View from the Vicarage - October 2014
To the people of St Andrew’s,
The fabric of the Christian Church has long been woven with many different strands of theology and belief. There are “high church” and “low church” traditions; mystics, contemplatives, social activists, Pentecostalists and Neo-Charismatics to name just a few.
It is all too easy and tempting for one strand of religious thought and practice to paint alternative positions in grotesque colours. Tempting, human, but alas not very godly.
Theological liberalism, which is often (and wrongly) thought of as the opposite of conservatism and fundamentalism, does not always get a good press. I’m not thinking about liberalism taken to extreme by those who like the idea of religion but deny the existence of God, but those who represent the centuries old tradition of Christian liberal theology.
Donald Miller, writing in A New Dictionary of Christian Theology, broadly defines Christian liberalism as the attempt to be open to scientific investigation, historical research and the contribution of the arts in one’s understanding of religion.
A helpful book I read on the subject is Michael Langford’s A liberal theology for the twenty-first century(Ashgate, 2001). It bears the significant subtitle: “A passion for reason.” Liberal theology, as he defines it, represents the attempt to approach religion from a rational perspective but without denying or belittling the importance of religious experience and religious commitment.
Starting from the premise that there exists a widespread misconception that reason and religion are mutually exclusive, Langford sees an urgent need to reappraise the tradition of liberal theology - a tradition which, he says, no one who is truly rational can afford to ignore, even if they end up rejecting it.
And a living faith - a faith that pursues an open dialogue with contemporary thought - is also what interests me.
This is why when I came to plan the autumn course for Belief, I invited experienced speakers from a range of backgrounds to talk about and wrestle with contemporary issues facing the Christian church. I am sure that they will provide well-informed and accessible presentations and I commend them warmly to you.
May I also encourage you to invite others to come who have questions about contemporary Christian faith. No one should ever leave their critical faculties at home when they come to church, and this course is designed to help demonstrate why. It is, properly understood, Christian apologetics. (Further details are on page six of this edition of The Fisherman.)
Our Christian faith asks for a commitment that goes beyond reason, but it does not ask for any commitment to a belief that is against reason. For I believe that all truth, in the end, will point to God.
May God enrich our understanding as we explore what we have received in good faith with our hearts and minds, spirit and soul.
With my prayers and best wishes,