NEWSLETTER • JUNE 1995 ('No.22')
A word of welcome
NOTES FROM ANDREW WALKER, THE DIRECTOROF GOSPEL & CULTURE
This newsletter is the first to appear from the newly amalgamated The Gospel & Our Culture and The CS Lewis Centre. It has been sent out to two groups...
Those of you who belong to this second group are invited to join us by filling in the Gospel & Culture leaflet. As soon as you sign up we will send you the winter edition of Leading Light, our journal of Christian faith and contemporary culture.
For those of you who choose not to join the Gospel & Culture network, we promise that we will not continue to send mail through the post after this newsletter.
We would like to thank everyone who has written in with their appreciation of Leading Light.
Some, like Professor James Torrance from Aberdeen, rang us to say how much they enjoyed the first edition. Others, such as Dr Ray Paton, have sent some very helpful suggestions. The Rev. David Kettle from New Zealand has gone one better and sent in an essay for inclusion in the next edition.
Some of our readers have asked why Leading Light isn't available in local Christian bookshops, church bookstalls or libraries. The short answer is that although we would like to do this, the amount of administration involved makes it difficult. If you would like to find an outlet for the journal in your location, please write to or phone Lavinia Harvey at the Gospel & Culture office with your suggestion.
The next edition of Leading Light will be published in the autumn.
Restructuring the organisation
Regretfully, even organisations dedicated to the gospel can get caught up in bureaucratic problems. At the moment, the general consensus among the Council and officers of Gospel & Culture is that we are top heavy. We are therefore taking time this year to streamline our management structures.
This brings both bad news and good news. The bad news is that this process is time-consuming and is eating into preparation for establishing our workshops and seminar programmes. The good news is that the issues will be resolved by June. I will therefore be able to explain the major changes to you in the next newsletter.
I can say to you already that we are pleased to announce that Canon Tom Smail will become the co-director of Gospel & Culture after he returns from his three-month lecture tour of Australia. He will be taking particular responsibility for our teaching programmes.
The workshop programme
By this time next year we hope that we will have enough venues and teams of speakers to visit your area to explore Gospel & Culture issues. Thanks to the response of many members, we have already received offers of venues from the west country, the north-east, Lincoln and Southend.
Tom Smail, Jeremy Begbie and I are planning a series of workshops in 1996 on `Worship and Renewal'. And this autumn, Simon Jenkins and I hope to take a day's workshop on the Trinity in west London. I will also be visiting Lincoln in June, while Tom Smail goes to Southend in September.
In order to help you decide what teams and which subjects would interest you in your locality, we will shortly be sending you a programme of events and profiles of teams for next year.
Gospel & Culture books with SPCK
Our first book is out and selling well. It is a new edition of Charismatic Renewal, by Tom Smail, Nigel Wright and Andrew Walker, published in March. A new edition of The Open Secret by Lesshe Newbigin is also out this year, as is Trevor Hart's Faith Leading Faith.
In fact, new books for our list will be fast and furious over the next two years. Watch this space!
Gospel & Culture owes a particular debt to Naomi Starkey, the new editor at SPCK. She has done a splendid job on our behalf and has been full of ideas.
Free papers, books and tapes offer
For 1995 we are offering Network Members of Gospel & Culture (those paying the £20 annual membership fee) free copies of the following:
• Tom Smail's paper on `Karl Barth and the Bible'
• Tom Smail's series of talks, given in Geneva, on `The Cross'- limited stock available
• Tapes from the earlier CS Lewis Centre workshops
• A Christian ForAll Christians (essays in honour of CS Lewis)
• Davie Ahern's Inner City God
If you would like to order any of the above, please write to Lavinia Harvey at the Gospel & Culture
address. Please include £1.50 for postage and packing in the UK and £3.50 for orders outside the UK.
Congratulations to Trevor Hart, author of Faith Leading Faith, at becoming professor elect of theology at St Andrew's University, Scotland.
