For some select PASSAGES AND SHORT QUOTATIONS on the following themes, follow the link provided:

Human rights in Christian context

Contemporary spirituality in Christian context

Christian mission in a pagan culture

Mission in Christian soil: engaging Christian resources in Western culture

Christian witness in a dogmatic secularist public culture

Erosion of community and informal social structures in Christian context

Classic quotes (1880-1965): insights which speak to Christian life in our culture today 

 

A SELECTION OF CHOICE ARTICLES

Here is an opportunity for you to read some first class articles on the Gospel and contemporary Western culture. The articles are listed below, each with a few words of introduction and a link to the text of the article on this or another website. They are listed roughly in order of academic pitch, ranging from articles written for a popular readership towards those formulated in more scholarly manner.

 

Graham Cray, Reaching for the Stars

(2,607 words + notes)

Celebrities play a central role in popular culture; they are an integral part of postmodern culture. Graham Cray writes about these stars who lack the character of heroes and who mesmerise those in contemporary Western culture who lack purpose, personal history or secure identity. In this 'culture of the voyeur', 'I am seen, therefore I am'. Worship of celebrities requires no commitment to moral action, and it complements a sense of self-righteous victimhood. Christians must respond by 'growing true heroes' and acclaiming real character - a response inspired by the unique person of Jesus Christ.

Graham Cray is Anglican Bishop of Maidstone in the U.K. and a popular author and speaker. He was Chair of the Greenbelt Festival and is presently chair of the trustees of the Soul Survivor youth ministry.

This article was published in Third Way magazine (website: www.thirdway.org.uk), October 2000, pp.12-16. It is reproduced by permission of Third Way magazine.

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Madeleine Bunting, The Media and Religion.

(6,342 words)

The focus of this fine lecture is mainly coverage of Christianity in the British press, with which Madeleine Bunting personally very familiar. This coverage, she suggests, 'holds up a fascinating mirror to our cultural preoccupations' today. She finds a bias against religion which she attributes to five factors: loss of deference, a conflict of values, an ingrained hostility, the nature of modern media, and the illusions of consumer culture. This conflict appears to be part of big historical changes which include the erosion of traditional Church institutions and a growing interest in 'spirituality'.

Madeleine Bunting writes regularly for the Guardian Newspaper in the U.K. (her pieces can be read online at www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists), for which she has worked as Religious Affairs Editor.

This paper was presented at Gresham College, London, on 11 November 1996. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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Vinoth Ramachandra, Global Society: Challenges for Christian Mission

6,280 words + notes

Here is a perceptive account of emerging global civil society as the political, social and economic context of mission today. Globalisation replicates on a global scale the effects which the modern nation state has had in subverting local culture and limiting religion to the private sphere. Offering many topical illustrations, this Sri Lankan theologian depicts contemporary globalisation as a false, distorting universalism which Christians must confront with true universalism in Christ.

Vinoth Ramachandra is Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement (Asia), International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. This paper was presented as the CMS Annual Lecture in 1993 and later published in Anvil, Vol. 21 No. 1, 2004, pp. 9-21. It is reproduced here by permission of Church Mission Society.

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Os Guinness, Sounding Our the Idols of Church Growth

(9,057 words + notes)

With his usual punchy arguments and bold rhetoric, Os Guinness here sets out key issues for the Church as it seeks to 'modernise'. Influential proponents of such modernisation draw indiscriminately upon the managerial revolution and upon marketing techniques. Interest then turns from truth to technique, and from serving God to serving the 'self'. In place of serious attention to God and theology, to the distinctive nature of the Church, and to Christian history, there is a self-reliant methodology. The outcome is surrender to culture. By all means plunder modernity for its riches, says the author, but don't end up fashioning its gold into a golden calf!

Os Guinness is author of a number of popular theological books including The Gravedigger File (1983). He is Vice-Chairman and Senior Fellow of Trinity Forum in Virginia, U.S.

