Monday, July 24, 2006

Seminary Boy

The other week I happened to be browsing in Barnes and Noble when I saw John Cornwell's book, Seminary Boy. Cornwell is an author I became aware of a quarter century ago when he wrote a fascinating analysis of the death of Pope John Paul I after a mere month in office. I have read several of his things about the Roman Catholic church since then. On a whim I picked up Seminary Boy and read it over the weekend.

John Cornwell is now in his mid-sixties and is attached to Jesus College, Cambridge, as well as being a writer. This book is the tale of his teenage years that he spent as a student at a minor seminary in the English Midlands training for the Roman Catholic priesthood. Like so many of his peers his head never got beneath the bishop's hands, and then for two decades dropped out of religious observance altogether before returning to the Church as a layman a quarter of a century ago.

Cornwell is a man raised in a very humble home in Barkingside, along the River Thames where the East End of London and the colorless suburbs of Essex meet. His father looked after sports fields and his observant Roman Catholic mother scratched to make ends meet and keep the family together. Cotton College, the seminary to which John Cornwell went, gave him the opportunity of a richer life in every way that either of his parents could have imagined.

I found the story fascinating, because here was a man wrestling with the Roman Catholic way of growing up Christian at a time when I was wrestling with the evangelical Anglican equivalent in the same country. Many of the struggles that we had were similar, which is hardly surprising, although the Roman Catholic approach to addressing these difficulties was at times in sharp contrast to the counsel and nurturing that I received.

I need to come clean here and say that I have always found the Roman Church difficult to grasp and understand, and while I intellectually know why people jump out of the Anglican frying pan when they have had enough of the lunacy that often passes for church on our side of the Tiber, it seems from where I stand that their destination is a Roman Catholic fire!

In recent years, as the foolishness of the Episcopal Church has intensified, I have again found myself wondering what alternatives there might be for someone like me if I ever decided things had gone too far, and honesty has demanded that I look again in the direction of Rome. While by no means an expert, I have tried to keep up a little bit with Roman Catholic theology, and have watched the goings on as they have sought to handle their flavor of the postmodern crisis as it has effected their church. I much admired the mental and spiritual acuity of John Paul II, and have been impressed by the intellectual rigor of Benedict XVI as he, like us, has faced up to the challenge of rampant secularity and resurgent paganism.

It is in light of such realities that I have asked myself the question several times whether my distaste for Roman Christianity has more to do with upbringing and conditioning than having substance. This is not an easy task, for most of us find it difficult to address our own prejudices with the honesty that is required to modify them, and I confess that some of my feelings toward Rome are deeply ingrained prejudices which go back to the earliest parts of my life.

There is a richness to Roman Catholicism that I, because of upbringing, have not always been able to see. I praise God for the saints and martyrs of the Roman Church, and for the examples of selfless discipleship that we are able to see within the bounds of that Christian tradition. As a graduate student I drank deeply at the well of John Henry Newman, a man for whom I have had a growing regard with the passing of the years, although someone whose journey and mindset have puzzled me no end.

Yet, as you are probably expecting, there is going to be a "But."

John Cornwell's memoir brought me to that "But" once again in a whole variety of ways. There was the "But" that the Roman Church was sending little boys off to seminary at a time when they were hardly ready to make such far-reaching decisions about a life's vocation. While this does not happen today, thank goodness, the residue of this practice is still to be seen in many priestly attitudes in the Catholic tradition.

There is the "But" that so much of the church's life is bound up with its priesthood, almost as if they do not trust the laity one little bit. While I have to say that the religious democracy of the Episcopal Church, and the revising of theology and practice on the basis of the opnion of a temporary majority at General Convention is inadequate in the extreme, I have to say that there is also an inadequacy in a setting where nine out of ten of the cards are in the hand of those who are ordained.

Then there is the "But" of Christian experience. While I recognize that God meets different people in a diversity of ways, I have the sense both from Cornwell's books and from what I have seen on the ground and in the churches that significant numbers of priests have been formed in the Catholic tradition without a clear commitment to Jesus Christ prior to taking up their vocation. While we have done something of the same thing in the Episcopal Church, especially as we have ordained people more according to politically correct quotas than whether they actually are being called by Jesus Christ to be his servants during this difficult time, I have never sensed the same kind of institutionalization.

