but rather a necessary constituent and complement of both. As we have indicated, both in the case of the interpretation of scripture, and in the case of reason, tradition (i.e. the received wisdom of previous generations) plays an invaluable and necessary part. We may choose to part company with the tradition within which we stand, but we can do so only by setting out from the standpoint with which it furnishes us. Furthermore, it would seem to be more helpful to think of Christian tradition not in the narrowly defined sense of a written deposit, but rather as the whole complex of Christian witness to the gospel, embodied not in written form alone, but in the entire concrete existence of the community of God's people in each new generation.
Viewed thus, the 'tradition' is that part of our present which we inherit from our forefathers in the faith, a view and a way of life worked out in their particular situation in relation to and in dialogue with both scripture and context (or if we prefer, the gospel and culture), and within which we ourselves were once nurtured and grew and now stand in faith and understanding. But now we are called not to cling to the past, but to repeat the task of interpretation and discovery afresh for our own generation, responding to the new intellectual, moral and practical challenges with which the world presents us, and thereby both to incarnate the gospel of Christ anew in society, and to hand the baton of responsibility on to those who will in turn follow in our footsteps. Thus, standing within the tradition, we engage in a trilateral conversation with both scripture and our wider human context, the net result of which creative process is precisely the regeneration of tradition; but a tradition which has moved forward and developed, as it must if it is not to petrify and slide into self-imposed irrelevance.
The place of the individual Christian in this ongoing process is ambiguous. She lives within and out of the dynamic tradition of the Church, shaped decisively as it already is by its encounter with scripture and context; and yet she is herself in part responsible for the shape which it will take in the future. She is at least in part a product of her historical and cultural context; and yet she stands over against it, both a part of it and apart from it, bringing the critical light of scripture and tradition to bear upon what it has to offer. Her personal identity is already bound up inseparably with the foundational narrative of the church in scripture, profoundly affected by her encounter with the message and its meaning as relayed to her by the tradition; and yet she herself contributes in a decisive way to the retelling of the story for the present, and to its meaning and its extension into the present and the future. Perhaps the model of a threefold cord still has something to offer. Perhaps a threefold distinction may still usefully be drawn. But if so, then perhaps it can only be with the qualificatory observation that here we have to do with a perichoretic interpenetration of the three areas, such that any attempt to separate them out one from another, or to isolate them from the Christian in her attempt to forge a theology for the present can only result in confusion rather than clarification.
Epistemology and Spirituality: A Few Reflections
Sister Gill Goulding, IBVM
(currently engaged in research on spirituality among marginalized people)
That Knowing takes many forms is a truism. But it is worth restating because there can be a tendency to compartmentalize and remove from pragmatic reality the epistemological root. The academic context can often appear to render invalid - even if only temporarily - the integrated nature of knowing involving the whole of our reality (personal, interpersonal and cosmological). Indeed, it may be argued that only when there is such integration can there be a real epistemology conceived in its deepest and fullest extent.
"Knowing" in its holistic sense occurs partially through the acceptance of the verity of "facts". However, perhaps in its more penetrative form it appears in personal relations, in action, through corporate worship and personal prayer. It might also be argued that, given the gospel orientation, another form of access might be seen with regard to involvement with the poor or marginalized. Here our interactive stance may be weighted towards receptivity - at least initially. For we may have no relative personal experience with which to engage, and our intellects may inhibit our comprehension of realities which require the use of our affectivity and the sounding board of our own interior senses. How can we know anything of the life of a prostitute unless it is revealed to us by a prostitute; likewise the drug addict, the homeless person etc?
"Spirituality" has become overexploited as a term which can cover a wide spectrum of possibilities from New Age meditation on pyramids through shades of occult practice to the most orthodox Sunday worship. Within the Christian tradition particular forms of spirituality can tend towards elitism, so that if you do not visit a spiritual director and preferably have a therapist as well, keep a journal, know your Enneagram number, have your Myers-Briggs profile and make a regular retreat, you are definitely falling short. A crude characterization possibly, but what is the source and ground of our spirituality and what is its dynamic thrust within the world? Taking a subjective approach, spirituality is always grounded in a context and particular experiences. My working definition of spirituality is that which is most deeply personal - is me - is most precious to me. This is not just the "me" which may so often be alienated, distracted and inauthentic, but what is the most genuine, often most simple and certainly the most profound "me" that exists: the depths of an individual where we meet God and other real human beings. Here we touch the place where spirituality is more than what shapes and guides me; it is also what moves me, what resonates deep within, the place of my deepest desires. This centre, this focal point, this deep silence within, is the source of my lived response to God and to others. From here come the actions that really count. Here, the source of faith, is the inspiration of our vision - the fusion of prayer and action - for each individual in each specific context. The subjective experience of spirituality is thus a most profound form of knowing.
Christians assert the belief that knowing God has the prerequisite of God's initiative. This we affirm in credal form, and adhere to intellectually. Yet we appear to find a difficulty in matching this cerebral assent to the pragmatic realities that confront us. Our sense of the reality of Emmanuel, sharply focused for us in the Advent season, appears proscriptive. We narrow down the likely sources for, and places of, grace, and may then miss the reality that God may be calling us to share. Thus our response of thanksgiving to grace may be an "entailed" 1 response passing from generation to generation in limited form.
Knowing may be mediated through many kinds of human experience. It might be pertinent, then, to look a little more closely at those experiences, those encounters, which we find very difficult. How hard it is to see the reality of God in the old man half blind with drink, in the young black man with scars on his face and a Rottweiler in tow; in the young drug addict - living in a bin chute room; in the old woman who stands so close, and smells so unpleasant. It's hard then to appreciate that reality. Yet real exchange can only happen at the point of our shared humanity, and the reality of God at work within that. The gift of humility given by God accompanies true knowing; it implies an awareness of weakness and need, and a solidarity with others.
Given the need for a holistic appropriation of an integrated epistemology and spirituality, a contemporary problem appears in the context of how such an integrated approach might be made available to those we train for positions of leadership within the church. At one level it is very important that such training should make available to the candidates the wide spectrum of the churches' resources of knowledge in terms of biblical studies, systematic theology, ecclesiastical history, linguistic studies etc. However, at another level, there is the attempt to integrate the candidates' life experience, and also to expose it to the reality of pastoral situations in such a way that there can be further reflection and engagement in and with the theory, tradition, and pragmatic reality. Alongside this there may be also the developing relationship with God, and possibly the potential to assist other in this way. All of these may be vital factors in later ministry. If one is held to be "mere practice" while another extolled as "verified theory" - verified by x years of instilling it into the minds of candidates for ministry - we have a situation of no dialogue. But how carefully are these factors considered in the light of the necessity of integration? And given any acceptance of my working definition of spirituality, how do these diverse features coalesce within the depths of the individual candidates?
In the light of contemporary ministry what should be the epistemological basis of the training? What is it important for ministers to know, and at what levels? If we train intellectual giants who in spiritual and pastoral matters are blundering rhinoceroses, is it our epistemology which has fallen short? In what ways do we give substantive grounding in terms of spirituality? From the most basic training in listening skills, and an experiential appreciation of prayer, through a growing spiritual maturity, to the graced gift of spiritual direction, there is a whole spectrum of possibility to be explored. In particular, how do we both challenge and support candidates in this quest for integration? For it is not an easy path to tread. It involves the willingness to stand alongside others, listening to them and acknowledging our own failures and powerlessness. It appears intrinsic to our human condition that we fear such powerlessness, and the potential suffering involved. Yet an acceptance of shared human frailty helps us to make real contact with the weak, disadvantaged members of society, and only in this way can the communication of good news be made authentic on the margins.
Karl Jaspers exemplifies this reality when he poses the choice between opposed philosophical possibilities.
"Will a person enter the limited field of fixed truth, which in the end has only to be obeyed, or will he go into the limitless open truth? Will he win this perilous independence in perilous openness as in existential philosophy, the philosophy of communication in which the individual becomes himself on condition that others become themselves, in which there is no solitary peace but constant dissatisfaction and in which a man exposes his soul to suffering."2
Such an intuition appears valid for those in Christian leadership, that each individual becomes himself or herself only on condition that they function with others to help themselves to become themselves. To engage in such a process is to be subject to possible dissatisfaction and frustration for it remains incomplete. Yet this eschatological reality, under grace, is to live life from an integrated perspective where the joys and sorrows of real human beings are experienced in the deepest colour of their context. Let us not form leaders for meritorious mediocrity, rather let us have men and women of creative and integrative vision willing to take risks so that others may know and experience at profound levels the reality of God in their lives.
1 The metaphor of an entailed estate seems analogously appropriate. I hope the reader will concur.
2 Jaspers K. quoted in Merton T. A Vow of Conversation, London, Lamp Press, 1988.
Epistemology: An Upside-down View
Rev Dr Stephen May
College of Saint John The Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand
I came to the Consultation with high expectations, having been closely involved over the last few years with the associated Gospel and Cultures Programme set up in New Zealand by Dr Harold Turner.