This article was published in Os Guinness & John Seel (eds), No God but God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age, Moody Press, Chicago, 1992, pp. 151-174. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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Michael B. Foster, Some Remarks on the Relations of Science and Religion

(4,478 words + notes)

In a supplement to J. H. Oldham's newsletter, Michael Foster reflects upon the danger posed in modern times by science. This danger derives from the power which natural science gives to humankind over nature, while leaving humankind without the source of guidance it once imagined to have in 'nature' itself. In this situation we cannot return to pagan worship of nature, as some try to do; rather than such romantic Archaism, we need the guidance of God more desperately than ever. Parallel considerations apply with regard to the social sciences which de-sacralise the cultural institutions which we have trusted for guidance in the past. This article, over 50 years old, offers basic insights relevant to such matters as genetic manipulation and environmental care today.

Michael B. Foster was a Lecturer in Philosophy at Oxford University who wrote some seminal philosophical pieces during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

This article was published in The Christian News-letter, no. 299, 26th Nov. 1947, Supplement, pp.5-16.

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Angela Tilby, Like the Appearance of Lamps…

(4,350 words + notes)

Writing from much personal broadcasting experience, Angela Tilby finds the contemporary mass media - especially television - 'alive to paganism. (Not) the benign, liberal-minded paganism of so-called ecofeminists and post-Christians… but the paganism that resides in Western ways of seeing… from Greek sculpture to Madonna - the culture of the theatre and the hippodrome'. Hollywood is the modern Rome. Camille Paglia's portrayal of Western culture is invoked: a story of endless conflict between the Greek gods 'Apollo' and 'Dionysius'. 'Apollo' stares outward in a detached, critical manner, pursuing mastery; 'Dionysius' is intoxicated by sex and violence. 'Judaeo-Christianity never did defeat paganism, which still flourishes in art, eroticism, eschatology and popular culture' (Paglia). Christians must get involved in the mess of this pagan world in which God can be found, albeit only in masked form.

Angela Tilby is an author and well-known BBC broadcaster and contributor to 'Though for the Day'. She is Vice-Principal of Westcott House Theological College, Cambridge, England.

This paper was read at the Centre for Religious Communication's Inaugural Conference at Westminster College, Oxford, Sept 1992, and later published in the journal Theology, no.97, Sept/Oct. 1994, pp.322-31. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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Lesslie Newbigin, Christian faith in a secularised world

(4,111 words)

Given the pervasive influence and power of secular Western culture globally today, the vital question is 'Can we West be converted?' What would such conversion entail? Lesslie Newbigin recounts how in India Jesus is sometimes incorporated into a Hindu worldview without challenging it; but do we not similarly 'domesticate' Jesus to a Western worldview deriving from the Enlightenment? The latter worldview draws a line between certain, public, purpose-free and value-free facts on the one hand (which are provided by science) and private beliefs, purposes and values on the other; religion is classed among the latter. Christians must challenge this worldview, exposing the dogmas concealed in it and insisting that the Gospel speaks to public spheres of life.

Lesslie Newbigin was a missionary, bishop in the Church of South India, and founder of the Gospel and Our Culture programme. His many books include Foolishness to the Greeks (1986) and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989).

This unpublished paper was written around 1985.

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Wolfhart Pannenberg, How To Think About Secularism

(4,392 words)

In this article a world-renowned theologian interprets secularisation or 'progressive modernisation' in a Christian context. Although today secularism exalts 'humanity' in the place of God, the architects of modern society did not oppose Christian faith at the outset. Theirs was not so much an ideological rejection of religious domination, as a pragmatic response to the religious wars which ravaged Europe. They sought to ground civil society more securely in a supposed 'natural order'. Today secularism is 'far from being an unstoppable juggernaut'; indeed its future appears less certain than that of religion. As secularism grows in irrationality, faith is called to embrace and nourish reason richly.