Then we get to the issue of sexuality, which was bound to arise in a memoir dealing with the Roman Catholic church and its priesthood. What struck me was just how many of Cornwell's peers were wrestling in one way or another with their sexual identity, and the laxity of the faculty, a proportion of whom were in precisely the same boat. I may be thinking the worst of Roman ways because of my conditioning, but it seems from the way that Cornwell, a skilled writer, presents himself, that while there were certain standards that were affirmed in public, behind the scenes there was a lot of turning of blind eyes.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that these components mingle with a life's experience to suggest that here is a culture of church that is at odds with many of the ideals that I affirm, even if those ideals are not always adhered to in the tradition to which I belong. Perhaps it is the closed-ness of Romanism that puts me off, when compared to the open-ness to which I have been used, as uncomfortable and disconcerting as that can often be.

When these are put together with what I believe to be the theological inadequacies of the Roman Catholic approach to faith, I have problems. As a biblical Anglican I have deep misgivings about their theology of the sacraments, the place of the Scriptures in their scheme of thinking, the authority of the papacy, and the whole Marian tradition in their approach to Christian devotion.

I do not believe that the challenge before us is the abandonment of our Anglican ways, but the honest asking of questions and exploring of possibilities within the framework provided for us by our tradition that leads us toward a more authentic faith that speaks meaningfully to a culture that is lost and at sea. I believe it was in 1958 that the Lambeth Conference in its thoughts on ecumenism said that the time might come when Anglicanism by its very nature ceases to exist in a reshaped tomorrow's church, but until that time we need to be a catalyst within the whole community of God's people.

This, I think, is still part of our vocation. Yesterday's husk of being the church is proving itself incapable of being an appropriate environment for faithfulness to God's revelation and vocation in tomorrow's world. We are now facing the "entertaining" sight of those who would abandon revealed faith in favor of something more fluid clinging rigidly and idolatrously to a structure of church that requires modification and reconfiguration at precisely the moment when creativity and fluidity is required. I do not know how we get beyond such pettiness and bullying, but we need to if we are to be faithful to our vocation.

There are no easy answers to the questions with which we are being presented, but walking away from them to somewhere that might on the surface appear more secure is hardly the way forward for me, and I suspect, many others.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Looking Again At The Windsor Report

I sat in a meeting the other day where little bits and pieces of the Windsor Report were being lobbed about, used as ammunition, much as shells and missiles are being shot about by Hezbollah and the Israelis right now -- and with a lot of collateral damage. It would appear that various groupings within the Episcopal Church have locked onto certain bits of Windsor, and are now using them to make their case -- seemingly regardless of meaning and context, and have not looked with care at these statements in their setting.

Certainly, when put alongside Archbishop William's excellent theological response to the inadequate actions of the General Convention 2006, the substance of the Windsor Report provides what can best be described as a theological and ecclesiological agenda for the next goodness knows how many years.

There is a huge amount in the Windsor Report, and I think it entirely possible that it will go down in time as a formative document of the church as we have transitioned from modernity into a globalized postmodernity. It has been to the sections on the Authority of Scripture (paras 53-56), and Scripture and Interpretation (paras 57-62), to which I have found myself being drawn, because I believe these are the two elements of the Report that best help us as we seek to make sense of Anglican faith in a changing age.

Interestingly, reading the Windsor Report in the wake of having read Tom Wright's, The Last Word, several months ago, it is an interesting exercise in theological sleuthing to see how much the Windsor statement was shaped by the Bishop of Durham. Wright's attempt to unravel just how Scripture speaks to us is masterly, while the Windsor Report (considered inadequate by some) does at least identify what some of the issues at hand might be in the same way.

Rightly, the Windsor Fathers and Mothers deduced, that the issue of the interpretation of Scripture is huge. "It is the responsibility of the whole Church to engage with the Bible together; within that, each individual Christian, to the fullest extent of which they are capable, must study it and learn from it, thoughtfully and prayerfully" (para 57). However, one of the problems that we have in our time and culture is that when we interpret the Scriptures we must work to ensure "that it really is scripture that is being heard, not simply the echo of our own voices..." (para 59).

All too often, certainly as the debate has developed in the Episcopal Church and the North American setting, we are hearing too much of the echo of our own voices and too little of the voice of God that Scripture mediates to us. I say this not pointing my finger at one group in particular, although I do think that in North American Anglicanism there is a carelessness about the text that is worrisome, but I say this of all the churches as they seek to witness in general into our culture.

