Newsletter 45 (Spring '06)
The Culture of Children
In the eyes of God, children are of equal status with ourselves. So Jesus tells us by his teaching and example. As a child enters into and explores the creation, so Jesus insists that we must enter the kingdom of God.
When this radical insight from Jesus was recovered in the nineteenth century, it impelled the education of children worldwide. A thousand books written could not have carried the same import as the chorus "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." Children were significant. We should welcome them into the world.
At their young age children already participate - like the rest of us - in a dynamic culture which they at once shape and by which they are shaped. This culture changes with each generation, more than often we recognise. This process of shaping and being shaped is in many ways for children an intimate and thoughtful affair. Already at the age of two years a child gives, loves, experiments, initiates, orders, prioritizes, builds, experiences stress, jokes and judges, all in complex ways, and in relation to God and to other people.
Indeed, as Jesus implies, we should see a child as an adult in their formative years. None of us leaves behind the child we once were; at threescore years and ten we remain the child we were, further formed in intervening years by God and by other people. Children and their culture invite the same attention and respect as 'adult' culture.
Children shut out
We need to dwell on this because today the opposite is happening. Although we claim to be 'child-centred', in reality we impose upon children a culture which is narrowly 'adult'. Indeed our claim to be 'child-centred' itself reflects a problematic perspective. Children may not be well served by thinking of themselves as the centre of attention. Children, like adults, flourish not by having their ego's massaged but by participating in relationships with God, with other people and with God's creation.
Too often adults are absent for children when it matters. Children's time with adults get rationed as though in a time of shortage. Often both parents work in paid employment, and sometimes at weekends. Commuting makes heavy demands on time. Shopping, television, DIY and housework occupy 'family' time. Childbirth and child rearing is often postponed beyond the age of 30 years, enlarging the gap between generations and producing parents who are more tired.
The outcome of all this is complex to evaluate. Certainly much good, caring and thoughtful parenting takes place today. The bottom line, however, looks suspiciously like the mass organisation of children's culture to fit into adult routines which exclude consideration of children. Children are often only too conscious of this situation. Left or ignored, they may find ways of rocking the boat.
Prominent in this state of affairs is the role of the mass media in children's culture. Children today are spending ten or twenty times as long interacting with the media as with their parents. However high the quality of this mass-produced media material, considerations of quality are far outweighed by the effect of the underlying shift in interaction. Plausibly this shift is breaking the bonds by which, in the past, generations have been held together. Sociologists still wrestle to understand the process whereby the absence of parents in the Second World War helped to produce angry young men and a rebellious youth culture in the late fifties and sixties. Few would rule out such a link. What we are seeing today is no such enforced physical absence; there is, however, a kind of voluntary psychological absenteeism with mass media substitution on a vast scale. This can show itself in school life as well as home.
There are ambiguities about our mass-media-generated children's culture. Those who make computer games, TV series, music and entertainment in general are seemingly on the side of children. They are not 'stuffy' old people; instead they successfully capture children’s attention, often by mechanical techniques employing movement, exaggerated colour and noise. They engage closely with features of childhood and teenage culture such as love of fun, excitability, responsiveness to the likeable, deference to fashion and participation in mass-generated responses. In all this they inculcate, in sophisticated ways, largely passive patterns of consumption. Much hype is directed towards consumption: above all, children are learning to buy.
Certainly there are people trying to do better for children than this. They include some authors, programme makers, parents and teachers. But these work against the tide.
Where will all this lead? We cannot be sure. In all their complexity these new developments seem to defy analysis. But I think we may one day discover that such media saturation among children has undermined in a devastating way, patterns of learning we have hitherto taken for granted as normal. We may also find we have produced a generation that neither bonds with, nor understands, nor even shows interest in people of middle or old age. The gift of young to old having been ignored, the gift of old to young may likewise be forgotten. And Jesus’ teaching of the gift we are to each other will wait once more to be recovered.
Family, maturity, Trinity
'Western industrial society has devalued the job of parenting to the point where the total amount of time parents and children spend together has dropped by 40% in a single generation'.
So Penelope Leach noted when, almost 20 years after her best seller Baby and Child, she wrote Children First1. According to her, babies and toddlers under 3 years old need full-time, one-to-one loving care. Not just care, but love: 'Babies need to be cared for by people who think they are wonderful'.
Leach was concerned that, with many women in the workforce, financial and status blackmail by employers was robbing mothers of the choice to give their babies such care. Nursery provision, even when provided, could not make up for this.
Recent Government measures aim to mitigate this problem, but inevitably there will remain employment considerations affecting parents' decisions.
Even though it is on offer, parental leave may be declined in order to maintain an income which will support the material expectations which have risen so greatly this past generation. It now becomes a vital issue, whether parents recognise the importance of giving their young children time and attention and a stable personal environment in which to play, learn and grow. Parents may recognise this readily in a society where mature human adulthood is tacitly understood and pursued. Our own society, however, too often scorns maturity in favour of infantile habits, thereby hindering both the achievement of responsible parenthood and the formation of children.
'Childhood is most positively valued and fostered', Rowan Williams urges, when we resist infantilism; when adults stop being infants, children can be children'. In his lecture 'Formation: Who's bring up our children?'2 he invites his audience to re-envisage the goal of human maturity, in a society which presents blocks to this and to the corresponding formation of children. In our present society and culture, conscious recollection of this goal is an increasingly pressing need.
Parents, for their own part, have a fight on their hands to maintain the vision of mature adulthood, to help their children negotiate the blocks to this which are presented by today's culture, and to inculcate in them a certain cultural resistance required by this.
For Christians, the deepest sources impel us to promote the vision of human maturity in our culture. Our very understanding of the 'person' has theological sources in the Trinity.3 And the maturity to which we are called, as we acknowledge, is 'measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ' (Ephesians 4.13).
confronting two secular ideas of faith
The primary school assembly sounded interesting: my son's class was to present something on 'God'.
The assembly fell into two parts. In the first, a succession of children asked 'why?' about things we all take for granted. 'Why is the sky blue?' asked one. 'Why am I me?' asked another.
In the second part, a succession of children told us what they personally valued. 'I value my pet rabbit', said one. 'I value my stamp collection', said another.
The assembly - which took place some years ago now - demonstrated to me with particular clarity, two secularist approaches to religion: (1) religion offers answers to questions most of don't usually ask, and which for most practical purposes need no answer, or if they do, they can in principle be answered by science without religion's answers; (2) religion is a projection on to the cosmos of what we personally value.
These two ways of categorising religion have been on display in recent public debate. The former approach is displayed by Richard Dawkins in his latest attack on belief in God, on TV Channel Four. The latter is displayed when our political leaders treat religion only as the valued private property of certain groups of people, to be handled with caution.
These two approaches to religion amount to two strikingly different discourses. Neither is capable of grasping either (1) the truth or (2) the holiness or 'value', of God in Christ. Therefore, although Christians are bound to enter into conversation with these two approaches, they should take care not to concede to the narrow presuppositions which underlie both and which reduce faith to one or other of these categories in the first place.
Thus too much has already been conceded when Christians set out to prove, against attacks, the existence of an Intelligent Designer or (supposedly blind) watchmaker. There is a theism, first conceived in response to Enlightenment attacks, which accepted the presuppositions of these attacks where Christian theology must challenge them.1 We would do better, I think, to argue for the blindness of a thinker who contradicts himself by using the rhetoric of personal agency ('selfish' genes, 'competing' memes, the 'agency' of chance…) precisely to deny the presence of personal agency.2
Similarly too much has already been conceded when Christians, finding themselves marginalised, seek a voice in public life on the grounds that they represent a significant sectional interest. Hilary Russell3 urges that faith communities who seek a place at 'partnership' tables today should ask themselves why they do so and what they can bring. Christians should be clear that, fundamentally, they seek not to be served, but to serve. Christian 'values' are not self-seeking or self-serving but about seeking and serving God and humankind. They are informed by God's love in Christ towards all humankind, and contribute their own insights and questions towards the proper end of public life and of partnership within it. This is the warrant for Christian involvement, formally or otherwise, in public life.
Christian faith is neither an abstract metaphysical system nor the cosmic projection of private attachments. The task of apologetics is to expose the contradictions within a hidebound worldview which can think of Christian faith only in these categories. The task may be complex both in theory and practice, but at root it is this: to disclose a truth which is holy, and a holiness which is true.
Lesslie Newbigin, Missionary Theologian: A Reader, edited by Paul Weston (SPCK, $14.99) has just been published (available also from Eerdmans in March). It is the first Newbigin Reader to have been compiled, and draws widely from the long years of his vigorous ministry. From the cover:
'Lesslie Newbigin was one of the seminal Christian thinkers of the present
age, alert to the implications of Christian living both in the West and in
India, and Paul Weston is established as an outstanding interpreter of his
thought. To have this treasury so thoughtfully drawn from the vast corpus of
Newbigin's writings, and so skilfully presented, is a blessing indeed.' (Professor
Also newly published, by Grove Books: Beyond Tragic Spirituality: Victimhood and Christian Hope, by David Kettle (Grove Books, £2.95). From the cover: 'We live in a world which at times appears obsessed with the tragic. We can be tempted to be overwhelmed by the tragedy we encounter in person or through the media - but equally strong is the temptation simply to dismiss it. In this profound and challenging study, we see that Jesus, crucified and risen for us, resists both these temptations and invites us to share in his own dignity and freedom.'
To buy the booklet, S95 in the Grove Spirituality Series, telephone 01223-464748 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For further details see http://www.grovebooks.co.uk/cart.php?target=product&product_id=17014&category_id=290.
Finally Faith and Power, co-authored by Lesslie Newbigin, Jenny Taylor and Lamin Sanneh (SPCK, 1998) is back in print. More evidently relevant than ever today, it has been reprinted by U.S. publishers Wipf & Stock.
Should Postmodern theory be allowed to shape pastoral theology and practice? Nigel Biggar pursues this question in his 1998 review article of Elaine Graham's book Transforming Practice (ACCESS 512). He vigorously challenges Graham for swallowing virtually whole the postmodernist diagnosis of contemporary culture as a fact ('This, of course, is odd; because postmodernists are not supposed to believe in facts, only interpretations - and only in local, not universal ones at that'.) A far more promising way forward, as he sees it, 'would be to hold on to theological and ethical realism, duly chastened by postmodernist insight into the political (ab)use of theory, and to work at developing a hypothetically universal account of human flourishing and its component goods. And among these goods the most basic must be communion with a God who is at least as real and personal and 'other' as you and I; because if it isn't among them, the pastoral theology will have nothing distinctive to contribute to public discussion about the pastoral care of confused, scarred, and broken human beings.'
