"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side."
A vision that should influence and inspire not only our politics but our personal lives, families, churches and neighbourhoods, and our vocational and financial choices.
“It is these individual and communal choices,” writes Wallis, “which will ultimately create the cultural shifts and social movements that really change politics in the long run.”
A large part of my PhD research explores how Evangelical understandings of salvation within capitalist contexts, migrated into current privatised Christians practices. These instrumentalised versions of Christian faith are now almost completely separate from any understanding of, and participation in Church.
"It was an intolerable truncation of the Christian message when the older Protestantism steered the whole doctrine of the atonement-and with it, ultimately, the whole of theology-into the cul de sac of the question of the individual experience of grace, which is always an anxious one when taken in isolation, the question of individual conversion by it and to it, and of its presuppositions and consequences. The almost inevitable result was that the great concepts of justification and sanctification came more and more to be understood and filled out psychologically and biographically, and the doctrine of the Church seemed to be of value only as a description of the means of salvation and grace indispensable to this individual and personal process of salvation….Our theme is the reconciliation of the world with God in Jesus Christ, and only in this greater context the reconciliation of the individual man. This is what was completely overlooked in that truncation. And if it is to be brought to light again, the prior place which the Christian individual has for so long- we might almost say unashamedly-claimed for himself in the dogmatics of the Christian community must be vacated again. We must not cease to stress the individual. We must not throw doubt on the importance of his problem. But!
Only in the proper place. The “pillar and ground of truth” ( 1 Tim. 315), the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city set on a hill, is the community of God and not the individual Christian as such, although the latter has within it his assured place, his indispensable function, and his unshakable personal promise. It is not he but the ecclesia una sancta catholica et apostolica [note] that stands (in close connexion with the Holy Spirit) in the third article of the Creed. It is the Church which with its perception and experience of the grace of God stands vicariously for the rest of the world which has not yet partaken of the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is the Church which in this particularity is ordained to the ministry of reconciliation and the witness of the grace of God in relation to the rest of the world. “
Dogmatics IV.I, Bromiley trans., section 58.4
Given I have two dogs, both rescued, I’ve long been interested in the intersection of faith and animal welfare. I suspect that for most western Christians animal welfare comes after the environment.
By that I think most Christians would consider the environment important but pay it no attention day to day in their actions, overwhelmed by the pressure of life in the 21st century. Similarly with animals such that beyond a general concern, any attention to animal welfare comes way down the list of focused interactions for Christians.
The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics is one of the few places, focused on these kinds of issue. This new project by them looks interesting for those with an interest in faith and animal welfare.
"Inspired by Baptist Preacher Charles Surgeon’s claim that a person cannot be a true Christian if his dog or cat is not the better off for it, the Centre will explore whether religious traditions are animal-friendly. The questions to be addressed include whether religious people and religious institutions benefit animals? Are they more or less likely to be respectful to animals – either those kept as companions or those used for other human purposes?
The project is being organised by the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. It will be multidisciplinary, multifaith, and draw in not only theologians and religious thinkers, but also other academics including social scientists, psychologists, historians, and criminologists. “We want to know whether religion makes any difference for animals”, says Oxford theologian, Professor Andrew Linzey, who is Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. “We often hear of how religion is detrimental to human rights, but is it also detrimental to animal protection?”
I’ve written an extended review of Jamie Smith’s, Imagining the Kingdom for the Church and Pomo blog at the Other Journal.
Nothing original in a flash-mob wedding. My friends Matt & Di Hyam did something similar with their church for a wedding that made the national news back in July 2011 (Picture of Matt taking the wedding at Netley Abbey near Southampton, Hampshire is the image above).
Now my issue isn’t with the flash-mob wedding events, but with the interpretation Vicky makes of them.
Her argument seems to run something like this:
We like in a post-Christian country where people are not interested in Church but are interested in spirituality (queue example of Stonehenge summer soltice flash-mob, and wedding flash-mob). The problem for the church in terms of relevancy is diagnosed as one of style, such that ‘flash-mobs’ reveal how church worship needs to change for these people. Where as Church is about sitting in rows, whilst one person dictates what happens, what people want is to break free and participate. The direct claim being made is that if we did this more, church would have more people involved in it.