I asked to join the Epistemology Group as that which seems to me most unavoidably significant. Personally, I would have preferred to see more small group and less plenary sessions in our eighty-strong section. This, I thought, worked against the kind of risk-taking, `pushing forward the boundaries' discussions which I had hoped for - and also led to fewer voices being heard. There was too much fighting of old battles and too little investigation of new areas. All this despite the excellent organization, chairing and drawing-together endeavours of such as Jamie Walker and Andrew Kirk.
This could be because I had misunderstood the Consultation. I had thought we basically agreed with Lesslie Newbigin's thesis and were investigating it at greater depth. This indeed is what I longed for, and in its pursuit felt some frustration. However, it became apparent that some people were not merely not on board but were actively hostile or misunderstanding. Hence we engaged in a `going back to the beginning again' scenario. I thought it a shame that we spent so much time trying to write a common report which inevitably took on the tone of a compromise document - about which nobody felt very strongly, but with which they all more-or-less agreed. Perhaps it would have been more constructive to have several outstanding people (whom I definitely thought were amongst us) write reports behind which we could individually stand. I suppose this would have offended against the aim of the Consultation and sounds appallingly pluralist! But I do think it would have led to less defending of prepared positions in the spirit of Verdun (`No-one shall pass!').
I regretted that at times an uncrossable divide seemed to be drawn between the claims of truth and love. Colin Gunton, speaking in our subgroup, said that the second term was one that perhaps needed further development in his (in my opinion) much underused paper. If, as seemed the case on occasions, one were being given a choice between an intellectual analysis of the conceptual roots of our culture or loving action on behalf of the poor, who but an unfeeling clod would choose the former? However reluctantly, one would have to abandon analysis as irrelevant when faced with the requirements of a hurting world. Yet must this chasm be so drawn? Is one really given a choice of either one or the other? Indeed, does not a proper understanding of the relationship between truth and love show this dilemma to be a false one? It seems to me that some further work needs to be done here. Is there not a clue in the person of Christ, the Living Truth? It is he who puts the question to all our attempts to know and to be.
The relationship between ethics and doctrine, between what `ought to be' (imperatives) and what `is' (indicatives) seems crucial here. I would want to align myself with those who think that the pursuit of ethics (imperatives) without the Gospel (indicatives) is fundamentally flawed. It seems to me that we are witnessing in the Twentieth Century the faltering attempts of Britain to live on the ethical baggage of the past, whilst having abandoned the faith on which it rests. In this connection our understanding of the being of God is crucially relevant to our approach to politics, economics and so forth - as the Consultation witnessed in its various .sections. A rediscovery of `the forgotten Trinity' is vital in giving underpinning not only to intellectual swordplay in Oxbridge Colleges but to our whole understanding of humanity and God's relation to us. The way in which Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics crucially interrelated doctrine and ethics at every stage is here worth remembering.
Then there were the challenges which were thrown at The Gospel and Culture movement by some participants. Is not the feminist challenge to so much in our culture today another reminder of the way in which we comfortably baptize our own preconceptions with the supposed endorsement of the Gospel? Huge questions are raised here. And here perhaps the British Gospel and Culture Programme, without suffering a loss of nerve or deferring unthinkingly to criticisms (there is certainly a time to fight one's own corner!), can perhaps learn from other countries where issues may be sharper. I have certainly felt myself that in New Zealand we have been forced up against the supposed `Eurocentric' nature of theology in a way yet forcefully to dawn on a Britain that seems rather sleepy and comfortable by comparison.
Another challenge came, I thought, from a Czech participant who pointed out that so many of our concerns related to the First and Third Worlds. But what of the Second? What of Eastern Europe and the collapse of Communism? Does this not have important questions to raise for us about truth and political correctness? Should it not be of concern to us that Michael Polanyi was worried about issues of academic freedom and truth not in Eastern Europe but in Britain and that decades ago? Why is the Fall of Communism not more discussed in theological circles in the West rather than being seen as something almost embarrassing? Or is it assumed that to do so falls into the hateful, triumphalist `We won the Cold War' syndrome? What can the West say to the East rather than dump on them our version of materialism -`survive if you can' market economics?
More problematic perhaps is the issue of postmodernism. Lesslie Newbigin's posing of the question of the Gospel in modern culture is based on a very clear distinction between public truth and personal value, between the realm of scientific fact and that of religious (and, increasingly as well, ethical) opinion. But are things not changing?
Since coming to the UK several months ago, I seem to have met postmodernism at every turn - both in academic circles and in the world at large. An open lecture on deconstructionism in literature and theology I attended drew a big (if confused) crowd. There are even TV series about it (`The Real Thing')1 People seem to think there is something important here and they ought to get to grips with it - if only so that, when asked at a party `What do you think of Lacan?' they will not respond with an embarrassed 'Who?'!
For those of us who are still pretty close to that state, I think there is a real sea-change at work here which is not merely `trendy'. Post-modernism does not say that religion is at the level of opinion; it seems to say that every way of looking at the world (including science) is at that level. The 'modernist' and the 'primitive' modes of apprehension are both equally valid or invalid. Pluralism is transferred from one side of the equation (the subjective, personal one) to both sides. The scientific model (the 'other' side) is no more objective nor factual than any other way.
Some people see in postmodernism the salvation of religion. But is this so? Against the 'split culture' model, what was being sought by Newbigin and Polanyi was a more holistic, unitary way of looking at knowledge -things could truly be known through subjectivity, passion and commitment. What we have here, by contrast, is conformity to a norm of despair (however cheerfully kitted out with the language of culture). It seems to me that this movement (to which New Age thought is perhaps akin) needs sustained reflection. At a recent student society meeting everyone present in the room (apart from me) agreed that knowledge of the objective world was impossible. I find this astonishing and very revealing of the current popular climate of opinion (not to mention the mental processes - or lack of them of the present crop of undergraduates).
One other thing that struck my wife and I returning to this country was the fragmentation of TV culture. The current vein of very witty but often positively cruel comedies, news quizzes, chat shows etc seems to us to witness to a certain disturbing self-righteous paganization in this country - a savagery allied to a depressed and cynical helplessness about actually changing any of the evils being exposed. Programmes with drastically different approaches, methods and content are shown one after the other with no apparent awareness of contradiction. People watching Channel Four one Sunday evening during the summer were faced with a scientistic 'modernist' demolition of religion ('Equinox'), succeeded immediately by a postmodernist reinterpretation of Christianity for the new era ('The Real Thing'). Life seems very tough for an authentic Christianity in the media these days. As in Kierkegaard's time, it is difficult to go up against the Beast and the least one can expect is ridicule and misunderstanding.
At least, that's how it seems from the Antipodes!
Reading about Thinking
Dr Lawrence Osborn
I suspect that the readers of this Newsletter will, by and large, fall into that minority of the population for whom books are important. You may well be in the habit of making a note of titles which come up in conversation and adding them to your reading list. For the sake of such avid readers I have compiled a brief list of books relating to the theme of this edition.
Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958). Readers of this Newsletter will already know how influential this book has been. If you haven't- already read it, this is just a reminder of its existence. For those who prefer to approach by a more popular route, Drusilla Scott's Eueryman Revived: The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi (Lewes, Sussex: The Book Guild, 1985) is a very readable and reliable introduction to Polanyi's thought. For the relevance of Polanyi's thought to the Christian faith you might try Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi's Thought for Christian Life and Faith edited by T F Torrance (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1980).
A recent contribution to the discussion is Mary Midgley's Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What is Knowledge For? (London: Routledge, 1989). She argues trenchantly (and entertainingly) against the fragmentation of knowledge by ever-increasing specialization. Similarly, Nicholas Maxwell argues against the conventional understanding of the aims of science in his From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims and Methods of Science (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984).
Finally, two pieces of theology which are relevant to the theme. In Enlightenment and Alienation: An Essay
Towards a Trinitarian Theology (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1985), Colin Gunton argues that Enlightenment rationalism has been a major cause of contemporary alienation. Turning to the connection between knowing and worship hinted at in one or two of the articles, I would recommend Jubilate: Theology in Praise by Dan Hardy and David Ford (London: DLT, 1984) as a thought-provoking, if demanding, read.
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Newsletter 16 (Spring 1993)
Where there is no Vision the Pupils Perish
Ann Holt is Director of Christians in Education at CARE Trust. She also works in the Department of Education on Governor Recruitment and Retention
There is much talk these days about school vision or mission statements. To be up to date, every school must have one. It appears in the prospectus, in the introduction to the School Development Plan and so on. But in reality does it have any meaning? Most of them come out at what I often describe as the Joyce Grenfell level - "to help each little individual get to the bottom of him/herself"! After all, what does the favourite "to help each individual reach his or her full human potential" really mean?
Recently I was walking down Oxford Street and saw a small crowd around a man. Being a creature of great curiosity, I stopped to see what was going on. The man was selling 18 carat gold jewellery (so he said) for £15 a time. If we wanted to know why they were so cheap, well, they were stolen property! Several of the crowd rummaged for £15. As I scuttled away to the Tube I mused, "Who sinned this man, his family or the school?" What messages about his full potential had he received?