Congratulations, also, to Iwan Russell Jones and Michael Roberts (regular Leading Light contributors) for being shortlisted for the prestigious Sony Radio Awards for the Radio 3 documentary series on religion and culture, The Real Thing.
And finally, a special mention for Mike Poole, one of our science and religion specialists. He has received a Templeton award for his science and religion module on the MA in theological education at King's College. He will be travelling to Harvard this June to receive it.
Thank you for your continuing support.
Restoring the vision
BOOK REVIEW OF LAWRENCE OSBORN'S RESTORING THE VISION (MOWBRAY 1995; BY JEREMY BEGBIE
If ever there was a time when we needed affordable books which can crystallize complex material in accessible ways, it is now: Lawrence Osborn has already shown himself adept in this area, and his latest paperback is no exception
Like Lesslie Newbigin (whose influence is clear in many places), the author has that rare ability to reduce complexity to simplicity without being simplistic. I can think of no better introduction to the whole gospel and culture field than this.
The book began life as a response to the Swanwick consultation of 1992: `The Gospel as Public Truth'. The issues it tackles all centre around the question: how do we relate the good news of Jesus Christ to contemporary culture?
Contours of modernity
After a helpful (and important) introduction on that difficult word 'culture', Part I of the book deals with The Contours of Modernity'. Some of the major currents of thought and practice which have shaped the modern world are sketched among them the dominance of technical reason, rationalisation, Cartesian dualism, mechanistic models of creation, individualism, and belief in human progress.
Especially illuminating here are the sections on the natural sciences. Dr Osborn has a scientific background himself, and we are treated to lucid summaries, not only of movements in the philosophy of science, but also of the way scientists actually work. This is interwoven with sensitive sections on religious belief and the ways in which religion has been affected by, and has affected the growth of modernity.
Winds of change
In Part II, 'Winds of Change', Dr Osborn traces some of the profound currents of discontent within modernity. The old certainties are being eroded; our confidence in the natural sciences to deliver what was promised has been waning. The destructive effects of some brands of modern thought and practice have become all too evident -fragmentation in society, violence, the threat of the abolition of personal identity.
Osborn offers a valuable introduction to that much-debated concept `postmodernism', and explores some of the alternatives to modernism proposed by the voices of dissent - for example, the new physics (ably Explained for those prone to get lost in the fog of jargon), environmentalism, and that 'pick'n'mix' melee, the New Age Movement, on which Osborn has already written a helpful paperback.
Proclaiming good news today
Having been skilfully led through the thickets of cultural analysis, in Part III, `Proclaiming Good News Today', Osborn tackles the question: how can the story of Jesus Christ be good news today, in this culture?
He proposes an `incarnational' view of the relation between gospel and culture, rightly noting the importance of Pentecost for understanding this. This entails both a refusal to sacralize any particular human culture (every culture is relativized and to some extent judged), and a commitment to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ in all cultures with a view to their conversion.
Osborn's debt to Newbigin is particularly evident when he stresses the Church's role in this process of conversion. The Church is called to be the public assembly in the world for the sake of the world. Community is the proper medium of the gospel.
Especially impressive is Osborn's mastery of an extraordinary range of literature. It is unlikely that even the most learned expert will find any major viewpoint ignored or any significant author omitted. Another strength of the book is Osborn's refusal to assume a simple causal relationship between ideas and cultural practice. Ideas may indeed 'trickle down' from the university to the market place, but things work in the other direction also.
He thus offers an implicit warning to any supporters of `Gospel and Culture' who might be tempted to see their task as exclusively intellectual - crudely: 'get people thinking right and then everything will be all right'. Osborn's sociological antennae save us from any such over simple view.
In the introduction, Osborn writes: `We stand at a cultural crossroads'. Quite so. And for all who know that and feel it in their bones - whether members of a Church or not - it is just this kind of book that will help us find a worthwhile and fruitful route for the future. Buy it and read it you will not be disappointed.
