Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Joy of Sects (Carl Trueman)

Thoughts on women bishops from Carl Trueman.

The Joy of Sects (Carl Trueman): The reaction of the British media to the result in the 'women bishops vote' (I hesitate to call it 'bishopsgate' for fear of offending William Taylor) is as predictable as the vote itself was surprising.  The essence of most of the commentary I have read is: the church has voted for oppression of women and has made itself irrelevant; it will no longer have a voice on major cultural, political and economic issues.   That is a sentiment to send shivers down the spine of all the movers and shakers in the engage-the-culture Evangelidrome.

I have no particular interest in the internal politics of the Anglican Church.   Whether she chooses in the future to consecrate women bishops, to make Justin Bieber Archbishop of Canterbury (Lady Gaga is, thankfully, at least five years away from that job, according to the Synod rule book) or to bless the matrimonial union of divorced goldfish, I doubt I will lose any sleep at night.  The reactions of the media, however, are fascinating and offer great insight not only into how the church is perceived but how the world thinks.   As such, these reactions are surely a salutary warning: if you want to answer the questions the world is asking, you may find you rarely, maybe never, arrive at the gospel. 

One of the key failures of the currently trendy Christian cultural engagement movement is that it takes the questions which the culture is asking too seriously.  We often assume that it is the answers which the world gives which are its means of avoiding the truth.   In actual fact, there is no reason to assume that the very questions it asks are not also part of the cover-up.   'Answer my question about women's rights or saving the whale' might simply be another way of saying, 'I don't want you to tell me that my neglect of my wife and children is an offence to God.'

Christianity is doomed to be a sect because not only do we refuse to give the answers to life's questions in terms the world finds comfortable; we also refuse to allow the world to set the terms of the questions.    The sooner we grasp that, the better it will be for all of us.  Our ministers might then spend more time on theology (perhaps even do a bit of reading 'within the tradition' before finding it helpful to 'read outside the tradition'), more time being different to the leaders in the surrounding culture, and much less time worrying about how the world sees us.  Trust me on this: it sees us as a cranky sect. Now keep calm and carry on.

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