Archives For Ecumenism

gresham-collegeEngland’s, Gresham College has a series of excellent lectures available for free on YouTube. Two grabbed my attention. Alister McGrath’s, ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates  was the first. The second was Alec Ryrie’s, ‘What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West.’ 

McGrath’s lecture reasserted a lot of what I’ve heard before. What I liked about this was how McGrath dealt with William Paley’s, Natural Theology and how McGrath leans authoritatively towards Thomas Aquinas and Charles Kingsley.

The lecture starts with an overview of Charles Darwin’s journey from boat to the establishment of his theory, and closes with a discussion about Darwinism and religion. I thought McGrath was a little  to generous towards Darwin when discussing Nazism and its social Darwinian ideology.

This, however, is offset by McGrath’s in-depth look at Darwin’s assertions in ”The Decent of Man”.

Key statements were: “Darwin never became an atheist. Although he wrestled with [Protestant] Christianity’s “lack” in dealing with suffering, brought on by the loss of his daughter, Darwin never used evolution as weapon against Christianity. From what we know, Darwin didn’t see a clash between evolution and creation”

After watching another lecture from Alister McGrath called, ‘Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ from an unrelated source, Alec Ryrie’s lecture was a surprise find. Ryrie deals with a similar theme.

The great attraction of this lecture is how Ryrie presents Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s incomplete [‘half-formed’] theology on the ecclesia. More precisely his idea of ”religionless Christianity” drawn out form a list of letters in the unabridged version of ‘Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW:8.’

Ryrie covers three themes. Moral events, christian authenticity and the loss of christian identity as it is paralysed by politics and pluralism. His frame is the evangelical question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Religionless Christianity.

Out of these he points out that in the West, ‘World War Two was the defining moral event, of the twentieth century.’ The fight against the Axis powers in WW2 was portrayed as a Crusade against evil. Something that, post Dachau and Auschwitz proved to be true. This lead to a post-war rallying around Judeo-Christianity, the faith of Christendom, as being a bulwark against communism because it saved the West from Nazism [the new modern face and name for evil].

From here, Ryrie looks to the African-American civil rights movement. In these he sees the opportunistic birth of the left as it took over ownership of the Civil rights movement, quietly suppressing the Christian foundations of it. Attracting in particular those who took Bonhoeffer’s ”religionless Christianity” and looked to work it out as doctrine. (Something I would take to mean the hijacking of Bonhoeffer by the radical Left).

The consequence being a ‘reckless abandonment of institutions’ and tradition in the process. Adding to this the eventual gagging of the gospel and the disintegration of an openly Christian identity.

It’s here where the content of Ryrie’s lecture meets with McGrath’s look back to the legacy of Christian liberalism. From which is drawn the view that ”culture determines the agenda and therefore the church has to go wherever culture leads.”

Christian identity ended up ‘torn’ between left and right. However, by the late 1970s the religious left had became ‘invisible’. As an example, Ryrie presents the overthrow of the Student Christian Mission (SCM) by Marxists, who ‘merged a Marxist revolution with the Kingdom of God; seeing Jesus as a political radical.’ This was the ‘subsuming of Christian identity into radical politics.’ Another legacy of theological liberalism with its ”world sets the agenda laissez-faire attitude.’ (McGrath)

The lecture ends with the example of Buzz Aldrin’s decision to have communion on the moon. Ryrie highlights Aldrin’s regret, mentioned in his 2008 memoir, which stated that he wouldn’t do it if he did the moon landing all over again because they went to the moon on behalf of humanity, which includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus and heathen, not just Christians. Although the communion was done in private, Aldrin is still led to reconsider it. Ryrie points to this regret as evidence of the crisis caused by this loss of identity. The  insecurity (lament/shyness/uncertainty) about holding up, with conviction, what is an essential rite of Aldrin’s faith, makes special note of the struggle Christians have in ‘maintaining a [Christian] identity in the midst of pluralism.’

