Newsletter 33 (Spring '02)
The Death of Christian Britain
A review by Sarah Williams
Callum Brown argues that Britain's core religious culture has been destroyed. Its destruction follows an abrupt and catastrophic cultural revolution which began in the 1960's.
Here is a radical and highly readable account of the fortunes of Christianity in modern Britain. It is radical on two related counts. First, the picture Brown paints differs markedly from the generally held view that secularisation has been a long slow process beginning with the industrial revolution. Secondly, the methods by which he arrives at this conclusion departs from those of most historians of religion. Rather than employing the methods of social science and counting churchgoers, Brown replaces this methodology with new techniques of postmodern and gender analysis.
As Christians seeking to engage in mission in and to our contemporary culture it is vital that we appraise Brown’s argument on both these counts.
Since 1800, Brown argues, inquiry into religion in Britain has been obsessed with social class. This is as evident in Hugh McLeod’s broad generalisation that the most important differentiating factor in different levels of churchgoing is social class (1996)1 as in Horace Mann's references to working-class ‘unconscious secularists’ when writing up the Religious Census in 1851. Both writers, Brown argues, understand Victorian religion in terms divisions between classes and between city and countryside, which are themselves drawn from an evangelical-enlightenment discourse limited by the secularisation model.
Toppling social science
It is Brown’s ambitious endeavour to topple the social scientific method from its pre-eminent position and replace a functional definition of religion with what he calls ‘discursive Christianity’. He wants to measure religiosity by the ways in which people draw upon Christian language, morality and narrative structures to understand who they are. Rooted in this are religious habits or 'protocols of personal identity': rituals or customs of behaviour, economic activity, dress, speech and so on, which are collectively promoted as necessary for Christian identity. These can be discerned in the life stories people tell in reported speech, oral testimony, or autobiography. Individual and communal participation in public discourse, Brown argues, creates here a compelling religious culture, which shapes the construction of religiosity in society at large. What made Britain Christian from 1800 to the 1960s, according to Brown, was the way in which a Christian discourse infused public culture and shaped peoples' understanding of who they were. It is this which Brown argues Britain lost in 1963 and he is very specific about this date between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP. ‘ For a thousand years Christianity penetrated deeply into the lives of the people, enduring Reformation, Enlightenment and industrial revolution by adapting to each new social and cultural context that arose. Then, really quite suddenly in 1963, something very profound ruptured the character of the nation and its people sending organised Christianity on a downward spiral to the margins of social significance.’2! This profound rupture, Brown claims, was essentially women’s rejection of the Christian discourse as the central tenet in their cultural and social identity. From this, he suggests, all else followed.
Listening to religious people
But whether or not one agrees with Brown's conclusions, it is imperative that this highly stimulating book is read widely. I believe it shows beyond doubt that traditional ways of interpreting Victorian religiosity are in their death throes. The central question for historians of religion is rapidly becoming: how can we develop a different approach which can facilitate our understanding of the many and various ways in which people historically formed a cultural and religious understanding of who they were? Although Brown’s approach is problematic in many ways, I do think it is helpful in two key respects: First it takes the language of those actually engaged in varieties of religious activity, and places this at the centre as a means of understanding how belief is formed. Secondly, it treats this account as indispensable to an authentic description of belief rather than as some kind of superstructure reflecting other social 'realities'. However, Brown does tend to abstract his account from the local context: 1800 to 1970 and the whole of Britain are hardly bite sized chunks! One is left with a highly generalised picture in which the subtleties of immediate social milieu are neglected.
Equally, Brown defines 'discursive Christianity', without enough justification, in terms of a particular 'ideal type' of evangelicalism (or Puritanism as he calls it). This discourse is monolithic apart from the differences involved in it for men as opposed to women; there is little room for other emphases such as Catholic ones. What Brown is really doing, albeit in a very interesting way, is assessing how and to what extent a particular church-based discourse was absorbed by the culture at large. Much of Brown’s work actually reads as an account of the rise and fall of Evangelicalism not as a doctrine of the church as an institution but as a system of ideas, mores and customs reflected in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. As he puts it: ‘People’s lives in the 1950s were very acutely affected by genuflection to religious symbols, authority and activities. Christianity intruded in very personal ways into the manner of people’s comportment through out their lives’3.
Although it is vital for us to understand the pervasive and long-lasting influence of Evangelical Christianity within our culture, there is a sense in which Brown is in danger of simply replacing one meta-narrative based on themes of modernisation and class with one based on the imposition of a powerful official discourse on the society as a whole. 'Social class' has then merely been replaced by 'discursive power' as the key to religiosity. What is missed in this approach is the diversity and complexity of popular definitions of religiosity. Simply to assess the degree to which an evangelical minority succeeded in asserting their cultural dominance is to misrepresent the way in which individuals understood their religious value system and to oversimplify the interaction between types of religious language. People were not the passive receivers of external agencies, which shaped and manipulated their understanding of the world. They participated actively in shaping their own culture in matters of religion as they did in matters of (as other historians have shown) leisure, economics, and popular politics.
Callum Brown’s book raises all sorts of questions for the Christian community. Not least it confronts us in a stark manner with the rapidity and radicalism of recent secularisation. For Christian historians, it also re-emphasises the fact that something of a fundamental interpretative shift is currently taking place in academia, away from analytical categories based on traditional structural models of social class towards an appreciation of culture as a theoretical starting point for understanding religious ideas and beliefs. Callum Brown’s book is a contribution to this process of rethinking - from an overtly non-Christian perspective. It is clear throughout the book that in many ways Brown welcomes and celebrates the Death of Christian Britain. Can we as Christians shape this debate instead of merely responding to it?
1 H.McLeod, Religion and Society (1996), p.60
2 C.Brown, The Death of Christian Britain, p.1.
3 C.Brown, ibid, p.7
Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain is published by Routledge, 2001, pp. Xi + 259, £12.99.
The need for heroes
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11th have left us with much to think about. I have been particularly struck by the courage of many of those involved in the aftermath of the attacks. I watched the fundraising telethon called "America: a tribute to Heroes" which was broadcast on 21st September and I was very moved by much of what I saw. We do need heroes, and we need to recognise courage and heroism when we see it for what it is.
Mike Kehoe is a fireman with the F.D.N.Y. On September 11th he was photographed running up the stairs in Tower One while everyone else was trying to get out. It happened around the 20th floor, when Tower One was on fire, and the picture seemed to epitomise the heroism of many of New York’s firemen on that day. We can all learn from their example of courage and self sacrifice and service to others and to their community.
I have been particularly struck by the example of leadership set by Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York City in these most testing of circumstances. Time magazine made him Person of the Year at the end of 2001. I don’t think many people will argue with that, certainly in the U.S. Giuliani has shown us the true meaning of courage, leadership and heroism. He stood firm. He cared for his people. He set the example from the front. He went without sleep. He did not shrink from the pain. He wept. He said, "the number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear." But he was a rock for the people of the city, determined to be there for his people and to make it through the time of testing.
All of this has been like an electric shock to a world whose heroes are pop stars and football players. There is a need for all of us to see examples of courage and heroism which give us something to aspire to. And perhaps the greatest courage is moral courage, the courage to oppose what is wrong and evil, and to speak out and work for what is true and right and just. I have been truly inspired by some of the leaders that I have known in South Africa during the years of apartheid. Their courage was primarily moral courage, and in many it was sustained by prayer and the example of Jesus Christ. The courage to live prophetically and to work unceasingly for righteousness and truth in the name of Jesus is at the heart of what is required to recover the integrity and credibility of Christian witness in our time.
More on heroes:resources from ACCESS U.K.
Moral courage and perseverance, shown at high price, is an act of witness - as the term' martyr' reminds us. It is arguably closer to the core of Christian spirituality than much that is identified as an expressive of 'spirituality' today. Three current ACCESS items explore such costly witness. 'Remembering the rescuers' (ACCESS No.258) considers the motivation of those who risked their lives rescuing Jews from the Nazis. Prominent among contemporary martyrs are whistleblowers; 'Towards a theology of whistleblowing' (ACCESS No.271) offers criteria helpful when formulating such a theology; 'A cry in the nuclear wilderness' (ACCESS Nop.253) tells the story of one Christian employee in the nuclear power industry who blew the whistle on the consistent violation of safety standards. Finally, in 'Reaching for the Stars' (ACCESS No.255) Graham Cray offers rich reflections on the contrast between heroes of moral substance and the celebrities who dominate the imagination of many people today - and considers why the latter are in the ascendancy.
European culture has become a debate between three forces: Christianity, scientific rationalism and neo-pagan vitalism. For a long time it had seemed that scientific rationalism would take the lead. But recently the picture has changed. The atomic threat, the terrible pollution, the lack of meaningful perspectives which the technocratic civilisation has brought, have led to the growth of a new irrationalism…. The lay-preachers of paganism in the period between the two world-wars… are more widely read than ever before.
W. Visser 't Hooft (quoted by Newbigin in ACCESS No.265)
Man Let Loose: Christianity and Cultural Conservatism
The past four centuries have been an exciting time in the West, and consequently for everybody else as well. Explorers, conquerors, slavers, missionaries, scientists, political thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators in every one of those categories, have transformed the world – often contrary to their own intentions. Those, for instance, who looked for the "Christianisation of the world in a generation" have seen it thrive everywhere but in Europe. Economic growth has been extraordinary during the period, and increasing affluence has transformed material consumption except among the poorest. The ethical outcome of this phenomenon has been the liberation of human desire – made the more disturbing as we have begun to consume one another. And this new hedonism, the untrammelled exercise of personal choice, has subverted the conservative cultural values of deference to privilege, pride in tradition and acquiescence in traditional patterns of religion.
It is customary to blame Margaret Thatcher for all this, but the Blair-Brown regime in Britain indicates that her revolution has some degree of permanence. And in any case, this is clearly a global trend, as the populations of the great poor countries – China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan – begin to learn the tricks of capitalism, and assert themselves on the world economic stage. They are helped, but no more than that, by the forces of international capital; this process is predominantly driven by the poor.
Can cultural conservatism survive such hurtling progress, and what are its implications for religion? Two thinkers may help us explore these questions – Roger Scruton and John Gray. They expound conservative cultural attitudes to differing degrees. They have in common an antipathy to liberal individualism, and its perceived rejection of established moral discourse in favour of individual choice. Both scrutinise closely the dominance of the market. They examine the struggles of cultural forms, including religious ones, to assert a countervailing force of meaning and continuity.
Scruton is perhaps the most noted current expositor of conservative social philosophy. He is the champion of an attachment to shared values, not always capable of clear articulation, in the face of Utopian theory which, be it ever so clever, fails to address the complexity of human affairs. His vision of society is one in of spontaneous association governed by laws, which permit and encourage the sharing of values and the formation of such voluntary association. He deploys this case most famously in The Meaning of Conservatism (1980)1 revised in 2001.