This man may have swallowed what Brian Walsh, in his recent book Subversive Christianity, describes as "the Western cultural myth that proclaims that progress is inevitable if we only allow human reason freely and scientifically to investigate our world so that we can acquire the technological power to control that world in order to realize the ultimate human good, that is, an. abundance of consumer goods and the leisure time in which to consume them." This "myth of progress", according to Walsh, is engraved in our school textbooks, proclaimed in our universities, portrayed throughout the popular media .... it is in the air everywhere. Walsh suggests that the underlying thrust of our Western education programme is bowing to the idol of materialism. An American Jew, Charles Silberman, characterizes this as a crisis in his Crisis in the Classroom where he says, "the crisis is real, involving as it does the most basic questions of meaning and of purpose - the meaning and purpose of life itself. It may well be a religious or spiritual crisis of a depth and magnitude that has no parallel since the Reformation".
John Maynard Keynes once projected a life beyond economic necessity for his grandchildren (Essays in Persuasion). Young parents today no longer have such optimism. They are frightened for their children.
Recent national and international events such as the killing of a two-year old boy allegedly by two ten-year olds have fed this fear and have led to a certain amount of public heart-searching (and scapegoating). Schools are not escaping scrutiny as even Government White Papers recognize that "Education is not a value-free zone". Indeed schools will soon be under regulations to produce "Values Statements" as a basis for parental choice and for the inspection of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. Such a prospect has thrown some teachers who have bought the myth of educational neutrality for years into a state of nervous apprehension. Indeed no-one is confident about what will happen, such is the state of neglect of such matters in today's rationalistic approach to teaching and learning. I am reminded of what Lesslie Newbigin said at The Gospel and Our Culture Consultation "We must all be wary of this seductive talk about values". In his book Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth, he says this:
"We have a Gospel to proclaim ... we have to proclaim it as part of the continuing conversation which shapes public doctrine ... we have to proclaim it not as a package of estimable values but as the truth about what is the case, about what every human being and every human society will have to reckon with. When we are faithful in this commission we are bound to appear subversive to those who believe that the cosmos is a closed system. We may appear to threaten the achievements of these centuries in which this has been the reigning belief. In truth we shall be offering the only hope of conserving and carrying forward the good fruits of these centuries into a future which might otherwise belong to the barbarians."
As the new paganisms of the postmodern culture emerge, whether made manifest in the Consumerist Hedonism of the Far Right or the Pantheism of the New Age, we are called to be a Christian witness. Our Christian world-view challenges the economistic world-view that guides industry, the media and government in our society. Such a world-view has until now captured the imagination of our society. Rooted in a belief that the world we live in is a "planet for the taking" we assume that progress in science, technology, economics is our historical destiny - that for each pupil to reach his/her full potential the goal is to become a fully fledged "homo economicus".
We assume that
- a proliferation of cheap and useless consumer goods is normal
- people living for the weekend is normal
- rapid and greedy resource depletion is normal (Walsh p 17)
As the consequences of such an economistic world-view leave more and more individuals and communities without the employment and goods which they crave, the meaninglessness of it all and of the systems which serve such ends becomes self-evident. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his 1990 Reith lectures said:
"The shift from state to individual at a time when our communities have eroded has carried a high cost in poverty, homelessness, broken families and the drugs, vandalism and violence that go with the break-down of meaning. In an individualistic culture, prizes are not evenly distributed. They go to those with supportive relationships. To those, in particular, with strong families and communities."
Looking back at the Jewish immigrants of the 1890s and their success in breaking through a cycle of deprivation in a "worst of all possible worlds in which there is still hope" he says that "parents invested their hopes in their children and made sacrifices for their schooling. They placed value on the family and education and it was their religious structures which gave them solidarity." We are discovering that a plural society needs a moral and cultural, base. According to Sacks it needs two things. It needs communities, including schools where individuals can feel that their values are protected and can be handed on to their children. And it needs an over-arching sense of national community in which different groups are participants in a shared pursuit of the common good.
Brian Walsh puts it as a need for prophetic community, including schools and universities which offer a prophetic critique and a prophetic hope. We need what Brueggemann calls a prophetic imagination.
We need to offer our young people (and our old people) a vision borne of a "full-bodied, loving, covenantal obedience to God", a mission which embraces a calling for us to image God. Can we imagine
"Is it imaginable that the mass media could be an agent of awakened social, cultural and spiritual renewal, rather than the one thing that numbs us into a cultural complacency and sleep more than anything else. And is our imagination spiritually opened up enough to conceive of a business enterprise that is characterized by stewardship, environmental responsibility and real serviceability rather than profits, pollution and superfluous consumer goods." (Walsh p 46-47)
For those of us whose values are governed by the Biblical paradigm of a world created by God, fallen and redeemed in Christ - which characterizes the Christian world-view - we shall want schools where our children can be given visions based on a proper understanding of such life-giving meaning across every sphere of life as expressed in the whole curriculum. We shall seek opportunities to debate and contribute our insights to the common good.
We shall deny the dualism, the strand of our heritage that has readily absorbed the secular/religious and public/private divides that came from the Englightenment. The fatal assumption was that of neutrality. This is the claim that certain areas of life are neutral. In school, this has led to a separation of "secular" and "religious" areas of the curriculum. We are now in an awful predicament and many Christians do not even experience it.
Owen Cole has commented:
"We have never taught Christianity in our schools, colleges and universities .... it is astonishing that most children who leave our schools .... are likely to have little idea of what Christianity is, in terms of beliefs and practices." (Christian Studies in Schools)
Bishop Newbigin reminds us that:
"the contradiction between what was taught in RE and what was communicated in the rest of the curriculum was such that, for the vast majority of the products of the schools, Christianity has remained a rejected option for the rest of their lives."
What an indictment on those of us who understand that there is no neutrality.
After all, we, of all people, have experienced the joy and benefit of setting our sights on things that are above, of seeing that all things hold together in Christ. We know that it beats the individualism of helping each boy or girl reach only their full human potential. With such a vision neither the pupils nor their dreams will perish.
John Maynard Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Co, 1932.
Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: the Gospel as Public Truth, SPCK, 1991.
Charles Silberman, Crisis in the Classroom, London, Wildwood House, 1973.
Brian Walsh, Subversive Christianity, Regius, 1992.
W Owen Cole, "Christian Studies in Schools", in Approaching World Religions, ed by Robert Jackson, pub London, John Murray, 1982.
Editorial: Whither Education?
This issue of the Newsletter turns its attention to education, a world in which our three contributors are all actively involved. In their articles they pick up issues relating both to their own particular interests and to the discussions on education at last year's Consultation.
But why this topic? There is something paradoxical (if not incoherent) about English attitudes to education.
On the one hand, there is a strong English (as opposed to Scottish) tradition of being dismissive of education. 'Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach teachers.' The school system has often been regarded as a refuge for the second rate. That attitude may still be discerned in a good deal of government rhetoric about teachers and education. Perhaps there was a hint of it in the classification of education as a secondary or derivative topic for discussion in the 1992 Consultation.
On the other hand, since the Enlightenment education has come to be widely regarded as one of the most important mediators of culture. From this perspective, teachers have a crucial role as the channel through which a culture propagates itself amongst the next generation. This view of teachers as the moulders and shapers of civilization has, I suspect, played no little part in commending the so-called 'trickle down' theory of cultural change. Again this can be seen in government rhetoric: much of the politicians' dissatisfaction with education seems to stem from the fact that it is visibly failing to initiate today's children into certain cultural assumptions and standards.
Of course it is not just our own education system which is failing in this respect. Nowhere was the Enlightenment view of education taken more seriously than in the former Communist bloc. But, in the end, half a century of Marxist education and re-education signally failed to maintain that culture against a rising tide of dissatisfaction.
So whither education? Is the paradox unravelling along with the entire Enlightenment project? In the light of the impact of television and Nintendo, is it time to admit that education as it has been understood in the past couple of centuries is no longer the major mediator of culture?
I must admit to a certain uneasiness with the direction my speculations are taking. If, as I suspect, the answer to that last question is `yes', it follows that our school system may have to aim at a more modest target. I find myself coming to the view that schools can no longer be expected to be the major agents of inculturation; that their task can be no more than that of imparting information and skills necessary for life in this culture. However, this need not mean reducing schooling to a Gradgrindlike recitation of `facts.' Given the complexity and rapidity of change within our culture, merely keeping up with the skills necessary for survival and engagement with new technologies is a daunting task.
But, if we narrow the horizons of schooling to information and skills, whither education? `Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?' Where shall we look for knowledge and wisdom? To the mass media? To electronic information and entertainment systems? Where shall we find the educators (as distinct from the teachers) for the 21st century?
Whose Values Anyway? A Problem for British Education
Andrew Marfieet is engaged in educational research at the University of East Anglia. He was formerly Head of English at Felixstowe College and Editor of Spectrum'
Education cannot and must not be value-free" says the White Paper Choice and Diversity1 which forms the basis of the Education Bill currently before Parliament. The White Paper cites the requirements in the Education (Schools) Act 1992 for inspectors to report, under the mandate they will receive from OFSTED, on the "spiritual, moral, social and- cultural development of pupils" 2.