The cruelty of heresy
BOOK REVIEW OF C FITZSIMMONS ALLISON'S THE CRUELTY OF HERESY (SPCK 1994) BY MICHAEL BEGGS
Any book written by a bishop mentioning the 'H' word with a straight face is enough to attract almost anyone's attention nowadays. But when Bishop Allison actually explains why heresy is cruel, there is ample reason to devote our sustained attention.
Not since Tom Oden's whistle-blowing Agenda for Theology have I read such a thorough analysis and critique of the widespread problem of subChristian theological teaching in the churches and among those charged with the education and formation of our clergy. Yet The Cruelty of Heresy does something more: it explains the unparalleled achievement of the Christian church as her classical faith emerged from the life-or-death struggle with the trinitarian and Christological heresies of the first five centuries.
Not only does The Cruelty of Heresy nicely compliment Oden's earlier agenda for a 'postmodern orthodoxy', but it fulfils in a timely way a real and desperate need in the churches. A real need because of the widespread ignorance of the story it tells. A desperate need because of the loss of any prevailing sense of the indissoluble connection between the mind and the heart, between right-thinking and right-doing.
It is timely because it provides a rationale for classical orthodoxy which moves beyond the oft heard hand-wringing lament over the failure to conform to doctrinal standards. Though understandable, that is not much of a rationale for classical Christianity.
In books with such high aspirations, we might usually expect to suffer through some of the stuff we've forgotten from our old history classes. But let it not be thought that the good bishop is merely concerned that we get our history of heresies straight (though he does name and explain them: Donatism, Ebionitism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism).
Nor is Allison, in recounting the old battles, just concerned to explain and defend what looks to many uninformed moderns like archaic and self-indulgent theological hair-splitting (though to be sure, that's a necessary part of it).
Here in an accessible and popular format there is all that we would expect in a more technical work: good historical knowledge and a competent handling of the crucial doctrinal issues with which they wrestled. But also, in fascinating miniature sketches, we meet the personalities involved, combined with reflections on what it all still means for us living on the edge of the 21st century.
The unique strength of The Cruelty of Heresy is that as the book details why these heresies are still with us, it also shows why they are cruel.
In Allison's words, `We are susceptible to heretical teachings because, in one way or another, they nurture and reflect the way we would have it be rather than the way God has provided, which is infinitely better for us. As they lead us into the blind alleys of self-indulgence and escape from life, heresies pander to the most
unworthy tendencies of the human heart. It is astonishing how little attention has been given to these two aspects of heresy: its cruelty and its pandering to sin.'
In other words, the trinitarian and Christological heresies perpetuate the very spiritual malformations from which they arise. Yet, for all this, Allison comes nowhere near succumbing to the temptation to turn the vital connection between classical Christian spirituality and classical Christian theology (in its literal sense of teaching about God) into an excuse for polemical character assassination.
From the point of view of the concerned lay person or working pastor, the unique value of this book must lie in the credible connection it makes between `orthodoxy' and `a rectitude of the heart.'
This book, with its excellent bibliography for further reading, is a must for roamin' Romans, fashionable sola scriptura liberals, and disoriented docetists. Not to mention those who wish to feed from the classical faith and be enabled to give a Christ-centred and trinitarian account for the hope that is in them.
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NEWSLETTER • NOVEMBER 1996 ('NO.23')
Facing the Future
Andrew Walker, Director of Gospel & Culture, with newsof publications, the workshop programme, and the future of Gospel & Culture.
Dear Friends -we have some good news, not so good news, and bad news to impart. First the good news.
The SPCK Gospel & Culture list continues to grow. Walsh & Middleton's book, Truth is Stranger Than it Used to Be has proved to be a bit of a hit (as has Pete Ward's Growing Up Evangelical). Naomi Starkey of SPCK tells me that both Nigel Wright's The Radical Evangelical and my Telling The Story are selling well.