Scruton resists the ascendancy of market economics, and insists that cultural conservatism, properly regarded, means something like the opposite of market consumerism. He makes a useful distinction between property and consumption; the first embodies a sense of social relations, while the second simply denotes acts of individual gratification. The establishment of property relations entails that "people must see the world in different terms, terms of rights, responsibility and freedom . Man remakes the world as an image of his true, his social self. He is now at home, where before he was merely let loose."
Further, property creates its own social stability where it finds its most effective location - the household, the family. Scruton quite unashamedly proclaims the bourgeois family as the purpose of social order, to which the market is simply one means. Religion, of course, acts as a buttress to the bourgeois family. "It is the possession of that belief which enables people to direct their most powerful dissatisfactions away from the ruinous hope of changing things, to a more peaceable hope of being one day redeemed from the need to do so." The social bond underlying such a belief is not contractual but transcendent. "It is a small step from a belief in a transcendent bond to belief in the transcendent Being which upholds it."
Scruton’s rhetoric chimes powerfully with the intuitions of many people of all faiths, who are repelled by the dissolution of meaning entailed by liberal individualism. Such revulsion is coming to be of more public significance for faith communities than the differences between their exclusive truth claims.
John Gray, now professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, once a champion of the morality of the marketplace, now criticises the market triumphalism that has accompanied the demise of socialism, most notably in Enlightenment’s Wake (1995)2. He does not care for Scruton, whom he calls a "cultural fundamentalist". Indeed he attacks the Enlightenment as, in some regards, a kind of fundamentalism. Though not a conventional believer, he questions "the shallow optimistic creeds of our age, humanist or Pelagian, for which human ills are problems to be solved rather than…to be coped with or endured. …The result is a world view according to which only stupidity and ill will stand between us and universal happiness". He insists that the Enlightenment project cherishes the illusion of "instituting a political providence in human affairs whereby tragedy and mystery would be banished from them."
Gray is no kinder to the Church, however. He argues that Enlightenment fundamentalism has its root in Christianity. Our faith, in its classic Thomist form, insisted on the universality of its world view; revealed truth is naturally conclusive for believers, while the rational moral unbeliever must accept reasoned argument for that world view - or else. The similar universal claims of political liberalism, science and market capitalism are the interacting features of the Enlightenment, acknowledging in varying degrees their debt to Christianity.
But any such universal narrative must prepare itself for the same experience of humiliation that Christendom has suffered. Gray anticipates that "non-Occidental" traditions, picking and choosing between the politics, science and market techniques of the West, can recreate their own coherent and satisfying cultures. Such cultures may or may not include religion – and with the apparent resurgence of religion everywhere but in Europe, the former certainly seems a possibility. It remains to be seen whether this vastly diverse pattern of cultures, each embracing often incommensurable values, will survive the departure of the liberal referee. Non-liberal responses to incommensurability often tend to the genocidal. But Gray’s often compelling vision anticipates the multiplication of an essentially conservative diversity, frequently religious, and frequently sharing cultural fundamentalism of the sort that he deplores in Scruton.
It is probable that many participants in the recent Conservative Party leadership contest wanted a Scrutonian future, but none of the candidates would oblige. So hopes for the revival of a coherent political vision of cultural conservatism seem, ironically, Utopian. Nonetheless, both these writers, in totally different ways, insist that contemporary world liberalism is unsustainable, and give heart to Christians who look for a more creative renewal of the tradition.
1. Roger Scruton. The Meaning of Conservatism, Palgrave 2001.
2. John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake, Routledge 1995.
When words change their meaning, they tell a story:…
Following the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York the newspapers in Britain wanted to condemn fanatical Muslims, while avoiding any association with 'Islamophobia'. Here was an opportunity for those wishing to condemn religion in general. Thus Richard Dawkins, writing in the Guardian, linked religion and nihilistic violence: 'revealed faith is not harmless nonsense. Let's now stop being so damned respectful'. Matthew Parris, in the Spectator, concluded 'Godlessness is a humanising force'. Polly Toynbee, back in the Guardian, attacked all the major religions, which are 'much the same', for their hatred of women - 'a perverted abhorrence… at the maggotty heart of religion'; in another article she called for a moratorium on new 'faith schools'.
These attacks are discussed by Theo Hobson in Third Way magazine (December 2001, p.10-11). How should the Church respond? The continuing religious rhetoric of Al Qaida terrorists suggests that there will be a continuing need for a good response. What should this be? Hobson argues that each religion, including Christianity and Islam, and every 'non-religion', should present a reasoned account of how it rejects violence in principle and in practice. Will anyone be listening? It is vital that we reflect upon how the events of September 11th have changed the task of Christian apologetics in our culture.
Christian author, actor and playwright Nigel Forde is helping reading groups to make the most of their time together.
Reading groups have grown in popularity in recent years. Typically a group of friends will agree to read a particular book and then meet to talk about it. Members of the group may take it in turns to suggest a book and then lead discussion on it.
Reading groups sometimes have church associations. For example, mothers who have got to know each other at a mother and toddler group may find, when their children reach school age, that forming a reading group provides a good way for friendships to go on growing. These groups provide plenty of space for social conversations and mutual support. They may also be open and hospitable, drawing in friends and acquaintances outside church circles.
While there are plenty of books in the shops, not so many are good to read and discuss. This is where Nigel Forde offers help, for those using the internet. At gospel-culture.org.uk/reading_groups.htm he offers a growing list of books worth reading. Each is accompanied by a brief description and some questions which a reading group, if it so wishes, might discuss. Nigel Forde also offers some guidance to those interested in starting a reading group.
Nigel Forde's web-page is hosted by the network. Are reading groups relevant to our mission? I believe so. Mission involves paying thoughtful attention to our culture in the light of faith, and it involves creating opportunities for Christians to do this together and to draw others into their fellowship. Reading groups offer one way of doing this.
Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, David Lyon,Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000, 188pp, £14.99
David Lyon is already well-known both as a Christian and as a sociologist. In Jesus in Disneyland, he continues his on-going enquiry into the place of religion in the modern world. More specifically, he brings together the insights of two previous books – The Steeple’s Shadow (1987) and Postmodernity (1994) – in order to understand better the nature of religion at the start of the twenty-first century.
‘Jesus in Disneyland’ becomes a metaphor for this process. In many respects, the Disney corporation epitomises late or postmodern society, a form of living characterised by the existence of highly advanced technology (notably information technology) alongside a developed consumer ethic (we are known more by what we buy than by what we do or who we are). This is the context with which religion must contend at the turn of the millennium, and the more we know the context, the better we will understand the pressures on modern forms of religion and more especially on modern Christianity.
The Disney metaphor is two-edged. Lyon is well aware that some religious believers will find the notion of Jesus in Disneyland distasteful; such a connection will trivialise religion just as it trivialises so much else. Others will warm to the idea, appreciating that Christian engagement should begin where the people are, and if they are in Disneyland (or its many cognates), then so be it.
Lyon has gained a reputation as one of the most perceptive and well-informed writers in the field, not to mention one of the most accessible. Such characteristics are equally displayed in this book – the references (both academic and popular) are wide-ranging, the illustrations suggestive and the content provocative. Having said this, Jesus in Disneyland, though beautifully written, is by no means an easy read; it is not a book to be flicked through. The text requires considerable concentration if its themes are insights are to be properly digested.
The effort will be well worthwhile, not least to appreciate Lyon’s radical critique of the secularisation thesis. Institutional religion, particularly in its Western forms, may well be in trouble, but new forms of spirituality are emerging to take its place. For the most part Lyon concentrates on the manifestations of growth that are taking place in North America. Indeed if I have any criticisms to make of the book, they lie in Lyon’s implicit, if not explicit, assumption that both modernity and post-modernity are single rather than multiple entities. In my view the trajectories of religion in the modern world will be many and varied. Neither the moderately secular European model, nor the more market-based version of religion found in the United States forms the global prototype: they are simply two examples in a almost infinite range of possibilities. Lyon hints at this diversity but does not develop the theme – the starting point perhaps of his next (keenly anticipated) publication.
Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates, Grace Davie, Oxford University Press, 194pp, hb. £35.00.
Yesterday I drove down the east coast of Florida. On every corner stands a smart church with a parking lot for hundreds of cars. Last April I forced my way into a packed Russian church lovingly restored by its impoverished parishioners. Next Sunday I will stand to praise the God, in whom the American trust and before whom the Russians bow, with a handful of elderly people in my London parish. What is happening to religion in Europe?
Grace Davie is already well respected for her work on the sociology of religion in Britain and her challenge to the Christian Churches to take seriously their missionary context. In Religion in Modern Europe she offers us a contemporary survey of a continent which is beginning to forget that it once was Christian. The organising principle of the book is Danièle Hervieu-Léger’s concept of ‘authorised memory’ and the evocative power of shared memory in community life. The data on which Davie’s conclusions are based are drawn from a wide range of sources including the European Values Study (1981 and 1990).
"Europe believes but it does not belong", is Davie's summary conclusion but there are important issues behind this bold statement which the serious missiologist will do well to reflect upon. Probably the most significant contribution of this current work is its analysis of the ‘carriers of religious memory’ in European society. Attention is focussed on the occasional offices, religious education, the media (mainly as a carrier of ‘religious amnesia’), the law, church-state relations and the growing significance of place and pilgrimage.
I have three concerns about Davie's work. Firstly, Europe is not religiously monochrome, as Davie acknowledges, drawing out the important differences between, for example, France and Britain, or the Orthodox East and the Lutheran North. The text however gives too little attention to the complex situation of Eastern Europe as it transitions from Secular Materialism to Consumerism. Secondly the analysis is heavily weighted towards middle-class Europe with no consideration of the powerful religious themes and influences within soap opera, popular music and phenomena such as the ‘X-files’. Finally Davie focuses more on ‘belonging’ (or the lack thereof) than on ‘believing’, religion rather than faith. In a book about religion in modern Europe, Davie herself acknowledges this bias saying, "The historical existence of popular forms of religion in Europe is an enormous subject which can only be touched on briefly."
Davie's contrast between static and mobile models of religious belonging help us to explore the significance of religious pilgrimage today. Such pilgrimage is both physical and metaphorical as citizens of Europe are faced with an ever increasing number of ‘religious outlets’ – including non-Christian faiths. These, Davie suggests in her concluding chapter, "simply stimulate the market – the take up of religion is likely to increase rather than decrease." To which the missiologist may want to respond, "But what of faith?"
As the Father has sent me, I am sending you: J. E. Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology.Michael W. Goheen, Boekencentrum, 2001, 482pp, pb. £14.99 from Christian Studies Unit, 76, Waterside Way, Westfield, Radstock, Bath BA3 3YQ.
This is a doctoral thesis of almost 500 pages presented in Utrecht, Holland. But don’t let that put you off. It is splendid academic missiology but it is also meant for missionaries and mission. This thesis must be allowed to escape from the library so that it can function where the action is.