"At the heart of every school's educational and pastoral policy and practice", it is stated, "should lie a set of shared values which is promoted through the curriculum, through expectations governing the behaviour of pupils and staff and through day to day contact between them. Every attempt should be made to ensure that these values are endorsed by parents and the local community"3
Christian responses to these dicta have been mixed. For many, the reference to values is an indication of a complete sell-out to the Enlightenment Project, to the distinction that is assumed to lie between public facts and private values. "What are 'spiritual values'?" some would ask; as guardians of "the truth that has been entrusted to us" 4, ought we not to be proclaiming spiritual truths rather than affirming personal values? But there are other problems with the position now being adopted by our legislators: in particular, it is quite clear that the values adopted by a school need have only local recognition - they are to be "endorsed by parents and the local community".
This is made quite clear in the instructions being given to the new inspectors, which speak of "the principles and values to which the school subscribes" 5. Questions are to be asked about the school's policies, the school's expectations, recognizing simply that the "shared values" should have "been established among staff and pupils" and in "partnership with parents". The instructions ask, it is true, whether or not the agreed syllabus for RE is being followed, which would seem at least to raise the "local" element to the level of the local education authority, but most of the new syllabuses allow an a la carte menu when it comes to emphases on particular values or faith commitments, within the "broadly Christian" prescription of the 1988 Education Act. The 1988 Act also makes provision for schools to obtain a determination from their local SACRE, opting them out of Christian worship if they are clearly dominated by pupils of other faiths.
Diversity seems to be the name of the game. In the House of Lords' debates during the passage of the Education (Schools) Bill last year, Lord Northbourne, who moved the original amendments that led to the inclusion of clauses on the inspection of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, spoke of the current policy in these words:
"It is to take the stopper out of the bottle, to let the genie out and to embrace the rich diversity which results. However, in order for that .... to work parents must have the information to help them choose the school which will suit their child. We must not have a clandestine, closet transmission of values. Values must be declared"6.
The noble Lord proceeded to argue that "parents also want to know about religious teaching at the school of their choice." He asked about the position of Jews and Moslems, who are sometimes in the majority in urban schools: their distinctiveness mattered, hence his stress on informed choice:
"I believe that parents and prospective parents have a right to know about the nature and quality of religious education, if any, delivered by each school. I am not suggesting that Government or local authorities should interfere. I am simply arguing for informed choice. Parents want to know, and have a right to know, about the spiritual, moral and cultural values and about the kind of interpersonal behaviour and relationships which the school teaches and holds up for adulation. I do not suggest control, only that information should be available to all parents as a matter of course" 7.
Lord Northbourne's point, that Section 1 of the Education Reform Act makes it clear that the school curriculum must promote pupils' spiritual, moral and cultural development, was acknowledged by the Government, and Baroness Blatch subsequently introduced the Government's own amendments as to what registered inspectors would have to report on, so "that parents will be given an objective assessment of the values espoused by their child's school and their impact on the pupils" 8.
What was not noted at the time was that the requirements of the 1988 Act for "the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils"9 had been subtly changed. The 1988 Act was concerned with a national curriculum, with common standards in education. But the amendments to the 1992 Bill make it clear that at least in the spiritual, moral and cultural areas there can be no national standards, nor would inspectors be encouraged to look for any. Baroness Blatch set this out very clearly:
"I hope that the way in which the amendments are worded will set at rest any fears that the inspectors are being asked to judge the values which underpin the life of each school. It is for the governors to determine a school's values and a school's ethos. However, the inspectors will have to report on what those values are and how they affect the development of pupils at the school" 10.
The amendment was welcomed immediately by the Bishop of Guildford and by peers of all parties. The passing of the Act was applauded too by those, like the Christian Schools Trust, who had campaigned long and hard for distinctive schools. Ruth Deakin, writing in The Times Educational Supplement on 13 March 1992, claimed that "these amendments can bring nothing but good for our schools .... If we are a pluralist democracy then we can expect and even celebrate a variety of value systems, or life orientations, which can legitimately find expression in our education system ... the increasing demand from different faith communities for schools which reflect their outlook on life is one which will not go away and should as far as possible be catered for" 11.
The welcome that was accorded the change in the law by many Christians must not, however, blind us to the shift that has taken place. The 1988 Act seemed to be concerned about common values. When it came to RE and worship, amendments brought about by Baroness Cox and the then Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, ensured that all new agreed syllabuses for RE would "reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian" ". The fact that other religions were to be taken account of did no more to undermine the general principle than did the fact that in special circumstances particular schools could opt out of the "broadly Christian" worship, if granted a determination. A national consensus was still assumed, as it had been in 1944. The few exceptions simply emphasized the general rule. But has this now been superseded? Have the provisions of the Education (Schools) Act 1992 and those in the 1993 Bill, as outlined in the White Paper, signalled a free for all in education in values and beliefs?
Many Christians still want to fight for the Christian faith as public truth, though it may be too late in public education for this rear-guard action. Their arguments are based on the fact that the British cultural, moral and legal heritage is Christian - to erode the foundation would expedite the crumbling of the civic edifice. Our monarchy, parliament and judiciary cannot easily be cut loose from their links with the Established Church. Surveys of social attitudes continue to suggest that the vast majority of the nation still thinks of itself as Christian, with only 3% claiming actual allegiance to other faiths. But we are now being encouraged, at least in our schools, to be plural. Strictly speaking, an individual child in a particular school has less opportunity for a plural understanding of the world, unless the school's values are specifically liberal. The system might be plural, but particular schools will have their own values which the children are offered because that is the school their parents have chosen.
That there are contradictions between the clauses on RE and school worship in the 1988 Act and the "choice and diversity" that is offered in subsequent legislation there can be little doubt. It is ironical that the amendments to both the 1988 and the 1992 Acts came about because of pressure from Christian groups. We need to ask ourselves whether or not there are contradictions in our theology. As Christians, what should we be expecting from education? Is it ethical to use a state system of education to promulgate a particular faith, even though it be the faith of the majority? (Would we wish the same principle to be adopted, say, in India or Pakistan?) Or do we leave the decision to parents, as they delegate their God-given responsibility for the nurture of their children to the schools of their choice? Or should we leave the children to decide for themselves from amongst a variety of beliefs and values offered by every common school? Yet another option would be to follow the example of the French and the American systems, and forbid state schools to teach faith or values, leaving all religious education to the faith communities. It may be that the age of the children is a factor to consider in all these options.
What it all comes down to is who is responsible to God for the beliefs and values taught to children. It is not easy to separate out the roles of state, Church and family, indeed of the children themselves, in our complex society. But in adopting a model for the transmission of beliefs and values we must not overlook one vital fact. Part of the Christian Gospel is that we have a freedom to choose. God took a great risk in giving us free will. And it was at great cost that He provided us with the means of redemption from the effects of our wrong choices. What we may never do is remove the freedom that He gave, in the name of either national, local or even family values.
1 .DFE, Choice and Diversity: a new framework for schools, London: HMSO, 1992, p 37.
2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 2 Timothy 1:14. 5 DFE, Handbook for the Inspection of Schools, London: HMSO, 1992, para 5.3.
6 Hansard, House of Lords, 11 Feb 1992, Col 643.
7 Ibid, Col 644.
8 Hansard, House of Lords, 10 March 1992, Col 1224.
9 Education Reform Act, 1988, Section 1 (2).
10 Hansard, House of Lords, 10 March 1992, Col 1224.
11 Deakin, R, "Nailing your moral colours to the mast", Times Educational Supplement, 13 March 1992, p18.
12 Education Reform Act, 1988, Section 8 (3).
Questioning The Choices That Shape Technology
Ruth Conway is Director of the Network on Beliefs and Values in Technology Education
The Network on Beliefs and Values in Technology Education, which owes both its origin and continuing support to The Gospel and Our Culture, recently held a conference on Values In Technology: Approaches to Learning. In the opening address Glenda Prime, University of the West Indies, delivered a carefully argued reminder that technology is a human activity calling for a far wider education than training in occupational skills: technology education is a preparation for living in a society that has a complex, mutual relationship with technology, both shaping it and being shaped by it. If technology aims to enhance the quality of human life, then education must open up the questions `what is quality?' and `for whom?'.
Glenda Prime defined the proper purpose of technology as the enhancement of the quality of relationships -personal, social and international. The criteria, therefore, by which choices are made and evaluated at every stage in technological development must include those associated with the aspirations of the people affected (those who benefit and those put at risk) and with the consequences of its use for the fabric of society and the environment. These criteria and their order of priority are chosen according to what is valued, so value issues cannot be removed, they can only be obscured. The technology implicitly reflects an understanding of progress, a vision for the future, a definition of development. Technology education provides a crucial opportunity - often missed - to clarify expectations, to develop sensitivity to cultural contexts, to learn respect for diversity of experience (including that of women whose experience has largely been marginalized), and always to face, not just the question of how to use a product, but when, why and if at all it should be made.
