Posts filed under ‘faith & spirituality’

liberals & conservatives: a plague on both their houses!

I get really fed up with the intra-church wars that go on between liberals and conservatives! I’m sick of long, bitter and futile arguments over historicity in the bible that never get as far as probing the meaning and importance of the texts. I’m sick of evangelicals who privatise and inividualise faith so that it becomes some sort of gnostic “club”, with a tight theological “system”. They seem to think that God’s sole object in sending Jesus was to save “me” and provide me with a “salvation” that is suspiciously close to the ultimate in consumer products. I’m sick of liberals who spend all their time trying to explain why we cannot believe the things about God and Jesus that have always been fundamental to Christian faith, and why we ought to be following people like Jack Spong et al and concentrating all ourt efforts on a more “intellectually credible” faith. They cannot understand anything that smacks of a “passion for Jesus” and retreat into embarrassed silence at the suggestion that one couldn’t do better than to spend one’s life, priorities, energies and resources in service of Jesus Christ. Ironically, the Good News becomes equally parochial – appropriate only for western, “christianised” cultures! Oh – and I’m sick of the people who will read this and subject it to endless qualifications, rather than seeing it as a generalisation that nevertheless embodies some fundamental and disturning truths about the “wings” of our churches! Either the Good News of Jesus Christ embraces every possible area of human existence – public and private – or it isn’t Good News. And either it’s the very best news for a world in the grip of Bad News, and we ought to be telling everyone about it, or it isn’t, and we ought to stop pretending it is and do something more effective with our time, money and resources!

I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1993, ISBN 0-687-41233-1). Let me cite him on this subject:

The subject of evangelism invites false disputes between liberals and conservatives … such [ideological] labels betray our understanding of the wholeness of life under the singleness of God’s purpose. With so-called conservatives, I agree that we must get our language right, to affirm that our evangelical language is for us realistic language, and we must not blink at the epistemological embarrassment of the gospel. With so-called liberals I agree that we must see our unembarrassed, realistic evangelical-Christological language is not isolated, specialised languange, but is public language concerned with public issues, uttered for the sake of public criticism and public possibility. Whenever liberals shrink from the epistemological scandal of the gospel and whenever conservatives shrink from the public dimension of the faithful language of the evangel, the gospel is distorted and the Bible is misread.

Way to go, Walter! Give it to ’em with both barrels! He’s right! And he goes on to be even more importantly right:

I submit that in our time, so-called conservatism is an attempt to reduce the danger of the Bible to confessional safety (I just love that phrase!!!), and so-called liberalism is an attempt to avoid the dramatic system-shattering claim of the gospel (stunning!!!). I submit that so-called conservatives and so-called liberals might well return to the shared, concrete language practice of the Bible to learn again that the utterance of the name fo God (or the name of Jesus) is endlessly subversive, polemical, risk-taking (Jesus Christ, he’s right!). Indeed, I suggest that our scholastic debates about liberalism and conservatism are simply smoke screens to protect our vested interests and to fend off the danger and threat of the gospel (O that we might learn to find the gospel “dangerous” and “threatening”). Or conversely the reduction of the gospel to our favorite (Hey, he’s American! Leave him alone!) political slogan is a refusal to let the unfettered news of God have its say. The gospel news of changed governance in all of creation is more radical, demanding, and empowering than any of us can readily imagine, embrace, or domesticate.

Isn’t this one of the most important tasks for us as churches – to rediscover that shared biblical practice, rather than struggling with everything we have to reduce the bible and the gospel – oh, and God to boot – to more manageable proportions? And when we’ve done that, it would be mighty difficult to be a church with nothing to say that engages the world.


15 August, 2006 at 12:11 pm 5 comments

Holy impatience

It sometimes really gets to me just how much time we waste, messing around with our little agonies when we know what needs doing but just haven't the courage to do it. Look at the Anglicans, getting their purple knickers in a twist over the issue of women bishops! Having eventually got round to ordaining women, they're still wanting to avoid taking the final fence of making them bishops. They've spent 10 years living with 2 integrities. And yes, it is important to realise that some of those who oppose women bishops do so with integrity. I take that to mean that they're genuinely convinced that it would be wrong in God's eyes, rather than that they're simply being prejudiced and deliberately resistant to the Spirit. But to be sincerely wrong doesn't make it any less wrong! I spent 2 years in Ian Smith's Special Branch, convinced that what I was doing was right. The fact that I wasn't doing it because I was personally racially prejudiced, or simply enjoyed being a bastard, didn't alter the fact that I was deeply, tragically wrong. Yes, it is important to realise that we are on a journey. It is important – and gratifying! – to note that God is far more comfortable with the time it takes and the detours we make than we feel God ought to be. Yet it is vital that, while trying to take people with us, and "maintain the unity of the body in the bond of peace", we recognise the time when we have actually to make a stand and act upon what we believe to be true. The Anglicans will get there – but at great cost. That cost grows the longer the process. And they will lose people over it. Providing that is a self-selecting process – people leaving because they want to rather than are pushed out – then that's ok. In fact, it's something to rejoice over. Not unlike fell running with a rucksack full of rocks for training: there comes that moment when you've done all the slog you can or will, and you shrug the rucksack off. You feel as though you can run like the wind! Or is it the Wind..?

26 July, 2005 at 10:08 am 12 comments

Praying for our enemies

Quite a challenge in the wake of the London bombings, isn't it? Yet Jesus gives a command that is a deliberate rejection of the cycle of violence, hatred and revenge. He says that we are to love our enemies, too. Praying for them as people we love (rather than as those we hate and fear) is immensely challenging. So, as soon as the news broke, we set up a vigil cangle – a huge candle with 6 tealights set into it. We prayed for the victims and their families, the rescuers and medics, the government, the G8 summit and for a world in which poverty is history and justice and peace render terrorism and violence redundant. We also prayed this prayer: "We light a candle for the bombers. Restore their humanity. Keep them from further evil. Have mercy on their souls."

9 July, 2005 at 11:36 pm 1 comment

Time to move …

... to my own hosted site on See you there.

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