We are pleased also that the Charismatic Renewal book and Different Gospels still sell steadily. In fact, we now have eighteen books on the Gospel & Culture list - either out, in press, or in preparation.
Publications have undoubtedly been our strong suit this year. Most of our letters from you concern Leading Light, which despite its small circulation we believe to be both influential and greatly appreciated. We are now receiving letters which are engaging with the articles in the journal, and as a result you will have noticed that we have started a letters page so that more of you can air your views.
The not so good news concerns the workshops. I have been to four venues so far this year and I am completely booked up for the rest of this year. However, our teams have not really got off the ground.
Tom Small who has been co-ordinating the workshops feels that we are simply not receiving enough invitations. Three venues that were chosen for three different teams - all had to be cancelled for lack of interest. We realise that Christian education is not a high priority in British culture, but nevertheless we are disappointed that more people do not appear to want to spend more time looking at the interface between faith and culture.
It may of course be that the Gospel & Culture agenda is now becoming accepted by many of the churches. Indeed, I think that this may be true for priests and pastors judging, by the in-service and post-ordination programmes that I now see on offer in the Baptist Union, the URC and the Church of England. I doubt if it is true, however, for lay people.
My personal view is that churches, like the larger culture, are issue and project oriented and are not so much committed to long-term programmes or concerned with adult theological education in any systematic way. It is of course too early to say whether workshops will play a major role in the future. We would very much like to hear your views on the subject.
And so on to the bad news - and this, needless to say, concerns money. In the last newsletter, we talked of our grandiose plans for raising funds and asked for your help. To date we have received neither money nor interest in raising money from anyone in the network (with the exception of our president, Lesslie Newbigin).
Those of us, like myself, who work for the network, also have our failure to report: we can not hold our charity dinner as planned at Lambeth Palace on November 5th for we can not bring together a large enough number of paying guests to make the evening a success.
For Tom Small and myself, who have been working together since 1987, such a financial embarrassment is nothing new: we have always worked hand-to-mouth as so many voluntary Christian organisations do. Nevertheless, it is a genuine disappointment to miss an opportunity that will not come again.
I am sorry about the depressing news, but please do not feel guilty about the financial situation. All of us, I am sure, do the best we can with our Christian stewardship, and we are all committed to meeting many different and sometimes competing needs. Gospel & Culture will have to cut its cloth accordingly.
Lack of money does of course concentrate the mind and we will be spending considerable time, prayer and effort in talking about our future plans and new directions. In particular, we will be looking at ways in which Gospel & Culture, or at least some of its members, can support the new Bible Society initiative called The Open Book, which aims to find innovative ways to bring the Bible alive for many people who see it as merely an old (and thus a closed) book.
We would like to take this opportunity to offer you free of charge the remaining copies of the books Inner City God, and A Christian for All Christians: Essays in Honour of C. S. Lewis. We also still have back issues of Leading Light and tapes from earlier workshops. If you would like a pot luck collection of all these, please send £1.50 to cover postage and packing. Otherwise, send 50p and specify the name of the book you would like to receive.
York 11 and Fox
Douglas Gay reports on the Alternative Worship Conference in York
The second Alternative Worship Gathering in York in December 1995 was always going to be something of a balancing act. Coming fairly soon after the NOS (Nine o'clock Service) debacle and the feverish media coverage, the air of relaxed DIY organization and gently anarchic mood of the previous gathering were
unlikely to survive unscathed.
While lots of the folk who were organizing services continued to insist that there was no such thing as 'the
alternative worship movement', the various groups around the country had been developing increasingly
strong links. These included a conference, a 'journal' (re:generate), and an Internet forum. Post-NOS, the gathering seemed even more necessary, but was also under greatly increased pressure. When Matthew Fox asked if he could attend, the potential for the gathering to become some kind of theological watershed was clear. Along with Fox came a group of around twenty newcomers, who were there to hear him and to follow his interest in alternative worship, rather than because they were already practitioners. They were not hard to identify.