I was eating breakfast the other morning with a Baptist pastor who was despairingly talking of the kind of way that the Word is handled in his tradition, and that manner in which they have managed to baptize certain elements of the culture, rather than speak the faith meaningfully into the culture. Mainline Christians have done exactly the same thing, but they have sought for it to echo their own voices in different ways.

Windsor certainly recognizes that the whole church is in danger of not hearing Scripture because of "the assumptions and entrenched views of the Enlightenment (which have often resulted in unwarranted negative judgments on much biblical material), as well as to the assumptions and entrenched views of a pre- or anti-critical conservatism" (para 60). Then comes one of the key sentences in the whole document, that "Biblical scholarship needs simultaneously to be free to explore
different meanings and to be constrained by loyalty to the community of the Church across time and space."

This is a hard tension to hold: how do I manage to affirm the richness of biblical scholarship, some of which is excellent, some of which is turgid, some of which is destructive, some of which is imaginative, some of which seems to sit loose to the disciplines that have been developed over the generations? Yet at the same time how do I work to be constrained by the community of the Church across time and space?

Certainly, I saw little in the deliberations of General Convention that suggested it was prepared to work within the constraints put upon us by the community of the Church across time and space. My Baptist friend also said to me that he had been raised to think that there was this great void in Christianity between the death of the apostles and his own coming to faith in Christ, so it seems this mentality carries over into our tradition as well -- and with distressing results. I sometimes think the only way that Episcopalians want to live within the discipline of the whole church is in their passion for certain kinds of liturgy.

Windsor again says that "we need mature study, wise and prayerful discussion, and a joint commitment to hearing and obeying God as he speaks in Scripture, to discovering more of the Jesus Christ to whom all authority is committed, and to be open to the fresh wind of the Spirit who inspired scripture in the first place" (para 61). I heard this sentence being used last week to justify a separation of the written word from the actions of the Word Incarnate, who with the Father sent
forth the Spirit to blow fresh winds.

To set these two against one another is nonsense and seems to suggest that Christ can and does speak separately from the Scriptures. Indeed, in the next paragraph, Windsor states that it is the Spirit who inspires scripture, and if this is the case, then the Spirit which the Father and Son send is hardly likely to speak against himself. Windsor does not say this, but it certainly implies it -- and thereby challenges us to look at the manner in which we interpret the text to see if we are echoing our own voices or listening to the voice of God.

I suggest that we are so trapped by the values and minset of our culture, that most of the time we find it hard to distinguish the two because we are not prepared to either do the work necessary to discover precisely what Scripture is saying in our day and age. I would further suggest that when the clear meaning of Scripture stands in contradistinction to what we want, we take what we want over what Scripture might urge.

Windsor envisages us reading the Scriptures in communion with one another, for in paragraph 62 it states that since the Spirit inspires Scripture, the Bible ought to be the means of unity and not division. "In fact, our shared reading of scripture across boundaries of culture, region and tradition ought to be the central feature of our common life, guiding us together into an approriately rich and diverse unity by leading us forward from entrenched positions into fresh appreciation of the riches of the gospel as articulated in the scriptures."

What, in fact, Windsor is saying is that now that we are a genuinely global community of believers, and able to be in close communication with one another, there is no excuse for us to hide behind our own cultural barriers and preferences when it comes to the manner in which we handle the Word of God. While I am absolutely certain that those in the Global South bring their own slant to the manner in which they use Scripture, so are we in the West.

As I watched the General Convention 2006 deliberating on Windsor it seemed to be fixated in an almost entirely western-centric mindset. For a majority of my 30 years in the USA I have worked to interpret the world church to the American church. That, I have to tell you, is a hard job because American culture is so huge and all-consuming that often it barely notices that there are different ways of seeing things elsewhere in the world that need to be taken into account -- and which sometimes might have things to say to us. General Convention reflected that, right
down to those who were grumbling that we do not need the Anglican Communion any more (because it won't let us do our own thing and have our own way in the truly radical individualism of our culture).

There are many, many reasons we are in the fix we are in now, but what Windsor does is give us some good ideas of what we need to be working on to find a way forward. I suspect that the mindset will now be "Well, Windsor is out of the way, what's next on our agenda." If folks are thinking like that then they are very wrong. The lessons that Windsor teaches are only beginning now to be looked at and considered. I would urge you, therefore, to go back to the Windsor Report and give it
careful consideration.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith" - A Book Review

How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy and Art by Crystal L. Downing
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 230 Pages)

A Review

When I started reading this recently-published book by Crystal Downing I wasn't sure whether I would like it or not, but the title had roused by curiosity -- and also found myself wondering who she was. Crystal Downing teaches English and fild studies at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, although was raised and educated on the West Coast. When I started reading I sometimes found her turn of phrase or choice of illustration a little saccarine, but by the time I got to the end I realized that this was someone who is an engaging teacher and is truly worth knowing.

