Sunday, July 31, 2005

Dawkins' God - A Review

Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life by Alister McGrath (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. 159 pages. US$18.95 <$12.89 at>)

A Review by Richard Kew

If you ever doubted that Alister McGrath is a very clever chap, then his latest book should put such doubts to rest forever. What is remarkable about this book is that here is a world class theologian with a chair in that discipline at one of the world's leading universities, who also holds a doctorate in biochemistry, and who was deeply engaged in postgraduate work in that field before, as it were, changing horses. What he does in this book is examine the works of Richard Dawkins, one of the foremost exponents and popularizers of an atheistic brand of scientific Darwinism, and who also teaches at the same university as McGrath -- Oxford.

Dawkins' God is not so much a theologian critiquing Dawkins from the remoteness of a divinity-laden perch, but a scientist bringing rational scientific argument to bear on Dawkins' assertions and arguments, and doing so from a strongly held and significantly reflected-upon Christian presupposition. If nothing else, Dawkins' God is a classic example of how intelligent and gracious apologetic should be undertaken.

"(Richard) Dawkins raises all the right questions," McGrath tells us as he concludes this book, and then damns him with ironic faint praise by saying, "and gives some very interesting answers" (Page 158). Richard Dawkins came from a traditional Anglican background, but like so many of our generation, was innoculated against the real thing during his time at Oundle School, a once all-male preserve of which my elder daughter was in the first class of girls! For purposes of full disclosure, my mother-in-law was employed by Oundle for many years, and my younger daughter also studied there.

Dawkins read zoology at Oxford, and did further research at the University of Sussex. Following his time on that delightful campus by the English Channel he crossed an ocean and a continent and spent a few years at Berkley, that delightful campus overlooking the Pacific, before returning to Oxford University where he has hung his hat ever since. It was Dawkins' assertions in books like The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, that turned him into a popularizer of an atheistic spin on Charles Darwin's insights.

It is Dawkins belief that Christian theology is "cosmic sentimentality," and that to believe in God today is to be "hoodwink'd with faery fancies." Do not think that because Professor Dawkins has, unlike so many scientists, a great facility with words, that his statements come from someone who hops, skips, and jumps across the surface. Dawkins has been an influential thinker in his field, although as McGrath suggests, his grasp of the ontological, theological, and a-theological, dimension is not as secure as his grasp of the interpretation of the science upon which he bases his position.

This is a classic contest between science and religion. The trouble is, as McGrath, a towering student of theology, philosophy, and the history of ideas, the so-called battle between science and faith was greatly exaggerated when it erupted in the Victorian era, and things have moved on considerably since that time. Today, for example, there is more and more research that suggests a faith dimension is healthy rather than destructive, and that there is a deepening cooperation between the scientific community and the faith community. Dawkins conveniently overlooks this.

McGrath finds Richard Dawkins' earlier works, (all of which you are likely to find on the science shelves of any Barnes and Noble or Borders), more convincing than his later ones, because they are based in the scientific method with evidence-based arguing. His later works tend to deteriorate in McGrath's opinion as they reiterate "the same stale old atheistic equivalents of the 'mad, bad, or God' arguments use by some Christians to prove the divinity of Christ... It became increasingly clear to me that the grounds of Dawkins' atheism might ultimately lie beyond the sciences, not within them" (Page 10).

This is as far as McGrath is prepared to go in personal inuendo, and that is a lesson all of us can learn when engaged in debate. I know that I have at times been guilty of arguing against opponents by allowing personal invective to take the place of reasoned discussion, so there was an object lesson here. Character assassination should not prevail in intelligent debate over ideas, ethics, facts, and perceptions. While the Apostle Paul has some pretty tough things to say about his detractors, he always does so within the context of the discussion of faith, doctrine, and practical Christian living, not solely on the basis of his detractors' characters. So it should be with us, and McGrath models this for us.

Early on in his research and teaching career Richard Dawkins hit upon the very effective technique of looking at evolution from the viewpoint of the gene. He wrote, "Life is just bytes and bytes of bytes of digital information. Genese are pure information -- information that can be encoded, recoded and decoded, without any degradation or change of meaning." Organisms that are able to replicate this genetic coding and pass it on to the next generation are there to enable this digital database to survive -- and not the other way round. Thus -- the Selfish Gene. In the process of unpacking Dawkins, McGrath unpacks Darwin and Mendel, too, and as effectively as I have seen either of these great gentlemen explained.

For Dawkins evolution by natural selection, Darwinism, "is a worldview, a total account of reality." Darwinism is a "universal and timeless principle capable of being applied throughout the universe." In comparison worldviews such as Marxism are "parochial and ephemeral. Where most evolutionary biologist would argue that Darwinism offers a description of reality," McGrath comments, "Dawkins insists that it offers more than this -- it is an explanation. Darwinism is a worldview, a grand recit, a metanarrative -- a totalizing framework, by which the great questions of life are to be evaluated and answered" (Page 42-43).

With grace, subtlety and intelligence, McGrath spends 159 pages gently but firmly challenging and demolishing the integrity of Dawkins' case, and questioning his presuppositions. He makes it clear by the use of both ideas and evidence, that whatever the legitimacy of Darwinian thought, Darwin's presuppositions do not necessarily lead to atheism as Dawkins is convinced, and neither does an evolutionary framework make sense of the manner in which culture develops and functions.

I have not read a lot of Richard Dawkins, but what I have read has always seemed to me to reflect a personal agenda against religion, as much as stating a position which he believes to be emminently defensible. Yet Dawkins has influenced a lot of people, yet at the same time I suspect he has been under-estimating both the ability and the intelligence of those who believe he is incorrect in his forthright rejection of any notion of God or a First Cause.

It is clear that in Alister McGrath he has met his intellectual and scholarly match. McGrath is someone who uses the scientific method and the explications of facts, the arena in which Dawkins considers himself king, to undermine the arguments Dawkins is making. What excites me about this book is not just the case McGrath makes, but the manner in which he makes it.

I commend Dawkins' God as a tutorial in godly apologetics and a model for the manner in which we need to learn to address ourselves to an unbelieving world. It is also an extremely useful guide to follow as we within the Christian community engage in debate and dialogue with one another.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Something Completely Different: The Elizabethan Homilies

A few days ago my good friend, David Bailey, asked about the Homilies, and their role in the Anglican tradition as seen through English eyes. As in the midst of this heatwave it is far too hot to go outside and do anything, I am sitting in the air conditioned comfort of my study and getting a reply out to his question.

Article XXXV of the Thirty-Nine Articles reads, "The Second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people."

There was a reworking appended to Article XXXV by the General Convention of 1801 was
valid, building upon the principle of comprehension found in the original Article itself: "This Article is received in this Church, so far as it declares the Books of Homilies to be an explication of Christian doctrine, and instructive in piety and morals. But all references to the constitution and laws of England are considered as inapplicable to the circumstances of this Church; which also suspends the order for the reading of said Homilies in churches, until a revision of them may be conveniently made, for the clearing of them, as well from obsolete words and phrases, as from the local references."