Wolfhart Pannenberg is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Munich. His books include Christianity in a Secularised World (1988).

This article was published in the journal First Things (New York) no.64, June-July 1996, pp.27-32, and is archived on the journal website at www.firstthings.com.

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Michael Paul Gallagher, S. J., The Tone of Culture: from Prometheus to Narcissus

(3,629 words + notes)

How is the search for happiness promoted and controlled in Western culture today? In this article Michael Paul Gallagher describes how the vision of human flourishing has shrunk 'from an initially social horizon to a finally evasive and sentimental image of human reality'. Today's privatised pursuit of happiness through intimacy echoes the story of Narcissus. But such lonely self-absorption is not merely a selfish choice; it is fostered by liberal capitalism and idolatrous systems which hijack our personal freedom to search authentically for truth. Christians must address this 'imprisonment of the imagination', bringing it into dialogue with an enduring Christian affirmation of the individual.

Michael Paul Gallagher, S. J., teaches theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. His books include Clashing Symbols: An Introduction to Faith & Culture (1997, new edition 2003).

This article was published in Michael Paul Gallagher, Struggles of Faith, Columba Press (publisher's website: www.columba.ie), 1990, pp.84-93. It is reproduced by permission of the author.

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Robert N. Bellah, Cultural Barriers To The Understanding Of The Church And Its Public Role.

(6,560 words + notes)

By the co-author of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in America (1985). Robert Bellah argues that the Church faces a fundamental challenge to itself and to its message, in the cultural vision of the autonomous, solitary individual and the establishment of government by social contract. This challenge derives from John Locke's theory of "social contract to protect individual property", which has spread disastrously from economic and political spheres into all human relations, the family and the church. It gives rise to the totalitarian state to deal with the "Lockean-chaos" resulting, and to a new "market - totalitarianism" with "consumer churches " and "consumer universities" - all contrary to biblical religion. Here is valuable food for reflection on the 'voluntarism' which marks U.S. church life in contrast with church life in Europe, although (as Grace Davie notes) there are signs of the latter changing…

Robert N. Bellah is Professor of Sociology at the University of California in Berkeley and a prolific author in sociology of religion.

This article was published in the journal Missiology (website:www.asmweb.org), 19 (4), Oct.1991, pp.461-73. It is reproduced by permission of Missiology journal.

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Daniel Pipes, The Western Mind of Radical Islam

(4,655 words)

The most 'radical' positions adopted in violent opposition to Western culture often mirror and are deeply influenced by Western presuppositions. Daniel Pipes writes that 'Islamists are individuals educated in modern ways who seek solutions to modern problems. The Prophet may inspire them, but they approach him through the filter of the late 2oth century. In the process, they unintentionally substitute Western ways for those of traditional Islam.' He contrasts the beliefs and practices of Islamists with traditional Islamic order in four areas: religion, daily life, politics, and the law.

Daniel Pipes is Editor of the journal Middle East Quarterly.

This article was published in the journal First Things, December 1995, No.58, pp.18-23, and is archived on the journal website at www.firstthings.com.

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Bob Goudzwaard, Christianity and Economics

(4,812 words + notes)

The Bible relates economic issues to God's purposes; why, therefore, do Christians often not make connections between their faith and economics? Bob Goudzwaard sees this as the result of the worldview underlying economic theory which is influential today. Tracing the history of economic thought, he describes how a model has been constructed of economic activity which, in order to predict outcomes as a 'science', ignores much that is vital to real economic life. He examines three characteristics of this artificial world: lack of responsibility or accountability, neglect of qualitative factors in favour of quantitative, and acceptance of an unstable dynamism. Seriously, this model is allowed increasingly to shape and distort the real world today. Christians need to take the measure of this development and its origins, addressing the false split between faith and economic activity and seeking a faithful vision for the latter.

Bob Goudzwaard is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Free University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He was elected to the Dutch Parliament in the 1970's. His books include Idols of Our Time (1984).