Dr. Downing has read and absorbed most of the fundamental works that have shaped the postmodern mindset. While the likes of me have only dipped into Michel Foucault, Thomas Kuhn, and Richard Rorty, and the like, she had read and digested them, and from this has concluded that the era they have ushered in, as part of the sweep of the culture's advance, is a setting that orthodox Christians should learn to embrace more than criticize.

Like all good communicators, Downing tells her story. She grew up in the bosom of evangelical Christianity, but it was as she ventured out into the hostile world of academia that her faith was challenged down to its very roots. There she encountered a cynicism toward things Christian that forced her to confront her detractors while at the same time asking significant questions about what she believed. As she said, she came to realize of her inquistors that "Christians are not the only ones who hold on to their beliefs so tightly that they can leave bruises" (Page 36).

Her doctoral studies, teaching, and life experience have led her to recognize that if we are to remain trapped in modernist, Enlightenment thinking we are going to miss the blessings and benefits that postmodernity bring to those of us seeking to think and live as Christians. For several hundred years we have labored with the illusions of the Enlightenment that there is such a thing as a legitimate objective ground for all knowledge that is achieved solely through the use of reason, but now we have been set free from this cage.

Dr. Downing writes, "My willingness to start asking questions about postmodernism led to the discovery that it serves my faith -- not in spite of its view of history but because of it. For postmodernism calls into question historical accounts that proclaimed Christianity a superstitious construct of the past" (Page 49). While demonstrating how postmodernism can legitimately be considered the offspring of modernism, that child of the Enlightenment, it is developing a thoroughly different identity of its own.

Crystal Downing does not keep on beating Enlightenment thinking over the head with a baseball bat, but recognizes that for all its strengths and the benefits we have gained from it, even though it had (and has) woeful blindspots. Many of these blindspots are rooted in the Enlightenment's determination to absolutize human rationality and demand that everything must be empirically verifiable. As soon as we start thinking like this it is obvious that, for example, the existence of God cannot be tested, and so the notion of God ceases to have any positive meaning to the modernist thinker.

To use the language of postmodernity, the Enlightenment sets up a metanarrative, that claims to be a consistent worldview, and all must be measured and judged within the context of that metanarrative. What postmodernist thinkers did was to start poking holes in this mindset which ultimately is as much a human intellectual construct as any other worldview. Modernism had hoodwinked us for a long time into thinking that it alone is able to judge on the basis of its own mindset what reality is, when modernism itself has been unwilling to recognize that it, too, has feet of clay.

One of the strongest messages from Crystal Downing's book is that it helps me recognize how the whole intellectual and spiritual topography has been changing during my ministry. In the Sixties we felt we had our backs up against the Enlightenment wall and sought ways that would help us to escape from the corner into which we had been backed. Because modernity's take on the way reason is used was supreme, we were always looking to get beyond conceding that the Christian faith was an illusion, the figment of overactive or naive imaginations.

As Crystal says, "a long-established model of intellectual autonomy had shoved Christianity out of the door" (Page 83). Yet while its seemed domination, the Sixties was actually the period during which the Modernist, Enlightenment myth was being throttled, and with it the evolutionary notion that we are on this constant upward journey that takes us to a greater level of advance and maturity than previous generations. This mentality still prevails in the Episcopal and other mainline churches.

So it is that we have entered a different kind of discourse in a world with changing presuppositions. Whether we self-describe as orthodox, liberal, conservative, progressive, or what, many of us remain trapped in yesterday's world of ideas. We learned to think and believe in that Modernist world which has now been deconstructed, and do not want to leave its ruins. The result is that a lot of the time we flounder.

The manner in which Reason was enthroned at the Enlightenment, and then the way in which those of us who are children of the Enlightment have used it, whether we are coming from the left or the right, in one way or another either shuts out or devalues the past. On the other hand, postmodernism, "makes the past relevant to contemporary lived experience as though to say that the Enlightenment did not get any closer to objective truth than did the Christian Middle Ages" (Page 98). If you read that carefully, then you will see immediately that the playing field which has for generations been rigged against believing has now been levelled and we can come out of our bunkers.