The Homilies were model sermons introduced into what had been essentially a non-preaching, non-biblical tradition of the old, unreformed Catholicism that preceded the establishment of the Church of England as an entity separated from the papacy. Also, not every priest by any means was licensed to preach, but they were given the Homilies to address to their congregations. As someone has pointed out, they did a pretty good job in their impact upon the English people because the generation who listened to them the most was the generation of Hooker, Spencer, Shakespeare, Marlow, and Sidney!

The Homilies tended to disappear from common use in the 17th Century especially under the influence of the Puritans, who were preachers par excellence, and many of whom considered these to be somewhat watered down theology! However, it ought to be remembered that those older Puritans had also be shaped by being expected to listen to the Homilies, thus shaping the English preaching and expository tradition.

Today the Homilies are more of historic interest than anything, but as Stephen Neill pointed out in his history of Anglicanism, what Cranmer was doing when he created these resources was to revive an ancient Catholic practice of providing homilies to be read in churches where there would otherwise be no preaching.

Neill continues:

"Hearers today (he was writing in 1958) would probably regard the homilies as long, tedious, complex, and unintelligible. But we note once again Cranmer's confidence in his fellow-countrymen's ability to understand and to resond to a reasoned exposition of the Christian faith. In those days everyone had to go to church, whether he wishes or not; in many churches no sermon was ever provided other than the reading of a homily. There is little doubt that, through constant hearing, the
substance of many of these discourses, like that of the Bible and the Prayer Book itself, passed into the consciousness of the hearers, and helped to fashion the characteristically Anglican attitude toward Christian faith."

They also helped promote the gradual acceptance of the notion that the Scriptures are the ultimate standard in all matters of faith and conduct. This latter reality has been lost in the "I feel..." kind of preaching that we hear today that often has no bearing on what the Word says.

While Americans delight in the glories of their written Constitution, it has to be remembered that the Church of England developed in the same way as English Common Law, by the accumulation of precedents -- and they glory in that. I suspect that if the British had been asked to vote on the new-defunct European Union Constitution, there would probably have been quite heated battles about the pros and cons of a Common Law approach to constitutional life, compared to a written consitutition.

The Church of England in its style reflects the nation in so many ways, so it can be said that the Homilies were part of the "Common Law" precedent approach to ordering church life. They provided a model and a precedent, and whether we realize it or not, we stand on the shoulders of those whose lives were formed by these treasurers -- indigestible as many of them might be.

If you want to read the Homilies you can find and download them at

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Why I Remain An Anglican - Part 3

The crises of the last years has forced me, like so many others, to carefully reconsider my stance in relation to my Anglican commitment, and that is probably no bad thing given how stultifying it can be to get into a rut and take one's circumstances for granted. As I have looked at the alternatives, and as well as sought to understand what Anglicanism is, and where it is now, I have concluded that to be faithful I must remain an Anglican, and althought I would prefer a friendlier environment, must do so within the Episcopal Church of the USA.

I am also convinced that a weakening of Anglicanism both here and elsewhere is a weakening of the whole global Body of Christ, for there is a richness in Anglicanism that filters through into the whole broad array of Christian traditions from the Pentecostal to the Catholic. While there is a lot to learn in this present crisis, I am also certain that walking away from this church, even if it is to go to as venerable a tradition as Rome, is not the answer to the problem. This is not to stand in judgment over those who have taken this journey, but to assert it is not the path I will take. Perhaps it is because the Anglican tradition is so flawed that I, a deeply flawed individual, can relate meaningfully to it.

I also believe that in all our splitting and fragmenting there is a giving in to a desire for instant gratification. My observation over the years has been that divisions between Christians are as much about personalities and relationships as they are about beliefs and convictions. As I have been studying Paul's writings to the Corinthians this year I am touched by his way of doing things. It was not to compromise the fundamentals of the faith, but to win over those who attacked him and radically compromised the truth, with loving firmness and attempts as reconciliation in the name of Christ.

As I read Scripture, there is a divine imperative rooted in the person and work of Christ that we always seek reconciliation. There has been a lot of talk about reconciliation, and there is this tendency among those who represent the views of the political majority to think in terms of the orthodox "minority" laying down and playing dead before the majority. This is to misunderstand the nature of Christian truth, which has little to do with democracy and the opinions of the majority, and much more to do with obedience to what God has revealed. Yet the God who has revealed his nature is also the God who has reconciled us to himself in the Cross of Christ, and has "entrusted to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). Despite the countless discomforts, our imperative is to continue to seek to end broken relationships within the continuing life of the church.

I am increasingly of the opinion that it is within this environment that we can best learn the truth. I do not trust the carnal me who is perfectly happy to say "I am convinced I am right," and then to turn my back on those with whom I am at odds. This would allow me to luxuriate in my own self-righteousness. While I am convinced of the veracity of biblical values concerning the nature of our humanity, and therefore in the sexuality debate, I am obligated to try to grasp what I might have missed, and this can only happen in an environment where I am not quaranteened from those who think differenly from me, however wrong I believe them to be.

The reality is that God's truth always trumps my limited perceptions. Doctrinal boundaries are vital, but we should not make them barriers. The truth always requires of us humility, on whatever side we are in the debate, and during the last few years we have seen precious little humility. I cannot pretend that I exhibit a rich vein of humility in my life or even in the way I have handled myself in the last couple of years, but I struggle forward knowing that true believing and genuine humility belong together.

Seeking to live according to the Gospel humility pioneered by Jesus requires a sturdiness of soul in these hard times, when one's primary detractors are likely to be those within the church. During the last few years all sorts of nastiness has been thrown at me because I believe the course being taken by ECUSA dishonors God -- and is plain wrong. There may be some truth in charges made against me, but I would graciously suggest that my detractors look at themselves before throwing accusations, perhaps they are just a little guilty of projection.

Then one does not walk away from the circumstances in which God has
placed you. While my careful analysis leads me to conclude that Anglican Christianity is the place where I belong, I confess that it requires a supreme effort to remain part of a province that has made it clear that it doesn't like people like me and wishes we would go away, despite the fact that we are the mainstream of world Anglicanism.

Yet it seems that God is remaking his church, and no good is served by me disappearing from the construction site during preparation of the land for our future. Much of my writing over the past twenty years has been to say that today's ecclesial configuration is not appropriate for tomorrow's missionary task. Rebuilding is by its nature messy, and during reconstruction involves all manner of temporary solutions and contingencies -- and this is precisely what going on around us.

We can only see the reality from a human standpoint, which means we are overwhelmed by the mess, but the truth is that our all-powerful, all-knowing God sees the beginning from the end, and the end from the beginning, and will guide and direct his faithful people through the intervening wilderness, as he has done before.