Now I have many problems with this kind of analysis and it’s not unique to Vicky. Others have been making it for some time about church and worship. So in no particular order some of the reasons I think Vicky is right to see something happening and ask what it is, but is possibly wrong about what is really happening.(Digging around I found a recent blog post by Vicky that shows some of her wider understanding of worship in relation to these issues).
1. What is ‘this’: Other than the flash mob, Vicky gives us no examples of participatory worship. I’m left thinking is this what we now do, flash-mobs for weddings and services?
2. Moment vs Movements: The One campaign that saw people all around the world buying tickets to music events to end poverty, with social media moving people to events, for moments of experience. But as a BBC correspondent asked at a One campaign event, will this moment of experience become a movement?
I suspect the Stonehenge flash mob have had their fill of Stonehenge, and won’t be back there again. What was the flash-mob experience other than a novelty, which if repeated more than once becomes mundane. I suspect more flash-mobs at weddings won’t register on the media radar (wedding flash-mobs are so yesterday).
And and do those people at the Stonehenge flash-mob commit to care for the place, know about it, tell others about, return, given money to support it? I suspect they have moved on to the thrill of the next flash mob.
3. What was really worshipped: Did people really think, wow I never knew church could be like this? I doubt it. It was more likely that the nature of the event took over the wedding. The only thing people remember was how cool it was to crash the wedding and to get on Youtube. It might as well have been any other event, nothing special about the wedding, other than it was a place you don’t expect things like that to happen. See other flash-mobs on the Youtube, that take place in a shopping mall, library, etc. It’s not about participating in the wedding at all, but about the people interrupting the space they go to with their flash-mob. In that sense the flash-mob is the new liturgy, something people like to do in a certain way in certain places to express something other than what is happening in the place they have gone to. (Russell in the comments below highlights an article by Jamie Smith about flash mobs, and liturgy that is worth a read)
4. Participation: And the idea that church should be radically participatory because it isn’t compared to how most people live, isn’t the case at all. People stare a TVs all the time listening to others control what they hear and see. They sit at concerts in rows, watch sports they cannot play. Then look at weddings themselves. Non Christians trained from birth to imagine their weddings days, then copy each other like lemmings, with the same traditional format, the dress, the cars, the reception, the cake, the holiday in the maldives. I suspect the average mother in law, on seeing a flash-mob at their daughters wedding wouldn’t be thinking, how wonderful and participatory the worship was.
5. The Mundane: Most people’s life are about regularity. Doing the same things in the same way they like to do them. Shopping, cafes, holidays, leisure. They are not about radical participation by others. Put a flash-mob in the middle of a marathon, and see how welcomed they are by those trying to run their best time for the event. The real reason people don’t want much to do with church, is that they would rather be doing other things. No amount of flash-mobs will get them to engage with church more. What it does it get them to engage in flash-mobs more!
6. The new seeker sensitive: So if we have moved from a form of church that gives people what they want, to entice them in, is what Vicky suggests, just the continuation of the seeker movement. This is what people like want now, so let’s adapt our style for them, again.
And as I write all these I am not arguing for church to be irrelevant, boring and exclusionary! Far from it. But hunch is that articles like Vicky’s perpetuate a myth. A myth that ‘if only church was like this’ then people would take part, and worse than that, it becomes part of a self justification for those who don’t want to engage in church, and never will anyway.
And I’m not against flash-mobs, I just think they need to be seen for what they really are.
Lastly, I think this question about worship style puts the cart before the horse so to speak. By that I think, if we ask how our worship can be more relevant to the ways people outside it like to worship their ways of life then we’ve missed the point.
Worship is about God first and foremost. How do people in our culture today put God first with their lives and worship? Everything else takes shape around that, not the other way.
I’ve been compiling some of the resources and responses to the issue of Gay Marriage. I’ve listed the most provoking and thoughtful that I’ve come across so far, below.
Any others that you could direct me to?