Even so within the postmodern mentality is an insistent desire to raze the foundations of our thinking, acting and believing, and Downing handles the complexity of this with adroit brilliance. However, what it comes down to is that objectivity has different shapes and forms, and that we minimize humans if we use our way of thinking to reduce them to merely rational animals. The question is whether we are going to try and prop up the claims of the Gospel using a reductionist cornerstone, or whether we are going to recognize that "the truth of Christianity is not like the universal truth of reason. The cradle of Christian faith is a story rather than a system" (Downing quoting Kevin Vanhoozer, page 109).

I wish I had space to really unpack this 230-page book because Crystal Downing has provided us with good reasons for stepping further back from the Enlightenment prison without falling in the other direction and uncritically accepting this Postmodern age as the best thing since sliced bread. She has in the latter part of the book excellent material that deals with the nature of objectivity and subjectivity, as well as the nature and danger of radical individualism.

I suspect that this book will not be picked up by many who would benefit from it, partly because it is published by InterVarsity Press. This is a pity because Crystal Downing is no more willing to do a whitewash job on the evangelical way of thinking (which owes so much to Modernity) than she is to any other mindset. This book has been written by a woman knows very well, as any good postmodern should, how to assess the impact of her own presuppositions and conditioning, and then to reach beyond it. If nothing else, the method with which this book is written is a lesson to all of us attempting to live out Christ in this strange new world.

This leads me to the conclusions she draws. I am being over-simplistic, I know, but perhaps it can be said that those of us who are children of the Enlightenment have, as Christians, either sought to replace the prevailing secular metanarrative with an equally absolutist "Christian" metanarrative, or we have tailored our understanding of the faith so that it is more comfortable with the blinders of Modernity. Thus, conflict is made little more than a battle of ideas, which ideas are the most superior, and who is in power.

What postmodernity has done is to allow the culture to take a "religious turn" (Page 214), which is one reason why this multicultural world is so confusing. "The return to religious crops, however, created a new problem: an excessive multiplicity of faith vocabularies, with an indescriminate emphasis on tolerance for all. Tolerance, of course, is a good thing. But postmodernists who argue most vociferously for tolerance are often intolerant of anyone who disagrees with their definition of tolerance... The problem of the religious turn of postmodernity, then, is not getting people to turn toward a Christian window but getting them to spend serious time looking through it so that we can explain to them the significance of what they see" (Page 216-217).

This brings us back to focus on what we believe and how we believe it. We function in a different marketplace than the one that has formed any of us who are over the age of about 45, and even the under 45s live with the echo of our Enlightenment past. Sitting as we now do in a postmodern culture demands not that we let go of the Scriptures but handle them with care within the great tradition (Downing quotes everything from Nicaea, to Augustine, to Barth, to the Shepherd of Hermas, as well as the Bible to make her point).

But ultimately, if the window through which we see reality and understand truth is to have any validity at all, it is only going to be taken seriously if we incarnate what we actually believe. "The example of Jesus, formalized by Christian doctrine, thus fulfills what is 'written on the hearts' of postmodern theorists: that ethics must be based on 'openness to the other.' And, I would argue, it is also true" (Page 229).

The Christian faith in the postmodern age, therefore, only makes sense if what we say with our lips we believe, we live and love out in our lives. The tragedy of the church in the West, conservative or liberal or whatever other label you hang on it, is that we are failing utterly and miserably in this. While Crystal Downing does not say it, I will. One of the reasons why denominations, especially our own, are crumbling is that they spoke and worked well in an age that no longer exists.

Yesterday morning one of our church members, whose family have been to hell and back over the past years, said the most wonderful thing about our little congregation that I have ever heard. He said to us just as we were closing the building after Sunday worship that unlike so many other Christian communities, people could come to ours broken, and there in Christ's love and power, they find healing and are made whole. This was what was happening in his family. This is the power of the faith in a postmodern age.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Post-Convention Meanderings

Like many of you I have watched during the last several weeks as claims and counter-claims have been made in the wake of General Convention 2006. I have seen the statements from Africa, from the various competing bodies on the USA, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and so forth. The more I read and look at the situation, I can honestly say, the more confused I get. Add to this that there are an awful lot of egos being played out on this particular field.

Interestingly, I have had emails from a number of folks, ordained and lay, who share my sense of bafflement at the present confusion, although as one friend has pointed out at the moment there does not seem to be the same sense of panic there was in 2003. Part of the reason for this is that many of us have done our mourning over the passing of this elderly and frail relative who we had already concluded did not have much time left in this world. It has been sad to watch her go, but the time is arriving to dream fresh dreams and seek God's vision for a 21st Century church.

