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Of Sacred Cows & Meta-Narratives 27 September 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Life, Ponderings, University.
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Some of you may have seen my tweet, that I sent earlier this week, in a slightly exasperated moment “And CU gets back to penal substitionary atonement within 20 minutes. One model among many.” (Faulty spelling mine; I have not discovered, nor sought, the spell checker in my smartphone! The correct word is “substitutionary.”)

With that tweet in mind you may be surprised that I count it as one of my delights as a Chaplain is that I have access to the student-led society that is the Christian Union. Some might find that surprising, both of me, and from their own personal experiences of CUs past. For those of us with an English University education I suspect we have a stereotypical view of the members of the Christian Union: earnest, articulate, zealous in the proclamation of the Gospel to all, whether those who wish to constitute the “all” want to know or not! Stereotypes work, of course, because they contain enough truth to be recognisable, often mixed with a fair degree of cynicism or dark humour. We know that stereotypes aren’t necessarily fair portrayals, but they are no less widespread because of it.

Each group, any group, I would dare to suggest, is held together by several things, not least of which is a shared world-view, a bigger picture of reality, the meta-narrative. In Christian faith that big picture centres around a benevolent creator God who wishes humanity, as part of the creation, to flourish and prosper in relationship with God and the rest of creation. The underlying aim, to use one of my favourite phrases, that we may experience life in al its fullness, both in in this physical world and also in the eternal and spiritual. At the heart of this is the message that we, humanity, have mucked it all up by failing to behave as God expects and demands, and thus need salvation, corporately and individually, through the life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Other groups have their own meta-narratives, their own frameworks that bring them together, even if the meta-narrative is that there is no bigger picture.

But, of course, within our groups, however they are constituted, there are differences of opinion about quite what the details are in terms of application. The Christian Union, for example, whether they like it or not, is one subset, one manifestation, of Christian thought, now matter how much they may claim that they represent “true” Christian faith. They have certain doctrinal hobby-horses, “sacred cows” (wonderful mixed metaphor there, Christian sacred cows…..) – one of which I mentioned at the start of this ramble, that understands and interprets the manner in which the death of Jesus Christ is effective for the sin of the world and all its human dwellers through all time and space. To use another of my key phrases of the moment, other models of the atonement are available.

The question I must ask myself, and we would all do well of to ask ourselves, esecially in the light of Matthew 7:1-5, is what are our sacred cows? What, in our meta-narratives, drive us? And maybe more critically to be open to the question, which is the more important and has the most influence: the hobby horse, or the big picture? The sacred cow or the meta-narrative? The doctrine or the destination? If we can keep that question in our minds, whatever our faith or belief system, our political or economic foundations, we will be all the better for it. No less earnest, articulate, zealous in our proclamations, but more real people than stereotype.

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