Goheen examines the missionary ecclesiology of Newbigin that underlies his mission to Western culture writings. Beginning with The other side of 1984, a stream of books, pamphlets and lectures continued to focus the issue for the whole of the Western and the Westernised church. Second. Newbigin’s various positions in India and the ecumenical movement are all shown as contributing to his later missionary ecclesiology which developed after his return to England in retirement. Thirdly, a survey of Newbigin’s whole life and work shows a constant involvement in ecclesiastical matters in general. "It is precisely the missionary ecclesiology developed by Newbigin that has been foundational for and formative of both his work within the ecumenical movement and his call for a missionary encounter with Western culture".
The method of research is both historical and systematic governed by the fact that, like St. Paul, Newbigin thought and wrote on the hoof. He was pastor, preacher and evangelist who did all his thinking in the context of his work. This gives the pattern of Goheen’s thesis: First the historical and then the systematic. It also explains the title As the Father has sent me, I am sending you taken from John 20:21. Newbigin’s whole life and thought was mission in the service of the missionary God.
Newbigin’s early ecclesiology was nourished by, and belonged to, Christendom but in the 1950s this began to change. The first reason for the change was his own experience in India as a missionary, the second was a changing ecclesiology in the ecumenical movement. The Christendom ecclesiology became first, Christocentric then Christocentric-Trinitarian (see The Relevance of Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission 1963).
In the final systematic section the Church is shown to have three primary relationships: to God, to its mission, and to its environment. The Church serves the missionary God and Newbigin gives his understanding of the missio Dei. The Church receives its missionary nature because of this missio Dei. Finally, the Church’s mission is partly determined by its environment. It lives within and addresses a particular context. It is never abstracted.
Goheen the scholar has done more than earn a doctorate; he has made a magnificent contribution to the missionary work of the Church in an age which unknowingly thirsts for the Gospel.
Technology as Magic. The Triumph of the Irrational,Richard Stivers, Continuum, 1999, 240pp, US$24.95.
Sociological analyses of Western culture acknowledge that technology has an immense impact on the way we live our lives. Richard Stivers delves deeper than most, examining the interplay of information and communication technologies with our grasp of meaning and our use of symbol, myth and ritual. He argues that technological utopianism now holds sway, ensnaring us in a pursuit of success, health and happiness, by means that are products of a technological mind-set.
Stivers defines magic as 'a set of words and practices that are believed to influence or effect a desired outcome'. The sacred power that is invoked relates to the milieu, 'an environment, at once both material and symbolic, in which humans face their most formidable problems and from which they derive the means of survival and the meaning of life'. Following Jacques Ellul, Stivers describes three milieus in which the dominant power is respectively nature, society and technology. Where nature is the overwhelming power, technology is so weak that humans regard themselves as participants in nature, in no way superior. In the milieu of society, technology allows humans both to distance themselves from nature and to master it. Concepts of good and evil emerge with the perception that humans are free to make moral decisions and are accountable. In the technological milieu, technology is 'that which is the means of life and the greatest threat to life, that which is most immediate to us, and that which mediates all our relationships'.
The major myth pervading the technological milieu is that of technological utopianism pursued through imitation technologies that function as magical practices. Stivers analyses mass media, therapy and management in three detailed and devastating chapters, having first prepared the ground with chapters on 'Dramatised information: the basis of psychological magic' and 'Statistical information: the basis of administrative magic'.
Stivers' concluding chapter contains warnings that cry out for a 'Gospel' response, e.g. 'technological utopianism contradicts the tragic view of life in substituting happiness as the permanent condition of human society. Inadvertently it makes compassion and love superfluous'; 'the mass media define meaning as consumption. This banal meaning is insufficient for the individual, let alone as a basis for a moral community; furthermore, it provides no basis for hope'. The foundations of resistance to the magnetic pull of the technological system need urgent attention.
Six Modern Myths (challenging Christian faith),Philip J. Sampson, IVP, 2001, 192pp., pb £8.99.
Which six would you choose? Perhaps it’s a game you can play at parties. Sampson chooses the conventional contemporary accounts of: the controversies between Galileo, Darwin and the church; Christianity’s supposed justification of the exploitation of the environment for human ends; missionary collusion in colonial oppression; theological collusion in sexual repression; and the church’s persecution of witches.
Sampson argues that, in the first two cases, modern narratives have drastically simplified complex historical debates as part of a project to create a meta-narrative of continuing warfare between science and religion. To achieve this, both Galileo, Darwin and their opponents have had to be miscast and misinterpreted so that the debate between them can be defined as between obscurantist religion and Enlightening science.
With regard to both sexual repression and exploitation of the environment, Sampson argues that it is not Christianity, but Greek philosophy, which is the root cause of the problem. Thus: "The doctrine that ‘nature made animals for man to do with as he wishes’ is Greek not biblical, and was more prominent in the language of the Enlightenment than in that of the Reformation..."; and: "Paul…was establishing centres of new humanity, restored in Christ…this included a radical rejection of the Greek and Roman understandings of the body and of gender…"
I found particular pleasure in Sampson’s defence of the brave, self-sacrificial work of Christian missionaries, often in opposition to other westerners who sought to exploit native peoples economically and in other, even less savoury, ways. It is good to reflect that Christians, especially through the Jubilee 2000 campaign, still remain in the forefront of that opposition. The chapter on witchcraft, oddly enough, had perhaps the greatest sense of contemporary import, as Sampson recounts feminist witchraft scholar Diane Purkiss’ expert destruction of the quite recent and still decidedly current feminist account of the witch as the Wise Woman, healer and mystic of the village, who was persecuted because her skills were a threat to the male doctor and the priest.
I suspect that non-Christian readers of the book, if such there be, will detect an air of special pleading here and there. And while the chapters on sex and the environment exculpate the bible, Christian theological tradition (in which Augustine perhaps gets off a little lightly) is found to be complicit in the oppression of women and the exploitation of the environment. This will perhaps make the book more easily agreeable to Protestants than to Catholics. I found it also left me with the question of where the authority of the bible fits into this kind of argument about the history of ideas. At all points, I think, Sampson treats the bible as an inerrant foundational authority, somehow leaving the biblical authors outside the ordinary processes of cultural change and development in which everyone else, from Aristotle to Asimov, is involved and implicated. Of course, Protestant views of biblical authority precisely raise the question of whether and how you can do that, but whenever I found myself unconvinced by the book, it was likely to be at such a point.
That said, I found the book usually interesting, and often valuable and enlightening. I think its main market would be a Christian one, and that many Christians will find it, as I did, a valuable correction to ideas of history which we have been taught without realising that they can, and should, be questioned.
Life, Education, Discovery: A Memoir and Essays, W. Roy Niblett, £8.99+£1.75 p&p from Pomegranate Books, 3 Brynland Avenue, Bristol, BS7 9DR.
Professor Niblett - teacher, academic and educational policy-maker - chronicles his career as an educator who believed in the importance of moral substance and religiously-based values in school education and in teacher training. Some of his seminal papers are also included. 'His shrewd, lively and amusing comments on faith and life are as relevant as ever' (Bishop David Jenkins)
Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age: A general theory of religious communication, David G. Attfield, Ashgate, 2001, 178pp., hb £35.
This book is described by its sub-title. The author formulates eight stages through which the religious communicator must guide the communicatee: the three background stages of verbal ability, autonomy and opportunity lead on to (iv) nourishing the sense of God, (v) motivation, (vi) learning, (vii) exploration, and (viii) commitment. This framework is then applied to seven species of religious communication: evangelism, inter-faith dialogue, nurture, child nurture, religious education, the academic study of religion and ministerial formation.
Matthew Baynham is Chaplain of Bishop Grossteste College and chair of the Management Council of the Gospel and Our Culture network
Dan Beeby is a missionary, author and consultant to Bible Society.
Ruth Conway is an author, educator and founding member of the VALIDATE (Values in Design and Technology Education) network.
Ian Cowley is an author and Rector of All Saints, Milton.
Grace Davie is a Reader in the Sociology of Religion at the University of Exeter
John Kennedy is co-ordinating secretary for Church and Society at CTBI (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland)
Mark Oxbrow is International Mission Director of Church Mission Society
Sarah Williams is Fellow in Modern History at Harris Manchester College, Oxford
Newsletter 34 (Summer '02)
The Shaping of Education Today
The education we give to the young in our schools and universities today is more and more being shaped by the ideas and example of by far the most powerful nation on earth - the U.S.A. In the last fifty years the United States had done much to implant and strengthen within the western mind assumptions regarding the immense importance of prosperity, material success and of a forward-looking, highly skilled technology which will bring them to us. The example it has set has in particular affected both the enormous expansion of our high education provision and to an unexamined extent the intellectual and social climate of our universities, new and less new, and increasingly the old.
The policy makers who by so many routes, financial and other, determine the development of the further and higher education we provide - the expansion in range of the subjects on offer and less noticeably the contraction of that range - include many with American contacts in academia and big business. Their viewpoint has been greatly influenced by the assumptions I have referred to. Committees which in the last two decades have produced significant reports on the direction in which our own higher education systems should go - Jarrett, Dearing and company - have all been well appraised of the US, its commerce, industries and its higher education provision. Their recommendations in almost every case show that to be so.
Graduates from the universities and businesses of the US are among those most responsible for the rapid and relentless evolution now taking place in most parts of the world in commerce and industry involving the enlargement of their technical capacities. This globalisation movement is on a massive scale. And it affects not merely the dominance (still growing) of the wealthy West and Far East but, more subtly, the mental attitudes of their young inhabitants. The doctrines involved become so much part of the mind, as Hulme said, and lie so far back, that people are never really conscious of them at all. They do not see them, but see other things through them.
The higher education we are providing in Britain, for a third already of the 18-21 age group, is being adapted to fit in with this orientation, the cost to universities and colleges for not following the trend being penal. Their applied departments in many fields flourish - their newly developed Business and Management Schools are immensely popular and expanding fast. Their Theology and Philosophy Departments are today minor parts of most of the universities which still have them. Many of our new universities have neither.
Finance has started to pour in for the creation of regional "centres of enterprise" in our country, with universities encouraged to play a vital part in their development. (Bristol University, for example, was in 2000 granted an extra £2,600,000 to forward the work of such a centre.)
Much of all this is of course to our national and personal benefit. But the inbuilt emphasis on material prosperity, including the concentration on research which promises to yield a relatively early "pay off", has outcomes which are far reaching.
A wider vision
While the content of higher education should often quite rightly have regard for students' professional needs, too narrow a concept of what is relevant to those will certainly prevent the production of the kinds of professional which we really most need. Many consequences follow from the rapid growth of opportunities for control over others which the advancement of human knowledge and powers of communication are bringing about. But the question of the concept, or norm, of the man or woman upon whom those controls are to be exercised will not go away. We have clues to the norm and how it is to be sustained in, for example, the expression of mind, feeling and desire in the finest literature, music and art; in the concepts of human potentiality which have been identified and clarified in philosophic and religious exploration; in some of the psychological discoveries of the past 200 years. But to recognise and act upon these clues requires a developed sensitivity and imagination, some sense of history, and a capacity to judge human nature which is informed by experience gained from life, books, and religious beliefs. It requires that students shall not be specialists only but be able to estimate the relative importance of the factors, moral and spiritual as well as physical, which contribute the real evidence. Only in this way will they be able to counter the threat inherent in going further and further ahead with small concern for the direction in which they are going.