In an article relevant to the 'family' theme of this newsletter issue, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (ACCESS 528) discusses loss of role among men in the U.S. Her closing reflections have global implications. She quotes Andrew Schmookler: 'for thousands of years, human communities have seen the greatest threat to their survival as coming from outside enemies. So they have made warriors their heroes and the virtues of the man of power their ideal of manhood'. But now, with arguably the greater threat being what our quest for prosperity is doing to the planet, we need to recover 'another image of what a man might be. It is the image of the good steward, the man to whom the care of things can be entrusted'.
Avery Dulles' 'The Rebirth of Apologetics' (ACCESS 517) includes a succinct summary of the historical phases of Christian apologetics, reminding us that we need to discern what is an appropriate form for apologetics today. His closing appeal - for an epistemology more adequate to the reality of human testimony - is a fertile starting point for further reflection.
Prizegiving and the beatitudes
New Zealand friends recently shared with us their pleasure that their daughter, attending a Christian primary school, had this year been awarded a coveted school prize: that of Peacemaker. From the moment she started school, it was declared, she had stood out for her efforts to reconcile and make peace between her school mates.
Here is an example of a Christian school seeking imaginatively to reflect
Christian values in our age.
God has placed us in families
Among my Christmas gifts last year I received a four DVD set of "Civilisation - A personal view by Lord Clark." It is a series that is well worth revisiting; perhaps one of the BBC's finest hours (or rather eleven hours!). At one point in the first programme, Clark comments on the consequences that follow when we "lose our belief in the authority of a higher power". Of course, Western civilisation has now travelled a very long way down that road. One of the consequences is that many of us now decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. This is particularly true in what we consider to be the realm of personal morality, in our views on sex, marriage and family life. Pierre Trudeau once famously said that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. Most people in our society would probably now say that the church has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. When I returned to parish ministry in England in 1994, after eleven years in a church in South Africa, it took me a while to adjust to the change in culture. I suggested to one couple who came to me for marriage preparation that living together before marriage was a falling short of God's standards, according to the church's teaching. They were outraged and said that they no longer felt it would be appropriate for me to conduct their marriage service. Nowadays most of the couples I see are cohabiting and I never mention the subject.
However what I do say now in my wedding sermons, much more clearly than I used to, is that the family is central to God's will and purpose for human society. Human happiness comes not just from the pursuit of individual fulfilment but also from being part of a family and a community. God has placed us in families. As we choose to disregard God's purposes for us in and through the families in which he has placed us, we will indeed suffer the consequences.
THE CONTEXTUAL THEOLOGY CENTRE
introduced by its Director, Angus Ritchie
The Contextual Theology Centre has been established to help Christians witness faithfully and effectively in a changing world. Based in the East End of London, it has a particular focus on promoting social justice and inter-faith engagement.
Based at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in Limehouse, the Centre is at an early stage of development. St Katharine's is a retreat and conference centre in an area with a rich history of engagement between theology and context. This includes the Anglo-Catholic slum priests of the Victorian era, the anti-fascist struggles in Cable Street in the 1930s, and the ministry of Fr St John Grosser - firstly as Vicar of St George's-in-the-East, and then as the first Master of St Katharine's after its move to Limehouse. Today, this is in a context of great cultural and religious diversity - with areas of urban deprivation existing alongside the financial centres of Canary Wharf and the City.
Following its refurbishment in 2004, St Katharine's offers excellent facilities for individual and group retreats and for conferences. We are working with the Master (Ronald Swan) and Theology Tutor (David Driscoll) to develop an educational programme for local Christians, and placement opportunities for students.
Initial funding for the Centre's work has come from the Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford. We work closely with the Barking Programme, which provides adult lay education in the diocese's East End boroughs. The Centre offers a year-long Living Faith course on contextual theology, and is planning additional courses and modules on study skills and inter-faith issues.
Another key partner is the Citizen Organising Foundation (COF). This is an alliance of faith and community groups, which works to develop grassroots leadership, and to help local people to act to improve their communities. In London, there are over 80 faith congregations, schools, student organisations, community associations, trade union branches and resident groups involved in this work (under the umbrella of "London Citizens")
In 2004, the alliance successfully lobbied Mayoral candidates on a "People's Agenda" of issues such as low pay and affordable housing; and secured "ethical guarantees" on these issues in London's successful Olympic bid. Current actions include campaigns for a 'Living Wage' and for improved services at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate offices at Lunar House.
Citizen organising provides a practical way for the church to challenge the injustices - and the pressures to atomisation - in the global marketplace. At the end of Christendom, it provides a very different way for Christians to retain a commitment to ministry beyond the gathered congregation, and a to cultivate a more challenging and prophetic voice.
Christians in London Citizens engage with members of local mosques, temples and synagogues on the basis of a shared commitment to justice and peace. People from different faiths are engaged with as neighbours with shared concerns and dreams.
The Contextual Theology Centre is contributing to this work in a number of different ways. Firstly, it brings Christians involved in this work together, for prayer and theological reflection. Secondly, it has produced a number of papers on COF's work, from a Christian (and also Islamic) perspective. Thirdly, it is developing a student placement programme. Finally, through work with St Paul's Institute and the Human Development and Capability Association, we are exploring how some of the methods of organising can be applied to issues of international justice.
The Church of England's recent report on Presence and Engagement: The Churches' task in a multi Faith society provided a detailed analysis of the needs, and opportunities, of congregations in multi-faith contexts. It calls for a "continuing bringing together of the experiences thrown up by out multi Faith contexts on the one hand, with the study of and reflection on our vast theological and scriptural resources on the other". What is needed is "a more systematic approach to the sharing of experience and reflection and the development of additional, locally grown models of mission and ministry." In particular, the report has emphasised that, in terms of theological education multi-faith contexts provide a resource for the wider church - as well as having pressing needs and challenges.
As part of the ongoing Presence and Engagement process, the Centre is
developing a database of resources for Christians in London engaged in ministry
in a multi-faith society. We have an ecumenical working group pooling knowledge
of what is already going on, and looking for ways to support and build on it.
This should ensure that the Centre develops in a way that complements existing
activities - and responds to the needs and opportunities of the local context.
Universities and ethical formation
'For millennia, it was taken for granted that the purpose of education was to develop morality and ethics. It is only in the past 100 years or so that our moral aims have withered. The decline in religion (or at least in Western religion) and the widespread acceptance of relativism, even idiot nihilism, have made it impossible for secular universities to provide the prescriptive moral education that was characteristic of earlier centuries.
So, while some universities, mainly American religious ones, continue to teach courses in ethics, few British universities even try. Yet we still claim to produce ethical graduates. WE just never bother to explain how we do this.
Most universities today accept behaviour which was once unacceptable. By refusing to teach students about ethics, we abandon an important part of our historical mission. Society needs graduates who have at least a basic sense of ethics: graduates who understand that people should behave honestly and respect others'.
Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University, addressing the National Conference of University Professors, January 2005.
In this issue we publish reviews of several books about the church and its future.
John Thompson, Church on Edge: Practising Ministry Today, Darton Longman & Todd, 2004, 144pp., £10.95pb.
Thompson’s book is a contribution to the challenge of interpreting mission. He reflects on local mission from the perspective of a wider engagement with global Christianity.
Thompson has lived and ministered in Africa and Europe. In this book he lays side by side the various phases of his life in a way which brings insights to one context from another. We often hear that we need to learn from the Southern Church; but we don’t seem to know how to do it. Thompson illustrates how to do it.
In doing so he demonstrates (as Andrew Walls has taught us) that cross-cultural engagement enables us to learn about ourselves. What we need first to learn from those different to ourselves is not so much hints and tips on evangelism (although we can do this, of course), but our own cultural presuppositions - and more deeply, that our true identity is known only together with these ‘others’ in Christ.
Thompson describes how this experience was for him a process of being moved from the centre to the edge. In fact, he comes to see that Christian existence is living on the edge. He explores what it might mean for the church to live into this identity, particularly in the West. He recounts how living and working in South Africa forced him out of his earlier (evangelical) presuppositions to discover the importance of other spiritualities and also the theological challenge of liberation theology. These insights were melded with experienced changes in South African society and memories of a Ugandan childhood bringing about a process of distancing and rediscovery. Thompson rediscovers the Bible in this new context. It leads him to find the God of the ordinary rather than of the celebrity; the place of the church, as well as the individual Christian; and the importance of the laity and not a clerical elite. In each of these he reviews the evangelical presuppositions that were part of his background and formation.
From this experience of being forced on to the edge, Thompson develops the image of margins. He has seven chapters on marginal speech, worship, mission, story, ministry, movement and training. Each of these is full of helpful practical insights with simple summaries of the chapter’s content in a concluding section. There are some profoundly thought-provoking statements, such as "In God’s kingdom the periphery is the centre and the liminal is the core" (p.38); or "The eschatological view assumes that all will be resolved, but by God, in God’s good time, and that this is not yet. It refuses to identify our vision of God’s ways with God’s vision of God’s ways. The fullness of God is always yet to be discovered." (p.82) or "A church on the edge, I have argued, is more alive and trusting church than one secure in a central position in society." (p.100)
Thompson’s book is pervaded by the disturbing realisation that, having once engaged with another culture to any depth, we know ourselves to be aliens and strangers in our first culture. This realisation is not just a matter of sociology; it is also a realisation that we are citizens of another, new creation, as we discover the fullness of Christ together in ‘others’.
Thompson's book is stimulating to read, and offers a helpful and workable reinterpretation of parish and priest. But perhaps there is something much more radical taking place? Not just a new pattern but a new paradigm? The "morphological fundamentalism" of the territorial Christianity of the West has been deeply challenged by globalization and the growth in the churches of the South. Thompson challenges us to move on.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church, Hendrickson (U.S.) and Strand (Australia), 2003, 236 pp., £10.95
Two Directors of Forge Mission Training Network in Australia offer here "a why-to book written as something of a guidebook for the emerging missional church." In the opening part, they sketch challenges that face the post-Christendom church, frame their themes within the recovered sense of the missional nature of the church, and probe stories of innovative efforts that illustrate what is emerging. In the three sections that follow, they set out three elements which lie for them at the heart of what it means for the church to be ‘missional’: the missional church has an incarnational (not attractional) ecclesiology; it has a messianic (not dualistic) spirituality; and it has an apostolic (not hierarchical) mode of leadership.