The history of salvation is constant recapitulation: the Exodus always being the model of God's way of deliverance. The Exodus, like the Way of the Cross, is about discovering the richness of faithfulness, believing that God in his time and manner will show us the precise course we should pursue. For God's people the Exodus journey required much patience as they wandered through the desert for forty years. Some centuries later there was the seventy years of Exile, and now we await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will at that point make all things new. Patience, waiting, as well as periods of discomfort are all part of the faithful journey.

I am convinced there are more immense challenges ahead of Christian people, Anglicans and otherwise, in the 21st Century than we imagine. I agree wholeheartedly with Benedict XVI that "humanity must change course or face even greater atrocities and barbarism in the decades to come." The Pope has in his sights a relativism that says "there is no truth," and from which comes "the looming threat of new anti-human ideologies and philosophies" (Robert Moynihan, Let God's Light Shine - The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, New York: Doubleday, 2005, page 45).

Challenges will descend upon us hard and fast as this century proceeds. I do not actually believe the present crisis is primarily about sexuality, nor do I believe it is necessarily about authority, although that is a component, but I am certain that the nub of the matter is what it means to be human. The question is what it means to be made in the image of God, and thus what God is like. The revealed nature of God is being challenged from every direction imaginable, and those forces seeking to redefine our humanity will only become more ravenous. This is what gives significance to our present battles.

To this must be added the consequences of planetary degradation and the massive demographic shifts going on. The implication of mass migrations and imbalances of age and generation are beginning to be felt in every society, culture, economy, and in religious and ethnic relationships. What we have seen in London during the last couple of weeks is a symptom of this. There is no place in this environment for a weak, unreflective, divided, or diluted Christian voice and witness.

Futhermore, we can expect a new round of diseases and pandemics, as well as needing to find the resources to come to terms with inventions and discoveries that will fill the whole human race with both wonder and unprecedented terror. Superpowers will come, superpowers will go, and we need to recognize in the midst of all this that the whole infrastructure of contemporary life is immensely fragile. I could go on, but you probably get the point.

As I took one last look at my granddaughter sleeping in her crib before leaving England, I saw a person who could conceivably live to see the dawn of the 22nd Century. My prayers for her is that she will be a forthright and obedient servant of Jesus Christ through all of her life, and that she will be engifted by God to contribute to the solution of tomrrow's problems, not their intensification.

Which brings me back to Anglican Christianity, one significant stream within the multifarious channels that combine to form a vast river that is the covenant people of God. Whatever the shape of its future (and its shape will be very different from anything we have known), it has a role to play. Meanwhile, it is our lot to be the generation who are asked to be stewards of this small vessel as we feel our way through difficult times and troubled waters. So be it. As Paul told the Corinthians that "this slight momentary afflication is preparing for us an eternal weight fo glory beyond comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why I Remain An Anglican -- Part 2

The earlier part of this was necessarily autobiographic, and what
follows is what I understand the essence of Anglicanism to be. For many
years now my old friend and mentor, Dr. Jim Packer, has spoken and
written about the Anglican identity. We have joked together that this may be because Anglican Christianity has suffered from a permanent identity crisis! This may be true, but I hazard that there are good reasons for this, one of which is that we live in transitional times, and a Christian tradition that is attempting to speak God's truth in a
period of such social fluidity is bound to spend a lot of time wrestling
with who it is.

The Jack Spongs and Jim Pikes of this word are aberrations in the Anglican universe, as detached from the mainstream of catholic Christianity and classic Anglicanism as the snake handlers who still crop up in out of the way coves and hollows of Appalachia. Yet, because American Anglicanism has been (at the very best) "theology lite," they have been allowed to be the voice of our tradition on American soil. They are, I suspect, the inevitable outcome of the mantra which has been constantly repeated that Anglican Christianity is not confessional -- something which is utter phooey!

Anglican Christianity is theologically rich and thoroughly confessional, being rooted and grounded in its submission to Scripture as God's word written, as interpreted and understood through the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the historic Books of Common Prayer, and the Homilies. This stream of believing provides an environment that is generous enough to allow for substantial wiggle room, but is without an inquisitional flavor. Yet within our tradition there are clear, substantial, and obvious boundaries that have been set, and we ignore them at our peril.

Classic Anglicanism has had a delightful theological sturdiness that enables it to draw upon the riches of everyone from the Church Fathers to the Puritans, from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, to the insights of the whole cross-section of great theologians and thinkers of our time, as well as the emerging theologies that are coming from the Global South. The thin gruel that has been the staple of American Anglicanism in the last several generations has played a role in creating a denomination that is so ignorant of its origins and roots that much of it now hardly bears much of the original family likeness. As Robert Morgan of Oxford has pointed out, "the best insights of liberal theology... do not suffice to nourish a minority church in an aggressively secular society" (Quoted by Alister McGrath in The Renewal of Anglicanism, page 121).

It was inevitable that Anglicanism would become more multicultural because of the explosive growth of the worldwide Communion, drawing upon many ethnicities and social groupings, and that with this expansion would come tensions. However, while much of the church in the wider world has read, learned, and inwardly digested the core at the heart of Anglican believing, it has become obvious in recent years that the church in the West would become so deeply enamored by the relativism, cultural and moral narcissism of our times. Neither did we fully recognize the harm deconstructive thinking and scholarship was doing to the way we understand the content of our Christian heritage.

However, having said this, it is the generosity of Anglicanism that continues to draw me, a generosity that is truly Spirit-given. The Anglican way of understanding the substance of the faith has clarity, but at the same time there is room to move and to explore. So I would contend that there is a generous orthodoxy about Anglican Christianity that is enviable -- clear boundaries, but room to move. Having said that, there have been those within the church who have imposed upon our tradition's innate generosity until the outcome has been utter license -- and with it the abandonment of the catholic distinctives that are at the heart of Anglican believing and acting.

Having experienced Anglicanism in many parts of the world I would say that although it is hard to clearly define, there is a certain continuity to our expression of faith that is recognizable whether you are in a mud church in the bush of Tanzania or in one of England's great, historic cathedrals. A component of this Anglicanism, like its theology, is both its generosity and its willingness to engage the
prevailing culture with the heart of the Gospel.

I would take issue with those who identify Anglicanism with Englishness, for although that is still so in parts of the West, our approach to the faith has certainly moved through and beyond this in other parts of the world. English-style Anglicanism may have been the jumping off point, but it has developed way beyond that now. Anglicans worship is a babel of languages, a multiplicity of styles, and with several orchestras of different musical instruments, with a variety of liturgies, and its theology continues to have a rich generosity of expression.

Anglicanism is essentially a tolerant and welcoming way of being a Christian, and that is something I revel in and applaud. Speaking personally, throughout my Christian life I have been given the liberty to explore, ask questions, and also to fail -- both in my vocation and my personal life, and I have been picked up and gently nurtured back to health as well. I have also been expected to live alongside and work with those with whom I have the profoundest disagreements. I can only say that I have been immeasurably enriched by this, uncomfortable as it has sometimes been.