Christianity offers its own bearings to a society and an educational system in which the fundamental questions of direction and purpose are ignored or answered in hopelessly narrow ways. The Christian faith and the traditions it has created provide us with presuppositions far more profound than those having prosperity and happiness as the goals through which to see the world. They point us to a life which has meaning. They give us purposes which are realist yet stretch far into the future.
Adapted by the author from his recent Life, Education, Discovery: A Memoir and Essays, Pomegranate Books, £8.95, obtainable from Pomegranate Books, 3 Brynland Ave, Bristol BS7 9DR, post paid for £10.70.
Business and Freedom
Peter S. Heslam
Following the destruction of the World Trade Centre, Tony Blair and George Bush encouraged people to go out and shop. They said it would help the ailing economy and so help the 'War on Terrorism'.
This gave the annual, international ‘Buy Nothing Day’, that soon followed, a certain poignancy. So much so, in fact, that this protest against consumerism found its message stifled. In the United States, Television stations refused to sell airtime for the advertisements, as they were 'inimical to… legitimate business interests'.
But the potential of the global economic system for good and bad is too great to allow criticism to be stifled. Colin Greene recalls Lesslie Newbigin's prophetic words to him, a few months before his death, that ‘the first decade of the next century will be marked by a major conflagration between militant Islam and the globalising tendencies of the free market capitalism’. Newbigin saw this as presenting an agenda for mission.
Criticism of the economic system must be grounded in a constructive, incarnational and redemptive concern for the public ‘weal’ or ‘shalom’, to which business can make an important contribution. It is this concern that has given birth to the initiative justshare, which focuses around May Day on issues of global economic justice, and has recently attracted prime-time coverage on Radio 4 and a meeting with cabinet ministers.
The Jubilee 2000 campaign ought to provide us with inspiration as to what is possible. Who would have thought that some obscure verses in such a seemingly irrelevant book as Leviticus could help change the global economy. But this is exactly what has happened, for it is primarily in this book that the Jubilee principle regarding the cancellation of debts is laid out. With this in mind, Will Hutton, not noted for his affinity with Judeo-Christian faith, once commented in a remarkable article in the Observer:
The jubilee campaign…owes its success and inspiration to the Bible. I doubt many readers know the Old Testament books of Leviticus, Exodus and Deuteronomy any more than I do, but without them there would be no Jubilee 2000, no debt campaign and no international public pressure…Leviticus Chapter 25 [is] a passage that makes Das Kapital look tame. It has been the financial contribution, time and energy of the churches that have given the campaign its spine…It is no longer Morris, Keynes and Beveridge who inspire and change the world – it’s Leviticus.
Hutton’s words are echoed by Bono, lead singer of U2 and one of the world’s most successful pop stars. He, unlike Hutton, is noted for his Christian faith. He is also noted for applying that faith to the global economy. Indeed, his lobbying of popes and presidents has been so effective in recent months that he features on the front of Time magazine under the title ‘Can Bono Save the World?’ Inside the magazine we read this about Jubilee 2000: ‘Its foot soldiers were not liberal activists but churchgoers…In the past few months, Bono has consistently stressed the need for campaigners to work with church groups.’
The challenge, then, is for Christians to come together to affirm the pursuit of the commonweal and all that is good in the global economy while exercising a prophetic witness towards the workings in it. This will draw attention to the increasing dominance of business over areas of life once preserved from the demands of the market, which is a particular threat when the power of transnational companies today often rivals that of states. The implications for the future of democracy and freedom of speech are too serious for us to remain complacent. Jim Wallis has written:
Economics is too important to be left to economists alone. It is high time to apply biblical theology to the crisis of our global economy and to search for sustainable alternatives that affirm life, protect the earth, and build human community.
Not only the poor and meek will bless us for heeding this call. Our children’s children will do so as well. For they too will inherit the earth we leave behind.
Peter Heslam's Globalization: Unravelling the New Capitalism has just been published by Grove Books (01223-464849).
The Century of the Self
The BBC has recently shown a four-part television series entitled ‘The Century of the Self’. It described how Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, invented "Public Relations" (a euphemism for propaganda) in America between the two World Wars. The series gave a powerful insight into the background of advertising and consumerism, and the psychological theories that underpin them.
We are told that we now live in a "consumer democracy", where the people are not in charge, but the people’s desires are in charge. We live under the now-dominant Freudian view of human beings as selfish, instinct-driven individuals. We may feel that we are free but we have become the slaves of our own desires, which are constantly being manipulated and subtly controlled by powerful media and business interests. Even the political vision and direction of New Labour has been carefully tuned to the views and needs of focus groups, which have often proved to be both short term and contradictory. Accordingly our society seems to stumble from crisis to crisis without any serious attempt to address issues such as the growing inequality of wealth. There is little pressure on people to think outside their own self-interest. This is the age of the self.
This presents a very clear challenge to all those who believe in and profess the Christian Gospel. We seem to have forgotten that as human beings we can be more than slaves to our own desires. God has created us for something much greater and better than this. We have been created as rational beings who can choose what is true and good and righteous and best. God has made us for Himself, and, as St Augustine said, our hearts are restless unless we find our rest in Him.
The Freudian concept of human beings as fundamentally selfish and instinct driven has been fostered by business because it produces ideal consumers. The Church has to recognise that it has a powerful and sophisticated enemy, and consumerism is the public face of the age of the self. Christ calls us to find our true selves in turning away from the idolatry of self-interest and self-absorption, and in placing the Lord Jesus Christ on the throne of our lives. He alone can set us free from the tyranny of our own desires, and enable us to serve the living God and our fellow human beings. It is not difficult to see which of these two options is most likely to bring about the peace and healing of our world.
Towards a secular education system?
At the recent annual conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers the following motion was passed: 'Conference believes that the government proposal to create more faith schools will encourage more social fragmentation than already exists, and that there should be a move towards a totally secular education system'. Ann Holt responds.
With all the concerns about social inclusion and cohesion that currently occupy the social and political leaders in our country, it is tempting to look to schools to provide the social glue. It is true that socialisation is part of the education process but so is seeking after truth. I do not think that either of these purposes is well served by resorting to the secularising of all schools. To do so is to pretend that we solve our differences by making everyone think and act in the same way and by subjugating the very things that are of most importance to the different Faith communities to the dominance of a worldview in which the very existence of God is denied both implicitly and explicitly. That we live in a plural society is self evident. We need public services that honour and respect that diversity and that is what the Government is seeking to do justice to. Within Education it will be the job of those different schools to open their doors to whoever wants to come, thereby offering a measure of inclusion, and then to help their students to form a secure identity from within a coherent worldview and from which they can open their arms and hearts to others with whom they may disagree but for whom they have respect and tolerance. Church schools have a good track record in this regard which is why Christian parents and many who are not want them. To quote Lord Dearing in his report, "The Way Ahead"
" It is precisely because society has become so secular that parents want these anchors (church schools) for their children"
'Premier Christian Radio should be able to say why Christians do not accept the Islamic faith without being accused of intolerance; Ian Paisley must be allowed to say why he does not think the Pope is infallible when pronouncing ex cathedra and I must be allowed to assert that he is without either of us facing sanctions for doing no more than proclaiming our faith. Freedom means the freedom to argue and the freedom to proselytise, the freedom to win others over. Faith and silence do not mix.'
Ann Widdecombe, M.P., in TRANSMISSION (Bible Society)
As our Queen's Golden Jubilee produces a flurry of comment in the media on Church and State, Lesslie Newbigin's words in 1947 invite reflection. In that year our Queen-to-be, celebrating her 21st birthday, spoke on the wireless dedicating herself to a life of service. Newbigin, meanwhile, was visiting England from India, and saw with 'an almost painful vividness' such commonplace things as queues, free voluntary associations and gardens. The impression was, he said, 'of a society deeply-rooted in the Christian belief that every man is precious in the sight of God and is responsible before God for his neighbour…' . Faced with terrible inroads and efforts to destroy this inheritance we must not let them 'blind us to the resources we still have'.
How much truth remains in this today?
Frames of Mind, A Public Philosophy of Religion and Cultures, Harold Turner, DeepSight Trust, 2001, 283 pp., pb £13.90 (including postage) from The Gospel and Our Culture Network, 11 Redgate Road, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0PP
This is a serious book by a widely respected university teacher. It is not an easy read; not because its language is obscure - far from it - nor because its thinking is especially abstruse, but rather because it begins with a deceptively simple concept, but continues with close reasoning packed with information, illustration and anecdote. The opening argument is that 'all human life is structured relationally.' To this reviewer, at least, that seemed a fairly obvious proposition, with not all that much future in it. And while relationships are, of course, important, surely the vital question is 'what is related to what?' Harold Turner, however, perseveres with theme of 'relationality,' as a new contemporary 'frame of mind', and does so in a way that makes the reader aware of unexpected possibilities. The book is about human beings culturally related, to each other, to the natural world, to their own inner life, and to what Turner calls 'the Divine'. The thesis of the book is that a trinitarian God is essentially relational, and the basis for an effective Christian 'frame of mind' .
The book then works through definitions of religion and culture to the philosophical questions of ontology, (what is real?), cosmology (how does it all work?) and epistemology (how do we know anything?), critiquing common alternative explanations in a way which leaves his relational model as the only reasonable option. The book closes with a theological exposition of of relationality as expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity, especially as calling for a 'new way of knowing,' and its implications for public life.
There is a particularly useful chapter on 'Culture,' drawing attention to two aspects of the phenomenon that he calls 'surface culture' and 'deep culture'. By 'deep culture' he speaks of the unconscious assumptions about the roots of life which we absorb from childhood. In discussing the relations between religion and culture, he stresses that our religious life is never free from our cultural environment. The creation narratives are expounded effectively to develop a relational cosmology, and this moves naturally into a biblical view of knowledge. In the process, the reader is taken through a survey of the main philosophical ideas that contribute to our present cultural worldview. Some interesting, unexpected features emerge - he sees the Enlightenment as having positive aspects as well as problems. We all know of Faraday and Maxwell as groundbreaking scientists, but hardly as philosophers whose thinking had a trinitarian base. And few will have heard of the sixth century genius, John Philoponus,. 'the greatest theoretical physicist before Newton.' Which leads, quite naturally, to serious consideration of Polanyi's 'personal knowledge' and its implications for personal and public life.