The first section is perhaps the most clear and forceful. Here Frost and Hirsch make a major contribution by teasing out the difference between (1) an ‘attractional’ form of church, where people are asked to join church life within its bounds as an organisation, and (2) an emerging 'missional' form in which Christians go and live among people where they are and express the gospel there in ways they can comprehend on their own terms. Unfortunately here, the illustrations of such an incarnational move seem insufficient for the task. Although they tell stories of some who have intentionally moved among people previously untouched by the church’s attractional way of witness, it is not clear what conversation about the gospel has been like. Nor is it clear that a deeper grasp of the gospel itself is at issue when moving from one culture to another.
In particular, the incarnational nature of missional church involves more than merely identifying with people so that we can reach them with the gospel and they will become Christians. The authors' account in this section is not always strong enough to overcome this reduction. When the gospel becomes heard and known in fresh cultures, it will be expressed and embodied in new ways, with fresh nuances. Indeed the church's own ‘emerging’ forms will arise at the creative initiative of new communities of disciples.
In the second section of the book, a messianic spirituality is described which offers, in a holistic "Hebraic spirit", a corrective to a dualistic "Hellenistic consciousness". The Hebraic spirit is commended because it was the worldview of Jesus, the messiah, over against the worldview of the Greco-Roman world.
The recovery in the West of other cultural traditions than our Greek inheritance has much to commend itself. However, we must be cautious not to privilege elements in Hebraic culture as the only alternative. Does not Jesus invite us to envisage "all the nations (ethne)" as consummated in him? Should we not envision and welcome mutual enhancement and correction in Christ among multiple cultures as they are informed by the gospel?
Despite emphasising the messianic character of the mission church and its spirituality, it is odd that the authors say very little here about Jesus the messiah himself. Yet the gospel story which forms the heart of the church can hardly be told apart from all that this messiah did and the message he continuously taught, "The reign of God has come near." That is the core of a "messianic spirituality"!
In the final section, Frost and Hirsch build on Ephesians 4:11ff.: Jesus has given the church "some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" in order to equip the saints for the works of ministry. They call for all five of these functions to be restored and expected in the church - not just the last two, as in some traditions which have made of these an ordained office performing maintenance functions within an essentially hierarchical structure.
This so-called "fivefold ministry" (they prefer the acronym APEPT) does not, for the authors, correspond necessarily to formal office. Leaders bearing these functions act collegially, as equals. Further, the authors suggest a "two-dimensional reading" regarding these functions: these refer not only to leaders but also to the ministry of the whole church.
However, the Ephesians text does not give warrant to see this fivefold ministry as the defining framework for the church and its mission. To be sure, these functions sometimes come to bear. But missiology is truncated if these five functions are taken as a sufficient defining framework. This is especially true if one understands these five, as the authors do, simply as activities: thus apostle is taken to mean "pioneer, entrepreneur," and evangelist to mean "recruiter."
I also fear that such a framework leads us back, unwittingly, to the hierarchical structures Frost and Hirsch wish to avoid. They say all in the church should be encouraged to discover where their own gifts lie among these five ministry types, and serious effort should be made to guide their growth in those areas. Leaders, they say, fulfil the same five functions as they "run the church." They do so at a different "level." What makes some people leaders in this way while others are not? And isn’t this a new hierarchy of leaders over the rest of the people?
To conclude, there are some wonderful surprises worth noting within each section of the book. The chapters "Whispering to the Soul" (Six), "Action as Sacrament" (Eight), and "Imagination and the Leadership Task" (Eleven) break away from the wider narrative and explore themes from unexpected angles. These are treats along the way, refreshing us as we travel the uncharted waters of "things to come" that Frost and Hirsch invite us to navigate.
George R. HunsbergerNick Spencer, Parochial Vision: The Future of the English Parish, Paternoster, 2004, 171 pp., £7.99pb.
Nick Spencer’s book is an urgent call for the reinvention of a parish system which will serve the current and future needs of the Church of England. It traces the origins of the territorial parish system and analyses both its effectiveness and inadequacies in the present situation. Along the way, Spencer points out the opportunities that were missed to adapt the administrative arrangement to the demands of a changing church in a society that had, and has, less and less in common with the one which gave it the parish arrangement. And he makes clear that some change to the idea of a parish is necessary and inevitable if either the parish or the church is to survive.
The central idea of the book is that historically there were big churches (minster churches) central to a definable geographical and social area. These serviced the outpost churches, supplying personnel and resources to further the ministry of the local Christians. The emphasis on ministry being the responsibility of local lay people, equipped and trained by communities of ordained professionals, is one that is now being seriously considered in several dioceses. Spencer gives some disturbing figures, and compelling reasons, social, ecclesiological and historical, for revisiting this paradigm today. Quite a substantial part of the book is concerned with analysis of the Anglo-Saxon church in which the minster system grew up, and there were times when I winced at generalisations; but it would be a pity if the message of the book were lost because of some inaccuracy of historical detail.
Spencer writes with genuine gusto, and he has thought hard about the issues he is tackling. There is much in this book that could stimulate discussion in diocesan synods or Churches Together groups. The issues raised by Spencer are becoming more pressing, and this book makes sensible and persuasive suggestions for ways in which the Church of England can retain local historical identities while adapting to modern (and biblical) realities.
James V. Brownson, Inagrace T. Dietterich, Barry A. Harvey, and Charles C. West, StormFront: The Good News of God, Eerdmans, £9.95pb.
This impressive book has been published by Eerdmans as part of their Gospel and Our Culture series, which aims "to foster the missional encounter of the gospel with North American culture." Although the book refers mainly to the church in North America, it is also highly relevant to our own situation in Britain. The authors address a contemporary church which all too often uncritically accommodates itself to current cultural trends. The gospel itself then "takes on a consumer-oriented marketing slant: promoting the benefits to be received, furnishing answers to pressing questions, providing remedies to various ills."
In contrast this book spells out a gospel which is as much a challenge and a summons to discipleship as it is a promise and a gift. The gospel is not about benefits to be received but about conversion. The church is seen primarily in relational terms, as a prophetic community of disciples: " The reign of Christ is about relationships. It matures by sanctification, not by accomplishment."
Although four different authors have contributed to the book, it reads as a consistent and unified whole rather than as a collection of essays. There are many striking insights, both into the corrosive impact of consumerism upon the gospel and the church, and also into Christian doctrine. I was impressed by the exposition of the Beatitudes as a quality of communal life and practice. I also liked the emphasis on the importance of participation in God's reign and in dying and rising with Jesus Christ as being at the heart of what it means to be Christian. The authors call the church to build community in Christ and to radical obedience to the way of Christ. "We believe that the church today needs to be both as radical and as diverse as it was in those early days - as it always has been at its best." I agree.
This issue's contributors
Paul Cavillis Research Fellow in English Studies at the University of Nottingham
Ian Cowley is an author and Vicar of Yaxley and Holme with Conington, in the Diocese of Ely
Tim Dakin is General Secretary of Church Mission Society
George Hunsberger is Coordinator of the Gospel and Our Culture Network in North America
Angus Ritchie is Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, London
Alan Storkey is an author and lecturer in theology and sociology
Newsletter 46 (Summer '06)
our recent Network conference, Tom Wright recalled those puzzles which invite
children to 'join up the dots' to make a picture. Unfortunately it is possible
to connect all the dots but to do so in the wrong way. Similarly, he said,
Christians can 'have all the doctrines' yet fail to get the picture. Arthur
Jones reflects here on worldview as about 'the picture'. He is prompted by two
books: the second edition of David Burnett's book Clash
of Worlds: What Christians Can Do in a World of Cultures in Conflict
(Monarch Books, 2002, 2nd edn, 252 pp., £9.99, pbk), and the
publication of Nancy R. Pearcey, Total
Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Crossway Books,
2005, Study Guide edition, 512 pp., £17.99, hbk) - ed.]
is 30 years since the publication of James Sire’s The
Universe Next Door, which first brought worldviews to the attention of many
Christians. Sire’s book is now in
its 4th edition (IVP, 2004) and many others have published books
employing the concept which have achieved a wide influence, e.g.:
Arthur Holmes’ All Truth is
God’s Truth (1977) and Contours of a
World View (1983), Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton’s Transforming Vision (1984), Al Wolter's Creation Regained (1985) and also Tom Wright’s New Testament and the People of God (1992). The works of Francis
Schaeffer have also been influential for many. All the above reflect engagement
with the Reformational movement with its origins in Kuyper and Dooyeweerd,
but 'worldview' thinking has been wider than this, as David Naugle has
documented in his magisterial Worldview:
The History of a Concept (2002). As pioneers of the Gospel and Culture
movement, Lesslie Newbigin (Foolishness to
the Greeks, 1986; The Gospel in a
Pluralist Society, 1989) and Harold Turner (Roots
of Science, 1998; Frames of Mind,
2001) paid much attention to worldview issues. Accordingly, when towards the end
of his life Newbigin engaged with the Reformational movement he thought that it
deserved to be better known in England.
those years there has been much enthusiasm for the concept, but also much
criticism. The criticism has largely
addressed a perceived overemphasis on intellect, reason and the academic, and
the more recent books have responded to that concern by connecting worldview
much more explicitly with commitments at the heart of a person's life.
This is the concluding thrust of David Naugle’s, thankfully digested
and summarised for a wider audience in Sire’s Naming
the Elephant (2004). Sire has also written a new book Why Good Arguments
Often Fail (2006) which offers practical insight on the use of arguments
for the Christian faith. These latter two books are an invaluable companion to
his worldview catalogue. Which
brings us to the two books under review here.
Burnett's Clash of Worlds first
appeared in 1990. It has always been
one of the best UK introductions to the subject, a position confirmed for a new
decade by this second edition. Here
is a sane and balanced survey of traditional and modern worldviews, insight into
the interactions between worldviews, and practical advice for communicating with
people across worldviews. It is
engagingly written and illustrated with apt anecdotes.
If it has a fault, it is perhaps that too little attention is given to
the living out of our worldview into all of culture, a vital necessity in a
postmodern age. But that aspect is
developed by Nancy Pearcey.
a young atheist in the 1960s, Pearcey arrived at Francis Schaeffer’s Swiss
chalet. His intellectual rigour won
her over. Her book is no rehash of
Schaeffer, but a like passion runs through it.