The conference also included workshops on strategies to help teachers open up these questions. One such srategy is reproduced below. This is a `Compass Rose', developed in cooperation with the Development Education Centre in Birmingham, that can be placed on any technological artefact or system and used to question the direction in which it is likely to lead us. In the process of interrogation we find our sympathies stretched and our assumptions about purpose, justice and responsibility challenged. We begin to ask not only where the technology is likely to lead, but where we believe it should lead.
This calls for a second 'compass' to be developed out of the dialogue, showing the criteria selected for judging the questions and their answers. This would take into account the wider responsibilities that have emerged and draw on personal faith perspectives and commitments. It would engage Gospel truth with technology at the points of decision-making, whether concerning the students' own designing and making activities or technological developments in society at large. It would help to counter the compliance that, as Ursula Franklin warns us, is engendered by so much of the technology that moulds our lives1. Once technological practices are questioned on a principled basis and, if necessary rejected on that level, new practical ways of doing what needs to be done wilt evolve'. It is appropriate that this is encouraged within education for `what needs to be done cannot be done as a dictate from on high but will come as an inescapable consequence of movements from below'. The power of the Gospel to transform technological culture is like a mustard seed; it must work on the many almost unnoticed choices that subsequently grow into the environment and the expectations that shape us all.
Ursula Franklin, The Real World of Technology, Anansi Press, 1992.
The Gospel And Our Culture Network In North America - Chicago Consultation
Kristin O fstad
Kristin Ofstad is a member of the Interim Management Group and URC minister in Llanishen, Cardiff
Dan Beeby, Colin Greene and I travelled to Chicago in February (windchill factor -36° F!) for the North American Network's Consultation. Colin and I were very keen to attend the meeting for two specific reasons:
1 At the Swanwick Consultation we had met with a group of theologians of our sort of age (30s and 40s) in order to find common ground for where the international Gospel and Our Culture Network might go in the next ten years or so. One major common interest that emerged was the need to stay in touch with each other's thinking and research. Going to Chicago was an important move from our side to stay in touch with our colleagues in the USA and Canada.
2 We were both very concerned that the British Gospel and Our Culture group has been so concentrated on preparing for the 1992 Consultation that there is now a bit of confusion as to where we go from here. The Interim Management Group is struggling to find the best way of moving into this new era: What do we want to be doing? Who are we addressing? What will be our focus? How will we organize ourselves? etc, etc .... Lack of money is making our choices even more crucial.
Meanwhile, the US Network. free to grow as a group of people brought together by their commitment to the need for a missionary encounter of the Gospel with the cultures of North America, seems to have reached very satisfactory answers to all the questions we are struggling with.
Dan Beeby had his own agenda. He is working on a project on reclaiming the bible as Scripture and came along to meet and talk to as many allies as he could find at the Chicago gathering.
I had become excited about the American Network's focus when I read George Hunsberger's article Maapping the terrain: a proposal in the American newsletter of October 1990. He wrote:
I wish to propose that we identify three centers of missiological concern at the heart of the agenda about which we must engage each other:
1 evangelizing among North American people
2 relating ourselves to the social order
3 giving focus to the life of the Church
…The agenda demands an acute sensitivity to the fact that we are dealing with as genuinely a 'cross-cultural'
encounter of the Gospel with our culture as has been the case at any other time with any other culture.
Since then the North American Network has focussed its energies on putting flesh on to this agenda. They have made for themselves a 'Mission Statement':
The Gospel and Our Culture Network is a collaborative association of Christian leaders from diverse communions, working together to help the churches of North America understand and embrace their missional responsibilities within the present cultural context.
They have also set up three work groups: Culture and Society, Gospel and Theology, and Church and Mission. In his opening lecture in Chicago George Hunsberger explained that these three work groups represented the three-fold nature of the Church's missionary character:
a) to continue constantly to be encountered by the Gospelb) within our particular cultural identity
c) as a community which represents that Gospel as its hermeneutic.
It seemed to me, therefore, that whereas the British Network, in its preparations for the Swanwick Consultation, had as its agenda 'reclaiming the high ground', the American agenda has been far more ecclesiologically oriented, thus addressing 'the other side of the coin' if you like. It has been good to be part of the British Network, and the publication of the book The Gospel and Contemporary Culture for the Swanwick Consulation has more than vindicated the British Network's agenda thus far. However, 'the other side of the coin' has been missing and ever louder voices have been asking that the agenda that we need to be addressing now, in our post-Swanwick mode, needs to be very similar to the North American one. I was, therefore, delighted to be there, as were Colin and Dan.
There were four keynote addresses in Chicago:
George Hunsberger introduced what I see as a foundation document for the Gospel and Our Culture movement in North America: "Possessing a Peculiar Story: recovering a missionary way of living". The underlying assumption was that at the heart of any Gospel and Our Culture agenda must be the enabling of the local congregation to be our primary hermeneutic of the Gospel.
William Willimon's two presentations zoned in on the need for the work of the pastor/minister/priest to reflect the liberating cross-cultural otherness of the Gospel, both in proclamation (Preaching a Peculiar Story: Gospel proclamation in a pagan society), and also in pastoral counselling (Practising a Particular Story: a study in ministerial morality).
Wilbert Shenk's session Bearing a Peculiar Story; lessons and warnings from a mired heritage not only questioned whether we can kid ourselves that we live in a so-called Christian culture now, but whether there has ever been such a thing. The Church has always been called to a cross-cultural encounter; without this it cannot be missionary!
In addition, there was a wealth of seminars ranging from 'the shape of a missional church in a postmodern age', and 'earthing the Gospel and our culture agenda in worship', to 'paganism and popular culture', and 'living a peculiar story; on being Christian in a pagan world'. We were torn by the wish to go to everything when we were only able to go to two!
Responses to the first edition of the 'new, improved' Newsletter have been sparse but range from enthusiasm
To dismay. Several of you found it 'heavy going' or too 'academic.' I suspect that is almost inevitable with a
subject like epistemology! Hopefully this issue will redress the balance slightly.
Rev Matthew Baynham of Bath makes the following comments about Sister Gill Goulding's article:
"I came away from the July Consultation feeling that it had a rather Western Protestant feel, despite the very encouraging Roman Catholic input from various speakers So I was heartened to see Sister Gill Goulding tackling the question of epistemology and spirituality in the latest newsletter.
"Having said that much, I confess to disappointment that Sister Gill could discuss spirituality, without mentioning the Holy Spirit. There are some very specific things in the New Testament about the role of the Spirit in epistemology, e.g. the Spirit leads us into all truth. The Spirit convinces us about sin and righteousness. I would have thought that the discussion needs to begin here.
"In Sister Gill's particular field (spirituality amongst marginalized people), I would have thought that a key theological concept is an understanding of the relationship between the Spirit and the kingdom. The kingdom belongs to the poor and to the poor in Spirit ......
"I do hope that further discussion in the area which Sister Gill has so helpfully opened up will begin with a closer look at our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to know things."
Although not written as a response to the last newsletter, I include the following communication from Rev David Kettle of New Zealand. He reminds us of a recurring danger in the kind of 'world-view' analysis in which The Gospel and Our Culture has been engaged.
He rightly warns against attempts to "define our immersion in a world-view as an act which we perform distinct from and prior to addressing intelligently what lies before us, in the same way as we adopt presuppositions or axioms before pursuing theoretical questions, or adopt an hypothesis to be tested by scientific experiment, or adopt axes and coordinates before we undertake the work of mapping or surveying.
"This model is not true to our experience. An infant does not first assimilate a cultural world-view, and then begin addressing reality; rather it is precisely through reaching out receptively to reality that an infant comes to indwell a world-view in the first place. In this way, as it has been said, every infant reinvents the language and culture into which she is born. What we indwell in the first instance is not a culture, but the mystery of reality; culture arises as a shared indication of that reality.
"I am convinced that when we regard a 'world-view' as a theoretical presupposition we fall back into a form of the fact-value split. All 'facts' reduce to a matter of convention or personal taste. Relativism becomes inescapable. There is no avoiding this by claiming that we can judge between more or less adequate world-views; the above model does not allow for this possibility, since, according to it, any such judgement must itself be relative to some prior world-view.
"The crucial possibility of weighing world-views does arise, however, within the context of Polanyi's theory of knowledge, provided we take with full seriousness his claim that the paradigm for knowing lies in our most lively groping towards discovery. Here we bring no set questions to reality; rather the direction of new understanding appears in the form of promising clues pointing to answers. Question and answer (Polanyi's 'subsidiary' and 'focal') arise together. They interanimate each other to bring disclosure just as the elements of a paradox or metaphor interanimate to bring insight.
"According to this picture, in the primary instance culture is like a 'sign' in the biblical sense - a shared historical embodiment of the reality towards which we and our culture are originally directed and open, and which empowers us and our culture.
"This primary and true impulse of culture gets abandoned when cultural 'presuppositions' take over as a matter of our unqualified allegiance. These represent an active evasion of the demands of openness to reality; they are a corporate expression of human life 'incurvatus in se'.