The reader is kindly treated; the contents list spells out the steps in the reasoning, occasionally through the book are summaries to show where the writer is heading. There are diagrams and tables of the conceptual models used (all repeated in a back-cover foldout), though I have to confess that sometimes I found it easier to understand the text! Occasionally one might want to dispute the reasoning, and I would want to make some distinction between religion and faith. One might wish that empiricist and idealist epistemologies had received as explicit a critique as pragmatism. However, the book is densely packed with material as it is; so much so that it has been hard to do it justice within the constraints of this review. There's a good index, and a brief bibliography - to which I would want to add something like Doyeweerde's Roots of Western Culture. The publishers have done a beautiful job of clear printing on heavy gloss paper. A book to treasure, and read more than once.
Thomas Foust, George Hunsberger, Andrew Kirk & Werner Ustorf (eds.) A Scandalous Prophet: The Way of Mission after Newbigin (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 325pp.
This long-awaited book comprises the papers from an international conference held in Newbigin’s honour in Birmingham in November 1998, 11 months after Newbigin’s death. Its aim is to ask central questions about the future of mission in the light of his life and work. The book is divided into four sections – each highlighting a major emphasis within Newbigin’s thought: ‘The Universal Church and the Ecumenical Movement,’ ‘Trinitarian Missiology,’ ‘Enlightenment, Postmodernity, and Mission,’ and ‘Globalization and the Gospel.’ Each section roughly follows the original format of the conference, with proposition papers on each of the themes, followed by responses and reflections. The main body of the book is concluded by three general responses: from Dan Hardy, G. Jan van Butselaar and Michael Taylor.
The problem for the reviewer with 500 words at his disposal is how to do justice to a book containing 24 contributions. The first (and perhaps most important) thing to say is that it will become an indispensable aid to Newbigin studies simply by virtue of the concluding five-part ‘Comprehensive Bibliography’ which itself runs to 76 pages. Though not totally exhaustive it is certainly the fullest to date, and provides details of the inter-relationships between various published and unpublished pieces as well as much else besides. We are very much in debt to Thomas Faust and George Hunsberger for compiling it.
As to the content of the essays themselves, the quality is inevitably varied. If the book was about the central questions facing 21st century mission irrespective of Newbigin, there are notable contributions – in particular from Andrew Walls and Andrew Kirk (along with a suggestive piece from Peter Cruchley-Jones on the meaning of mission and exile).
But the problem with the book as a whole arises in my view from an uncertainty about its ‘connectedness’ to Newbigin’s thought. In a book written to honour Newbigin, I kept wondering (along with more than one participant) what he himself would have made of some of the contributions. For whilst some papers attempt to grapple seriously with his ideas (those of Forrester, Foust, Greene, Hoedemaker and Kettle stand out in this regard), many of the remainder fail to do so. Some make very little connection with Newbigin’s thought, others refer to his ideas only superficially, whilst others pursue proposals that Newbigin himself consistently and strenuously opposed during his lifetime.
Alongside this, the decision of the organizers of the original colloquium to limit the papers and responses to around 20 minutes each (or less) means that the resulting contributions (which are in some cases slightly expanded) are tantalisingly brief. When taking into account the breadth and importance of the subjects handled – a breadth which accurately reflects the range of Newbigin’s own concerns – one is left with a feeling of dissatisfaction that more could and should have been said.
If closer attention had been made to the exposition of Newbigin’s work itself, perhaps a more relevant and fruitful critique might have emerged – with implications not only for the study of Newbigin, but also for the future of mission.
Martin Moleski, S.J., Personal Catholicism: The Theological Perspectives of John Henry Newman and Michael Polanyi, Catholic University of America Press, 2000, pp.222, hb US$54.95.
I would expect that most readers of this newsletter would be attracted to this study by their awareness of the importance to Lesslie Newbigin's work of the epistemology of Michael Polanyi. There will be few, I suspect, who will be very familiar with both of its subjects. Those who are may well ask what 'a man of faith from the 19th century and a man of science of the 20th century (intro, xix) have to say to one another and to us at the opening of the 21st century.
Moleski suggests that the two were in striking agreement about the fundamental workings of the human mind. From this he proposes, more controversially, approaches to disputed questions in contemporary Catholic theology. If this were all, we could perhaps simply consign it to the shelves of the interested academic. I think, though, that this exploration has value beyond the rather narrow limits of the author's own conception of it, in two ways.
Firstly, Polanyi is frequently seen as a maverick figure, outside the mainstream in science and philosophy and hard to place in the Christian world. Where do we locate a Jewish convert to Catholicism whose theological interest lay notably in Tillich and whose belief in the God of Christian Revelation is a matter of dispute? Relating his epistemology to Newman's extends reflection on this.
Although in his own day Newman, too, as Moleski points out, was regarded as an outsider, his understanding of the way in which the mind operated can be linked to the tradition of the Fathers of the Church in which he was formed, a tradition antithetical to the ultra-rationalist approach of the Scholasticism which dominated the theology of his time. Today Newman's approach is fundamental to the Catholic understanding of the formation and operation of conscience: he has made an older way of seeing surprisingly modern.
Secondly, in an age which distrusts dogma and elevates 'personal truth', Moleski shows both Newman and Polanyi pointing to a way of understanding the relationship between propositional and personal faith. In so doing, he helps the reader coming to this volume because of the Newbigin-Polanyi link to see why Polanyi's epistemology was so persuasive to Lesslie Newbigin.
Moleski assumes no prior knowledge of either of his subjects but expects some familiarity with philosophical discussion. For each he offers a biographical sketch, providing the historical and personal context of their thought. The centre of his study is a comparison between Newman's concept of the 'illative sense' as developed in The Grammar of Assent and Polanyi's concept of 'tacit knowing' in Personal Knowledge. For each, Moleski makes clear, 'We know more than we can say'/'we understand more than we can articulate' is the primary condition of our minds. 'I believe in order to understand', the approach of the fathers of the Church to the relationship between faith and reason, is here suggested as a truth about the way our minds work, rather than a process operative only in the sphere of religious knowing. Besides the surprising level of agreement between these two epistemologies Moleski finds two major distinctions. Newman, Moleski argues, is concerned with the capacity of the mind and the initiation of the process of reasoning whereas Polanyi is focussed on the tacit dimension of the outcome of this process. Secondly, there are clear differences between Newman's and Polanyi's approach to the concept of Revelation.
There is a wealth of material here that could be applied to issues of faith and reason, science and faith, faith and the nature of reality as they are raised in contemporary society. There is an abundance of insights which suggest why Lesslie Newbigin should have found Polanyi's epistemology so persuasive. But the task of appropriating and applying it will be the reader's.
Challenging Time : The Churches Millennium Experience, Stephen Lynas, Churches Together in England, pb £7.95
This is a fascinating and important account of the churches’ response to the millennium, written by Stephen Lynas. Stephen was the Archbishop’s Officer for the Millennium and Churches Together in England Millennium Officer, so he is in a unique position to write about what really happened. The book provides a valuable record of events such as the Millennium Moment and Pentecost 2000, and the background to them.
For those of us who were directly involved in the planning of regional millennium initiatives, like myself, it is very interesting to discover what was happening behind the scenes at the national level. For example, I can now understand how the government’s fixation with the Dome undermined the national profile of the "Light a candle, say a prayer" initiative. The Millennium Moment at midnight on December 31st 1999, had enormous potential as a church led initiative which could have focussed the whole nation on a few seconds of collective spiritual reflection. But it was never properly owned by government and remained primarily an option for local churches, which some were able to use creatively while others were distracted by scare stories about fire hazards, or by other millennium based initiatives. There are also some instructive revelations about the events which led to the creation of the Faith Zone in the Dome. I gained a new understanding of the political machinations in church, government and business circles, and the complexity of dealing with different interest groups at this level.
The second section of the book includes contributions from other players in these events such as Bishop Gavin Reid, Jennie Page and Indarjit Singh. Particularly striking is the huge success of Pentecost 2000 as the largest series of Christian gatherings England has ever seen. The sensitivity to other faith communities which was demonstrated again and again is also, I think, of lasting significance.
In her foreword Baroness Richardson writes "The millennium showed that the churches need to collaborate in common witness and can do so; and that in doing so they gain confidence and credibility, whether in the Dome or on a village green." Having read this book I am left with the realisation that the influence and implications of the churches’ response to the millennium opportunity will have a lasting impact on the way in which the Christian churches in Britain communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this nation.
Mark Greene reflects on the mission of
London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
How will Britain be Won?
The questions you ask determine to some extent the answers you get.
And the strategies you pursue.
If you ask the question, "How can we grow the local church?" you’ll tend to get ideas that focus on the neighbourhood, and you’ll tend, if you’re not very careful, to end up with a model of discipleship that essentially ignores where the majority of the fellowship spend most of their time – at school, in college, in the workplace. Which is, of course, precisely what has happened in Britain for most of the last century.
The Great Divide
John Stott founded LICC in 1982 because he saw that the vast majority of Christians were not being equipped to make the connection between the ancient, living Word and the issues they faced in the contemporary world. Overall, the same applies today and the major reason behind this is the persistence of the sacred secular divide – the false but prevalent view that there are some things that are very important to God , mainly activities directly related to church and personal piety, whilst other activities – work, school, university – are at best neutral.
This explains why research reveals over 50% of British Christians across the denominations have never heard a sermon on work. It explains why research indicates that preaching is perceived to be quite helpful to people’s personal spiritual lives but less than helpful to their home or work lives. It explains why virtually every Christian paper and magazine has an opinion on Harry Potter – a primarily leisure time phenomenon – but that there’s hardly a single book resourcing youth-workers to help kids at school think about what they study through Christian lenses.
So it is at LICC that we seek to address the sacred-secular divide with a view to mission. Our conviction is that Britain will be radically transformed when ‘ordinary’ Christians are envisioned and equipped to make a difference where they are in their workplaces, schools, universities and neighbourhoods. As such, our work has two main thrusts:
1. To resource Christians, leaders, theological colleges, and Christian agencies with the theological framework, practical resources and models for general Christian engagement in the world.
2. Develop and provide expertise in specific areas of contemporary life where there are gaps in the Church’s knowledge – work, capitalism, media, media, gender issues and youth culture, skills in engaging.
Partnership & Progress
In particular, we are trying to break the problem of scale that besets so many smallish organisations like LICC – often with good material but without the marketing muscle to distribute it widely, and we have begun to see progress in that arena. We are heavily engaged in equipping leaders and Christians for workplace ministry, and our publication Workwise is now distributed through five different work ministries. Similarly, Tim Vickers works in a partnership with UCCF, in equipping students for the transition from college to working life and our resource for pastors Supporting the Workers without going insane has been distributed to over 24,000 leaders with help from many denominations and key agencies inside nine months.
Likewise, the fruits of our ‘capitalism’ project, now in its second year, have found a much broader voice through JustShare, a coalition of some 15 organisations convened by our Project Director Dr Peter Heslam. The coalition generated a robust Christian contribution to the May Day demonstrations, initiating events, lectures, Radio 4 airtime and cabinet discussion of Christian perspectives on wealth generation, the priority of the poor and the care of the planet.