This is the text of a lecture presented at a conference 'Shaping the Christian Mind', in Sydney, Australia in July 1996 and published in Signposts of God's Liberating Kingdom, Vol.1, Institute for Reformational Studies, Potchefstroom University, South Africa, 1997, pp.229-240. The text has been edited by Sarah Fordham. Reproduced by permission of the author.

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Alan Storkey, The Surrogate Sciences

(3,552 words + notes)

Here are vital reflections on the pursuit of knowledge and know-how in contemporary society, its foundations and ends. Scientific knowledge, which has been widely seen in modernity as the ground of faith and hope for humanity, has struggled for over a century to secure its theoretical foundations but this pursuit has been left in disarray. Meanwhile hope for the practical relevance of the emerging human sciences has been largely disappointed. As a result, more immediately useful 'surrogate sciences' have sprung up: business studies overtake economics, counselling overtakes psychology, environmental studies replace geography, various policy studies replace politics, etc. However, this new knowledge secretly places its faith in an optimistic humanist worldview. It also attracts private ownership and sale of knowledge by industry and government, and reflects their interests. All this is spread through information technology and education today. The author follows up this analysis by proposing some basic elements in a Christian response.

Alan Storkey was Chairperson of the Movement for Christian Democracy for many years and a Lecturer in Sociology at Oak Hill College, London. His books include A Christian social perspective (1978).

This article was published in the journal Philosophia Reformata, 51, 1986, pp. 110-16. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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W.A. Visser 't Hooft, Evangelism Among Europe's Neo-pagans

(6,212 words)

'European culture has become a debate between three forces: Christianity, scientific rationalism, and neo-pagan vitalism'. In this late essay, the author calls for more attention to the last of these. 'Paganism in its post-secular form does not have the naivety, the simplicity, the tolerance of the ancient paganism. The modern form is self-conscious, convulsive, intolerant and aggressive.' The unwritten history of paganism would explore the incomplete medieval conversion to Christianity, the syncretism of the renaissance, romanticism, and Nietsche. Evangelism must address neo-paganism in its various features: monism, pluralism, naturism, vitalism, Eros without Agape, and absence of hope. Over 25 years old, this article feels quite contemporary!

W. A. Visser t'Hooft was first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches until his retirement in 1966. His books include No Other Name (1963).

This article was published in the journal International Review of Mission, 66(4), 1977, pp.349-60. It is reproduced here by permission of the journal.

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James H. Olthuis, On Worldviews

(5,081 words + notes)

Thinking of Christian faith as a 'worldview' has brought new understanding and commitment for many people through reading Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer and others. Middleton & Walsh's Transforming Vision (1984) carried this forward for a generation of students; in 1985 their ICS colleague wrote this article exploring worldview as a philosophical concept. Olthuis considers the operation of a worldview as a basic framework through which we view the world and ourselves, and through which we ask and answer ultimate questions in faith. A worldview interacts closely with 'all the social and personal matrix' of those who inhabit it; worldview crises are deep and pervasive, but nevertheless they can develop in openness to God. This is the article which prompted David Naugle to make a serious study of the 'worldview' concept leading to his 2003 book of this title.

James Olthuis is a philosopher who lectures at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada.

This article was published in Christian Scholars Review 14(2), 1985, pp.153-64. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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Ian Barns, Contesting Secular Public-ness

(6,546 words + notes)

The author addresses a negative legacy of economic reform in Australia (as elsewhere): the erosion of public culture. While supporting the advocacy of public institutions which has arisen in response to this, he insists that a proper secular order has theological roots and needs to draw nourishment from these. He surveys four Christian responses to the situation, while personally endorsing the one made broadly by Lesslie Newbigin, Colin Gunton and Oliver O'Donovan. Following O'Donovan, he identifies three elements necessary to any such response: epistemological (the Kingdom as defining true public-ness), ecclesial (the Church as witness to this) and civic (Christian formation of provisional, secular public life). Suggestions are given for a Christian contribution to public debate about the public sphere.