I would go further and say that in my own ministry, and in the midst of one of the deepest crisis of my life, I was nurtured and loved back to holistic health by a bishop whose theology I believe to be fundamental flawed. This had a profound impact upon me, ameliorating my own tendency to "write people off," and demonstrating to me that at its best, the generosity of Anglicanism cuts in several ways. It is for personal reasons like this that I find the present crisis so painful, for in
ECUSA, at least, that generosity has fled on all sides, and the integrity of a valuable component of the Anglican culture has been profoundly weakened if not permanently destroyed.

However, one of the reasons we are in the mess we are is because we have acted with appropriate generosity, welcoming all-comers into our midst. Where we have failed is that we have allowed such generosity to be taken advantage of and devalued until it has become cheap grace, and have shrunk from maintaining the boundaries that are there at the heart of the Anglican confession. Doing both these things together is, I realize, a difficult balancing act, but our present circumstances are evidence of our failure.

We have allowed, alas, the culture of rights to prevail, modifying pastoral care until we are asked to accept as normal what is unacceptable. I am not just talking of sexuality here, for this has merely been the tipping point in what is a multi-generational drift from the essence of classic Anglicanism. My hope, prayer, and dream would be to see the balance restored, for with it would come not only a delightful maturity of faith, but also a revitalized Anglican culture.

The most obvious thing about Anglicans, perhaps our biggest calling card in the New World, is our liturgical tradition rooted and grounded as it is in the brilliance of Thomas Cranmer and the wisdom of the Elizabethan Settlement. Even with all the tinkering that has gone on through the process of liturgical revision, such good stuff cannot help but shine through.

We are allowed by the church to pray with the communion of saints down through the ages, while at the same time recognizing the need for spiritual spontaneity and for local cultural variation. There is extraordinary substance in our worshipping, even the severely watered down offerings of Rite II in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In an age when so much worship is anthropocentric and entertainment-driven, there is great significance in our beginning our time around the Word and the table with the words, "Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

We believe as Anglicans that we worship with the mind every bit as much as with the body and the emotions. Ideally, worship for us is not a psychological or spiritual game, but is the setting within which our whole being is brought into the divine presence, fed on the Word, and nourished by the sacraments. While there is great danger that our worship will become rote, there is far less danger that it will be vacuous and trite when it is used reverentially, sensitively, and with great care.

I confess that on those rare occasions when I worship in a non-liturgical setting, however good the preaching, I tend to leave dissatisfied, as if something signficant is missing. I would also have to say that there is some sense of inadequacy in those Anglican settings that mess too much with the liturgical order.

I confess to not always finding it easy to worship in the presence of those these days who I believe to be troublers of the church; but at the same time our presence together before the Throne of Grace is a reminder to me that even if I am convinced their perception of God and God's purposes is wrong, I must accept that there are probably woeful shortcomings in my grasp of what it means to be a faithful Christian. The truth is that we all come into the Father's presence as sinners in the need of grace.

If I were to dream about the future shape of Anglican worship it would be for a doctrinal tightening up and restoring of the standards of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It seems to me that when compared to the magisterial work that 1662 is, and how that is reflected in the 1928 revision, 1979 while "tasteful" for the most part, our present liturgical standard is theologically weak and often doctrinally sloppy. Looking at some of the revising that is going on in other parts of the Communion, it need not be this way, and we have a lot to learn from other Anglicans.

In the period since the Reformation, Anglicanism has been forced by ever-changing circumstances to grapple again and again with what it means to be God's partners and servants in the work of the Missio Dei. Those of us who are evangelical and take seriously the dimension of individual salvation in the Gospel, have had to come to terms with the social and political dimensions of what it means to bring in God's reign upon earth. We have had mixed success in learning that lesson.

But in terms of enthusiastic proclamation of the truth, we can point to the worldwide Communion of churches that is the product of generations of obedience to the missionary impulse whether that was driven by desire to spread God's Word, or it was seen as the spiritual arm of imperialistic and commercial influences of a bygone era. Neither is it any accident that one of the most helpful tools of evangelism now being employed by Anglicans and a cross-section of other denominations, including Rome, has been Alpha -- as well of the various Anglican knock-offs that have followed in Alpha's wake.

Anglicans of a biblical persuasion have taken seriously the Great Commission, and continue to do so -- just look at the proliferation of missionary enterprises that there has been in the Episcopal Church in the last 30 years! The huge growth of the Communion in the Global South is itself a mark of the manner in which the missionary spirit is deeply ingrained in classic Anglicanism as it is today. Furthermore, the vast majority of new church plants in just about every corner of the world come from a a classic Anglican direction, showing us the extraordinary spirit of enthusiasm for Gospel truth that still marks Anglicanism at its best.

While those of us on the evangelical end of the spectrum have made some progress in our grasp upon the imperatives of the Gospel, and its holistic nature, I do not see that same holism in other schools of faith. Indeed, as I look at the broad church's understanding of its mission, I see a loss of nerve which is often accompanied by a discomfort about the uniqueness of God's self-revelation in Christ, and this blindspot feeds our denominational malaise. It also has to be pointed out that actions of some of our co-religionists have set back missionary initiatives at home, caused great embarrassment, and have put the lives of fellow-Anglicans in danger in other parts of the world.

However, walking away from those who work from an understanding of God and mission that is at odds with classic and orthodox Anglicanism does little good, merely deepening animosities and further rending with great tragedy the seamless garment of Christ. I am increasingly convinced that in a tribalized and fragmented postmodern world further fragmentation of the Christian community does not serve the Gospel, it merely hampers our mission.

Having said that, one of the tragic consequences of our sorry state is that those of us who define ourselves as orthodox are forced to take all sorts of measures to protect ourselves from a rapacious discrimination that is often aimed at us, as well as persecutions that I would not have believed possible a dozen years ago. For me the church, Anglican or otherwise, is a Gospel "game," for many of our fellow-Episcopalians it seems to have become a lethal sport of power politics that is being played against the orthodox minority. This is dangerous for all of us, because I am convinced that the insights into the faith and the missionary dynamic of those of us who are discriminated against make us a major component of the leaven in the lump. For our part, the orthodox have not always acted wisely and well, either.

(The final section of this series will be an attempt to draw some of these threads together)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Why I Remain An Anglican -- Part One

During the last couple of years I, like so many of those I know, have had to reconsider what I had always believed were the commitments of a lifetime. While these have not included my commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ seeking to be his faithful servant, they have included a lot of what I used to consider to be the givens that have for decades followed on from that faith in Christ. Questions have arisen like can I continue to maintain the vow of canonical allegiance to my bishop within the context of the larger church? Should I stay in ECUSA which I have served for nearly 30 years? Should I return to England?

Even more disturbing has been whether it is possible for a person seeking to be faithful to Scripture to remain an Anglican in these difficult circumstances, or has error finally run me off? If I come up with a "no" to this last question, then where on earth might I go and what might I do?

