Friday 20 May 2016

From Fear to Faith

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

How do you talk to your friends about Jesus in multi-faith Southall? Answer, according to one six-year-girl, ‘I ask them, “What do you like about your God?” And then I say what I like about my God.’

I’ve been reminded of her response in recent weeks. The election of Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim mayor of a major western city was widely reported around the world. An internal review by the BBC has concluded that the Corporation’s output is too Christian, suggesting that Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths should get more airtime, while plans for new laws to tackle extremism were announced in this week’s Queen’s Speech.

Whatever we make of these issues – and responses vary – they are a reminder, if we need it, of the religiously plural nature of contemporary society. In many parts of the UK, through globalisation and migration, trade and technology, we increasingly live and work in close proximity to people who are adherents of different world faiths.

It’s not the first time the church has carried out its mission in a pluralistic context. Christianity was born into such a situation, and has faced the challenge many times in its history.

That challenge also brings opportunities in public life. In Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, Christian theologian Miroslav Volf argues that world religions can contribute to societal wellbeing not by one winning out over the others or by their amalgamation into a common ‘essence’, but by the recognition that each carries within itself something of benefit to which its adherents can appeal, which outsiders can recognise as they engage in conversation with each other.

Of course, truth claims about Christ and salvation matter. Being civil doesn’t require us to leave our Christian convictions at the front door of any discussion. On the contrary, it’s only as we engage in conversation from a firm stance of faith in Jesus and his lordship over the whole of life that we’re able to find places to connect with others, confident that the gospel answers the deep longings of men and women even while it challenges the way those longings are understood.

The danger would be to dig in or fight back, as if there was no other way but to respond in fear. A six-year-old girl in Southall would beg to differ.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Mission Frontiers 38, 3 (May-June 2016)

The May-Junes 2016 issue of Mission Frontiers, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, contains a number of articles on ‘Getting to No Place Left: Fostering Kingdom Movements Everywhere’.

Editor Rick Wood writes:

‘The key to finishing the task of world evangelization is the fostering of movements to Christ within every people and region on earth until there is No Place Left where the gospel is not available... It is not enough just to go to every people group and plant a Western style church that does not make disciples and does not establish new churches. We must learn how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in order to see thousands of rapidly growing movements around the world. It is the only way that every person will be able to have access to the gospel.’

Individual articles can be accessed from here, and the whole issue (3.3 MB) can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

European Union Referendum Resources

Friends and colleagues in several organisations are producing some helpful information and resources on the forthcoming EU Referendum which seeks to engage with the issues from a Christian perspective rather than perpetuating the battle of ‘fear’ narratives that seems to typify much of the debate elsewhere.

See here for a short post by the Joint Public Issues Team (representing The Baptist Union of Great Britain, The Methodist Church, The United Reformed Church, and The Church of Scotland). They have a page on their website devoted to the referendum here, with a short pdf booklet downloadable here, aiming ‘to encourage individuals and churches to think through Britain's membership of the European Union in the light of the gospel command to love your neighbour’.

Theos, the public theology think tank, have produced some helpful material...

Ben Ryan, A Soul for the Union (London: Theos, 2016) – a Theos booklet, with information here and downloadable as a pdf here.

As has the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, with a special page here, with (to date) the following individual pieces...

This article sets out five biblical principles for political and economic life and finds that the EU currently breaches them significantly. It proposes three conditions for remaining within the EU but, in the absence of other EU countries supporting such conditions, argues that British people should vote for Brexit. The article represents the views of the author and not of KLICE.

The European Union has spent years staggering through a crisis with political, economic, theoretical and practical elements. It has been, in many ways, a disappointment, failing to live up to the standards that were set for it in the 1950s. It stands in need of some redemption. Despite all this it remains the best hope for a genuinely international, voluntary and moral model of governance. This article makes that case for the EU as the body with the potential to be the moral force the 21st century world needs and, therefore, an organisation for the UK to help save, not leave.