Ryrie’s lecture is full of insight. His subject is well researched and I find myself agreeing with his points. Points that back up the quip that the radical Left created the Conservative movement. The radical Left continues to be a divisive force, grasping for any cause that will reinvigorate this division to foster recruitment and feed the sense of global community only found in the Commonwealth of Christ. Setting itself up as the Kingdom of God without God in it.

Christianity indistinguishable from the world is subsequently extinguished by the world. Or perhaps more accurately, Christianity indistinguishable from the world allows itself to be extinguished (at least in public) from the world.


Sources:

[i] McGrath, A. 1993 Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ Moore College, Australia

[ii] McGrath, A. 2016 ‘Darwin, Evolution and God: The Present Debates Gresham College – [transcript]

[iii] Ryrie, A. 2016 What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West Gresham College – [transcript]

“Those who are silent might speak again and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one. We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened”

(CD.1.2, 616:1938).

Karl Barth postulated that we must always reckon with the existence of teachers of the Church who exist, but are not presently evident or realised.

Packaged into the latter part of Volume 1.2 of his Church Dogmatics is anID-10067584 intense discourse with neo-protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives on Church authority, biblical exegesis, Revelation and reformation.

Within those pages Barth draws up a critique of the liberal neo-protestant trends (‘excesses’[i]) which included the hero-worship[ii] of the reformers Luther and Calvin, a complete “jettisoning” of tradition by rejecting the church fathers (pre-reformation) as irrelevant and the absolutism of the bible which pushed the view that “Christianity can only be constructed out of the bible alone.” (Barth referencing Gottfried Menken) [iii]

This was a practice, evident in modern Biblicism, which seemingly allowed 19th century neo-protestant theologians to assert a “new” authority. Therefore, allowing them the ability to assert themselves over the bible, as if they were masters of the text[iv].

Barth writes:

‘We need the guidance and correction afforded by the existence of the Church Fathers’[v]

In line with his overarching theme – Barth is advocating a ‘hearing and receiving of the Word of God’, in situ as the recollection and anticipation of its witness to the Revelation of God.For Barth, ‘we are the children of God and must walk as such’.

So far in this discussion I have found a man, a theologian and a Pastor not just looking for balance in the quest to fight back to a ‘unity of confession’[vi] in the church, but also arguing a strong case for it.

Evidence of this is found in Barth’s words from page 616:

A teacher of the Church is the one who in exposition of Holy Scripture has something to say which comes home to us. Many of those whom we no longer hear today will never be heard again. But there are others who, although they are not heard today, will one day be heard.What remains of their authority is in the first instance a memory: the neutral memory of a great name, bound up with facts, relationships, and reactions to them which is also neutral.Their authority is suspended, as it were. It would be a very arbitrary undertaking to try artificially to reassert them.

If they come to life again in the power of Holy Scripture which they are concerned to expound, Scripture itself will see to their authority.We have to reckon with this possibility. We cannot, therefore, ignore such recollections of former authority which have now become neutral. Their hour might suddenly come.Those who are silent might speak again, as according to the confession of the Church they once spoke to their age. The facts and circumstances in relation to which their names and reactions and word were once significant may suddenly return – for there is nothing new under the sun – and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one.

We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened.

In the modern period the Reformers themselves were for a long time only latent teachers of the Church. And it is to the Church’s good that it has not ceased to give them its attention.

(Karl Barth, CD.1.2, 1938)

This is something made more significant by the “gathering storm” surrounding the era in which he wrote it.

Given certain divisive issues within Christian thought and practice in society and politics today, I read this as an encouragement to listen and receive. Not blindly hearing or receiving. Not without question or caution, but with gratitude, decision, appreciation, prayer, critique and respect.

‘For as the rain and snow come down and water the earth making it bring forth life, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV)

Sources:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 C.D 1.2 Authority in the Church/under the Word Hendrickson Publishers p.605
[ii] Ibid, p.611
[iii] Ibid, p.607
[iv] Ibid, p.609
[v] Ibid, p.609 (see also his statement in p.610: ‘Pure neo-protestantism means a break with the Reformers)
[vi] Ibid, p.603

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