Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Conservatism on the cusp of custardization?

The future of the Anglican Communion requires a common theology which binds us together. The future of the Christian faith requires (among other things) a credible theology. Part of the conservative approach to securing a common theology (among Anglicans) and a credible theology (generally) is an (underlying) argument that alternative approaches such as liberalism are flawed whereas conservativism is not, or, is at least less flawed than liberalism. The strength of the conservative approach, in a broad, sweeping judgement, is that there is an attractiveness to the theology offered, evidenced by numbers in conservative churches.

But there are potential problems in conservative Christianity, including conservative Anglicanism. It can turn to custard! One such problem is a tendency towards legalism, another is towards fundamentalism. When fundamentalism and legalism are combined then theology can become incredible (i.e. not-able-to-be believed) rather than credible.

A recent outbreak of incredibilism occurred in the Roman Catholic church when Brazilian church authorities excommunicated medics and the mother of a nine year old girl for permitting and performing an abortion on her while not excommunicating the man who abused and raped her. At least the Catholic church is recognising the absurdity of the situation. This comes, of course, on top of the absurd recognition of the Holocaust-denying Bishop Williamson via the mechanism of de-excommunication. [Postscript: and is followed up by silly assertions about the ineffectiveness of condoms in Africa, as Ruth Gledhill reports].

We are not quite there yet in the Anglican Communion. But the bemusing restraint of conservative Anglican blogsites to engage with the Archbishop of Nigeria's current burst of support for the criminalization of immorality suggests we are willing to entertain thoughts that an incredible theology is an acceptable outcome of conservativism.

Anyone for custard?

[Postscript: It could be worse than I am suggesting, in respect of Western evangelicalism. After penning the above I came across 'The coming evangelical collapse' by Michael Spencer, published in the Christian Science Moniter. It makes a bit of sense when he says,

"We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.


1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures."

Read it all here.]

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