England’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.
[i] McGrath, A. 1993 Evangelicalism & Liberalism‘ Moore College, Australia
[iii] Ryrie, A. 2016 What Would Jesus Do? Christian Culture Wars in the Modern West Gresham College – [transcript]