Theological Reflection


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Andrew Walker, Notes From A Wayward Son: A Miscellany, ed. by Andrew D. Kinsey (Cascade, 2015), 322pp. no price marked. ISBN 978 – 1– 62564 – 161 – 8.

 

This is an intriguing, stimulating and rewarding book that offers a space within which Andrew Walkers rather original and distinctive voice can be heard. Some will know Walker through his groundbreaking study of the 1970s and 80s house church movement Restoring the Kingdom (Guildford Eagle, 1998). Others will have been influenced by him through his teaching and oversight of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College London.

For over 45 years, Walker has witnessed the church change, die, move and grow – and the central question for him (and for us) is this ‘what kind of church will survive and flourish in the twenty-first century?’ For Walker only a ‘deep church’ will suffice and one that is attuned to the impact of modernity and therefore appropriately and suitably able to resist it. You will find in these chapters astute observation and intelligent interpretation of both church and culture. These gifts and skills are very often absent in contemporary ecclesiological strategy.

The book is divided into five probing and chapters. Part I: “Journey into the Spirit: Pentecostalism, Charismatic, and Restorationist Christianity” offers history and sociology in an analysis of self-styled renewal Christianity. The piercing questions about such approaches to the gospel provide the reader and reviewer with endless opportunity for marking the text. Walker speaks as an insider and an outsider within such the particular Christian tribe.

Part II: “Mere Christianity and the Search for Orthodoxy” offers pieces on C.S. Lewis, potential affinities between Lewis and Orthodoxy. The pieces on Lewis are especially good and offer shape to the ambition and shape of what a deep church might be.

Part III: “Orthodox Perspectives”, takes us inside Walker’s own denomination and as an orthodox Walker argues for the prophetic contribution Orthodoxy can give to our culture. The highlight of this part is the interview with Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

Part IV: “Ecumenical Thoughts on Church and Culture” includes an interview with Bishop Leslie Newbigin. Walker is unafraid to distinguish between good and bad religion and points out the distortions of a faddish, privatised, pop church that simply distorts both religion and Christianity. Trendy and attractive but in the end failing to nurture a deep wisdom.

Part V: “Shorter Pieces” offers a number of articles that continue to demonstrate the thinness of much modern Christianity. Here we have a lifetime of study, prayer, theological adventure that shape Walker’s questions about has so much of modern religion masks the face of God.

Do not be deceived by this book – it is as radical and searching a narrative as my desk has seen for some time. It will demand a disciplined to pay attention and listen to its voices. We need more wayward sons and daughters to offer to both church and world a maturity of presence and engagement that can deconstruct our fetishisms and build a deeper well from which our thirst for the mystery and knowledge of God can be quenched.

 

James Woodward

Sarum College

 

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r-s-thomas[1]

The priest picks his way

Through the parish. Eyes watch him

From windows, from the farms;

Hearts wanting him to come near.

The flesh rejects him.

 

Women, pouring from the black kettle,

Stir up the whirling tea-grounds

Of their thoughts; offer him a dark

Filling in their smiling sandwich.

 

Priests have a long way to go.

The people wait for them to come

To them over the broken glass

Of their vows, making them pay

With their sweat’s coinage for their correction.

 

He goes up a green lane

Through growing birches; lambs cushion

His vision. He comes slowly down

In the dark, feeling the cross warp

In his hands; hanging on it his thought’s icicles.

 

‘Crippled soul’ do you say? looking at him

From the mind’s height; ‘limping through life

On his prayers. There are other people

In the world, sitting at table

Contented, though the broken body

And the shed blood are not on the menu.’

 

‘Let it be so,’ I say. ‘Amen and amen.’

RS Thomas

Ordinary Christians are constantly being invited to forget their language. Clergy are also tempted to dilute  the force of the language we represent in an attempt to be relevant. Yet paradoxically the pluralist character of our society offers us, once again, the space to embody and articulate distinctive  Christian discourse without feeling the necessity to reduce this to a more limited secular speak. Indeed secular speak is itself less secure as a language game than many of its protagonists would  hope. Under the challenge of late or post-modernity it is increasingly being seen as a particular and relative dialect rather than a definitive and universally intelligible language.