Such new initiatives combined with web ministry, weekly radio broadcasting, a growing weekly e-mails service – Word-for-the-week and Connecting with Culture – complement and fuel LICC’s traditional programme which includes the international ten-week Christian in the Modern World Course, our evening teaching programme in London, and our speaking ministry around Britain.
LICC’s faculty has grown from three to nine in the last three years but we recognize that we ourselves are very much at the beginning of a long process of learning. My own particular desire is not only that LICC will be able to respond helpfully, robustly and inspirationally to the question: "How will Britain be Won?" and help the Church reach out more effectively in mission, but also that in ten years time the British Church will have a new and much bigger pool of wise women and men who can, as John Stott put it, apply the truth of Christ to the needs and yearnings of contemporary people and equip many others to do the same.
If you’d like more information about LICC, click onwww.licc.org.uk, e-mail us for Connecting with Culture on [email protected] or contact us at: St Peter’s, Vere Street, London, W1G 0DQ.
Rev'd Dr Harold Turner - a tribute
Harold Turner died on 5th May at the age of ninety-one in Auckland, New Zealand - a fine Christian scholar, teacher, visionary and gracious mentor. Above all he was, like the stock from which he came, a pioneer - not in farming, but in Christian thought and action, especially in two areas: Religious Studies and Gospel and Culture.
Dr Turner pioneered the study of what he termed New Religious Movements in Primal Societies, extending his initial study of African Independent Churches to other continents. 'His work created a genuinely new field of academic study. His terminology, classificatory typologies and delineation of the features of such movements are still the fundamental building blocks for understanding such movements'(John Hitchen). A fellow-lecturer in Sierra Leone became a friend and partner in scholarship for life - Andrew F. Walls. The resources housed today at Orchard House in the University of Birmingham and on microfiche around the world represent 'a masterly, and massive legacy for all future students'.
Harold also gave a lead in Gospel and culture mission. He did so first through involvement in the Campaign for Christian Order in New Zealand (1941-1950), which drew inspiration from the efforts of J. H. Oldham in Britain; later, while a lecturer in Birmingham, he met Dan Beeby and Lesslie Newbigin, and on his return to New Zealand in 1989 he founded the Gospel & Cultures Trust (now DeepSight). In recent years DeepSight has published three books by Dr Turner: The Roots of Science; Frames of Mind (reviewed in this present newsletter); and The Laughter of Providence. This last, more autobiographical book reminds us that, as a Christian with a first-class M.A. in philosophy, Dr Turner was a deeply practical and strongly principled man. But this Presbyterian minister could also tell John Hitchen, as Principal of the Bible College of New Zealand, 'The most practical thing you can do for (pragmatic) New Zealand today is to think!' The Maori proverb with which John Hitchen began his eulogy was fitting at the funeral of one who had been deeply attentive to primal religion: 'A towering Totara tree of the vast human forest has fallen. Its great blanket of shade is lain down. The young saplings will grow tall and strong as they now bask in heaven's Sunlight. A great chief has fallen. Another will be raised.'
Our sympathies are extended to Maude Turner and to the family.
Dan Beeby adds:
I write this in my office in the Selly Oak Colleges, less than a hundred yards from the Turner Room which holds the massive collection of writings that Harold assembled and deposited here. I knew Harold and Maude during the years 1981-1989 when they were in Selly Oak. The Newbigins, the Turners and my family were all members of the local United Reformed Church. We were all oddities because we were ex-missionaries; the Newbigins had been in India, the Turners in Africa and we in China and Taiwan, and there were few other places in the world where we had not lived and worked.
I best knew Harold after 1986. The British Council of Churches, based on Lesslie’s latest writings, started the movement The Gospel and Our Culture and I was asked to be the co-ordinator. This movement brought Harold, Lesslie, myself and an American colleague into a very close relationship. Privileged to work for a few years with two giants, I give God thanks and rejoice that now they can continue the conversation begun some years ago.
*All three of Dr Turner's recent books are available from the Network. Please contact the co-ordinator for details.
This issue's Contributors
Roy Niblett was the first person awarded a professorial chair in Higher Education at a British University and has been awarded a CBE for his services to education.
Peter Heslam is Director of the Capitalism Project at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and a tutor at Ridley Hall in Cambridge.
Mark Greene is Executive Director of London Institute for Contemporary Christianity
Ian Cowley is an author and Rector of All Saints, Milton in Cambridge
Ann Holt is Director of CARE for Education
John Peck is an author and co-founder of GreenBelt Festival
Heather Ward is an author and teaches at the Maryvale Institute
Paul Weston, ex-Vice-Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, has recently been awarded a PhD for research on Lesslie Newbigin's theology
Newsletter 35 (Autumn '02)
Faith in Public
'In the early years of my ministry, students asked me "But how do you know God is there? How do you know it is all true?" These days they ask "But what about the others? What about the Muslims? The Jews? And the others?"'
The cultural shift referred to here (by a University Chaplain in the U.S.) provokes thought. The predictable questions have changed, and Christians have to learn wise ways of addressing the new questions - whether these express sincere concern or are merely a means of evading the voice of Christ.
Such evasion is apparent when secularists deflect Christian critique of their own beliefs by saying (in effect) to Christians 'Don't speak to us. Speak to other people of religion. They are your proper partners in dialogue'. This can easily result in the marginalisation of Christian faith, confined to the private sphere. It is not unlike the experience of women sent off to talk among themselves while men get on with the real business.
Michael Nazir-Ali has remarked: 'The excuse of a 'multifaith society' is used to marginalise all religion, especially to remove Christian faith from the public areas. This has nothing to do with our friends of other faiths, who often value the place of Christianity in public life as symbolising the importance of the spiritual, and everything to do with a radically secularising agenda that wants to relegate religion entirely to the private sphere, without any means of influencing public policy'.1
Is this situation altered when a generic 'faith voice' is granted in public life - as, for example, when a 'faith voice' is granted in one or another of the government's new regional assemblies? Secular expectations work against this. Christianity is not taken seriously where it is assumed that it and other religions are ultimately one, or that if they are not then the differences are unimportant for the foundations of human society.
Taken more seriously, Christian faith may be seen as having a role offering its own distinctive cultural hospitality to other religions in secular society and as mediating between the two where all religion is marginalised. Such a role for the Churches is often welcomed by other religions, although it may be offensive to secularists. Such Christian hospitality will not ignore differences between religions or their involvement in truth and falsehood, light and dark; but it will at once respect people of other religions and insist upon more freedom to argue, learn and persuade of the truth than either they or secularism sometimes allow.
Christian faith stands, after all, in ambiguous relation to the category of 'religion'. It also stands in unique relation historically to the rise of secular society. It is equipped to engage that society in a unique way, and it is called to do so. It must on no account allow itself to be deflected from this. Andrew Kirk has written 'the main challenge to Christian mission [in this situation] has to be contemporary secularity and secularism, not multi-religiosity…. inter-religious dialogue.. easily becomes a major distraction.'2
Christian faith must be free to speak in public, to try and shape public life. It is not a 'private' faith. As Lesslie Newbigin recalled, the early church refused the protection of the state as a private cult, claiming the title ecclesia, a public gathering. Moltmann writes of this claim to public freedom: 'It is not the person who holds his or her own private views who is enlightened. It is the person who is free enough to make public use of his or her reason. This saying of Kant's can be applied to the Christian faith too: freedom of belief does not mean being allowed to cultivate one's own personal faith; it means making public use of that faith, and practising it'.3
This freedom is under threat in Western cultures today. A proper secular freedom from religious domination is turning into a secular domination of religion. 'In the first decade of the 21st century, the government of England wields an unfettered secular power… more assertive and dominant than even John Henry Newman's worst nightmares.'4
A Canadian Professor of Law offers this warning: 'This banishment of religion qua religion from the public square in Western societies may well constitute a turning point in the evolution of the liberal, democratic state from freedom to a totalitarianism which threatens not only faithful citizens but all citizens who wish to pursue their personal visions for their lives in liberty and to participate in public discourse on any topic in the language they naturally use. The alarming acceleration in the silencing of voices deemed to be politically incorrect -- and there can be no more politically incorrect voice than the voice of faith in the public square -- suggests that the movement from democracy to totalitarianism is further advanced than might be wished. '5
I was struck recently when I heard the experience of a student teaching with Oasis Trust in East Germany. In that country, when God is to be mentioned in the classroom, children are free to leave. Religious Education is taught, but parents have to give permission for their children to attend, and the lesson is last in the day; children not attending can go home. 'Under communist rule you were either for or against God. We knew what we were up against', said her Christian host. 'Today it is much harder'.
Do we know what we are up against?
1 Michael Nazir-Ali, speaking in the General Synod of the Church of England, July 2002
2 Andrew Kirk, 'Christian Mission in a Multi-Faith Situations'
3 Jurgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society, SCM 1997, p.43
4 David Crouch, in letter to Church Times, 6th Sept. '02
5 M. H. Ogilvie, 'The Culture of Disbelief'
Further reading: Andrew Kirk's paper can be ordered (ACCESS No.311); Margaret Ogilvie's paper will be offered in the next ACCESS Supplement, and is available meanwhile at <www.culturalrenewal.ca>. See also Gertrude Himmelfarbe, 'The Christian University: A Call to Counterrevolution' (ACCESS NO.308).
When Privacy Laws Intrude
Hospital chaplains may no longer be informed by hospitals of the religion of patients, unless patients have given their explicit consent for this. This is how the 1998 Data Protection Act (giving effect to the 1995 EEC data protection directive) is being implemented by some hospital trusts. It has been described as a 'millstone' for chaplaincy ministry and is one example of how faith can find itself marginalised in new ways today.
The rule applies because chaplains have been excluded from the category of 'health professionals'. As a result, it remains acceptable for ward clerks, receptionists and art therapists to know a patient's religion - but not the hospital chaplain.
The matter has been raised in parliament by Graham Brady, M.P. (25th June 2002). In reply the Parliamentary Secretary, Yvette Cooper said that 'the issue is difficult because if people do not consent to information being passed on... it is difficult to argue that their consent should be overridden… The principle of consent is important, and a sufficiently strong case has not been made for why it should be overridden'.
When patient information is passed on routinely within a health care team, this is of course not seen as 'overriding the principle of consent'. It is the act of excluding a chaplain from this team which raises the issue of consent. But is this exclusion warranted? If 'religion' was a matter of private spirituality - of 'Sheila-ism' or whatever - or had little interest in the fortunes of health, then the question of religion would not be asked by hospitals in the first place. But the question rightly acknowledges patients' links to a God who cares about them and who revealed himself in Jesus Christ through many acts of healing; their links to a living tradition whose representative is recognised by church, hospital and patients in the chaplain; and their links to a faith which is traditionally a matter of public declaration in the Church. Moreover Christian ministers look to a much more ancient tradition of maintaining appropriate confidentiality than any data protection act. When such an act severs these links, it must surely be described as intrusive.