Such is the stuff that has fed countless prayers and had me walking the hardwood floors of our home in the wee small hours. My concern above all else has been obedience to Christ, not necessarily what makes me feel comfortable or what it might do to my income when I retire. This latter attitude is that of the fool in Jesus's parable, for I do not know when my soul will be required of me. While I remain here on earth that soul in concert with the body that houses it must put loyalty to the Lord above all else.

I have always considered myself to be what I would describe as a congenital Anglican, some of this almost goes with being English, but it is also something that has become an ingrained conviction. This means that whether I should remain Anglican is a question that has been the most disturbing. I confess to a continuing deep affrection for the Anglican way of being Christian, although I recognize there are other ways of obedience. I also confess to being increasingly irritated by the way in which we seem determined to constantly put our tradition down.

Yet the Anglican environment has been the setting in which my faith has been nurtured, has developed, and continues (I hope) to mature. Even if I ceased being an Anglican, all the treasures of this heritage would stay with me, enriching and haunting me until that day when I am finally called Home.

This has seriously raised the possibility of being an Anglican in one of the separated Anglican bodies, and I certainly considered this -- especially when I received a couple of flattering invitations from leaders of those various groups. I have learned and benefited a lot from these brothers and sisters, and take great pride in telling you that my own private communion set was dedicated by the presiding bishop of one of those churches. Yet it is not among these good people that I belong.

I have been (and continue to be) profoundly troubled by the actions of ECUSA, whose willingness to diverge from the catholic faith has, I am forced to conclude, as much to do with ignorance of God's revelation as a slide into aping the culture rather than challenging the culture's presuppositions. Yet this has been going on for a long time and we have not adequately countered it until now.

I would have to say that the whole Robinson and human sexuality embroglio is merely the tipping point in a long drift in this province away from the essence of revealed faith, and the institutional orthodoxy that is reflected in a larger part of the rest of the Anglican Communion. I would agree with Harold Bloom that the established religion of America is a modern form of Gnosticism, and much of the Episcopal Church has come to resemble this characterization.

However, over the last couple of years, as I have prayed over, pondered, and sought counsel about being in these circumstances, I have realizing that concentrating my thoughts on the negatives of ECUSA is of no use at all, for all they do is increase the density of the fog meaning that I will myself start hitting icebergs. The whole thing then comes about me and not about the environment in which I have been set to be a witness to the truth.

To use an analogy, there is a lot about the history as well as the current behavior of my own kith and kin that deeply disturbs me, so if I were to cut my ties with them I would have done so a long time ago; but blood is stronger than water, and something far more ontological persuades me that I must stay connected, and even reach out to the ones with whom I have been at odds. Being at one with my own family overrides their attitudes and misbehaviors, although it does not allow me to condone what some of them are up to. So it is with Anglican Christianity, as well as the American mainline incarnation of it, which is the one to which I belong.

However, there have been serious moments when I have wondered if, perhaps, maybe, I would fit somewhere else. I have looked at Rome as an option, for example. I was watching the funeral of John Paul II, and a little voice murmured in my ear that at a push I could handle this. Rome has a magnificence that gives it a magnetic appeal to countless Western Christians who are separated from it, and I have watched a steady trickle of friends swim the Tiber. But as I looked more closely, and as I viewed what was going on outside St. Peter's Basilica on that spring day I recognized that being a Catholic goes with a package that is as troublesome to me as the misdeeds of ECUSA.

In JPII's funeral there were two of them that hit me. The first was Rome's theology of the eucharist, which made me most uncomfortable when they reached the Canon of the Mass, and then there was the place given to Mary in their devotional life. When I was in seminary I had the luxury of being able to spend a whole term just studying the nature of Roman Christianity in the wake of Vatican II. While there was much to encourage my heart, there was also a great deal more that made Roman Christianity indigestible to me -- and I realized on that April day that these concerns have not been ameliorated by the passing of the years.

I can never believe about authority what Roman Catholics are bound to believe, especially the manner in which the church's magesterium is anchored in (what is to me) an unacceptable theology of the papacy and the place in Christian believing of the Bishop of Rome. JPII might have been one of the greatest Christians ever to hold that office who has attracted many into the Roman obedience, but just as one should not judge Anglicanism merely by its shortcomings, neither can we measure the grandeur of Catholicism merely by the life of one of its most significant sons.

I believe that despite the dark stains marring that era, the cleansing that took place at the Reformation was essentially beneficial to Christianity as a whole, and especially Anglicanism. It grieves me that despite Catholicism's richness it was neither prepared then nor has it been prepared since to test substantial elements of its doctrinal edifice against the essence and substance of Scripture.

The trouble is that while the Roman Catholic doctrine of development allows for a piling up for fresh insights into the tradition, it does not seem to have the capacity for subsequent questioning of the accumulated tradition -- or perhaps the reassessment, modification, or abandonment of components that might be inappropriate. This was something that one of the most significant converts to the Roman obedience, John Henry Newman, wrestled with. Newman discovered to his cost that as he sought in those Victorian days to make better sense of the doctrine of development, his rich and helpful work came under the scrutiny, and then outright ban of the Vatican.

While I cannot reach into the hearts and souls of those who have become Roman Catholics in recent years, I am totally unable to follow them. I wish them well, but I also wish they had not done it. I am sorry, too, that most are unwilling to keep in touch with those of us they leave behind.

Eastern Orthodoxy has become a less fashionable destination for disgruntled Anglicans than it was 12-15 years ago, which is hardly surprising, because even in its most Americanized forms Orthodoxy remains distinctly alien and ethnic. Now there is much about Orthodoxy that appeals to me, especially their deep devotion to the Holy Trinity, but having worked closely with the Russian Orthodox for the best part of a decade, I find myself in a position where I can admire them without necessarily wanting or needing to be part of them.

While Orthodoxy is much closer to classic Anglicanism than Rome is, I do have problems with a religious tradition that has not been tried and tested by either Reformation, or the challenges of the Enlightenment that have so influenced those of us who are Westerners.

While many Orthodox Christians might disagree with me, I also find that its liturgy-centered approach to mission and evangelism leaves something to be desired -- and while some of their approaches to outreach might be imaginative, they are major exceptions. A further discomfort I confess to having with Orthodoxy is my perception that it is inflexibly male-dominated, and while I have misgivings about some of the ways we have sought to enrich the ministry of women, I would rather have tried doing something than basically saying the church got it right a millennium ago and we don't need to go back to that.

There are endless other Christian traditions that I admire, and from which I have gained, from Lutherans to the Salvation Army. But I have been formed in a particular way which has so profoundly shaped me, that I could no more adopt being part of something else than I could fly to the moon. Probably the least likely Christian tradition in which I might fit would be that which is either broadly Baptist or broadly Pentecostal, although Christians from each of these settings has played a significant role in my life in the past.