This is a handbook for Christians who would avoid the ghetto trap –
“We’ll accept your faith as a legitimate lifestyle choice if you keep it out
of the public realm.” Pearcey
contends that our acquiescence is the greatest barrier to liberating the power
of the gospel across our culture. We
attend church at the weekends, but during the week tend to accept whatever is
current in our professional fields. In
so doing we absorb alien worldviews unawares.
It doesn’t matter how many Christians there are, or how many gain
positions of influence in business and public life, if we don’t allow a
Christian worldview to shape what we think and how we act.
rigour of her analysis across a wide range of fields and topics is remarkable.
In exemplary fashion she tackles maths and science (Pearcey was a former
science writer), psychology and mind, law and morality, and why in church women
outnumber men in every Western country (chapter 12 ‘How Women Started the
Culture War’). Nor is the book
just intellectual; the last chapter on ‘True Spirituality and Christian
Worldview’ is one of the best. There
she reminds us that we can hardly expect to be taken seriously in a postmodern
age unless our churches and organizations exhibit the reality of Christ and his
Kingdom in both our relationships (communal as well as personal) and in our
education today is likely to be fruitless unless we learn how to both challenge
and construct. We must challenge the
worldviews that confront us everywhere outside the Christian home – and even
in the Christian home through the all-pervasive influence of the media and
internet. But we must also know how
to construct attractive alternatives that are true to the Faith.
Redemption, Pearcey notes, is more than conversion; it is also about how
we are to live after conversion, about resuming the tasks of creative,
constructive work for which we were originally made.
know of no better guide than this book and I suspect that it will come to be
regarded as one of the more significant publications of the early 21st
century. The range of commendations,
a second print run within two months of publication, and now a study guide, show
that many others must share that perception.
It is not to be missed.
service to health? The rhetoric of choice
David and Anne Kettle
new sign had been cemented in place at our local hospital. It read 'Customer Car
Park'. A few years later it was removed. It had been judged a mistake.1
do not see themselves, by and large, as customers of health providers. This has
been documented and discussed in research by Professor John Clarke.2
reality of health care is misrepresented by an ideology which casts people as
customers on the one hand and providers on the other. Such ideology construes
rich, diverse strands of human society as about the provision of private goods
of one kind or another to the mass of individual consumers.
to this ideology and its operation is the rhetoric of individual choice. It is
powerful rhetoric. Who does not want choice? Presented to us in abstraction,
choice appears a welcome alternative to either being without, or having to
accept what someone else has chosen for us with no say in the matter.
concrete situations, however, the alternatives are richer than this. Indeed the
very act of focussing consciously upon a particular set of choices presented to
us by someone else can distract us from acting well. It diverts our attention
from the fact that the options before us are limited
(1) to those framed and presented to us by others to whom we implicitly
concede such authority, and (2) to those within practical reach for us
financially and in other ways: some people cannot buy as much choice than
others. Again, the pressing issue sometimes is to provide what is good, rather than to provide choice between
'goods'. The rhetoric of choice can be a
powerful tool of distraction in the hands of politicans.
exaltation of consumer choice can also divert us from responsible corporate
attention in matters of ethics, knowledgeable judgement and stewardship of
resources. In health care this takes the following forms.
are some patient choices, medical facilitation of which are rightly prohibited
by law for ethical reasons. Despite the efforts of Lord Joffe, to assist a
person to commit suicide is an example of this in the eyes of the majority
G.P.'s (pace the success of a
pressure-group in reversing temporarily the B.M.A.'s anti-euthanasia stance).3
are other patient choices which are legally permitted, but may be judged by a
doctor on ethical grounds not to be facilitated. Doctors constantly make ethical
judgements (many of them difficult) as an integral part of their service to
patients. To forbid this exercise of responsibility - for example, by giving
patients the right to demand certain procedures - would be to stop up the
well-spring of good medical service. Thus the call made last year by Oxford
philosopher Julian Savulescu to remove a doctor's present right of conscientious
objection e.g. to participating in abortion, is to be rejected.4
training and experience, doctors acquire wise judgement which sometimes can be
justified very little to a patient. Wise insight and personal, tacit awareness
make medical practice as much an art as a science. Good health care depends
vitally on regard for, and cultivation of, this practical wisdom and on an
accompanying recognition of a certain 'primacy of the practitioner'. This is
ignored by politicians who proclaim only the virtue of patient choice, and who
legalise the sometimes misleading) public advertisement of drugs by
pharmaceutical companies.5 It is also ignored in too rigid an
imposition of targets, protocols and directives deriving from the reductive
theories of 'evidence-based medicine' which favours statistically based
decision-making over artful judgement.6
a patient who was once asked what abdominal surgery had been performed on him
replied "I dunno! They just opens me up and 'elps 'emselves". We might
wish for consent and choice to be more informed than this, but patient trust
will always remain important for health care. Doctors know only too well that
they are neither omnipotent nor omniscient; but the erosion of trust in our
society today raises new problems, including more litigation. The matter is not
helped by politicians who disparage the authority of medical professionals in
exaltation of choice can fuel demands for some particular costly treatment. The
has been much public discussion in recent months, whether early breast cancer
should be treated with Herceptin costing £400 per ampoule. The use of a costly
drug may be at the price of much other medical treatment, given a limited
budget. No government wants to talk about rationing health care, yet we need
responsible public debate on this. Otherwise, we may end up with only the
distorted consumer choices of private health care which - as in the U.S. -
disadvantage the most vulnerable and costs much more to achieve the same
and God's good purposes
freedom of the individual is precious. But too often today the rhetoric of
individual choice diverts us from the path of human flourishing. Christian faith
sets choice in the context of God's good purposes for us. It nourishes
responsible, often shared, decision-making informed by ethics, the practical
wisdom of experience, and creaturely stewardship, in service to those good
At Palmerston North, New Zealand, in the mid 1990's.
See Michael Cook, How a Minority in the BMA got their way on euthanasia, 9 August
(articles on health)
Trevor Stammers, 'Objecting to conscientious objectors', Triple Helix, Spring 2006. Available online at www.cmf.org.uk.
On misleading marketing by the Pharmaceutical companies, see the recent
Consumers International report 'Branding the Cure', available at
On this see Trish Greenhalgh,
'Intuition and evidence - uneasy bedfellows?', British
Journal of General Practice, May 2002.
popular appetite and the Da Vinci Code
popular appetite and the Da Vinci Code
there a huge pubic appetite to know more about the truth of Jesus? Is this what
the success of The Da Vinci Code as
book and film tells us? What does the story itself suggest?
in search of truth
people search to uncover the hidden truth of 'the greatest story ever told': the
truth of Jesus' life. Their search is successful.
kind of investigation, what kind of
discovery, does this involve?
It is an exposé of what has been concealed.
People turn out to have trusted in a deception. Their trust has been misplaced.
It is mocked by the reality.
grasping Jesus as the pivotal figure, the author draws us into the story as
among those caught up personally in the deception. Thus the story is parasitic
upon our regard for Jesus. It has been remarked, 'The people who should suing
Dan Brown for plagiarism are the Churches. Brown has stolen the mystique of
Christ and sold it on to the public for a very large sum of money'1
The same morally dubious practice has in recent years exploited our regard for
Shakespeare and Einstein; now (and in a most offensive way) J. M. Barrie's Peter
Pan and Wendy are next in line.
What it exposes is that there is no truth
of the Son of God to wonder at. There is only a humanly created fiction.
It doesn't matter that there is only a human fiction, because this fiction
serves a purpose: 'better a good myth than a disruptive truth'2
at this way, the Da Vinci Code is recognisably a re-telling of a familiar myth
which stretches back from The Matrix
trilogy (by its close) to The Wizard of Oz.
the novel itself
myth is itself a human fiction. But it is one which betrays the truth. The
film's subtitle - 'Seek The Truth' - invites viewers to join in a search for the
truth; yet Brown weaves a web of lies, as scholars have pointed out with ease.
In so doing Brown betrays, rather than invites, serious attention to the truth.
Then he offers the conclusion that there is
no truth of the Son of God , but that this doesn't matter overly. But it does
matter, greatly; this too is a lie. We are led to conclude that 'better a good
myth than a disruptive truth' is actually Brown's own attitude to the novel he
writes, and to the myth he re-tells in it. Here is the real exposé: the novel
itself, opting for a familiar myth, betrays the disruptive truth of Jesus. And
it betrays the serious search for truth, of which Jesus promised that 'those who
seek find, and to those who knock the door will be opened'.
know personally of someone who, having read Dan Brown's book, investigated a
Jesuit website and its links, and as a result now follows internet daily bible
readings. How many other stories there may be like this I don't know. But I can
see that where there is already a serious but presently dormant interest in
Jesus, even the most ridiculous claims about him can prompt someone to ask 'but
what is the real truth about these
things? The truth of this does
Hugh Rayment-Pickard, Church
Times, 19 May '06, p.24.
Mark Greene captures the
story's conclusion in these words in a LICC 'Connecting with Culture' electronic
to Wait on God
One of the great things about having lots of money is that you can buy the right to choose. You can choose a new partner if the old one isn't what you want any more. You can choose to holiday where you like. You can choose the health care provision that you want. All this can sound very appealing especially in our culture of self-fulfilment.
there are aspects of this that are not so great. Buying your way out of an
inconvenient marriage is not necessarily good for us or our families. Many of
the most beautiful places in the developing world are increasingly becoming the
exclusive playground of the rich. Being able to receive the very best healthcare
when and where you need it is very attractive, but even this is riddled with
NHS aims to provide the health care we need free at the point of delivery. The
NHS has its shortcomings but it has a most laudable goal, which is that health
care for all should be the shared responsibility of society. We have to wait
sometimes, because there are other people in the queue.
Our culture is not comfortable with waiting and having to be patient. I have recently been ill for a few weeks and I have had to spend a good deal of time resting at home. I have been surprised to find how hard this has been for me. If I could have simply been able to pay five hundred pounds and be better the next day, I would have done it without question. But I found that God was trying to teach me some important things about waiting, and patience, and trust, and resting. And I didn't have a lot of choice in the matter.
that was one of the things that I found most difficult. I want to be able to
choose for myself. My generation has been taught that this is our right. But
God's ways are not our ways. In the end he chooses our destiny, and our lives
are in his hands. For me, and I suspect for many others, there is a journey to
be made from the right to choose my future and my circumstances to an acceptance
of how life is, and seeking first the will and the purposes of God in all of
Gray, Heresies: Against Progress and Other
Illusions , Granta, 2004, 216pp., £8.99 pb.
book of essays by the Professor of European Thought at the LSE was originally
published in The Spectator. Gray’s
views are strikingly and self-consciously contrary to many of the accepted norms
of our society, and many Christians will be in considerable sympathy with them.