Predictably, Matthew Fox's presence loomed (too) large over the weekend. While he had reined in his rhetoric for the afternoon presentation, there was a passionately hostile minority who were resentful of his having been allowed to attend and speak. Some of their questions and challenges were unworthy to the point of rudeness - evidencing their fear and mistrust of Fox's influence.
Responding to Creation Spirituality
In a poorly-balanced programme, I was offered the task of responding to the Creation Spirituality presentation. My previously mixed feelings about Fox's work had already turned to deep unease in preparation for the event. Both my reading of his books and an evening spent in his company had caused my opinion of him to plummet.
There are flashes of real theological insight in his work, gems of observation about human behaviour and an insistent curiosity about learning from a wide range of religious sources. Moreover, his presentation is extremely user-friendly and populist - people like his books, they buy them in large numbers and they recommend them to each other. That is why he is so dangerous.
What do I mean? Fox is not dangerous primarily because he advocates a good, old-fashioned liberal theological stance - and an old-fashioned liberal is what he is, despite his liking for the tag of `postmodern theologian'. Many good and godly people do that with the greatest of integrity. He is dangerous because he lacks basic integrity as a scholar and a teacher. He is not committed to the `liberal' openness in dialogue and critique, which is for me a pre-condition of a search for truth in this fallen world.
He is consistently and persistently abusive of his sources - whether they are the bogeymen, such as Augustine, or the heroes, such as Eckhart and Hildegard. His running diatribe against what he calls `fall-redemption theology' is based on a caricature of the positions and people he is attacking. Straw patriarchs are easier to deal with than real ones.
Schillebeeckx is disparaged for his failure to reckon with `beauty' as a category of theological thinking, while Augustine's impassioned writing on beauty is quietly forgotten. My most consistent reaction to Fox's work has become outrage at the sheer unfairness of it. The trouble is, while pedants like me are crying foul, Fox has already swept on to wow the crowds with another effortless theological elision.
I think I was a disappointment. Rather than representing vibrant metaphors for redemption, I gave - to my own surprise - a rather personal apologia for evangelical theology. My pitch to the gathering was something like: 'remember the rock from which you were hewn'. Added to that, I tried to contrast Matthew Fox's biblical exegesis with a rough literary guide to plotting the biblical story, on the grounds that he seems to miss the significance of a fairly important early plot shift.
The longer haul
For many people, York left a bad taste. I fear Matthew Fox did not enjoy it much either. If he was bidding for some kind of theological leadership in what he feels is 'the most significant spiritual experiment in the
Western world', he went away uncrowned. Those most interested in his work remain interested, perhaps more ambivalent about his style, but uncomfortable about the reception he received. They also felt the dearth of people who give them the same inspiration in their Christian lives. Fox does touch the parts that many other Christian thinkers don't reach.
Those who came hostile, mostly went away hostile. For myself, I can live with Fox having an influence as
one voice among others. The significant thing is that he was not installed as resident pop theologian of the alternative worshippers. He is not worthy of that, and we deserve better.
The future of alternative worship is not clear. After its first wave, the most innovative and creative worship initiative since Youth Praise I is having to adjust its goals and pace itself for a longer haul.
Already there are not a few casualties, worn out by the sheer work of it, and/or disillusioned by events in Sheffield. Widespread mistrust, complacency and misunderstanding from the established Churches and their middle-aged leaders still seem to be a common experience. If the Churches lose the creativity and idealism of alternative worshippers - some of whom see this as their last attempt to hang in with Church through negligence, weakness or their own deliberate fault, it will be at least a crying shame, if not a sin.
Douglas Gay is a member in exile of the Late, Late Service in Glasgow. He now works as a United Reformed Church minister in Hackney, where he is involved in an alternative church plant called HOST.
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