"The Gospel challenges us to let go such cultural presuppositions in renewed directedness and openness towards reality. The Gospel does so, not in the first instance by offering new theoretical presuppositions framing a richer understanding of life, but by empowering our wills to be directed and open towards reality even when our hope of understanding is most brutally assaulted by evil and futility. We discover, in Jesus' death and resurrection, the fullest empowerment of this kind.
"I am aware that the above approach requires much philosophical elaboration. I believe this can be provided; I believe authors as diverse as Dooyeweerd and St Bonaventure can help us provide it; moreover, I believe it must be provided if the promise of the Gospel and Culture movement is not to be subverted unnecessarily by the presuppositions it seeks to transcend."
The Reverend Professor Rowland Moss
Rowland Moss, who chaired the Science Section in The Gospel as Public Truth Consultation, died early in the year after a brief illness. He is mourned by a widow, two married children and a world-wide circle of friends, colleagues and admirers. This circle was considerably added to through his splendid leadership of the scientists at Swanwick.
His early academic career included ten years in Nigeria, lecturing in Soil Science. Later he had a Chair in Birmingham University, followed by a Professorship in Salford and a spell as Salford's Vice Chancellor. Finally, in the same university, he was Research Professor of Human Ecology. In 1984 he was ordained to the Anglican Ministry and became Environmental Officer for the Diocese of Chester.
Renowned in his chosen field, he was equally well-known as a dedicated Christian and a profound biblically orientated thinker. In a remarkable way his piety, his theology and his science were held together. This was demonstrated in his lectures and conversations about the philosophy of science, and his book "The Earth in Our Hands".
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Newsletter 17 (Summer 1993)
SCRIPTURE: FROM RUMOUR TO RECOVERY?
Consultant to The British and Foreign Bible Society
I am indebted to Stephen Prickett for the reminder that our word "Bible" comes from the late Latin "biblia", a feminine singular noun meaning simply "the (single) book", but that, in earlier Latin, "biblia" was taken to be the neuter plural meaning "the (individual) books". Prickett comments: "Right from the start, however accidentally, our sense of what the Bible is has contained a tension between singularity and pluralism, between unity and diversity.- The Bible was 'the Book of Books, an ambiguous phrase implying that it was a collection of works somehow contributing to a mysterious unity greater than the sum of its parts….'
Much of what follows will be concerned with this tension and with a related tension, namely that between faith and reason. Part of my hypothesis is that, in the case of the Bible, the tension between unity and diversity was weakened to such an extent that the mysterious unity tended to disappear leaving behind a non-mysterious diversity. In the case of faith and reason, a good tension was largely lost and what had been joined together was put asunder. In these adjustments or losses of tension the Bible in the West became a casualty. After centuries of raising questions and answering questions it became questionable. The last two or three centuries have left us with a Bible which, to say the least, is problematic.
The problems can be seen from numerous points of view. Thirty years ago the Society for Biblical Literature in the USA removed the word "exegesis" from its title. A few years later the Society for Old Testament Studies in the UK was exhorted not to use the expression "Old Testament". Students sometimes leave theological colleges because the biblical lectures weaken or destroy their faith. Literary critics accuse biblical scholarship of having done everything with the Bible but read it. Mission is polarized, or worse, according to which text or cluster of texts, is regarded as privileged. Most of us have unconscious canons within the canon, some of these so limiting as to make Marcion appear a pillar of orthodoxy. Brother Andrew claims that "Too many Christians today do not want the Bible to interfere with their Christianity".
The point need not be laboured. The literature describing the problems is vast and the reasons given very numerous, ranging from Bacon, Locke and Kant to the excessive number of Bibles available in the West, and from Thomas Aquinas to 19th Century Tubingen and the World Council of Churches.
If the Bible is indeed problematic, what is the central problem at the heart of the matter? Does it have something to do with the nature of scripture? So, what is scripture and how is it authoritative if authority is an issue? Was it ever authoritative and, if so, what did that mean and how was it read and how did it function? If once there was an authoritative scripture, what happened to it? Is it really lost, or is that a rumour? If it is lost, can it be found? Are the reasons for its loss still present, and if they indeed caused the loss, are they so powerful that they will continue to maintain its absence? In other words, are there elements in the present culture that make a belief in scripture quite impossible?
The hypothesis is that to a large extent the Western Church possesses a Bible but not a scripture. It has a revered ancient literature that once did function as scripture but no longer does so. This fact is largely masked and we live with the rarely examined illusion that we have a scripture; that our differences of understanding and emphasis are differences about our scriptures; and that lack of consensus is a lack concerning how to interpret scripture. This is a self delusion. The Bible of the Church: the Old and New Testaments is increasingly becoming an honoured document collection but, for the majority of Western Christians, no longer a scriptural canon.
What is meant by the Bible asscripture?
The Church's scripture is confessional. We can only say "scripture" after we have said "credo". Scripture is never "sole scripture", it is only scripture when it is part of an indivisible trio with the Church and the Trinity. One might go further and see the necessity of the three being bound together in mission so that the call for "Mission and Unity" is seen to be a call not only for the unity of the Church in Mission but for a greater unity of the Trinity with a united Church and a united Scripture.
In saying "scripture" I am assuming:
(1) That it has arisen within the Church and that it can only be truly understood within the faith of the Church. Outside the faith of the Church there is a veil over the face of the reader.
(2) It is understood to be authoritative because ultimately it is not the creation of the Church but of God. It is in human language, written by men and women; it is also the Word of God.
(3) It is a unity and, while not denying other contexts for reading its various parts including the present and the future, a determining context is the canonical whole in which the parts inhere and where each
finds its partial authority.
(4) It is true for the Church, but the Church testifies to a scripture which is universally true and not only true for those who acknowledge it to be so.
(5) It is read as a Christ-centred narrationally and typologically unified whole conforming to a Trinitarian rule of faith.
With the support of a growing body of historical, theological, philosophical, missiological, literary-critical as well as biblical scholarship I am suggesting that the Bible has largely ceased to be scriptural in the above sense because:
(1) Our ways of understanding it have included and been dominated by methods and assumptions that robbed the Bible of scriptural unity.
(2) Much of our understanding has insisted on treating the Bible precisely as it would treat a wholly human artifact, because in a confessedly secular culture there is no other option that is not eccentric to the culture.
(3) Cultural assumptions, which have determined standards of excellence, were effective within the Church to the extent that, for its 'prior understanding, the Bible was removed from the community and faith of the Church.
(4) The Bible has become privatized in the sense that for many, consciously or unconsciously, it is regarded as true psychologically, symbolically, experientially and emotionally for the individual and (perhaps) the Church, but not ontologically or universally.
Marginalization and the alleged loss of scripture
George Lindbeck says that forty years ago the atheists at Yale knew the contents of the Bible better than some preachers today, and we can all understand and sympathize with the British headmaster who said he could only teach Milton to Muslims.
The marginalization of the Bible in Western society is not in dispute, but is this related to the alleged loss of scripture? The case is unproven, but there is growing cumulative evidence and it comes from all sides. Is the loss of a scriptural norm possibly the reason for the disappearance of objective moral values and for the absolute dogma of relativism? Has the loss of biblical authority undermined all the authorities that indirectly or directly were built upon it? Are truth, beauty, goodness and meaning all threatened?
If the culture has dethroned the old authorities and replaced them with authorities whose chief power is that they are not confessed, then there is no place for the old authorities. They are now the heresy. The hub of a wheel can only be at the centre, a king has to be on the throne. Ex-kings are a mere embarrassment. An ex-God and his ex-decrees are so otiose that they are not even an embarrassment. Their home is the oath and the Music Hall, or perhaps with those whose hobby is religion, with appealing organ music and grey-haired men in lace.
What is meant by the loss of scripture?
If, as has been stated, the loss is masked, how do we judge whether it is lost or not? The earlier consensus in Western society that was much wider than the worshipping church itself because it provided the world view or symbolic universe of the culture, is now almost entirely lost; that is clear. The question now only applies to the Christian believer and to the Church. Do they know whether they have lost scripture or not? How would they know? Is it possible to say "I accept the Bible as scripture" and yet in a real sense to have lost it? Is there often, in the believer's or in the Churches' acceptance of scripture, implicit privatization of it? Are we really accepting it with the unspoken provision or condition "it is scripture for me", or "it is scripture for the Church"? If we are doing this, is it a real acceptance or an implicit denial? Truly to accept the scripture for one's self or the Church is to do so because it is quite simply true - not selectively, but universally true; and when we do this two things follow.
First, the acknowledgement that scripture is public truth and not a private option is the beginning of a new conversion in our own minds. For most of our lives our minds have been trained and nourished by the assumptions of a non-scriptural culture. It takes a long time to rectify this situation. All I can say is that personally I've been working for at least fifteen years to convert that part of my mind which deals with scripture, and daily I pray not only for time for amendment of life, but time for amendment of mind.
Secondly, to acknowledge scripture as public truth is to commit oneself to mission. If I have confessed that the Bible and its testimony is for all humankind and all creation, then to say it is private is a kind of betrayal. Having rejected the split mind I must testify to that rejection, or risk a split soul.