Though not a Christian believer, he is demonstrably literate in theology and a
good deal more perceptive than all too many Christians about the unquestioned
and illogical assumptions of our society.
unfailingly quotable. Gray consistently argues that communism and liberal
capitalism, the Messianic faiths of our so-called secular age, are less coherent
and persuasive than the Christianity of which they are degenerate versions. They
are ‘ersatz religions’, ‘religion in new forms’, ‘hollowed-out
versions of Christian myth’, ‘myth masquerading as science’. [‘Humanism
is not an alternative to religious belief, but a degenerate and unwitting
version of it.’] In the manner of Mary Midgley, Gray is scathing about notions
of salvation through science. Dreams of achieving human immortality through
biotechnology or of extending Western affluence to the rest of the world through
sustainable development are, he says, equally vain. Like the inhabitants of The
Matrix, we are victims of illusions propagated by mass media. In these
warnings of what we are inflicting on our planet through overpopulation,
exploitation and pollution, Gray is a doom-monger, with no real solutions
is Gray’s weakness. Unlike Jeremiah, equally pricking the complacent
assumptions of his age, there is no clear alternative presented. Yet he still
has much to give us. Like Jeremiah, he is as much concerned with particular
issues of the day (particularly what he regards as the lunatic and wholly
predictable disaster in Iraq) as general principles. Bush and Blair (a little
ideological neoCon, turning Britain into ‘a tacky replica of the US’) are
more humanist than Christian here, dedicated to the fantasy of spreading liberal
democracy across the world. The contradictions of their positions are shown in
the appalling turn to torture about which Gray is bitterly satirical.
may question some of Gray’s detailed analyses ((he sees Christianity's human
focus as being to the detriment of the non-human world), but it would be wiser
to simply appreciate the radical ground-clearing operation which is offered
Dunn-Wilson, A Mirror for the Church:
Preaching in the First Five Centuries. Eerdmans, 2005, 240pp., £13.99 pb.
welcome this book with enthusiasm, not least because there is very little
engagement in contemporary scholarship with the preaching of the patristic
period – the more surprising given that a large part of the patristic material
has come down to us in sermon form. Indeed, for an equivalent coverage one has
to go back to the first volume of Edwin Dargan’s magisterial but rather dull
survey of preaching published over a century ago.
aim is to engage not only with the homiletical approaches of the patristic
period, but also to reconstruct – so far as is possible – the sociological
makeup of the congregations in which the sermons were originally given. This
approach helps to earth the patristic material in its original pastoral
contexts, and to make many suggestive connections for contemporary apologists
and preachers. In short compass he manages to cover the preaching of the early
apostles, tracing a development from the early apologists -preachers like Justin
Martyr, Clement and Tertullian - through to the first great flowering of
exegetical preaching in the work of Origen. He then explores the impact of the
Constantinian establishment of the church and its liturgical-ecclesiastical
impact on preaching, and goes on to consider the 4th century
practices of Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus in the East, and
of Hilary of Poitiers and Leo the Great in the West. In a longer penultimate
chapter, he explores the work of Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, and John
Chrysostom, and in a final section draws some brief conclusions for contemporary
preaching. As you might expect from this brief summary, the pace of the coverage
is at times breath-taking, but Dunn-Wilson manages brilliantly to combine a
weight of background research with a lightness of touch. As a result he succeeds
in whetting the appetite for further exploration, and in a quite excellent
extended section of notes and bibliography – covering 100 of the book’s 225
pages – provides a wealth of opportunity to do so.
Milbank The Suspended Middle:
Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural, Eerdmans,
2005, 127pp., £11.99 pb.
Surnaturel (1946) and “Le Mystere du
Surnaturel” (1949) the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac argued that theologians
down to the end of the 13th century assumed that humans naturally
desire the supernatural vision – the vision of the Trinity.
This went against a widely held belief that for the mediaevals,
especially Thomas Aquinas, the upper-most range of human desire is for
‘natural’ goods, like decent politics. Some Thomists prefer this
interpretation of Thomas’ teaching because it creates a clear distinction
between nature and grace.
XII’s 1950 encyclical Humani Generis
criticised new trends in Catholic theology. Because
Surnaturel appeared to be implicated,
his Jesuit superiors silenced him for five years.
admires what he finds in Surnaturel
and “Le Mystere du Surnaturel” for the same reason that uncharitable
Thomists detest it – he thinks it “deconstructs the possibility of
philosophical theology” by defining human desire for beatific vision in a way
that is both 100% natural and 100% grace. Milbank
argues that de Lubac failed to develop a system worthy of the ‘supernatural
desire’ because Humani Generis was
such a blow to him. Milbank never
openly states that what he calls the “disingenuous” interpretation of the
encyclical as defending the ‘supernatural desire’ derives from de Lubac
himself. However, his
construction of a logically coherent de Lubacianism
ignores the Jesuit’s ecclesiology of love.
If we ask ourselves why de Lubac never complained about his silencing, we
can do one of two things. We can
invent a motive and ascribe it to him, or we can explain it through his own
understanding of the Church. As de Lubac sees it, the Church is unified by love.
He wrote in 1938 that, ‘If Christ can be called the ‘sacrament of
God’, then the Church is for us the sacrament of Christ.
… it represents him; it bestows on us his real presence …The Catholic
…is…the member of the body …. his duty is not only to obey its
commands…but, even more, to share in its life, to be of one mind.’ [Catholicisme,
1938, pp. 50-51]. De Lubac did not
see himself or his opinions as a club within the Church to be played off against
other clubs. Thus leaving out de Lubac’s human personality, I believe that
Milbank instrumentalises a slice of de Lubac's thought as a tool for his own
Grainger, Response and Responsibility: The
World as a Challenge for the Church, Epworth Press, 2004, 187pp, £14.99 pb.
Grainger mines a rich vein of personal experience as priest, psychotherapist and
actor and brings this to reflect on the present state of the Church in Britain
and its relationship to a secularised society.
He illustrates his inquiry from day-to-day encounters with parishioners,
clients and students in his parochial and psychiatric hospital and college
chaplaincy work and substantiates his arguments from the worlds of sociology,
psychology, theology and the arts.
way of overview of his subject, Grainger explores the state of the Church and
its context within society from the 1960s onwards.
He notes that the Church of the pre-60s is often seen by sociologists as
‘successful’ in that church attendance was comparatively high.
The decline in numbers since is seen by such quantitative analyses as
signalling the death of British Christianity.
Not so, argues Grainger, since the ‘success’ of the Church of the
1950s can be put down to some extent to ‘the spirit of conformity and
psychological repression’ (p.159).
an approach that simply counts numbers is wide of the mark concerning true
‘human spirituality’, both within the Church and in wider society.
Following Edward Bailey, Grainger pursues both the explicit and implicit
dimensions of faith and spirituality. The
boundaries between Church and a secular society are often blurred, where church
members may ‘belong without believing’ and where non-attenders may
‘believe without belonging’. Tragically,
the Church has often dealt with its own anxiety and fear in the face of
secularisation by entrenchment and exclusion.
This leads to the perils of a ‘narcissistic Church’ which is
self-protective and self-regarding, seeing those who do not toe the line of
correct belief and behaviour as outside the pale.
In other words, ‘Insiders always produce outsiders’ (p.124).
so, Grainger sees the Church’s anxiety as the gateway to hope, ‘the hallmark
of Christian belonging’ (p.169). He
sees the challenge for the Church as a call to take seriously the wide range of
world-views held within society; to listen carefully to the fears and
aspirations of the community; and to engage in a true dialogue with others.
In this enterprise the Church needs to learn to think divergently, using
imagination and intuition as well as more traditional, convergent thinking.
Here truth is looked for in ‘unexpected places’: in the arts, in
philosophy and the human and natural sciences.
This may entail the use of new structures and strategies for Christian
mission: ‘cell’ churches, church plants, Alpha courses, drama (which lets
the Bible ‘speak for itself’), parables, and a rediscovery of the importance
of ritual. Thus, in the drama of
worship, ‘love is made real’ (p.114) and that love can learn to address the
‘faith-shaped absence within the
life of contemporary society’ (p.138).
Stackhouse, The Gospel-Driven Church:
Retrieving Classical Ministry for Contemporary Revivalism, Paternoster,
2004, xxiv + 291pp., £12.99 pb.
is a book that every charismatic and Pentecostal church leader should read.
Written by the minister of Guilford Baptist Church, it begins with a
searching critique of recent fashions and fads such as strategic-level spiritual
warfare, identificational repentance, power evangelism, Toronto experiences,
Pensacola revivalism, DAWN 2000, Alpha evangelism and the cell church movement.
Each has been promoted as a means of countering dwindling church
attendance and, for some, as the way to a widespread revival.
But, although certain benefits may have accrued, they have diverted the
attention of charismatic Christians away from the basic essentials of the
Christian faith, introduced ungrounded expectations of revival, led to
subjectivistic searches for intimate experiences of the Holy Spirit in disregard
of the transcendence of God, and produced disillusion when the promised
spiritual awakening failed to materialise. Grave
distortions of Christian spirituality and church life have arisen by undue
emphasis being given to concern for increasing numbers and the acceptance of
programmes or doctrines with little or no biblical basis.
answer to this current malaise, Stackhouse proposes, is a restoration of the
preaching and teaching of the essentials of the Gospel (with inspiration taken
from P.T. Forsyth), renewal of the
centrality of the sacraments because they truly are means of grace, emphasis on
the baptism in the Holy Spirit as part of the initiation-conversion process,
changes in worship to counterbalance the excessive subjectivity of many
charismatic songs, revival of the daily office and the praying of the psalms,
and a recovery of the traditional pastoral art of spiritual direction (as
practised by Eugene Peterson), all undergirded by an ecclesiology centred on the
local community growing up into Christ. This
could sound like a return to the old ritualistic traditions that were the bane
of Christendom, but this is not Stackhouse’s intention.