All this brings me back to my lifelong love affair with Anglicanism, and my realization that while things are more fluid in the Anglican Communion now than at any time in my life, as well as the parlous state of the North American franchise of mainstream Anglicanism, as far as I am concerned there are no alternatives. Through my questioning I have concluded that I am in no position to abandon this church until this church abandons me.

At the end of his very helpful little monograph exploring the biblical basis for remaining united or separating from an erring body, Mike Thompson, an American priest who is Vice-Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, writes, "One of the great things the Anglican Church has going for it is that it does not have some of the walls that some other churches have, firewalls that protect the Church of the Immaculate Perception at the cost of people. Tolerance means we leave room for mistakes. Sometimes our leaders make big mistakes, as we do. But I would rather be part of a group that risks erring on the side of tolerance than one that 'safely' errs on the side of separation. The truth is, try as hard as we can, human beings are going to continue to err and make messes until glory. If we can learn to listen to the worldwide church before making big decisions, these messes can be minimized" (Michael B. Thompson, When Should We Divide?, Cambridge: Grove Books, 2004, page 27).

I agree with Mike wholeheartedly, despite the fact that it leaves me in an uncomfortable position. I also still believe, with my old friend and mentor Jim Packer, that at its best Anglican Christianity is the finest way of believing. So, for better or worse, "Here I stand," as was said by the greatest of Reformers. Whatever the outcomes my intention is to work for the restoration and reformation of the church, and in uncertain times that means learning to listen carefully to what God might be saying.

(This is only the first of three pieces I am writing on this topic. More will follow about the richness of the Anglican heritage, which I believe often gets overlooked because we are concentrating on the problems and not the benefits of our tradition).

Friday, July 08, 2005

What should have been a joyful day

Birmingham, England

July 8, 2005

Yesterday was meant to be a joyful day in our family, because it was the day that little Hannah came home from the hospital -- as the cries coming from upstairs right now, and on and off through the night, remind us. Let's just say that our granddaughter is having a tad of trouble getting settled in her new home, and that her parents are learning that God has a good reason for having offspring when we are young: that is the only time when most of us can cope with the grinding tiredness that goes with it!

However, our joy was marred by the horrendous attacks in Central London, all of which have the signature of Islamic fundamentalist militants written over them. I suspect the intelligence and security services know more about the identity of the perpetrators than they are letting on, although there were rumors broadcast this morning that this could be the work of an Al Qaeda sleeper cell that is possibly based in the West Midlands -- in other words around where I am writing this from. 300 British subjects are known to have gone to Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and the price number might be ten times that.

We were getting ready for Hannah's homecoming yesterday when our son-in-law, off on chores in his car, called us to tell us to put on the television because there was something going on in London. We spent the rest of the morning glued to the screen, much as we were on 9/11. There was the inevitable confusion, and at one point they were reporting as many as seven bombs, but as the day progressed it became clear that there were just four -- three in the Underground and one on a bus that (miraculously) blew up right outside the offices of the British Medical Association at a time when the building was packed with doctors!

What was supposed to have been a joyful day for the nation's capital, as it celebrated its surprise awarding of the Olympic Games in 2012, turned into sorrow with great rapidity. Although there were less casualties than in Madrid or New York, the terrorists' goal seems to have been the maximum disruption of the city's transportation system at the time when Britain had the honor of hosting so many of the world's leaders.

Clearly the bombings were timed to coincide with the opening of G8 in Scotland, particularly as many of the leading security experts were at Gleneagles and not in the London area. Getting London the day after the success of the Olympic bid was, in terrorist eyes, a bonus they perhaps had not expected. Ironically, the immediate goal of the terrorists backfired, because having gone into their meeting like bickering children, the leaders of the summit were a few hours later lined up in serried ranks behind the Prime Minister as he spoke to the nation, and the French PM went so far as saying that "today we are all Londoners!"

During the afternoon yesterday the Islamic Council in Britain issued a statement condemning the attack, but at the same time advising Muslims to stay in their homes and out of the public eye in case there were people bent on reprisals of some kind. There has been no news of anything like this happening.

Instead there has been the spirit of the Blitz which embedded in the British -- and especially the London -- DNA. In the last few days in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the end of WW2, there has been documentary footage on the television of shops in London open after a night of fearful bombing in 1940 and 1941 with a hastily scrawled signs of "Business as Usual" hanging outside. That same mentality emerges again, with London open for business as usual this morning -- although I suspect there will be a lot of companies who will give their employees a long weekend.

This morning, as I was getting up, there was a delightfully appropriate devotional by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the radio. He caught the mood and mourning perfectly, as well as the mindset of seeking to be a people who stand for both justice and reconciliation. It was a perfect word from God in the midst of turmoil, and so graciously presented so that it might be heard by believer and unbeliever alike.

Finally, let me say to anyone who is considering coming to Britain -- don't cancel your trip, if you do so you will have allowed the terrorists to get the victory that they wanted. Security is excellent in this country, and the words of the Charge d'Affairs at the US Embassy in London this morning were for Americans to perhaps stay away from Central London for the next two or three days until things have been straightened up a little.

If I might be allowed a final insight. I have never understood why terrorists think that their outrageously barbaric actions win them anything except the disgust of decent people. Whether in Jerusalem, Bhagdad, Madrid, London, or anywhere else in the world, there seems to be something revoltingly cowardly about blowing up innocent people who are attempting to go about their lives in the normal course of events. Disdain must especially be directed at the suicide bomber, one of whom might have been involved in yesterday's attacks. I suppose what this does is uncover for a moment the Devil's face, showing him up for what he really is.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Global Warming, G8, Christians

Birmingham, England

July 7, 2005

Several years ago I wrote a piece on Toward2015 about global warming, and received some pretty severe rebuttals from several contributors. Since then I have kept a weather eye open, as it were, on the whole issue, and have to say that on the basis of the evidence there seems to be little doubt that the planet is getting much warmer -- and that human activity has played a significant role in this process. Yet, as the G8 leaders gather for their initial talks in Scotland today, to use the words of George Soros when speaking on the BBC this morning, the United States administration is in virtual denial of the actuality and the consequences.

This American blindspot puzzles Europeans no end. Europe and much of the rest of the developed world is taking the issue very seriously, so folks here shake their heads, puzzling that Americans can be so wantonly profligate in their use of energy, the damage this is doing to the environment, and then their refusal to take responsibility.

My answer has to be that I don't know either. From the disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro to the shrinkage of the glaciers of Alaska, the Alps, and the Himalayas, there is plenty of evidence that something awful is happening, yet we go on merrily as if it is always going to be business as usual. And it is not a valid excuse for Americans to shrug and say that we never tackle something until it is a crisis -- this bears all the hallmarks of a crisis in the making if the vast majority of climate scientists are to be believed.

I found myself thinking yesterday about the sort of world my new born granddaughter will inherit as she grows to adulthood, and whether we as a generation will be able to say that we have been responsible in the way in which we have cared for it. While attempting to stay away from doomsday scenarios, I sadly concluded that Hannah and her generation will not be too pleased with us for our determination to keep on going down the same path until there the crisis is irreversible.

