OK so here is your faithful reporter’s take on last night’s C S Lewis Lecture by Prof N T Wright, ‘God in the Dock: what place now for the Christian Faith in the Public Life?’
A really well run and organised event. Good wine and snacks beforehand. Well designed hotel conference room. Smooth. Sean Mullan did an excellent job introducing and responding. And NTW is always entertaining and a pleasure to listen to – wonderful communicator.
I tooks notes on my phone – for what they are worth here they are. And I’m leaving them rough – hey this is a blog post. Any of my comments are in brackets:
Three Narratives of faith in the public square
1. Secularist narrative.
The church made hell on earth to save people in heaven. The answer is eduation, science, progree, tolerance, beyond superstition. Religion bad for u. Strident. Media takes the narrative for granted. Assumed the church internally corrupt. No place for church in modern life. No voice in public sq. And soon church will disappear. [In Ireland we’ve taken to this narrative zealously].
2. [An inadequate] Christian response.
Secularist story has failed. Look at the crimes committed by secularists and atheism. Guillotine, gas chamber. Also a straw-man caricature of all religion bad.
But this story does not really address the place of church in public life. And the cold fury of the failure of public faith [and this goes deep in Ireland – deep deep disgust]. It tends to assume that life will go on as before. And overlooks how church had been practicing its faith. So a response to the New Athiests may have some success but does not reflect on how church got lost. There needs to be more honest self- reflection and transparency within the Church.
3. An Alternative narrative of Jesus and the Kingdom of God
Back to Jesus and his followers. New athiests tend to ignore Jesus. Kingdom of God brings us to the question of Jesus the King. And in the Creeds the life of Jesus is missing. [well known point of view of NTW here – somewhat in conflict with Scot McKnight’s argument for strong continuity in gospel terms between the NT and the Creeds in the King Jesus Gospel. Clear elements of gospel in Creed but NTW is right that the life of Jesus is missing].
Kingdom is GOD IN CHARGE: This king will be and is king of the whole world. Where this gets political is Jesus is God in charge of all. BUT to many this seems unbelievable. God is not in charge – just look at the world. Also undesirable – leads to theocracy, rule of clerics. Fundamentalism.
Thus a response is for the state to becomes divinised – communism and secularism. Now liberal democracies pose a competing narrative. They have tried (are trying) to replace the church – where the political becomes caring provider just as the church did. So the church is marginalised and religion is privatised.
This is the Enligtenment and earlier Epicurean idea of banishing the gods to their world and hunans living theirs. (Sounds like Kant). Hobbes, Rousseau. Modernist science and democracy hopes for naturalism and human progress. So church can do its private thing and has no place in public faith. Not about tolerance, it is about the belief that god and the world do not mix.
Ireland today is the brittle disjunction of God’s world and ours. And often the church has colluded in fulfilling this disjunction – see in african spirituals and in RC purgatory. Even those opposing the marginalisation of Christians in public life have tended to do so by arguing for ‘our rights’ and left the dualistic structure of western thought about faith and society unchallenged.
[NTW mentioned an un-named former archbishop here – must be Lord Carey. I blogged about ‘persecution’ of Christians in the UK here – and I think NTW is dead right here. The Christian Insititute and others on the right are ‘fighting’ for rights, but there is little deeper engagement with the secularist narrative and especially there is little or no self-reflection, humility, and engaging with the ‘powerlessness’ and ‘foolishness’ of the ‘upside down Kingdom of God – and this is where NTW went next].
NTW argued that kingdom speaks of power redefined. NOT of the church fighting for a slice of bit of power. It is Jesus power; redefined power. A call for Jesus people to live kingdom life in this world. Beatitudes. NOT God sending in the tanks! But God sends in love, humility, gentle self-giving love. By Jubilee projects. By justice issues. NOT a private individualism.
Good works in NT are for all as well as the church (Gal 6). This is subversive christianity of the early church. [sounds much like anabaptism!?]
The Church is a society of repentant sinners. And many in the church are doing wonderful servant things unseen and unreported.
The call of church is also to hold power to account. A prophetic gift to the world. Yes church will get it wrong and needs discussion and discernment. But it is not to wait til second coming before holding power to account. [And this is where he defends the role of Bishops in the House of Lords etc. I think he argues that this is where his view diverges from anabaptism of Yoder and Hauerwas etc. But I’m not so sure – they also hold power to account. Their anabaptism is NOT non-political. It is politically engaged, but refuses to use power to achieve ends.]
Jesus is Lord of all. But this does not lead to theocracy. The call of the church is to be salt and light etc … In small local ways in tough situations. The small and insignificant, from the bottom up. [Anabaptism again]. Youth groups, pastors on streets at 3am, in care for poor, etc. Being ‘Poor in Spirit’. Meek taking over the earth without powerful noticing. This is an alternative powerless kingdom.
I liked all this because I have strong anabaptist leanings. In the Q & A, I got to ask NTW if he was an anabaptist bishop in disguise 😉 He found that amusing but disagreed. He thinks anabaptism too disengaged. He used the image of a visiting an interesting and attractive zoo, but cut off in its own world. But that’s a bit of a caricature. I’m unconvinced that there was that much difference between what he was saying and the best of anabaptism – Hauerwas, Yoder.
Comments, as ever, welcome.