His principal theme is that when the people of God are centrally focussed
on Christ holy living, spiritual empowerment and the winning of the lost will be
the natural outflow. Even though one
might find that some of Stackhouse’s strictures rather sweeping and some of
his proposals need stronger biblical support, this book is truly prophetic.
made slightly less difficult, IVP, 2004 (first ed'n 1997), 203pp., £6.99
This is the most helpful book on evangelism that I have come across in a long time. Nick Pollard is a committed evangelist. Bringing people to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is at the very centre of his life and ministry. So there is no dumbing down of the Gospel here. But Pollard also understands contemporary culture, and has worked hard to rethink his evangelistic strategy in order to effectively reach this generation for Christ. Pollard's own personal journey as an evangelist informs much of the book, and gives it a refreshing honesty. He has learned to respect the starting point of many of the post-Christian generation and to find ways of leaving them thinking, "That was interesting. I want to find out more."
liked his clear explanation of the underlying worldviews which many young people
absorb unconsciously. He describes his approach as "positive
deconstruction", which means helping people to deconstruct what they
believe in order to look carefully at the belief and analyse it." He
encourages his readers to recognise elements of truth in postmodern worldviews,
and to affirm these as steps towards the fullness of truth in Christ. The book
is easy to read and is full of clear practical teaching and advice on helping
people to find out about Jesus.
introduced by its
Leader, Malcolm Duncan
Relevant, credible faith
Christian faith that locks itself away from the political and social challenges
of its contemporary culture is irrelevant. It may be settled and surviving, but
it will eventually choke to death because true mission is to the church what air
is the human body. Separation from society leads to stagnation and death for the
church. Along with many other initiatives across the UK and the world,
Faithworks is rising to the challenge of engaging with our society positively
yet with a distinct Christian ethos and approach. Christian faith is as relevant
and credible in the world today as it has ever been, and has as much to
contribute to a healthy world as it ever has. Despite our inadequacies,
challenges and shortcomings, the church is a central vehicle through which God
has chosen to transform the world. It is our task as Christians to engage with
the world and to show that God offers hope and transformation.
seeks the transformation of individuals and communities through Christ. It has
three main objectives:
inspire, resource and equip individual Christians and every local church to
develop its role at the hub of its community, serving unconditionally.
challenge and change the public perception of the Church by engaging with both
media and government.
encourage partnership across churches and other groups to avoid unnecessary
competition and build collaboration.
is made up of thousands of members and hundreds of partnering organisations and
churches. They range from Turning Point, a project offering training and life
skills to young men and women in the Shetland Islands through Wood Turning to
Open Doors on the South Coast which works with people of from ethnic minorities
and other faiths teaching English and providing re-settling support. They
vary greatly in size; the YMCA is a partner of the Faithworks Movement
with 150 associations across the UK and a combined budget of millions of pounds,
whereas New Hope Mentoring Programme works with a small budget among young men
who are exiting the penal system. Among the varied activities of partners,
Aquilla Housing in the North East provides housing support for women, whilst the
Faith Regeneration Unit in Bislton in the Black Country works with the elderly
providing support for isolated older people.
Movement promotes good practice and resources its members through networks
and support, training and consultancy, published materials and web based
resources, theological reflection, working groups, provision of speakers, and
all this we ask the
Government to allow Christian groups to do two things together because they go
hand in hand: to celebrate their faith whilst serving the community. And we tell
the Government and the media the stories of our members.
wants to be no more or less than a 'Christian' movement. It presently has
members of every major denomination in the UK and of many Christian
spiritualities. This is a strength, but it also brings challenges. Some want us
to have a narrow statement of faith. But we think our diverse members need not
abandon their distinctives. 'Christian' is enough to identify that which unites
Faithworks members and partners in a common purpose. This is how we best serve
the Church and its mission.
has set itself the target of achieving, by 2012, a quarter of a million members
and 300 local networks in the UK. It
also wants to serve Regional Networks throughout Britain, to provide good
resources, and to set up advisory working groups which will produce
recommendations and support in the following areas:
healthcare, education, housing, crime reduction, environment, children and young
people, citizenship, family and relationship support, financial management and
we shall articulate further the role of faith in public life which we model:
distinctive faith which accommodates theological diversity while acting on
values held in common..
transformation of individuals, communities and society as a whole is possible if
Christians learn to work together. The task may be daunting, and the challenges
great, but if we work together, God will change our world for the better.
details: website: www.faithworks.info
Cowley is an author and Vicar of Yaxley and Holme with
Conington, in the Diocese of Ely
Hurding is a
pastoral theologian and retired G.P.
Jones is Senior
Tutor at the West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies
Kettle is a
General Practitioner and G.P. Trainer
May is an author
and Vicar of Norden in the Diocese of Manchester
Murphy is a Reader
in Systematic Theology at Aberdeen University
ex-Principal of Regents Theological College, Nantwich
Weston is a
lecturer at Ridley Hall, Cambridge
Newsletter 47 (Autumn '06)
'The collapse of
congregations' was the most requested article among newsletter readers in recent
ACCESS lists1. Its' theme presses for reflection. What have we to
learn from this collapse? Does it tell us that the Church is called to new ways?
How should we respond?
the middle of winter
Karl Rahner wrote that
in Western society today it is 'the Season of Winter in Christianity'. Nico ter
Inden reflects along these lines. The light of faith is dim; the voice of God is
faint; spiritual life is at a low ebb. 'So', he writes, 'this is the way it is.
You must not get too worked up about it. You must not become aggressive, neither
become depressed about it. You must not try with all your might to turn the
tide. Neither should you look around in anger over everything that has gone
wrong; neither should you look back with home sickness to all the fine things
that have been lost. It is the season of Winter, and why should you not accept
that?…It is not the first time in history that things were like this.
Meanwhile the Church will have to burn with a low wick. All right; that is
possible. The less bitter we feel about it the more it is possible.'2
all the surveys have been conducted and analyses offered, have we then simply to
accept that for faith 'it is the season of winter', and wait patiently for times
to change? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, 'It is not for us to prophesy the day
(though the day will come) when men will once more be called so to utter the
word of God that the world will be changed and renewed by it… until then the
Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who
pray and do right and wait for God's own time'.3 So: is this where we
is a godly realism here, a realism missing where confidence is held that modern
management and marketing skills will be sufficient to turn around the fortunes
of faith, or that revival is waiting to happen, or that the general population
is becoming more spiritual. There is also hope: the 'season of winter' will
pass. Current church decline in the West must be seen within wider horizons.
Andrew Walls notably invites our attention to such wider horizons.4
a misleading image?
And yet 'the season of
winter' can also mislead us, as an image for our situation today.
It can allow us to think of, on the one side, of a human response to God
which changes like the seasons, and on the other side, a Christianity which
endures unchanging as the sure deposit of faith. This places Christianity
squarely on the side of an unchanging God who in his truth and love forebears
patiently with his people in all their changeable ways. The work of Christ is
there for all to see in the ministry of the Church in Word and sacrament; the
Church, supposedly like God, waits with forbearance for people to look and see
picture fosters a certain kind of spirituality - a Christendom spirituality, as
I think we may call it. It is a 'spirituality of patronage'. As people freely
live and reason and act together, the Church sees itself as sponsoring the
environment for this, an icon of the deeper source and purpose of such life in
God. It is a patron Church, baptising people's efforts and bestowing God's
blessing upon them.
'spirituality of patronage' was plausible in an earlier age when the Church had
wealth, political power and social authority, while also believing in universal
powers of reasoning as a universal human endowment independent of and consistent
with Christian revelation. In this setting the ministers of the Church could
place themselves imaginatively on the side of a forbearing God whose ultimate
recognition was as assured as that of the Church's worldly power and the
conclusions of universal reason.
the reality, however, in Christendom reasoning was nourished significantly by
Christian stories and doctrines, the rituals of the Church and its sponsorship
of the arts. But since then times have changed. In our own contemporary Western
culture, what is held to be reasonable often stands in quite ambiguous relation
to a Christianity of which people know less and less. Meanwhile our society has
acquired other patrons: (1) the corporate
agents of mass marketing and consumerism: the mass media have acquired a
dominant place in peoples' lives mediating images of human fulfilment which make
claims for themselves 'religious' in stature (2) ideologically driven rationalisations of society: England's
international political and economic ties bring new pressure in our age from two
programmes of secular rationalisation: from the programme of global capitalist,
economic rationalisation driven notably by the U.S. on the one hand, and from
the programme for rationalising societies into a 'secular' mould driven from
within the European Union on the other.
In this changed
setting, the Church's aspiration to patronage has become largely redundant. When
people no longer find in the Church an icon of the One at whose mercy they live,
its benevolent patronage lingers only as the smile on the Cheshire cat. To make
God visible today, the Church has to pursue a more dramatic spirituality of hospitality
of the sort Jesus himself extended among non-pc people and at extraordinary
picnics as, in often scandalous words and actions, he wrestled new life out of
old religious institutions, traditions and images. It has to host 'poor'
community - community of the sort marginalised
in our culture which exalts individual consumers on the one hand and the
framework provided by economic rationalisation on the other - in a way which
opens eyes to the kingdom of God.
lingering spirituality of patronage admirably commends fortitude to a declining
Church whose God waits with costly forbearance. But it can hinder the Church's
participation in the passionate self-giving of God - God's ever new divine
initiative in Jesus Christ breaking into human life, compelling a response,
bringing nothing less than new creation.
need to allow the idea that the 'winter' of
Western Christianity is an enforced one, like the perpetual winter in
Narnia. The battle has indeed been fought in Christ and won, and this is the
witness of the Church. But this witness is to new creation, and today this
witness requires the Church to move beyond the spirituality of patronage.
1. Haddon Willmer, 'The Collapse of Congregations', Anvil, Vol. 18 No. 4, 2001, pp. 249-260 (ACCESS No. 509).
2. Nico ter Inden, 'In the Middle of Winter', translated
by Jan van Royen from Nico ter Linden, Een engel aan de Amstel.
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, SCM, 1953, p.160.
4. This aspect of Andrew Walls' scholarship informs
Kenneth Ross' article 'Blessed Reflex: Mission as God's Spiral of Renewal'
REAL CHURCH OF ENGLAND
There is a lot of talk
about mission-shaped church in certain corners of the Church of England at
present. It sounds exciting and hopeful for the future of the church.
for some people it is. But for many this is just another report from "head
office" which will go the same way as countless other reports and
initiatives before it.
the part of the Church of England where I live and work, mission shaped church
is seen as utterly irrelevant by many of our parishioners. They are certainly
not going to hear God speaking to them through this initiative. Why is this? It
is because in this area the Church of England at grass roots level is still
stuck in the 1950’s. Developments which have been taking place in many other
parts of the Anglican Communion over the last thirty years have largely passed
us by. Many parishes around here have little or no experience of the renewal of
worship and liturgy, shared ministry, discipleship in small groups, stewardship
or evangelism. They are stuck in a time warp of traditional Anglicanism which
has no comprehension of the word “mission”.
are many reasons for this, but one surely must be a failure of leadership.