Ian Barns is a lecturer in Science and Technology Policy at the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. He is author of a number of theological and other published articles.

This unpublished paper (written September 2000) is reproduced by permission of the author.

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Joan Lockwood O'Donovan, Rights, Law and Political Community: A theological and historical perspective
What is the historical background of our talk of 'rights', which is so prominent in public discourse today, and what should we learn from this? In this scholarly article, Joan Lockwood O'Donovan notes that such talk is shaped by the tradition of liberal natural rights. In this tradition, the equality of individuals is economic before it is political: individuals are 'self-owning' before they are 'self-governing'. Churchmen and theologians are therefore naive to appropriate such 'rights' language. Alongside the history of this 'liberal natural rights' tradition, the histories of two other, earlier traditions are traced: the medieval theological tradition of 'natural rights' and the tradition of civic corporatism. Today's secular liberal-democratic rights culture is held from collapse by the remnants of Christian political thought and practice. Its future coherence will depend on relocating 'rights' talk within the language of justice, law and a community of political judgement - which may in turn depend upon the renewed espousal of theological foundations for social order.

Joan Lockwood O'Donovan lives in Oxford and writes on political theology and philosophy. With her husband Oliver O'Donovan she has recently co-authored Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics, Past and Present (2203).

This article was published in the Magazine Transformation, 2003, Vol. 20, No. 1, p.30f. It is archived on the website of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, who publish the magazine.

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Carver T. Yu, Truth and Authentic Humanity

(5,957 words + notes)

How does Western culture look in the eyes of Christians from other cultures? We do well to pay careful attention. In this scholarly philosophical article Carver T. Yu looks at modern Western culture and sees that despite Western rhetoric, humanity is by no means supremely valued within it; rather humanity is in crisis. Western culture is marked by a gulf between technological optimism and literary despair; it is marked by a loss of interiority; it slips towards totalitarianism and barbarism. The central issue in all this is the personal encounter with truth, and how this is understood. In the West, in medieval times a threefold Christian, Greek and Roman heritage ascribed primacy to theoretical truth, with radical scepticism about such truth added by Descartes. But in Christ, truth is 'concretized in true humanity' as the truth, the light and the way. In order to discover and witness to such truth we must live it.

Carver T. Yu is author of Being and Relation: A Theological Critique of Western Dualism and Individualism, Scottish Academic Press, 1987. He is Vice-Principal and Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the China Graduate School of Theology, Hong Kong.

This paper was a plenary address presented at the Gospel and Our Culture Consultation The Gospel as Public Truth, held at Swanwick, U.K., in July 1992. It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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Richard Stivers, Modern Morality: Extreme Individualism as a Component of Extreme Collectivism

Richard Stivers points out that modern, subjective, individualistic views of morality dominant in U.S. education are abstracted from concrete moral community and tradition. They secretly reflect, however, the phenomenon of mass society and culture. Mass society has a high degree both of individualism and collectivism, while fostering psychological weakness: 'Modern individualism entails a fragmented, depersonalised self living in fear of others. This is hardly the cultural ideal of the individual in the Renaissance or in the Enlightenment'. This state of affairs is mediated partly by the mass media (especially TV) which 'aestheticise' life at the same time as 'objectifying' existence for consumption. These processes need to be exposed and understood if morality is to be renewed. Although this fascinating if somewhat breathless article is not presented in an explicitly Christian framework, it offers stimulating perspectives on the polarisation between the state (or system) and the individual towards which society tends when these two poles are made absolute rather than understood relative to God and to moral community under God.

Richard Stivers is Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University. His books include The Culture of Cynicism: American Morality in Decline and, more recently, Technology as Magic (1999).

This is an lecture presented April 2002 at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Wales. It is archived on the website of Cardiff University.

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