Is it possible that often the failure to realize that the Bible is no longer scripture is because most of us have unconsciously settled for a privatized scripture? Our scripture, a scripture among scriptures. If we have, this, according to Professor Eric Ives, rather puts the Bible alongside tomato ketchup: it is a relish some people like and some don't.
Defence of biblical unity rightly invokes the question "which unity?" The Church does not have one clear undisputed canon. Which one are we talking about? Some comments rather than answers follow:
(1) As we break out of our isolated academic disciplines we learn more about unity from the literary critics, mystery and chaos from the physicists, and fuzzy sets from the mathematicians. The Bible seems to specialize in fuzzy sets. How many disciples were there? How many tribes? Perhaps we shall find that the troublesome uncertainty is really an answer once we have discovered the right question. Meanwhile, perhaps we should see it as an advance warning against the mischievous clarity of Descartes.
(2) On the Protestant/Catholic battlefield the warring canons actually war very little. De jure the problem is still there; de facto no-one cares much. Perhaps we are nearer to discovering the right question than we had thought.
(3) Undoubtedly the canonical circumference is uncertain. Whatever problems exist because of this would perhaps be minimized by a re-affirmation of scripture and a return to an earlier sensus fidelium with its belief that doubt concerning the periphery was more than compensated for by the certainty that the centre for Christians was Christ.
Who is it that might have lost scripture?
In claiming that we have lost an authoritative scripture it is more easy to see liberal scholarship and the old mainline churches influenced by it as the main casualties because they have not consciously resisted modern culture and indeed sought to make the Gospel relevant to it. I believe this to be true, but at the same time the conservative/evangelical wings of the Church for differing reasons have not escaped the cultural deprivation.
The individualism of our culture has helped to produce an individualistic society which in turn helped to fragment scripture; the 19th Century view of history which gave prominence to historical criticism in one part of the Church affected another part by producing a type of fundamentalism almost equally damaging to scriptural authority. Emphasis on experience as the norm in both camps at least raises the possibility that neither was unaffected by Schleiermacher or the Romantic Movement, and in both cases there was loss of unity and canon as atomism and truncated imagination did their destroying work.
While more medals for faithfulness perhaps should go to conservatives, one cannot escape being astounded at the power of post-Enlightenment culture to put similar imprints on all within its reach. For liberal and conservative alike a weakening of scriptural conviction mutatis mutandis often went hand in hand with common de-scripturalizing features: fragmentation, a privatized Church, a Marcionite theology and weakened ecclesiology, a loss of biblical unity, a limiting historicism, the excessive significance of personal feeling. Throughout Western Christianity in all branches of the Church there are those who do not want the Bible to interfere with their Christianity. If there is any cogency in the present hypothesis, one of the demands laid upon us is to find alternative approaches and modes of study which return scripture to us: to the liberal with renewed faith and easy mind, to the conservative with a more imaginative faith and freed from bibliolatry.
Is a full-bodied belief in scripture possible?
If it is true that there has been a loss of scripture and that this was due to cultural changes as well as to loss of faith, is it possible ever again to recapture a firm scriptural faith? Are the attenuating forces still with us? Were they right and valid in their destructive work? Is belief in scripture right? Is such a belief possible in the new world of modernity, ultra-modernity or post-modernity?
First, let it be quite clear that simple, perhaps nostalgic, going back to the past is not in view. Whatever troops are mustered they are not to be led by the Grand Old Duke of York. Next, a simple return quite simply is impossible. Simple returns always are. But not retracing our footsteps is not to deny that there were good elements in the past which are now disregarded; values once lost which should be found; doors long locked which should be opened. Fear of nostalgia should not prevent metanoia.
Many in the Church, many in the leadership of the Church, have already rejected scripture in any form in which I have defined it. .For them the tension in the word Bible has gone. The Bible cannot be a unity; it is a scripture among scriptures. In the new Copernican theological universe it circles some DIY deity in the goodly company of comparable classics. And there it in no way threatens the Christianity of those who subscribe to such a faith. DIY Christianity is neither threatened nor threatening. The question is whether it is Christianity and whether a scriptureless Christianity can survive into a time when the whole world has been swallowed into a Western culture.
I believe that the loss is not final.To glimpses of recovery we shall return later; meanwhile, a glimpse of one aspect of the present situation; an underlining of an underlying issue. To question the possibility of believing in scripture in the present is a serious question. Behind the seriousness lies the conviction that mankind is now in a cultural state that is utterly new. Western culture is attractive. It is so utterly desirable that, hating themselves as they do, the nations, including Islam, adopt it and steadily, shoulder to shoulder, march towards a monolithic world view: the world view which is gradually eroding the very churches which helped engender this amazing Western culture. This culture is so rich and varied that one fact at least is effectively obscured, and that is the total absence of certain categories essential to the Christian faith, including belief in scripture.
In the last five hundred years Western missionaries took Christianity to almost every place on earth. Almost without exception there was opposition to the preaching. The central beliefs of the Gospel were opposed on the grounds that the opposers had their own revelations, gods, heavens, hells, saviours, miracles, rituals, afterlives, etc! The categories demanded by Christian belief were all in place. The opposition to Christ came from the content of the categories, and the conversions, when they happened, took the form of changed contents. The categories had been modified somewhat but they had been receptive. We in the scriptureless West proclaim a faith which is largely unopposed in the West because it is largely unheard. It cannot really be heard because the categories necessary for reception have no place in the culture as it is mediated to us through our education, the media and everything else (except the weekly hour in the Church when we pretend to be eccentric and struggle against heavy odds in order to believe what our lips are saying and our ears hearing). To a very great extent preaching to Westerners is like broadcasting to people who have pawned their radios.
What about the eccentrics? How do we cling to the scripture and its message? If we are unusually honest we acknowledge that the faith in our mind is the faith of the culture, and so we live in two worlds, with two faiths and two plausibility structures. How do we cope? We may just accept the split mind and live with it. We may make leaps or bridges between reason and faith. We may opt for a private Christianity and say "true for me", only slowly realizing that it is illogical and that so much of our incense is being burned at the cultural shrines that there is less and less to offer during the hour's eccentricity on a Sunday. Or we may take the scripture as relevant to the heart and not the head. Or we might just refuse to think, which may explain why Sunday Schools have almost disappeared, and British churches rarely educate. Maybe the thinker's way is to choose not to think.
If that is what we actually do, what should we do? If we agree that there has been scriptural loss and that some form of recovery is needed and is possible, I suggest to those academically nurtured the following emphases (wherever possible in interdisciplinary contexts):
Last July, as part of the movement towards a genuine missionary encounter with the culture, four hundred concerned Christian thinkers looked at the assumptions of epistemology, science, history, arts, healing, education, economics and the media. It was a small first step towards the wider work of bringing scriptural assumptions to these and all the disciplines and institutions of modern society. We were sometimes asked why scripture and scriptural studies were not included. Our answer tended to be an embarrassed silence. We could hardly admit that the scriptural scales we had brought with which to measure the other disciplines weren't working properly. So to the question "by what authority?" we had only an uncertain answer. This uncertainty endangers the whole work of the Church: its evangelism, its moral teaching, its mission, its preaching, its messages to society, its word to those in the Church who hold fast to the modern certainty - the certainty that there is no certainty.
I believe a new question is being forced upon us. Is it possible honestly, intellectually and academically to study the Bible within the faith of the Church in a way which enables us to believe in the unity of the Bible, to deny and resist an all-pervasive cultural reductionism and once more repossess a scripture which can again speak with authority?
The first step is an actual or implied missionary encounter with the culture, there to insist that all knowledge is based on faith. Further, to argue that faith is not limited to the private and religious spheres, and that there are faiths, dogmas and required commitments wherever there is knowledge, in whatever sphere it is found. We insist that the just and the unjust live by faith; that there are no faith-free realms; that without faith in something or someone there is no knowledge; that the prejudice-free clinic of non-commitment is a myth and that the division into public and private realms is invalid; that the question is not "to believe or not to believe", but rather in whom or in what to believe. In removing the Bible from the "prejudice and subjectivism" of Christian commitment we had merely transferred it from one shrine to another; from the appropriate one to a distorting one.
Within an assumed mission to culture and the "conversion" of scholarly assumptions, there must be the particular mission that centres round the recovery of scripture. The two missions are really one, or at least they are inter-dependent. The recovery of scripture is in large part dependent upon the wider work of cultural conversion which The Gospel and Our Culture programme is calling for. To return the Bible as scripture to the Church is a task which must begin in the Church, but if it is to be successful it must extend beyond the Church to the whole culture. But if the recovery of scripture is at least in part dependent on mission toculture, equally mission to culture is dependent upon the recovery of scripture.
Are we saying then that the Church cannot possess a scripture unless the "world" also possesses it and owns it as scripture? To do so would make the mission impossible, but the question points to two truths essential to the mission.