I suppose it was inevitable that there would be a huge rush to judgment in the wake of the disappointing failure (as far as an orthodox Anglican is concerned) of GC2006. Interestingly, the left are as disappointed as the right about the Convention's outcomes, although for wholly different reasons, and some of their statements and attitudes are exceedingly shrill, to say the least.

More than ever we are being forced to realize that the left-leaning activists in the Episcopal Church are in a different place and have a different worldview from the likes of lifelong Anglicans like myself. Never before has it been so clear that such wildly different Christ-views and worldviews exist within this one denominational family, so much so that the ties that have bound us together now seem stretched beyond their previous elasticity. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has basically said that there have to be appropriate boundaries if communion is to be sustained and faithful Anglicans need to learn to live within them.

In all the harrumphing and posturing that is going on I see a polarization set up that promises little more than mutually assured destruction. Some of the mentors of my youth were men who fought on the Western Front in 1914-1918 -- one of the most willful acts of inane warfare that humankind has ever perpetrated. It was appalling that gaining real estate that was measured in yards rather than miles was used to justify the inhuman slaughter of tens of thousands in a single action. Not only was the war inconclusive, but there was a rematch of this "war to end all wars" less than a quarter of a century later. Clearly, polarized battling is seldom the answer to intractible human problems.

This morning I read a letter in The Living Church by Don Stivers, my predecessor in one of my former parishes. Don asks whether "the Holy Spirit may be guiding the Church int a deeper spirituality of love for one another often obscured in older models of the Church that demand uniformity by exclusion." I do not know whether he is right, but I would suggest that the Holy Spirit ought not to be left out of the anguish we are passing through, and that perhaps we are tending to talk too much about the Spirit without necessarily having listened carefully for his voice.

I would further suggest that a certain creativity and imagination needs to be brought into play at this moment. Our creativity and imagination are gifts that God has given to us, and which the Holy Spirit can use in circumstances just as these. Maybe all the older models, conservative, liberal, or moderate, are inadequate and need thorough rethinking, recognizing that we have reached a Rubicon of some kind.

It is my observation that few of us wish to tear apart those with whom we are in such deep disagreement; indeed, if we are going to live Christ as well as talk Christ then we need to seek every viable alternative to some of the more negative scenarios that are floating around.

One of the games that has been played up until now has been the one which might be described as "The-winner-is-the-one-who-ends-up-with-the-most-toys" game. That is, if we have the political power to push forward our agenda, then we will do so regardless. On the national level those on the left hold the trump cards in this particular game, however, at the diocesan and local levels in many places things are less clear. Perhaps it would be wiser instead of keeping on hitting our perceived opponents over the head with lawsuits, canons, or whatever, to step back and ask that simple but telling question, "What would Jesus do?" in such circumstances.

While I am not sure I know the answer to that question, I am fairly certain that he were we to address it with the seriousness, fairness, and openness that it deserves, we would probaby start coming up with some very different answers to the difficult questions and decisions that lie before us.

If there is to be any constructive break out from our present entrenched positions, then it is vital that we stop and prayerfully ask fundamental and searching questions about theology, ecclesiology, soteriology, evangelism and mission, and in the process try to define the nature of the society in which we are called to be both salt and light. These are mammoth undertakings, but we move forward at our own peril if we sidestep our obligation to do so. At the moment, this is what I think we are doing. And the key word in what I have said does not have to do with studying and asking questions, but is "prayerfully."

During the last couple of weeks I have had a steady procession of people getting in touch to ask me what I think will happen. I have honestly said to them that I don't have the slightest idea. I have long since stopped having hopes and dreams because in our present fluidity they turn out to be little more than that.

God is clearly at work, and our responsibility is to walk forward with him, incarnating the love of Christ as we do so. What worries me is that we are all failing to live out the meaning of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection, and instead are fighting an ideological battle which is ultimately unwinnable for every party involved.

Over the last few days I have been reading Crystal Downing's intriguingly titled, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (Downers Grove: IVP: 2006). In this she attempts to unravel the various worldviews and relativisms that confront us, recognizing that the configuration of the playing field has now altered. If we are to cut any ice for our beliefs in the world that is emerging, then it is vital that we as a community reflect in our individual and corporate lives the riches of our inheritance. The question is whether we have even started to do this.