Then there is the Jubilee Centre, with a collection of pieces, including four briefing papers, here.

In addition, Christians in Politics have a page here with several links to short articles.

Andrew Goddard has revised a Grove booklet on the European Union first written nearly 20 years ago. It’s available for purchase from here, with some additional resources available here, and a helpful summary gist here.

Finally, here are a couple of friends who have offered their own reflections:

Australian eJournal of Theology 23, 1 (2016)

I always find something of interest in the Australian eJournal of Theology, which is produced under the auspices of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at Australian Catholic University. The latest edition is now online (available from here), containing the following essays:


John Kinder
Dante 750 anniversary
Last year marked the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the Florentine poet. As our culture becomes more distant from the coherent, religiously informed world view that produced it, interest in Dante’s Divine Comedy continues to grow, especially in the English-speaking world. This essay argues that the source of this interest is not just awe at Dante’s remarkable summa of medieval culture, but the fact that his Comedy touches something peculiar to the modern condition. The adjective “Divina”, added after Dante’s death, might suggest an unearthly meditation on the other world. In fact, Dante is most interested in the human condition. The essay explores the notion of “religious sense”, coined by Pope Paul VI, developed by Luigi Giussani and a leitmotiv in papal writing up to the present, as the key to the relevance of this medieval masterpiece to our modern search for meaning.

Darren Cronshaw, Rowan Lewis and Stacey Wilson
Hemorrhaging Faith
Australia recently had the opportunity to consider the results of a Canadian research project Hemorrhaging Faith through a series of conferences in capital cities. The conferences sponsored a conversation between those who played an active role initiating the Hemorrhaging Faith research and a number of Australian researchers and practitioners who considered the research findings in the light of our context. This article offers an Australian critical review of the Hemorrhaging Faith report. It will consider whether Australian churches are also hemorrhaging young people in much the same way as Canadian research would suggest, or whether the situation may be conceived more accurately as one of exodus or exile. The article plots a course for the ongoing discussion we believe we need in Australia concerning the interpretation and implications of this story.

Neil Ormerod
Secularisation and Resacralisation
In his work, Theology and Social Theory John Milbank proffers the alternatives of naturalising the supernatural, which he identifies with the theology of Karl Rahner and claims promotes secularisation, and supernaturalising the natural which he identifies with the theology of Henri de Lubac with a political goal of a restored Christendom; these two options of a secularism which excludes the divine from the social order and a resacralisation which seeks to restore the sacred alliance between Church and state present false alternatives. This paper considers the alternatives of sacralisation and secularisation through the lens of the grace-nature debate and what Pope Francis calls the “missionary option.” The distinct ecclesial styles of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis will be drawn upon to illustrate the position developed.

Gwayaweng Kiki and Ed Parker
Education that Enables and Satisfies
Education (including theological education), by its very nature is deeply theoretically based. This is as it should be, but there are some real problems for non-first-world learners. Not only are they confronted with ideological issues, and theoretical problems, there is the issue of cultural diversity including communal and individualistic ways of being and doing. This article argues that the assessment task is where the two ways (Western and non-Western) can meet. Facilitating students via a pathway of compassion, care and concern becomes crucial. The educational insights of Terry Lovat have been used to open doorways that enable students to discover, understand and use effectively the knowledge and understanding that they have gained. The article arrives at a practical conclusion by opening avenues for non-first-world learners that traditional first-world-lecturers have tended to ignore. Human kindness should always be part of the tool bag of effective teaching and lecturing.

Christopher Friel
Lonergan on Pride
This article explores the relative lack of attention to the sin of pride in Bernard Lonergan, a lack he shares with Aquinas, in contrast to the Augustinian tradition. In order to explain this lack the article considers the dialectical nature of pride leading in turns to suggest a slightly surprising detour into the origins of social structures which Lonergan explains in terms of “challenge and response.” Most significant is the redemptive response to the challenge of sin, and it is here that we can discover Lonergan’s delicate transposition of traditional teaching in his deployment of the concept of general bias.

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