Nothing is gained from taking partisan potshots at the present administration in the United States for its failure to be alert to this long-term threat that lurks maybe five, maybe twenty-five years, down the road. We need to ask ourselves as American Christians whether our lifestyles are conducive to sustaining life on this planet. For example, can we justify creating 22% of the world's greenhouse gases, especially if our wya of life is the model for the sort of life the 1.3 billion Chinese and billion Indians would like to live?

I was heartened this morning to hear the CEO of BP talking on the BBC about efforts they are making to deal with the whole issue of greenhouse emissions, but it distressed me that in the same radio slot we were told many American-based oil companies like Exxon-Mobil tend to take the view of the US administration. One of the reasons such shortsightedness puzzles me is that the commodity upon which we have built our lifestyle is transported from one of the most volatile areas in the world, yet we seem determined to base our future security on the fact that the tankers will always be able to get through, and those with the black gold in their ground will always want to sell it, and sell it to us.

Add to that the jitters that take place in the economy as oil prices rise as a result of demand from China, India, and other developing countries -- and while greater supply is soon likely to come on line, that burgeoning demand is not going to go away. Yesterday the Dow Jones dropped over 100 points because of oil price fears, and I heard one of the world's leading energy strategists suggest the other week that oil prices could reach $70-80 per barrel in the relative near term.

All this should be encouraging industry and those who govern us to be investing significantly in alternative energy research, yet while the rest of the developing world is ratcheting up its ability in these areas, the USA waddles along, doing relatively little, and hoping to get away with it. Why this further puzzles me is that it is obvious to anyone with an eye to the future that there are huge profits to be made in this area of expertise, and the USA is cutting itself off from that bounty.

The other week, before I came away to England, a friend said to me, "Goodness, you lucked out by building an energy-efficient home and driving hybrid cars now that prices are rising so significantly." I shook my head and told him that this wasn't lucking out, it was one of the benefits of applying just a little forethought on the basis of trying to understand the trends of the future. The total utility bills from our house in April and May were $16.00, and in my hybrid I am able to drive 500 miles for about $20.00. Americans would certainly alter their mode of travel if they had to pay British gas prices. The other evening I filled up my rented Peugeot and it cost me about $75.00, even though the 50 liter (12+ gallon) tank was still about an eighth full.

Prime Minister Blair is right to have raised the issue of global warming at the G8 summit, and I suspect that now the issue is on the table at such a high level of conversation, it is unlikely to go away. British Christians have been some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Blair's initiative, and whether liberal or conservative, significant numbers do take their global stewardship seriously -- and it influences their way of life.

In the first chapter of Genesis, God teaches us that we are placed on this planet to be its stewards, and it is vital that we live into that characterization of what it means to be created in the image of God. What Rosemary and I have discovered as we have journeyed down this road in the last few years is that in little ways it is possible for us to alter our lifestyles so that we reduce the cost to the planet of having us living upon it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

C. S> Lewis at the BBC -- A Review

C. S. Lewis at the BBC by Justin Phillips (London: HarperCollins, 2003. 298 pages of text)

Review by Richard Kew

Of the writing of books about C. S. Lewis it sometimes seems there is no end!

Our younger daughter, Dr. Lindy Kew, has developed quite a taste for Lewis over the past couple of years, and the other day when we were helping her prepare her possessions to be shipped back to the USA from Scotland, this book was one that tumbled from her shelves. She loaned it to us (no doubt recognizing that if we carry it home it is one less things she has to pay shipping costs for). After driving back from Glasgow to Birmingham I picked this book up a couple of evenings ago out of curiosity to scan it. I ended up reading it from cover-to-cover.

While some works about Lewis are pretty blah, this book was a labor of love and it comes over as such -- and as a result I just romped through it. The author, Justin Phillips, was a BBC journalist who liked to define himself as a "card-carrying Christian." He completed the manuscript just before Christmas 2000, then died suddenly and unexpectedly of a massive asthma attack on Boxing Day (December 26th) that year. After his death, one of his daughters prepared the manuscript for publication.

What Phillips does is chart the way in which Lewis's relationship with the BBC developed, and then the manner in which it soured, much as a result of BBC wanting to over-milk it. The book provides a fascinating portrait of the wartime development of the organization that has become one of the most significant voices in broadcasting ever since then, as well as a cameo of the great man, his relationship with the BBC, where it came from and how it soured. Essentially, you might say that this is a book about the writing of "Mere Christianity," for that very influential book was, in fact, the end-product of four series of talks that Lewis did during World War Two.

Lewis had never spoken into a microphone until he was approached in 1941 by Rev. James Welch, Director of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC, wondering whether he would be willing to do some fifteen-minute talks. Welch had read Lewis's recently published "The Problem of Pain," and hunched that this then almost completely unknown Oxford don might have what it takes to address the faith to people in the midst of war. It is hard for us who know the outcome of that great cataclysm to under-estimate the anxieties of the British as they faced all that the Nazis could throw at them.

As an aside, this week, the midway point between VE Day and VJ Day, Britain is being celebrated as the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. A "living museum" has been set up in St. James's Park, London, of what it was like in those days. One of the most chilling components of that is an old German tank parked on the grass near Buckingham Palace as a reminder of what might have been. Of course, the inhabitants of the Palace would not have been George VI and his family, but his elder brother who abdicated in December 1936, and who with his American wife had well-developed Nazi sympathies.

The first series of Lewis's talks was entitled "Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe," five talks that were aired in August and early September 1941. Early the next year were five more talks called "What Christians Believe," and then later that year were twelve slightly shorter talks given the name "Christian Behaviour" went out on the Forces network. The final series went out fairly late in the evenings in February and March 1944 and is called "Beyond Personality: The Christian View of God." These series were all quickly published as short booklets, and then in 1952 were bound together to become "Mere Christianity."

If they could have had their way, the BBC would have kept Lewis on the radio all the time with talks, panel discussion shows, and so forth, but once he had gotten over the novelty of being able to address the gospel to millions of people, Lewis found dealing with editors, producers, and an organization as frustrating as the BBC increasingly onerous. Besides, as the war drew to a close the student body at Oxford began to grow as fighting men returned, making a much larger work load for those teaching there. Various minions of the 'Beeb' bombarded Lewis with invitations until his replies began to take on the flavor of what is it about NO that you don't understand!

There are many charming components of this book, but best for me is embedded within them the reminiscences of Jill Freud, theatrical entrepreneur, and wife of Clement Freud, a well-known media figure in Britain, and formerly a Member of Parliament. As a teenager, Lady Freud had been an evacuee from London who lived at The Kilns with the Lewises for several years prior to going to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Here are the fascinating insights of a young girl into Jack and Warnie's household, her being entirely unaware for the longest time that her host was none other than the eminent C.S.Lewis whose radio talks were occurring such a stir!

