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Of Christian Union, Evangelical Theology and beyond 31 October 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Ponderings, University.
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Even before I was a Full-Time Chaplain I was delighted to be able to be a regular visitor to the Christian Union meetings. It would be fair to say that I am a supporter of the mission of the Christian Union, even while I am not an unconditional one. While my origins are firmly within the Conservative Evangelical school of thought I cannot call myself such now. It is a position I find impossible to hold after my life experiences (both pre- and post-ordination) and after studying Christian Theology at degree level. I am still Evangelical, holding to the importance of the individual’s encouter with Jesus Christ, but a wooly and liberal one (and no longer ashamed of being labelled as such).

The CU gives an opportunity for me to do a number of things. There is the possibility of meeting and encouraging young Christians. There is the chance to keep up to speed with contemporary worship (and to worship, rather than to lead worship, which is less of an issue than when I was part-time). And there is the chance to receive theological input and stimulation. The tendency, as a former conservative, is to be dismissive and critical of where I have come from. I don’t think that tendency will ever leave me, and I’m not sure I would ever wish it to. I don’t necessarily see that as negative either: the facility of critical thought is simply too important. But it must remain as critical thought, and not critical reaction. It is not enough to simply sit there and make critical notes, mental or otherwise. There must be an engagement.

Last night the speaker from the local Evangelical Free Church was speaking about God’s Covenant with Abram (Genesis 12 & 15) , rooted in grace and realised in results at both the personal and the global level. On the whole it was very good. The investigation and explanation of the nature and consequences of covenant as a binding relationship was clear and well-explained, and the listeners were encouraged (successfully, I think) to play their part in the wider mission of God.

Although the phrase wasn’t expressly used I especially liked the thought of Abraham as “Everyman”, that is, nobody especially deserving of God’s grace, but just a normal person, graciously blessed.

My criticisms, and these are, I recognise, my normal hoby-horses, focus in on both the failure to ask certain questions, and over-certain interpretation in favour of a particular answer. The good thing was that it encouraged me to return to my books and notes, to seek verification or denial of a stated position. So far what I have found appears to vindicate my initial thought, that the claims were potentially over-reaching the bounds of certainty and might be better expressed as “some see in this…”  rather then “this clearly shows…”. I ascribe this over-reaching to a desire to find Jesus, and one particular interpretation of the atonement, in everything absolutely everthing in the Old Testament (a position I think is impossible to maintain). Does the Old Testament point to Jesus? Yes, absolutely – but not I suspect, absolutely everywhere!

Even the language of my criticism needs to be qualified though: destructive criticism helps no-one, so any critical engagement must seek to be constructive. My quibbles concerning over-certain interpretations, must be placed, therefore in the wider context. If I feel that certain basic critical skills and thinking are lacking, and which the Christian Union will not be likely to address, then I fail in my calling as a Christian minister, pastor and chaplain, if I do not do what I can to address that.

Contemporary chorus-based worship is too often simplistic to the point of being trite, feel-good music (characterised, sometimes quite reasonably of music saying that ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’). There is a place for that, but no call for that to be the whole diet. Likewise, to speak, especially of the folk tales of Prehistory contained in the book of Genesis, essentially in terms of uncritically accepted literal truth, may have a place in the younger ranks of Sunday School, but not for an adult, or especially an Undergraduate-level audience.

As a result, and encouraged by the presence of a number of students who also feel a lack of depth, critical engagement and discussion, I’ll be starting something new tomorrow: Theos Cafe, a place for food for thought and food for the mind as well as the soul. I’m not 100% sure where it will go, other than treading paths that Evangelical, Chrisitian Union theology might not choose, or even acknowledge. This is understandable if, in the memorable phrase the speaker last night used, you believe that ‘doubt is the kyrptonite of faith.’  I can’t agree. Doubt is part of the human conditon, and is transcended by faith. It is surely fear that is the kryptonite. It robs us of strength and resolve. To confront other possibilities, in faith as well as in life, is vital. Faith must surely be informed if we are to follow the commands of Jesus to love the ord our God with all our mind, as well as the rest of us.

There is, of course, a risk in expressing such an opinion and espousing such practise. It may be seen as a hostile act, as opposition to the work of the Gospel, even an attempt to undermine the Chrisian Union. It is not, of course, but a complementary one – an act of equipping the faithful to better engage with the wider world, and the wider interpretation of faith that is Christianity. If another rejects utterly your premise for conversation, where do you go if you have no other frame of reference?

If you are a praying sort, and this rings any bells, then I’d value your prayers, particularly for continued good relations with my CU friends.

And if you are not, especially if you are one of my sceptical friends, I will ask you one simple question. In your scepticism (or rejection) of faith, have you ever considered that it could be appraoched without a slavish literalness? If the answer is yes, we may not agree, and may still vehemently disagree, but maybe we are closer in mind than you might think.

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