Andy Crouch, “Sex Without Bodies”, Christianity Today, Accessed June 26, 2013
Chambers, Alan. “A Changing World – Letter from Alan Chambers, May 2013.” ExodusInternational.org, May 21, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.
Do, Anh, Kate Mather, and Joe Mozingo. “Shifting tide was ministry’s doom.” Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2013.
Wehner, Peter. “An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality.” Patheos.com, June 11, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.
DeYoung, Kevin. “Common Fault Lines in Maintaining an Evangelical Approach to Homosexuality.” TheGospelCoalition.org, June 14, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.
Wehner, Peter. “Jesus, Homosexuals, and the Grace of God: A Response to Kevin DeYoung.” Patheos.com, June 20, 2013. Accessed June 23, 2013.
Curtis White is an atheist who fears that the scientism of new-Atheism if left unchallenged, will become a new and dangerous religion.
Of course when a Christian brings up similar issues about the new-Atheism they are often dismissed out of hand. How ever it’s harder to dismiss a critique from one of their own.
Curtis White’s writing is good not because it proves God in any way, but because it reveals the religious fundamentalism and intellectual dishonesty of Ditchens et al.
This article by Andrew Goddard, is the best Christian reflection on the debate over homosexual marriage that I have read todate.
Andrew is also writing a book on sexual ethics, the outline of which I have seen. It’s due out next year, aimed at thoughtful church leaders and members. It will be a vital book for anyone wanting to explore rather than react to the developments in sexual ethics. I will have all my doctoral students read it.
My friend Daniel Donohue summarises the writing of Jamie Smith so well;
"We are what we worship because what we worship we love. And what we love we become. "
Now Barclays Bank know this, so now we can put photos of our holidays and the people we love on our credit cards.
Now imagine if Christians would choose to put photos of their favourite moments and people from christian life mission on their cards? What might happen to our spending habits? ;-)
I left this message on his guest book just now:
"Your sci-fi formed the backdrop to my adult life, from 1987 when I was 18 through to today. So many memories of my life, as I look back on them, are infused and enmeshed with images from the vast and stunning landscapes of your stories.
I stumbled upon this paper by Joel Green. It reviews how the Gospel of Luke talks about conversion, and brings that into contact with cognitive science.
It establishes how conversion is not an intellectual exercise, but an embodied experience, of how journey and movement are better metaphors than the word conversion, that conversion is act and process, and is always relational towards communities.
It’s US based for research, and US small isn’t UK small, but some interesting ideas here.
Interesting series by the Incarnate Network, where each week for five weeks, they ask a pioneering/mission question to a Baptist, inviting their reflections and insights to inform and stimulate a conversation in the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
First up is Stuart Murray-Williams, responding to the question, ‘What 10 things can our Baptist Associations do to enable strategic pioneering and church planting?’
This summer term/semester, I have set the students I lead in the Leadership and Global Perspectives D.Min, some reading on Visual Ethnography (VE). The students will be making a summary for me of their learning over the past year using VE.
Alongside that, as a change of pace in their summer term/semester, I’ve also had the students read The Back of the Napkin, by Dan Roam. The students have been tasked with applying the ideas of this superb book to a problem they currently face, with their own napkin scribbles.
You can see their scribbles here.
The idea is to engage their visual faculties as they reflect on situations they personally face. It is also a warm up to a more personal engagement with VE later this term/semester.
Broad daylight, suburban London, across the road from a primary school, a young man is hacked to death and into pieces, whilst his murderers encourage others to take photos and film them.
"The apparently random target is not random, buts its appearance as random causes public anxiety and fear and change in behavior, which is exactly what the terrorist wants to accomplish. Terrorism is also a public act. The act must be such that the greater society will see it and react to the attack. The terrorist will choose targets that have symbolic value and/or economic value (WTC for example) or targets that have public value (buses, restaurants, etc.) in order to get public attention and public behavior change."
"Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I find myself as I live in London, sickened, angered, and in shock. At the same time I hope and pray communities in London, people of all faiths and none, can come together, to work together, instead of reacting in anger.
May real people of real faith lead the way.