Comment: September 11th one year later
One year after the September 11th attacks I was in South Africa visiting my family. We were aware of the possibility that there could be further attacks in the U.S. or Europe on that day. In the evening we watched the news coverage of the commemoration events in New York. I began to realise that September 11th has a somewhat different feel when you are in Africa.
Africans by and large do not see September 11th in the same way that Americans do. Of course millions of Africans know very little about the events of that day in the U.S.A. But even for many who are well informed the "war on terrorism" has very little to do with the issues of truth, freedom and justice. The proposed war on Iraq similarly makes little sense to most Africans. It is understood that America and Europe are powerful countries which will pursue their own interests, using force if necessary. "Who is the oppressor here anyway?" they ask.
On September 16th Khathu Mamaila wrote a leading article in the Johannesburg STAR. He said, "September 11th is such a big tragedy because the Americans have won the propaganda war. In 1993 in Rwanda the Hutu militia went on a killing rampage, murdering more than 800,000 Tutsi people. Does anybody remember? Does anybody care?"
Its not that September 11th doesn't matter or that we should not grieve for those who died on that awful day. But it is important to remember that for many people in the developing world America is seen as a bully and a cultural imperialist whose motives are far from benign. In the West we fear the threat of terrorism. In Africa there are more pressing concerns such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, famine and civil war. And what does America under George W. Bush seem to care about these?
'I have to learn how to speak of God in this very public position, in the middle of a culture which, while it may show a good deal of nostalgia, fascination and even hunger for the spiritual, is generally sceptical of Christianity and the Church…', said Rowan Williams following the public announcement of his nomination in July as Archbishop of Canterbury.
He saw his calling to this office as a 'calling to nourish a sense of proper confidence in the Church and more widely… a confidence that arises from being utterly convinced that the Christian creed and the Christian vision have in them a life and a richness that can embrace and transfigure all the complexities of human life. This confidence can rightly sit alongside a patient willingness to learn from others in the ordinary encounters of life together in our varied society. And it is this kind of confidence that saves us from being led by fashion, by the issues of the day… If there's one thing I long for above all else, it's that the years to come may see Christianity in this country able again to capture the imagination of our culture'.
Writing to leaders of the Anglican Communion worldwide about issues of human sexuality, he said 'I hope too, very earnestly, that we can hold to the urgent common priority of mission and evangelism, and avoid the temptation of becoming trapped in questions where the politics of our culture set the agenda.…'
Rowan Williams is (like Archbishop George Carey) a patron of the Gospel and Our Culture Network. His valuable book Lost Icons, reviewed in the June 2001 Newsletter, is among his books which have attracted new readers since his public nomination.
words to recall
'Outline for a book':
Chapter 1 to deal with: (a) The coming age of humanity… The insuring of life against accident, ill-fortune. If elimination of danger impossible, at least its minimisation. Insurance (which although it thrives upon accidents, seeks to mitigate their effects) a western phenomonon. The goal, to be independent of nature. Nature formerly conquered by spiritual means, with us by technical organisation of various kinds. Our immediate environment not nature, as formerly, but organisation. But this immunity produces a new crop of dangers, i.e. the very organisation.
Consequently there is a need for spiritual vitality. What protection is there against the danger of organisation? Man is once more faced with the problem of himself. He can cope with every danger except the danger of human nature itself. In the last resort it all turns upon man.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters and Papers from Prison.
Teaching the faith
Theological Education in the 21st Century
Carver T. Yu
Recently I attended a seminar organized for selected church leaders. The purpose of this seminar was to discuss certain trends revealed in a survey about churches in Hong Kong.
In the seminar, a church leader called for radical change for our theological education. He derided our present theological education as belonging to the 19th Century, totally outdated for the postmodern, information-centred, globalized and fast-changing world of the 21st Century. According to him, seminaries had to reshape their curriculum drastically in order to respond to the changing need of the world.
I was deeply moved by such an impassioned plea, and could not but agree with him in regards to responding to the world. As guardians of the Christian tradition and interpreters of that tradition for the world, future church leaders have to dwell deep in the Gospel as well as in the need of the world. But what exactly is the need of our present age? The whole matter hinges on this question.
Our present age is an age of narcissistic fabrication of self and reality. The objective world is first reduced to a "world-picture" fabricated by our consciousness, then to a "virtual world" of freely combined cyber images. The self is stuffed with myriads of mega-bytes of information. There is little inner space left within the self. It has become a mere medium where bits of information flow freely. Wolf Dieter-Narr, a German sociologist points out most aptly, "The change in behaviour long observed by Riesman, Mitscherlich, Weber and many others consists in a destruction of 'inwardness', in a loss of the individuals' mechanism for reflection and for the process of experience... Our modern society has become a society of conditioned reflexes, a society where the individual is important only as a bearer of attributes - with reference to this or that attribute but not to what these attributes constitute - the person."
With the loss of inwardness, confused about its own identity, and losing the capability to relate, the postmodern self is fraught with anxiety and loneliness. The cultivation of inwardness, the restoration of personhood, the renewal of the sense of community and thus the sense of responsibility to others, and the reclaiming of the objective realm of reality, is what our world needs most desperately. The world does not need counselling to soothe its restless soul, nor creative ideas for fixing socio-economic problems, nor strategies to cope with their hectic life. The world needs the message of truth and life. The problem for man in the present age is ontological and spiritual. The world needs genuine spiritual leaders setting life examples before them. The world needs a life-sustaining community.
The temptation of relevance is hard to resist. However, to be truly relevant, theological educators should not be afraid to stand against the stream. Instead of swirling around with the world, we have to stick covetously to the basic. The world needs the unadulterated message of the Word, and thus we have to train future leaders to be faithful interpreters of the Word. The world needs spiritual-emotional sustenance in its struggle with the loss of inwardness. We have to train leaders with strong inner-directedness and deep spiritual resources that the world can draw from.
The Centre for Graduate Study of Theology is responding to the world, perhaps not in the way that the world expects. However, we should not be afraid to say "No!" to the world's expectation. To be truly relevant, we need not apologize for our present path of two-fold emphasis: strong Biblical grounding and unequivocal commitment to spiritual formation. That is our response to the 21st Century, outdated as it may seem.
Deeply aware of the spiritual confusion of the modern age, T.S. Eliot calls upon the church to be "the Rock". He reminds the world about the desert in the human heart:
"The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change...
You neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in the southern tropics,
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother..."
The desert that Eliot visualized in the Thirties has expanded and deepened. How should we respond to this desert? That is the question.
introduced by Ian Hamlyn
I am a Baptist minister in the year 2002. I do all the normal ministerial stuff. I lead worship, prepare Bible Studies, preach sermons, visit people, pray with and for them. But I do all of this in a very strange place. A place where a middle-aged mum expresses shocked surprise when I explain that the Bible comes in two bits. A place where a city businessman seeks me out at a party and informs me he has ‘a window in his life’ in which he wants to ‘explore his spiritual side’. A place where a young man - fresh from graduating, with a love for God and a heart for mission which he wants to be the mainspring of his life - weeps for his sense of alienation from the church in any form in which he has experienced it. It is a place utterly unlike the one in which I was born 37 years ago; different entirely from the one in which I grew up in the 70s and 80s; alien, indeed, from the one in which I trained for ministry ten years ago. The place is here and now.
Of the people mentioned above, it was the third who most affected me: the way in which he seemingly saw God in so much of the world around him; how he was challenged, provoked, angered or inspired by the films he’d seen, the books he’d read, the albums he’d listened to or the TV programmes he’d turned on. Everything, it seemed, touched him - except his weekly encounter with this lively, creative, transcendent God in corporate worship. Now, I’m sure he overstated his case somewhat - no doubt I’ve compounded that here - but I saw his need, I wanted to help - I’m a pastor after all. So I arranged some get-togethers for anyone who wanted to talk about these things. Over a period of time, quite a number turned up: people from the back rows of the Church, people who had once been around, others who were new to me. We talked about our stories, our world and our God – some with more confidence than others. After a while, we wanted a sharper focus to our times together, and it was then I happened across the Damaris Trust web site.
Damaris is a cooperative venture seeking to develop, promote and utilise a wide range of resources. The aim is to communicate Christian faith within contemporary culture in appropriate ways. In those first tentative meetings, I drew upon material from the ‘Culturewatch’ project - a library of study guides, articles and invitations to discussion on a wide range of significant material. I also dipped into Connect Bible Studies based around contemporary books, films, TV and music. Damaris also encourages this process of engagement through workshops, a network of study groups and the provision of a wide range of research, writing and speaking. All this is addressed to churches, schools, colleges - anywhere caught up in the challenging and complex interface of gospel and culture. In particular, these include a programme of sixth form conferences and a comprehensive teaching resource - relessonsonline.com - using the media to deliver the Christianity component of the Key Stage 4 RE syllabus.
A bag of tools, such as these provided by Damaris, do not herald the finishing of the job. If opened and used, they signify both the recognition of work to be done and a seriousness of intent in setting about it. For myself, I came to see these issues not just as the basis for some topical input into a particular group within my church, but as central to Christian mission today. I also recognised my need to open my ears and eyes increasingly wide so I could see and hear beyond the church walls.
My own journey, then, has brought me to Southampton where I am currently on a three month sabbatical, working with Damaris. As part of their associate scheme, I am helping to provide these resources and being helped to face this challenge afresh when I return to the hurly-burly of day to day church life. There is, I believe, no greater need in the church today than for a renewal of confidence in the gospel as ‘the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ - that is everyone today, immersed as they are in the culture of our times, with all its decadent crassness and desperate longings. Part of that challenge is the honing and maintaining of our own cultural sharpness - constantly aware of the questions being raised all around us and the opportunities they present for authentic and profound engagement. We must not dull the gospel’s cutting edge with our own veneer of irrelevance. It is to this end that the work of Damaris is geared.
To find out more, visit: www.damaris.org; www.connectbiblestudies.com; www.relessonsonline.com
The Network has established a formal link with the Henry Martyn Centre for the Study of Mission and World Christianity in Cambridge. The Director, Dr Brian Stanley, has joined our Management Council. The Centre now becomes an institutional base for the Network, as it is also of BIAMS. The HMC library is in process of acquiring a complete set of newsletters from our North American sister network and from New Zealand's DeepSight (previously Gospel and Cultures) Trust in addition to our own newsletter. The library aims to enlarge its holdings on Christian engagement with Western culture as a mission field, including notably the writings of Lesslie Newbigin and Harold Turner.
Thank you again to those who have contributed towards our Endowment Appeal on the tenth anniversary of the Swanwick Consultation. We continue to welcome donations. Bequest forms and Gift Aid declaration forms are available on request.