Lewis's talks on the radio turned him into a national figure, and almost immediately he found himself inundated with a huge correspondence that started pouring in, while his books were guaranteed publication and readership. It was at this time that Warnie, his elder brother, retired for health reasons from the army, and began helping him with his "fan mail." Warnie estimated that by the time of Jack's death in November 1963 he had helped his brother write over 12,000 letters. Lewis read all the letters he received and preferred to send a personal reply.

Phillips also points out that Lewis's speaking played a significant part in the development of religious broadcasting in England, as well as providing shape for the future of broadcasting. "In accepting the invitation from James Welch, (Lewis) was not to know that the broadcast talks would themselves transform his reputation. Nor could he have known how the correspondence they would generate would change his life. Just as he would play an integral part in transforming religious radio in those crucial war years, he too was changed irrevocably, to the point where popular success began to impinge on the rest of his life" (page 289).

What I have appreciated about reading this book is being reminded afresh of the power that there is in Lewis's logical, consistent, and unembellished presentation of the essence of what it means to be Christian. Yet as Phillips says, "There is a direct honesty of approach established by Lewis which remains compelling in today's culture. However, as soon as that theology is applied to issues of churchmanship and women's ordination, he reverts quickly to being a man of his own time" (page 286).

What Phillips does is outline the manner in which a rather old-fashioned bachelor layman who taught English literature at Oxford received the public exposure which in turn helped him to become (and remain) so influential a figure. Like so many good books about Lewis, this volume makes the reader want to pick up certain of C. S. Lewis's works all over again and re-read them -- probably much to one's intellectual and spiritual benefit.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live8, G8, and Ourselves

Glasgow, Scotland

July 2, 2005

Yesterday as we drove north from Birmingham to Glasgow, stopping for lunch with a seminary friend who is director of evangelism for the Diocese of Carlisle, we saw several military convoys making their way to Gleneagles where the G8 Summit is to be held. This morning as we bought our newspaper at a small shop down the street from our hotel, we saw a notice pinned on their community board that called for demonstrations at Gleneagles next week. Our daughter, Lindy, who is preparing her stuff together to ship back to the USA next month, said that if we weren't here she would be at the "Make Poverty History" demonstration in Edinburgh today.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that Britain (and many other parts of Europe) is galvanized by the idea that it might be within the grasp of the rich nations of the world to enable a great advance away from abject, grinding, life-sapping poverty that is the lot of the world's majority, especially those who live in Africa by forgiving their debt. This afternoon in Hyde Park, London, 200,000+ spectators will gather for the Live8 concert that is being beamed around the world. Similar concerts are being held from Japan to South Africa to Philadelphia, with a special gathering in the West of England for African musicians.

All this week the BBC has been airing programs focused on the challenge of Africa, from coping with the AIDS epidemic to the changing face of the Saharah Desert. The highlight as far as I was concerned was the made-for-television movie, "The Girl in the Cafe," that used a mismatched relationship between a senior civil servant and a young woman he meets over a cup of tea in a cafe to get across the basic message
that each day 30,000 children die, one every three seconds, for lack of life's basic nutrition, amenities, and healthcare.

I could go on, but when the British government said at the beginning of this year it wanted to make Africa a priority on the international stage, I had no idea that the people of Britain would get in line behind them as they have -- from the churches to a cross-section of political groupings and charities. Having been to Africa a number of times, having seen the ravages of HIV and poverty, and having godchildren who might have be slaves today if they had not escaped from Sudan, I applaud this desire to bring the needs of the neediest continent to the attention of the world.

All this is a precursor to the gathering of the world's leaders in Scotland next week. Around the world expectations have been raised that something significant can be done, what remains to be seen is whether the G8 leaders will respond -- or, perhaps I should say, if one particular G8 leader will respond, one George W. Bush, for he is seen as the biggest obstacle.

The perception here, and in other parts of Europe (if the media are to be believed) is that the US administration is the biggest barrier to reducing world poverty and putting a dent in the industrial practices that lead to global warming. During the ten days that I have been here I have talked to a cross-section of folks from academia to business, all of whom think the USA is an insulated, isolated superpower that is out of touch with the rest of the world. Many desperately wanted to be
proved wrong, but haven't seen a lot to encourage them.

I have not just been talking to people on the left, but those who have unsullied records of support for the Conservative Party, both Christians and non-Christians. As an Anglican who worked with African churches, I have heard the pleas for debt relief, help with AIDS, malaria, and the other epidemics that sweep the continent for years. In communiques from Communion-wide gatherings there has been a deep concern about the economics woes of the Africa, but these have until now been merely words on paper.

What is needed is more than debt relief and aid, but these are a starting point. It has to be admitted that more than a few African leaders are absolute scoundrels, and their presence does not necessarily help, but African countries need assistance from those of us in the developed world in creating trade and industry structures that help them. There is a need to train and assist so that economic plans can
become realities. Forgiveness of debt is wonderful, but a very different (and more demanding) kind of partnership needs to be forged if the benefits are to trickle to the ordinary people whose total family income might be less than $100 per year.

This is where we in the churches have a vital role to play. I confess that I consider Anglican leaders in Africa and Asia to be the leaders of the Anglican Communion. They have been right to call us to account on issues of interpersonal ethics, but within the context of this they are also calling us to account on issues of economic morality. If Scripture's teaching is clear about sexuality, it is also clear about the just demands of the Kingdom of God. For those of us who live where there is a developed economic system, part of our response must be
partnerships with those who live where a modern understanding of money is relatively new, and who are outside the mainstream of trade and investment.

I am delighted to see the young in this country taking up the challenge to "Make Poverty History" -- their idealism is wonderful. I am not so naive as to think that their idealism is as rooted and grounded in reality as it might be, but give me the idealism any day over a cynicism that shrugs its shoulders and says, "We can't make any difference, so why bother?"

Just think what would happen if this were to really catch the imagination of the people of the United States. For example, if there was a box on the 1040 Income Tax form that allows setting aside, say, $10 to $100 for international development, much as we set aside money for funding presidential elections, and 100 million Americans marked that box, there would immediately be several billion available for the
poorest of the world, and it probably wouldn't have hurt us one little bit. Or what if corporations were to say that a certain percentage of their investment would be deliberately aimed at developing something in Africa, or a congregation were to say that 1% of its gross income would be used for African support in some way or another...

Whatever your political take on what is going on, a lot rests on the shoulders of the leaders gatherings in Gleneagles. They could do something that would set in motion a releasing of swathes of humanity from bondage to poverty such as the world has never seen. On the other hand, the glory of this huge vision and enormous challenge could be lost amidst selfish bickering and turf protection, so that all that comes out is a sodden and pitiful compromise.

Admiral "Bull" Halsey, one of the heroes of the Pacific campaign in World War Two once said that there are no such things as great men, only ordinary men who rise to great challenges. This is one such occasion when a group of ordinary human beings who have been elevated to leadership of eight of the world's richest and most powerful nations could set a very different course for the 21st Century.

Just think about it...