First, the mission to biblical studies is dependent on the Church being convinced that the words of scripture are only authoritative for the Church if they are true for the world. For the Church to suggest that scripture is not true for those outside the Church is to condemn the mission from the beginning and to settle for an inter-cultural conversation within the presuppositions and faiths of the culture. If the Bible is true it is true for all, and the mission will only prosper if this is the Church's firm conviction. If the Bible is to be the Word of God in the Church and in the present, it can only be so if it is the Word of God to be recognized eschatologically in the world.
The second truth is an extension of the first. If the Bible is ultimately for the world, but is not yet so recognized, and if therefore the missions are not two but one and are interdependent, then the Church must live an interim life based on a faith which is now the Church's, but is only the Church's because ultimately it is the possession of all creation. In other words, the Church possesses it as a diaspora community; as dissenting stewards of what belongs to all. Christians must live a missionary life as resident aliens witnessing as a counter-culture but representing the culture that one day will be the one single culture: citizens from a kingdom that one day will include all kingdoms. The Church, living in a world which has helped it to abandon its scripture, must learn once more to proclaim her scripture as universal.
Unless the Church does this there will be no mission and there will not be the glorious pluralism the Trinity promises and gives. There will only be a continuation of the present dichotomies and the fatal pluralisms which may conceal a monism or covert polytheism. If this is trumphalism, so be it. But it is given to us as God's triumph and not the Church's. In speaking of it the Church is protected from triumphalism if it speaks, as it must, in the knowledge that it is the triumph of the cross. The Christian's first task is to take up his own cross and in penitence and humility follow the world's Lord as he goes to His triumphant cross and His triumphant rising.
Where is the beginning of wisdom?
Countless questions remain that cannot be included in one paper. Some, however, must at least be indicated. Granted that the canon is a narrational unity with a beginning, middle and end, thus demanding teleological and eschatological interpretation, but at the same time is a parliament of controversy and opposition, how do we handle it? By exegesis and interpretation? Is it possible to begin in reason and make a pulpit change to faith? Assuming that much investigation of the Bible will be done outside the Church's faith, how do we relate to all such work? If the simple transfer from reason to faith is an illusion or impossible, are there other models whereby the wider study can contribute? Can anything be said about canons within the canon?
Is our limited and unimaginative understanding of unity only matched by our limited and unimaginative understanding of criticism? I learnt only twenty years ago as an ex-patriate in the midst of another country's politics, that hermeneutics is reflection on canonical controversy and that the controversy is a war with three major battles, and innumerable skirmishes.
First, the Bible arises from the controversy between the emerging biblical canon and the canons and traditions of the surrounding nations, from Sumer, Akkadia and Egypt to Rome and Greece.
Second, the completed Bible itself is a battlefield of conflicting forces, a living parliament with changing governments and opposition parties that in its very conflict and tension provides us with the witness to the faith, the norm of truth, the bulwark against heresy and idolatry, and the story which ultimately is everyone's story.
The third battle is the battle between this pulsating controversial canon and the canons and traditions of our own age. On this latter battlefield the Church lives, aware of the previous battles and then in the midst of making decisions about faith and life, it interprets. Christ the Word lived in conflict and died in conflict. The Bible is equally controversial and diverse. It presents no consistent ethic or ideology. Its only consistency is its witness to the living God and this it achieves with a method that usually demands at least two witnesses, and often more, and through a medium that is a two-edged sword, ie facing in opposite directions and cutting both ways. It has great certainty but not Cartesian clarity. The combination of certainty and lack of clarity is the history of the Church.
Wisdom books differ from the Torah and the prophets. Within wisdom, Job does not agree with Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes is out of tune with almost everybody. Jeremiah and Isaiah concur on much but differ considerably. Cod both supports kingship and opposes it. Law struggles with Gospel. Particularism and universalism stand side by side. Differing accounts of creation differ in almost everything except the essential "God created". And at the heart of all this living argument is a love wherein the Son of God accuses the Father of desertion. This is our raw material of interpretation. No wonder that some deny it any unity. But it has a unity, as Proust's great novel, T S Eliot's 'The Waste Land', a symphony, Chartres Cathedral, and a human life have unity. Its unity is a unity in tension, a harmony of conflicting forces that can speak to all sorts and conditions of men in all sorts and conditions of human joy and anguish. At times we must hear one voice more than others. In affluence we must hear the call to poverty, in strength we must be conscious of the power of weakness, severity must temper goodness, and law nourish grace lest it becomes cheap.
This unity and diversity, this confessed canon, judged by most external norms is chaotic and we have permitted the limiting norms to dismember what the Church had confessed to be the norm. Can we reverse the judging process and ask whether this norm, inadmissible to most other norms, can indeed function as a norm, and as the representative of the final divine Norm find a place for other norms? Can we in the 20th Century with a new understanding of its tensions and opposites declare it to be a living whole, dynamic not static, the Book of Books and Canon of Canons? Can we claim that it is this vibrant living unity, representing the living vibrant authority of the Trinity, which turns the fragments into parts, each with its own partial authority as long as it is always seen as part of the whole? That each part only reveals its meaning when read as part of the greater whole, and that, alone as fragments not parts, is potential if not instant heresy?
A reconfessed scripture (ideally interpreted ecumenically and in its relationship with all creation) can be seen as possessing answers to some of these questions.
(1) The canon within the canon can only be the whole canon. Lacking any parts all the rest is threatened. A torso-Hebrew scripture is not Christian scripture but merely an invitation to veiled faces. A severed-head New Testament only deserves the fate of Marcionism.
(2) The scriptural norm provides places for other norms. Specifically it offers us an answer as to how we might deal with some of our present scholarly methods, based on other norms. Our decades of criticism must be criticized but they are not lost. The Bible itself was formed in the controversy between competing canons. The work of scholars, mythmakers, taletellers, poets was taken, judged, transformed and adopted. Here is a model, but a model which reverses the current priorities.
If we judge the pulpit shift from reason to faith to be naive, and outlaw it because reason does not exist in isolation from some faith, and because the analytical tools of the reasonable trade may so rough-hew their objects as to make faith-refining impossible, is there still not room for a process somewhat similar? Scholarship with other norms is not unknown in the Bible, but the biblical principle of reversed priorities means that its use is somewhat different.
Profound scholarship, perhaps the profoundest scholarship, abounds in the Bible. Much of the scholarship with other norms contributes to the canon-forming process as Judges dialogues with Joshua, 2 Isaiah with Exodus, and the supreme scholars Paul and the writer to the Hebrews dialogue with the Old Testament and its scholarly interpreters. The results are instructive. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews, educated in the best schools, knew and used the best scholarship of their day. They used it almost lovingly and then having sucked it dry finally overthrew it.
Having borrowed scholarship from within the assumptions and plausibility structures of their day the pulpit faith ultimately takes absolute priority. Does this mean that they cease to be scholarly, or that they have found a better scholarship?
This brings us to what is the crucial issue; the nature of criticism. We sometimes distinguish various kinds of criticism: historical criticism, redaction criticism etc. But frequently we use the word 'criticism' without specifying. We don't need to. If there is a blank space, the contemporary culture fills it for us. Despite the fact that there are countless kinds of criticism we often do not specify. Do we need to widen our understanding of the nature of criticism? Is Judges criticizing Joshua? Job criticizing Proverbs? Chronicles criticizing Torah and the former prophets? The tent criticizing the temple? Are prophet and priest, prophet and king in a critical relationship? If so, some of the criticism in the Old Testament is indeed very radical. But the Old Testament has nothing to match the radicality of some New Testament critics. In the radical-critic-stakes Dibelius and Bultmann are extremely conservative compared with Paul, John the Divine and the writer to the Hebrews.
Following Christ himself they take the Hebrew scriptures and create out of them the Old Testament by the most radical rebirth of images and radical criticism imaginable. The risen Christ on the way to Emmaus addresses the two culture-blinded disciples who knew all the facts but none of the meaning. He takes the canon from "Moses and all the prophets" and relates it to himself: canon is interpreted christologically and mission ensues. Is this the beginning of Christo-criticism; the basis of the consistent and radical Christo-criticism of Paul, John, Hebrews and the rest of the New Testament? Did Paul and the erudite authors of Hebrews and Revelation cease to be scholars after conversion, or was their scholarship sharpened by their recognition of the One who is not only the Way and the Life, but also the Truth and the Light?
Can we avoid confronting some questions which are forced upon us? Is there a clear dichotomy between reason and faith or is it a choice of faiths? If the latter, does "scholarly" study divide neatly from "faith" study, or do words like "academic" and "scholarship" need redefinition? In what sense is Christ the Truth and the Light, and should we give the casting vote to Christo-criticism in the dialogue between a variety of modes of investigation?
This paper, unlike scripture, cannot have a beginning, a middle and an end - only a beginning and an arbitrary finish. I have reached the finish. All that remains is a final and very earnest plea. I have raised questions, I have hinted at central issues and what should be aimed at - the recovery of scripture - but if any of this makes sense, what precisely is being proposed? Models lie to hand. Research projects immediately present themselves. Perhaps a series of popular books, a consultation, a ten-year study project a