The question which all this raises, therefore, is how ordinary Christian communities in this sort of society are going to recover their language and become confident, fluent speakers of this lan­guage. In some way the answer lies in the way languages emerge and are learned. If by language we mean the way we render intel­ligible the multiple signs which comprise creation and acknowledge that languages are intrinsically social, then lan­guages require communities in order to emerge and develop. Furthermore, if they are to remain part of that linguistic tradition, these communities need to be conscious of how their identity informs the way the language is spoken. Languages are dynamic rather than fixed, they develop in and across time and space and I are relational rather than idealistic. Conversation is where languages live, even as texts. 

 

The undergirding theme of pastoral care is characterized by the Hebrew word shalom. This is usually translated ‘peace’, but that is inadequate. Greek ideas domi­nate western thought. As a result ‘peace’ has come largely to mean ‘the absence of war’, a state which produces prosperity and well-being. But the Hebrew is more positive.

 God gives shalom: it is always something greater than human beings can conceive or achieve. Shalom is mainly discovered through relationships.

Shalom has little to do with our contemporary preoccupation with the individual’s inner peace. Jesus himself was reported (Matt. 5.9) as having said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, people who generate shalom. Such people do not just prevent conflict or resolve disputes. By their lives they actively encourage the sort of relationship that removes (or at least diminishes) the causes of such struggles. To do this, however, the indi­vidual needs his or her own sense of support. Thus the concept of inner peace, which arises from God’s sustaining, correspondingly increases. The point is made by St Paul in Phil. 4.7: ‘And the peace of God, which passes all under­standing, will keep your hearts and minds.’ The gift is greater than anything that we can devise ourselves.

Shalom is the foundation of the Christian ideal of pastoral care. The first recipients of this peace were fellow Christians. The felt tension between Israel and the nations is often expressed in the Old Testament. A similar feeling re-emerged as Christians began to explore the world that they inhabited. As a result they began to try to define who was in and who was out of fellowship. Much of the New Testament shows how they vacillated. The Fourth Gospel, for instance, is notable for the way in which it runs the theme of God’s universal love alongside the critical nature of the individual’s decision for or against Christ. But the universal dimension of shalom always lurked. Christians found that the definition of ‘neighbour’ could rarely, if ever, be restricted to their fellow believers alone.

  

Theology is positioned by God who is Trinity, and to speak or think about God,  is not merely human talk, ‘because it in­volves the reception of the mind of God and the participation in the life of God’.

 To do theology is to be taken up into the realm of worship and glory.

It is this patristic theology of participation, worship and glory that forms the basis for our understanding of practical theology.

Theology is the Greek word for thinking about God.

 According to H. R. Mackintosh, ‘’theology is simply a persistent and systematic effort to clarify the convictions by which Christians live.’’

Theology is thereby also the clarification of convictions by which Christians engage in ministry. Therefore, God is the principal subject matter of pastoral theology, though from a pastoral perspective or more generally, a theology concerned with action. If God were not the subject of pastoral theology, it would not be theology. To render pastoral theology intelligibly requires almost a complete outline of theology.

 This is our task

 

 

Serious theological work today is or ought to be rather like working in a quarry, and quite specifically the kind of quarry which one finds in India, where men and women, and quite young children too, in the heat of the day hack away at the rock-face with simple implements, exposing themselves to danger, and committing to the task all their reserves of energy, intelligence, determination and strength.

I am not thinking of the modern fully mechanized quarry, where everything is done at a safe distance, at the flick of a switch, or the pressing of a button, where danger and sweat are minimized, and people do not themselves engage directly with the rock-face. That might be an image of the modem academic assumption that we are most likely to encounter truth in detachment, that objectivity is all, that commitment is a distraction, or leads to distortion of the truth.

No, I am thinking of the kind of quarry that we find in India and elsewhere, where:

  • The work is hard, demanding, exhausting.
  • The work does not bring high status or tangible rewards, indeed the very opposite. You work because of an inner compulsion, vocation or constraint.
  • Most of the work is invisible, rarely noticed or applauded. People in their cars pass by the quarry with hardly a glance as they go about their business.
  • The work is sometimes dangerous, full of unexpected hazards.  Co-operation is essential. No one can work the quarry alone; one must work as a team with others.
  • The workers in the quarry seldom see the end-product. The stones they quarry are normally used and fashioned far away.

to be continued!

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