Reports and initiatives from Church House don’t help us at all. What is needed
is committed pastors and leaders who are willing to face the costly task of
bringing new life, hope and vision to a dormant and dying church.
the Church for Mission
The Anglican report Mission-shaped
church (2004) was followed by Moving
on in a mission-shaped church (2005), a pamphlet from the joint
Methodist-Anglican Fresh Expressions group.
In 2006 these two policy reports were followed by two research reports: Churchgoing Today, and Making
Sense of Generation Y. In what follows I want to bring these under review.
earlier report Breaking New Ground had
given a cautious welcome to the beginnings of church planting in the 80s and
early 90s, whereby local Anglican churches began new congregations in localities
where they saw a particular need. Mission-shaped church moved the Anglican discussion forward to
embrace a much wider diversity of new groups, including alternative worship
communities; ecclesial communities; café churches; cell churches; churches
arising from community initiatives; network-focused churches; school-linked
congregations; new monastic communities; and youth congregations. Moving
on in a mission-shaped church offered guidance to those who might be
considering starting any such new group.
(mainly) Anglican provenance of these two policy reports conditions, and
potentially distorts, their analysis of current trends. Mission-shaped church begins its discussion of church planting with
Holy Trinity Brompton, whereas in reality HTB was already part of a movement
wider than Anglicanism which was planting new churches in many different ways.
This wider movement was indebted to the charismatic movement, leaders of which
in the '70s and '80s asserted that the new wine of the Spirit could not be
poured into the old wineskins of the older Evangelical congregations and
denominations, starting new churches in schools, disused cinemas, halls and
other premises. The most extensive experience of church planting and of other
‘new ways of being church’ lies outside the Church of England, and it is
important to acknowledge this.
in Churchgoing Today, nearly all the
examples of research and of good new practice are Anglican. Here the spectre of
the demise of the Church of England casts a shadow of almost pathological
proportions. The report brings together research into attendance at Church of
England services, both conventional patterns of worship and new (including for
example café-style churches). The potential is emphasised of what might be
called replacements for conventional worship patterns: there are stories of
Anglican vicars successfully trying different environments, different styles,
and especially different times and days
of the week, for worship services.
This report's focus on
the time and day of worship presupposes that what has essentially changed is
people’s weekly schedules. In fact, however, as the document itself reports,
when people who have given up going to church are asked why they have stopped,
about a quarter specify either loss of faith (13%) or growing out of faith
(11%), whereas only 11% specify change in schedule (p6).
doubt, as research indicates, the church could increase attendance by holding
more, and more varied, events at different and more convenient times; but
it probably could always have done so. People’s changing schedules are not
the major factor in declining Sunday attendance, a decline which long predates
Sunday trading, the rapidly accelerating disintegration of nuclear families and
the growth in Sunday leisure.
is needed than new developments in ecclesiology
- let alone in the time and day of services - in the redefinition of the
church’s relationship to Western culture. If in truth, as Gospel and Our
Culture perspectives remind us, the
fundamental reason for the Western church’s decline is the secularisation of
post-Enlightenment culture, what is being rejected by modernity it is the
church’s entire worldview, not just its ways of organising itself. In this
context, new ekklesiae will be necessary, but they will not be sufficient: there
will also have to be a thorough-going, theological-level challenge to the
secular assumptions of modernity.
Some practitioners of
the more recent ‘fresh expressions’ of church think this analysis may not
apply similarly to post-modernity. Post-modernity, it is argued, is more
tolerant of the spiritual dimension and less aggressively secular than
modernity: such thinking points to the evidence of widespread contemporary
western acceptance of spiritual practices from yoga to horoscopes. On this
analysis, the new expressions of church themselves bear some of the best
hallmarks of post-modernity: they are diverse, flexible, anti-authoritarian,
committed to open-ended discourse, and personally liberating. Charismatic
tendencies remain a source of creative energy here. An emphasis on spiritual
experience, together with what Pete Ward calls the entrepreneurial tendency
which marks the new Evangelical and Charismatic churches, inspires practitioners
to seek new ways to meet the spiritual thirst in the culture, and new avenues to
spiritual satisfaction in Christ.
personally I think that the spirituality of our age is exaggerated by some
people in the emerging church movement, and also in the report Churchgoing
Today. Significant here are the findings of Making
Sense of Generation Y. Taking a
small sample of young people (15-25 years old), the researchers asked them
questions designed to elicit some idea of their worldview. Not only did this
turn out to be thoroughly secular; the young people also showed, or at least
claimed, a capacity to make satisfactory meaning for their lives using secular
categories, secular imagery, and secular sources, especially television. Such
research clearly goes flat against the trend which Churchgoing
Today claims to identify, whereby large sections of the population claim
still to believe in God, still to pray, still to call themselves Christian, and
so on. The researchers were clearly hoping and expecting to find a space for
spirituality amongst young people and some conscious articulation of a need or
desire for it, but they did not find it.
other words neither the new contemporary spiritualities, nor the residues of the
old ones, are in most cases formative for people, especially young people, in
making meaning of their lives. They are a merely private affair, withheld from
public discourse and scrutiny. Also, these spiritualities mostly do not do
worship, because insofar as worship irreducibly requires submission to a higher
authority, it does not feature in, and is not compatible with, the contemporary
idea of personal maturity.
in Newbigin's terms, worship and formative spirituality are profoundly
counter-cultural. It remains, in my view, the basic Gospel and Culture task to
celebrate them and to attack at their root cultural assumptions which resist
(all from Church House Publishing)
on in Mission-Shaped Church, 2005
Sense of Generation Y, 2006
The growing reach of
anti-discriminatory legislation has wide-ranging effects today in Western
societies. Some of these effects are both intentional and just; others are both
unintended and unjust. Christian churches, organisations and individuals can
find themselves vulnerable in new ways, as people who oppose their beliefs are
given, in some new legislation, new weapons with which to attack them. ACCESS
554 offers a popular account of some attacks upon evangelical Christian student
groups in the U.S. (similar issues have arisen within the U.K).
The media have
recently publicised a Church of England Report on the extension of legal rights
for cohabiting couples. ACCESS 552 provides some interesting statistical
information on measures of personal well-being inside and outside of
kind of economy
contrasts the economy of gift with the economics of scarcity and private
property, starting from Jesus' parable of the talents (ACCESS 561). Here is the
latest ACCESS item on a theme with fundamental implications for global economic
vision and policy. Earlier ACCESS items addressing the same theme have been
written by Elizabeth Newman (ACCESS 335) and Walter Brueggemann (ACCESS 514).
As many readers will
know, Lesslie Newbigin attached importance to Michael Polanyi's theory of
knowledge and enquiry as a truer account of these things than that adopted in
the cartesian 'method of doubt'. Polanyi's work continues to be subject to
diverse interpretations and appraisals. In ACCESS 553 Dale Cannon makes a
significant contribution to such discussion. He argues carefully the importance
of Polanyi's theory for our understanding of knowledge
by acquaintance, and of the primacy of such knowledge over knowledge
by representation. Note: In a
welcome development, this and other articles published in Tradition
and Discovery are now archived online at www.missouriwestern.edu/orgs/polanyi.
shaping of Europe: past, present and future
Insofar as Europe has
pioneered political liberalism, it 'is what it is because of its Christian
history', argues Rowan Williams in a paper presented to the European Policy
Centre at Brussels in November 2005 (ACCESS No. 565). Central to this liberalism
is acknowledgement that the claims of the state are not absolute: the state does
not command loyalty of a religious
stature, and its claims may properly be challenged from within religious
horizons. Political liberalism has a history rooted in creative engagement and
argument between Church and state regarding universal truths on the one hand and
the integrity of local communities on the other.
the future health of the political community, urges the Archbishop, it must 'be
able to engage seriously with the tradition in which its own roots lie' in this
way. The very Reformation and Enlightenment protests upon which much of
"modernity" in Europe rests 'did not come from nowhere; they were
centrally theological disputes, even when they were resolved in ways inimical to
the authority and public influence of faith.'
unaware of this background today will misunderstand where the liberal tradition
comes from, leaving them 'more than ever vulnerable to the sort of unhistorical
optimism which has characterised far too much of Western involvement in the
complexities of non-Western societies.' It can also lead them to regard the
Church only as an enemy or a private body to be excluded from public debate. At
this point liberal modernity 'turns itself into a fixed and absolute thing,
Granted this account,
can Christians seek a Muslim contribution to political liberalism? Rowan
Williams believes so. He cites Tariq Ramadan on the need and scope within Islam
to develop its participation in argument and negotiation over the public sphere.
'The real opposition', he concludes, 'is between a classical Muslim and
Christian acceptance of interpretation and reflection in charting the
believer’s duties in the public sphere, and the crude and violent absolutising
of a single narrow cultural expression of faith… The Islamist extremist is not
a traditionalist in the proper sense, but someone who has simply fixed on a
moment in the living tradition and frozen it.' Although Rowan Williams does not
put it in these terms, perhaps it could be said that the 'pseudo-religious' form
of political liberalism is somewhat analogous to this in its a-historical
stance, and yielding its own kind of extremism…
in conclusion, may lie the central contribution of Christian tradition to a
future European identity: 'it challenges the global socio-political
juggernaut…; affirms the significance of local and intentional communities,
and their role in public life; and it is able to welcome the stranger, including
the Muslim stranger in its midst, as a partner in the work of proper liberalism,
the continuing argument about common good and just governance.'
full text of Rowan William’s paper is also available online at
Culture of Blame
A besetting weakness
of the Englishman, wrote Dorothy Sayers, is that 'he is peculiarly liable to
attacks of righteous indignation'. 'To foment grievance and to set men at
variance', she wrote, 'is the trade by which agitators thrive and journalists
make money… The average English mind is a fertile field in which to sow the
dragon's teeth of moral indignation; and the fight that follows will be blind,
brutal, and merciless… His fury is without restraint and without magnanimity -
and it is aimed, not at checking the offence, but at starting a pogrom against
the offender. He would rather the evil were not cured at all than that it were
cured quietly and without violence. His evil lust of wrath cannot be sated
unless someone is hounded down, beaten, and trampled on, and a savage war-dance
executed upon the body'. 1
sixty years later, a glance at the tabloid press will soon show that this 'evil
lust' is among us still, although changes in our social and moral values may
have modified its target. A more general enjoyment in blaming seems to fuel the
popular enthusiasm to cast votes against individuals in recent TV programmes
such as Big Brother or The Weakest Link. Perhaps I may be forgiven even for
suspecting sometimes that this appetite for blaming is exploited by Government
ministers who lay charges against hard-working, under-resourced professionals in
the public services in order to win popular acceptance of the latest programme
for progressive reform.
