Church And Faith (2)

HEBREW WORLDVIEW

Thwaites’ book is not easy bedtime reading, and in it he is seeking to radically change the worldview of his readers with regard to church, work and the universe. He is going back to a very Hebrew view of the world (and he is not alone in this), though not all scholars accept all of his interpretations. He addresses the issues of commitment and membership (among others), and points out (what he sees as) the failings of the existing church, before redefining church into his worldview.

Moltmann charts the church’s vital “Relationship to Israel, to the Old Testament, and to the divine future.” In observing how the church through the centuries has persecuted Jews and dissenters, he calls the church to free itself from “This abuse of itself” and “To recognize Israel as its enduring origin, its partner in history, and its brother in hope.”

Moltmann then examines how the church relates to the secular world, and what difference Christianity makes, or can make, to the world order of things when held in tension with the anticipation of the Kingdom of God, which is here and yet to come, real and yet barely seen, known and yet hidden. For Moltmann, “The church, Christendom and Christianity understand their own existence and their tasks in history in a messianic sense.”

Webber said, “Christ is our spirituality.” Spirituality is not about restrictions and prohibitions, but about the person of Christ who has drawn us into relationship with him and therefore each other. “We must learn, then, not to have a spirituality, something we turn on at a particular place or time, but to be spiritual, as a habit of life, a continuous state of being.” This, too, leans towards a Hebrew worldview.

Moltmann says that the church’s guiding lines for the clarity of its commission, situation and goal have three dimensions: “Before God, before men and before the future”. For him the church is an ‘open’ church – “It is open for God, open for men and open for the future of both God and men.” This tradition is a ‘moving’ tradition, that is, it is “The tradition of the messianic liberation and eschatological renewal of the world,” and “It is impossible to rest on this tradition.” This, Moltmann says, is the “Common work for the coming kingdom.”

He addresses the current unrest in the church, and clearly states that this “Unrest is implicit in itself.” Therefore, in contrast to many other voices, Moltmann declares that “What is required today is not adroit adaptation to changed social conditions, but the inner renewal of the church by the spirit of Christ, the power of the coming kingdom.” Thus he shows that the church’s doctrine should be guided by that unrest within the church, rather than the doctrine trying to correct the unrest. Here, his overriding claim is that the church is the church of Jesus Christ, and it does not belong to any other. “Christ is his church’s foundation, its power and its hope.”

Thwaites (in common with others) wants to put aside the ‘secular/sacred divide’ and turn to see all of creation – heaven and earth – as one related reality. He says that “Earth is connected in a strategic relationship to heaven in real space and in actual time. It was that way in the beginning and, with some majestic changes, it will be that way forever.” In this way, he is seeking a Christological worldview (which seems sensible to me), but he seems sometimes to be saying that this Christological worldview is the only sensible worldview to hold.

I have to ask if different views don’t simply throw different light on things without dismissing each other; yet Thwaites appears to want us to have only one view – is it sufficient? Thwaites says: “Rather than there being any distinction in the heavens and the earth between divine things and natural things, all things express and manifest the attributes, nature and power of the Son of God.”

THE CHURCH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

For Moltmann, “It is not faith that makes Jesus the Christ; it is Jesus as the Christ who creates faith. It is not hope that makes the future into God’s future; it is this future that awakens hope.” In this context, Moltmann discusses at length the sacraments and their power, purpose and efficacy for the lives of those who come into God’s kingdom through Christ. All of this he expresses in the messianic way of life that “Cannot have anything to do with either legalism or lawlessness.” For Moltmann, “The messianic gospel liberates oppressed life” and “Gives its stamp to life in the Spirit.”

Moltmann declares that “When it listens to the language of the Messianic era and celebrates the signs of dawn and hope in baptism and the Lord’s supper, the church sees itself in the presence of the Holy Spirit as the messianic people destined for the coming kingdom.” In this way, Moltmann begins to draw things to a climax as he sets forth the big picture for the church of Jesus Christ.

Central to his view is that the “Spirit is not be apprehended in the ministries of the church, but the church, with its manifold ministries and tasks, is to be conceived the movement and presence of the Spirit.” Moltmann wants to stop proceeding from the state of the church, but rather from its future; an “Eschatological history of God with the world.” He is concerned that the church should be recognised as the church of Christ – not merely a church – and that the people of the church should be seen as a people of a kingdom that is (largely) still to come.

Moltmann considers “The Community in the Process of the Holy Spirit”, “The Charge to the Community and the Assignments within the Community” and “The form of the Church as Fellowship” as he leads on to speak against the restriction of faith to the private life on the one hand, and against church organisations above the local (church) level that deprive the individual congregations of their independence and, often, their own responsibility.  Moltmann of the committed congregation as the church in the power of the Spirit.

PHILOSOPHICALLY SPEAKING

Central to Thwaites’ arguments is that the Western world in general and the UK in particular has been heavily influenced by Greek thought and philosophy, and much more so than we realise: “We have inherited philosophical terrain with a great fault line running through it.” He sees the current crises in and around church as an opportunity to change this for the better, saying, “My conviction is that the postmodern period gives the Christian and the church the ability to come out from under centuries of Greek influence and take hold of the worldview God intended us to have all along.”

Webber declares that “Our calling is not to reinvent the Christian faith, but, in keeping with the past, to carry forward what the church has affirmed from the beginning.” This values the past on an equal footing with the present and he says that we can learn from “Six discernible paradigms of time” in the history of the church in the West.

Moltmann considers what the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” actually is and is not, and looks for a church of faith, hope and action that is united in freedom through the gathered congregation. But, “The church in history remains limited, non-universal and non-catholic until every rule and every authority and power is destroyed,” and the “Church in splendour, without spot or wrinkle, is the ultimate goal to which we are being led by the passion of Christ.” Imperfect it is, but it is the church in the power of the Spirit.

Thwaites says that “The Greek worldview divided the spiritual realm from the created realm; the Hebrew worldview unites them.” Thwaites develops this point and leans heavily upon it: “For the Hebrew the spiritual or unseen realm was one with the created realm. It did not exist in a separate or removed dimension; it was in union with all of life in creation. The spiritual dimension of life is the heart or essence of every created thing, both seen and unseen.”

Thwaites says that he is not really trying to give us a new worldview, but rather that he is seeking to return (the church) to the worldview that it held originally: “As Gentiles we are grafted onto Hebrew stock, not Greek philosophy or mysticism. Our DNA is Hebrew, not pagan.” Thwaites is apparently stating that adopting his worldview means abandoning the view a person may currently hold; whereas some would consider his worldview as a useful modifier to their present worldview. This, however, does not seem to be on his agenda.

Webber begins his journey with “The three most central features of modern thought: (1) Individualism, which asserts the ultimate autonomy of each person; (2) rationalism, which is characterized by a strong confidence in the power of the mind to investigate and understand reality; and (3) factualism, which insists that the individual, through the use of reason, can arrive at objective truth.”

Webber explores the background of these features and helpfully considers how Mystery was set aside for an explained Christianity before hitting the buffers of apparent contradiction between the Bible and science, reason, and history. Webber calls us back to a Christianity that was and is shaped by “Mystery, holism, interpreted facts, community, and a combination of verbal and symbolic forms of communication”, which mean that “Our challenge is not to reinvent Christianity, but to restore and then adapt Christianity to the postmodern situation.”

Mohler, who appears to be focused on evangelicals rather than on Christians, has said that “If we evangelicals are not faithful to our calling, our opportunity, and our commission, God will raise up others to accomplish His sovereign purpose.” Is he really suggesting that God wants to work first and foremost through evangelicals, but that, if they are not on the ball, he will grudgingly use others?

Surely, then, evangelical ministers are the main thrust of God’s work in the world? Ah, but as Johnson has reminded us: “Intellectual training alone will never make a true minister.” That doesn’t stop us trying though, does it? As Hughes has observed, “It is possible for a preacher to follow the expository method and never preach in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Is preaching really all about methodology? Only asking…