In June, David Kettle attended a World Council of Churches consultation on mission in a postmodern setting, held in Northern Germany. The consultation drew together selected participants from around the world and provided opportunity for some good personal introductions and conversations. David Kettle convened one of four study groups which met regularly throughout the consultation - that which was concerned with contemporary spirituality.
Secularisation, Edward Norman, Continuum, 2002, 160pp., £12.99
The book’s title could mislead. It is not a treatise on the processes of secularisation so much as an examination of how "the Church" – usually meaning the he Church of England – has sold out to secular humanism at just about every level of its thought and activity. There are nineteen brief chapters all capable of being read and understood on the train, and the reader is left in no doubt as to what Norman is saying.
It is a "why the pews are emptying" book. " What is causing the decline of public support for the Church" he writes in the preface, "is the insistence of church leaders themselves in recognising secular enthusiasm for humanity as core Christianity". This brings us to the other constant theme of the book – bishop-bashing! Alas the poor "leaders of the Church" come in for it again and again and as former suffragan I found myself bristling at his constant use of sweeping but unspecified knocks! On the other hand, it is the knockabout style that makes the book so readable.
I do not believe that the reasons for attendance decline (and the resulting shrinkage of influence in our society) have very much to do with anything bishops do or do not do. Nor does it relate to the Church’s failure to keep its message clear. Intellectuals like Norman want to find intellectual reasons but the truth is that when post war prosperity swept the country in the fifties and car ownership changed the nature of Sundays, we simply lost our hold on the nation’s children. Two thirds of our members have been with us since childhood and, as Finney showed in Finding Faith Today, three-quarters of all adults who come to faith admit to prolonged exposure to church when they were children. As a result we are corporately growing old with too few children and young people coming on board. Most of those leaving our congregations are leaving in hearses. All this may be less intellectually exciting than plotting the advances of secular humanism but I believe it goes to the real heart of our problem. Saying this, however, does not allow us to ignore Norman’s main theme.
It was Peter Berger in The Sacred Canopy who argued that when Churches encountered a growing secularism in society the tended to move in one of two directions. Either they sought to accommodate with the secular culture and reshape their message to meet consumer tastes, or they entrenched themselves into self-contained worlds and made little attempt to relate outwards. Norman’s thesis is that the Church of England has gone for accommodation. I am not so sure. I think that many sections of the Churches, especially those who would be nearer to Norman’s doctrinal taste, have turned in upon themselves and engagement with society at large simply is not happening.
Norman’s chapter on Materialism is particularly telling. He argues that human welfare has become the "sovereign issue" to so many of us. Thus we fight for racial equality, because "it is now regarded as more terrible to discriminate against another on racial grounds than it is to ignore God". Norman walks a tightrope skilfully in the chapter in his attempt to show that Humanist and Christian agendas may overlap but the have radically different starting points. In matters like racism Christians "seek the promotion of God’s love; the Humanists are concerned with human mutual esteem. …The danger for Christians is that in furthering a good cause they will inadvertently absorb the secular ethicism of the Humanists."
Norman pleads for the Church of England to establish a central and "coherent source of authority" like the Roman Catholic Church. Because we do not have such a body we have lost our immune system against error. He rails against the prevalence of private judgement in religious matters. Here as in other places he reveals a blinkered admiration for the Catholic Church, never admitting that is has lost at least as many adherents in recent decades as anyone else. And as for private judgement and official Catholic doctrine, a brief reference to contraception might suggest some revision on his part.
The book lacks a European perspective. The problems we face are far more widespread, profound and complex than weak English bishops selling out to humanism. Norman overplays his hand and is weak when it comes to workable proposals. That said, the cultural air that all of us breathe is deeply affected with the logic of secular humanism and the Churches have breathed in no small amounts. This book is a timely call to look at our thinking and to check that it is truly Christian.
The Future of Christianity, Alister McGrath, Blackwell, 2002, 172 pp, pb. £12.99
Alister McGrath brings scholarship to the pews in digestible bites. "The Future of Christianity" is an example, taking a wide-angle lens approach to a subject with infinite dimensions in a weekend magazine style.
His is one further contribution to the curiosity created by a dawning awareness that under conditions of post-modernity the Christian Church (in the West, note,) is not going to remain the same. Other recent works with a similar theme have been Callum Brown’s "The Death of Christian Britain" (accounting for this change) and Philip Jenkins "The Next Christendom – The Coming of Global Christianity" (the shift of the epicentre of Christianity to ‘the South’ and its revolutionary consequences for the Church in the 21st century).
Among these three books there are points of striking agreement and slight difference. McGrath agrees with Jenkins in discerning the little known Armenian genocide at the beginning of last century as the first formative crisis for the decline of the Church in the West, and the equally unappreciated shift of the heart of Christianity to the southern hemisphere as the last. He also, with Brown, identifies the ‘60s of last century as the critical decade of change.
But he differs from Jenkins in his analysis of the future shape of Christianity. McGrath sees the four leading players as Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism, evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Jenkins, however, insists that the contest will be between Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism, with the others as sideshows. Both are of one mind that modernist elements of Western Christianity, Catholic or Protestant, are increasingly irrelevant. McGrath paints a bleak picture of the prospects of mainline denominational Protestantism, with one significant proviso. He writes: "What is more likely to determine whether a Protestant congregation survives in the west throughout the 21st century is not whether it is Anglican, Methodist or Presbyterian but whether it is evangelical or charismatic."
Like Jenkins, McGrath is also astringent in his criticism of liberal academic theology – which he sees as the preserve of scholars and libraries, detached from the lifeblood of the Church.
McGrath’s application of the theories of Marxist Antonio Gramsci to the current western theology scene suggests some interesting parallels with Brown’s argument identifying the loss of discursive Christianity as the key to the death of Christian Britain post 1960.
This is a book that needs to be read and talked about. One handicap is its minimal indexing, but an unexpected bonus is Joanna McGrath’s brief yet exquisite exposė of the ‘profound differences in culture between the academic community and the community of faith’ in the area of 20th century biblical studies.
The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith,
Andrew F. Walls, T. &. T. Clark/Orbis, 2002. 284 pp., £16.99 pb.
Andrew Walls has an unrivalled global reputation as an historian of Christian missions and African Christianity. In cheerful denial of the criteria by which academic worth in the western world is conventionally assessed, that reputation has been acquired without the publication of a single academic monograph. It depends rather on an army of research students, most of them from the southern hemisphere, whom Walls has supervised down the years, and on a host of conference papers and essays. A first volume of his lectures and articles was published in 1996 as The Missionary Movement in Christian History. The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History is the eagerly awaited sequel.
As was the earlier volume, the book is divided into three parts, dealing respectively with the transmission of Christian faith, Africa’s place in Christian history, and studies of the modern missionary movement from the west. Most of the essays have been published elsewhere, and, as the author acknowledges, there is an inevitable amount of repetition, given the origins of many of the pieces as conference papers or special lectures. The range is impressive, covering topics as diverse as the encounter of Christianity with African cosmology or the imperial religion of Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, and varying in chronological focus from the earliest Christian centuries to a fine memorial study of David Bosch, tragically killed in 1992.
Walls’ concern is with the incarnation of the Christian faith in the cultures of the southern hemisphere and the implications of that process for the future of Christianity. It would, however, be a mistake for readers of this newsletter to conclude that the book is of minimal relevance to the quest for an appropriate missiology for western culture. Walls endorses Newbigin’s observation that Christians in the west need the help of African, Asian, and Hispanic believers in identifying the syncretism latent within Enlightenment Christianity. The present age marks a renewal of the ‘Ephesian moment’ in primitive Christianity in which two contrasting cultures – Jewish and Hellenistic – came together around the meal table. After centuries of Hellenistic dominance, the Ephesian moment has come again, confronting the church with new tests of ecumenicity. Western Christianity cannot recover completeness in Christ on its own, and the opportunity to do so may lie in the presence in the west, particularly in the United States, of diasporic communities of African, Asian, and Latin American Christians. ‘More than in any other nation in the world’, predicts Walls (p. 69), ‘the body of Christ could be realized – or fractured – in the United States’.
Human Genetics: Fabricating the Future, Robert Song, Darton, Longman and Todd, 128pp, £8.95
Unlike many books grappling with the issues surrounding the genetics and reproductive revolutions, Robert Song cuts to the chase immediately resisting long descriptions of the technologies to address their implications from the start. Whatever science that is necessary to an argument is explained clearly, but in general descriptions of how we reached the present state of affairs are kept subordinate to the main thrust of the book.
The book's arguments about the choices rapidly approaching us are developed within a modest 128 pages split into five chapters. The introduction sets the scene which the other chapters’ arguments enlarge. Importantly, Song devotes some effort to describing and illuminating what he calls the 'yuk factor' and the idea of 'playing God' as important components of the public regard for modern genetics. Chapter 2, ‘Health, medicine and the new genetics’ considers the moral implications of the human genome project, pre-implantation diagnosis and human cloning (both reproductive and therapeutic) and leads naturally to the next chapter: ‘Genetic enhancement and the new genetics’. This reprises the history of eugenics in the west and the change from a ‘special elite’ consensus to an individual based endorsement of selecting traits for ones’ offspring. He revisits boldly the question of the role of the disabled in society and its meaning. He does not note, however, that, though the foundation of eugenics as (bad) science was profoundly British, Britain never passed any meaningful eugenic laws owing to a belief that the rights of the individual supersede the rights of society. The following chapter ‘Justice, Community and genetics’ focusses on the influence of the market on genetics and how corporate power, by way of patents and insurance testing, will affect global justice issues. Song grapples well with the commodification of society and the likelihood that, as more and more people see children as a consumer item the pressure to exert an influence over their genes will be hard to resist. The last chapter questions the inevitability of technology and hypothesises about possible alternate futures.
If there are any quibbles to be with this book it is that his arguments over evolution, briefly alluded to in chapter 3 are much too simple.
As the author quotes examples of modifications that are widely accepted in society (and not genetic), distinguishes between therapy and enhancement, considers the resurrected body, and notes the disparity between a biblical understanding of suffering and how it is dealt with in the west today, he steps in this book bravely into the black, white and shades of grey that surround the new genetics. It is easy to read, lucid, well researched and deserves a wide readership.
Uncommon Sense, John Peck and Charles Strohmer, SPCK, 384pp, pb £14.99
Quiet remembrance and communal grieving are still, as we have seen recently, worked out in our Christian places of worship. Churches that may normally hold just a handful of faithful worshippers transform into an ‘ocean of grief’, as the Bishop of London commented in his sermon to those at St Paul’s Cathedral on the anniversary of 11 September.
But how do those buildings translate into a living faith that carries its believers through the trials of life at all times? Should a living faith be centred on a building, or should we be looking elsewhere for inspiration? In their eloquent and fascinating book Uncommon Sense authors John Peck and Charles Strohmer begin to answer those sorts of questions. What is apparent through the pages is that both authors passionately believe all Christians should continually ask questions. Too often, they opine Christians accept blithely the wisdom of the world – strive to be happy, to make mon