This appetite for
blaming adds impetus to the new 'culture of blame' which is growing in parallel
with the scope of government
legislation today. It feeds into a new readiness to seek compensation and a new
fear of being sued, with all the debilitating effects of this upon communal
activity both formal and informal.
current growth in legislation is aimed at maintaining good public standards in
a mass society. To this end, it pursues accountability through the
formulation of legal rights and obligations. The aim is laudable enough in
itself. How does its pursuit, through expanding legislation, appear when viewed
in the light of faith?
affirms that our accountability is ultimately before God: we are called to love
God and neighbour, we have been entrusted with gifts to this end, and it is by
God that we and our stewardship of his gifts will be judged. The gifts and
responsibilities in question are beyond explicit documentation or
quantification. Our response to these is meant to be loving and free, with
initiative and generosity reflecting those of God. Loving, responsible action
also requires us to negotiate our way in the midst of partly unspecifiable risks
and limitations of knowledge and power.
in this light, there currently appears a danger of placing too much public trust
in the power of legislation unequivocally to further human well-being. Firstly,
the state appears in danger of claiming for itself too much authority and power
of judgement. Secondly, precisely in its pursuit of accountability, the state
ironically is in danger of diminishing
the meaning of accountability by focussing upon explicit measures of achievement
and turning these themselves into targets to be pursued under coercion. This at
once distorts the basic motivation of responsible action and distorts the
truthfulness of these as measures of
achievement. Thirdly, by allocating responsibility and blame too far, the state
is in danger of subverting a wide range of worthwhile endeavour in which risks
and limitations are unavoidable.
The public formulation
of responsibilities and allocation of blame has its place in civil society, but
it can never provide an adequate basis for it. Civil society has its roots in
the dignity of human life under a
God who entrusts his good purposes into our hands, awakens us to participate
generously and creatively in them, and bears with our mistakes and limitations
as we do so. Such dignity is not at its most evident in an appetite for blaming
others, or a desire to avoid being blamed.
1. Dorothy Sayers,
'The Other Six Deadly Sins', in Sayers, Creed
or Chaos?, Methuen, 1947, p.68-69.
O’Donovan, The Ways of Judgment,
Eerdmans, 2005, 330pp., £19.99 (hb).
a substantial sequel to The Desire of the
Nations. If the earlier book had
set out the theological basis for the Church’s involvement with the state and
civic society, this represents a complementary attempt to set out the shape of
political society as the Church would wish it to be, especially in relation to
its processes of decision making. If
this could be described as an attempted ‘political theology’ or ‘political
ethics’, it has a different feel from much which has passed under such
headings in recent decades. O’Donovan
presents an assessment from a fairly traditional Reformed theological
perspective of the challenge of political life in late-modern Western society.
It would be difficult to identify any political bias, in the party sense.
writes out of a crisis of confidence in the modern Church, which in part has
been precipitated by the political events of the twentieth century: global wars,
de-colonisation, and more recent threats from nuclear war and ecological
changes. He wants to set out the
political parameters within which a Christian civilization can be true to its
values, yet without any particular model of Church-state relations in view.
He clearly did not expect The
Desire of the Nations to be read as a plea for a renewed Christendom; his
aim is the coherence of political ideas and institutions in themselves.
book is organised in three parts.
first is a series of chapters on political judgment: the place of law and the
administration of justice. It is
inevitable that laws will vary according to a society and its circumstances, and
human justice will have its intrinsic limits.
Equality is a theological concept, grounded in the doctrine of creation,
and it properly resists a merely numerical or mechanistic calculation.
The right number of black police may be greater than a head count of the
population of an area suggests: equal treatment under the law is fundamentally
about the fair treatment of individual persons in society, rather than of
leads to chapters on the limits of government, the freedom of the individual,
the importance of mercy in the administration of justice, and a particularly
stimulating discussion of penal policy. Punishment
is the judgment of society upon right and wrong, and as such has an inalienable
aspect of retribution, but for the good of society as a whole, and not the
satisfaction of a victim’s wrath. The
re-emergence of the latter as a factor in public justice speaks only of ‘the
deep de-Christianisation of our times’.
central part of the book covers aspects of political representation.
There is a subtle defence of democracy, in which explicit legal rights
are seen to rest necessarily upon an underlying coherence in a society, and
between a society and its government: ‘Election can only be the lynchpin
holding the wheel of tradition in place’.
Constitutional arrangements need with care to guard against forms of
elective dictatorship, and similar warnings are issued to dreams of world
final part looks beyond political structures and institutions to the life of
society itself, and the Church as set within it.
The master concept here is that of ‘communication’, as an
interpretation of the Gospel call to ‘koinonia’, and in this way O’Donovan
seeks to penetrate behind the Western emphases upon individual rights and
private property. Human community is
‘a condition of being human, a gift of God’.
As such, unemployment is the paradigm of social breakdown – a sobering
thought, given the reduced attention that is paid to it these days.
penultimate chapter, ‘Household and City’, addresses, among other topics,
the organisation of the Church itself, and particularly the place of Christian
ministry within it. Readers for whom
other sections cross unfamiliar terrain will readily pick up this discussion.
The importance of episcopal ministry is seen in its transcendence of
particular social or cultural arrangements in the life of the Church, and a
place is envisaged for a reformed Papacy provided it is seen as an essentially
episcopal role, of gathering bishops of the universal church.
O’Donovan comments, surely shrewdly, about the international crisis in
the Anglican Communion: ‘it is only ostensibly about the ordination and
marriage of homosexuals. In reality
it is about the catholic responsibility and function of the episcopate’.
final chapter deals with conscience, that conjoint knowing together with God
which, to adapt Herbert’s poetic lines ‘must bear the longest part’.
There is, at the end of the day, a resolute individualism in Christianity
– a narrow gate, through the way of self-denial.
Yet the point of conscience is precisely to subvert any self-centred,
atomised individualism. Conscience
is rather our self-opening to the probing interrogation and challenge of an
encounter with God, mediated, and embodied in our baptismal incorporation in
Christ. In this way the patristic
account of conscience is modified by Luther’s insights.
any account this is an important book, replete with restless intellectual
energy, which deserves a wide readership. It
represents a confident claim by the Church to influence the public realm of
politics, government, and the justice system.
Refreshingly, it starts from a clear sense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
rather than from any particular political, social or indeed ethical judgments.
It portrays a God whose activity in the universe sustains all life, and
especially human society, upholding and judging the universe by his word of
power, and calling forth a particular response from all people.
this reviewer, there are just two general reservations.
Could the prose have been simplified, to permit the argument to flow more
freely for non-experts? This
question has been raised in relation to some of O’Donovan’s earlier work.
The second question is whether the shadow of a Protestant separation of
God from the world hangs too much over the argument.
Jesus Christ is Lord of the Church, and of the universe, but he is also
present within both, as Lord and giver of life.
This bears especially upon some of the subjects tackled in this book:
inasmuch as you did this unto the least of these my brethren, you did it unto
Bretherton, Hospitality as Holiness,
Christian Witness Amid Moral Diversity, Ashgate, 2006, 226pp., £47.50 (hb).
book Luke Bretherton explores how Christians might practice hospitality in the
midst of moral fragmentation and plurality.
His approach seeks neither a minimalist common ground nor the adoption of
a “foreign” language to arrive at consensus. Rather, he develops an
understanding of hospitality so deeply rooted in Christian convictions that
engagement with others is the natural outcome.
the first, more academic, part of the book, “The Problem of Moral
Plurality,” Bretherton engages the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre, Germain
Grisez and Oliver O’Donovan. He
analyzes Grisez’s natural law critique of MacIntyre, concluding that in the
final analysis it fails to be sufficiently theological.
For instance, Grisez’s emphasis on the deep impact of sin in our lives
conflicts with his claim that the basic goods are self-evident.
Following O’Donovan, Bretherton argues rather that “natural law” is
not the point on which to criticize MacIntyre but rather his failure to have a
sufficiently eschatological horizon. A
faithful eschatology does not locate security in one tradition vindicating
itself over another, or even in the resolution of intractable ethical disputes.
While I think MacIntyre is better understood as failing to plumb the
depths of the Christian tradition (rather than overemphasizing it),
Bretherton’s description of hospitality as our participation in a future already
established by Christ is a wonderful contribution.
Bretherton rightly notes that the church derives its being from
participation in this reality.
fleshes out the implications of such hospitality in the second part of his book,
“The Nature and Shape of Christian Hospitality.”
“Hospitality” is more faithful language than “tolerance” as it
opens up more profoundly theological ways to be present to others.
Such hospitality enables us to see that “going out” is the “way of
coming home.” The story of
Peter and Cornelius, for example, illustrates that Peter’s going out draws him
and those present more fully into communion with God.
For a contemporary case study, Bretherton gives a wonderful description
and analysis of the hospice movement, a hospitality he contrasts with the
practice of euthanasia. Hospice care
has embodied a vibrant practice of Christian hospitality, even as it has been
elastic and compelling enough to involve those who are not Christian.
As Bretherton states, “…[this] particular approach of Christians [is
not] found to exclude others or be marginalized by non-Christians. Instead,
what Christians advocate has become accepted as defining what constitutes good
care for the suffering-dying” (p. 183). “Holiness” thus describes of way
of life that shows forth the holiness of the church precisely through living
together with non-Christian neighbors and strangers.
highly recommend his book to those who are interested in thinking more deeply
about how to be church in the midst of fragmentation and “diversity.”
Baynham is Senior
Resident Tutor at Liverpool Hope University
Cowley is an author and Vicar of Yaxley and Holme with
Conington, in the Diocese of Ely
Forster is Bishop
Director of the North Thames Ministerial Training Course
Professor of Theology and Ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond,