Christianity in the West is in a bit of trouble, as Christina Odone opines. While on my blog holiday I have done a bit of thinking. Nothing remarkable, but definitely seasonal: Epiphany is the time for thinking about the scope of the gospel. For the whole world, for Gentiles and Jews, for everyone. Today's (as I write, Sunday 19 January) Isaiah reading, 49:1-7, talks of the servnt, aka Jesus, being a light for the Gentiles and salvation being for the world, all of it, even the marginal, edgy regions such as New Zealand. (OK, New Zealand isn't actually mentioned, but it is implied).
So, back to basics: what is the gospel and how are we going to communicate it? These questions are the big questions for Anglicans in 2014, not you know what issue or who is really an Anglican (see previous post). Our life is way more urgent than that!
Having just read a superb book Mawson and the Ice Men of the Heroic Age: Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen by Peter Fitzsimons, a possible analogy is this. In a restaurant offering a choice between dog meat and more familiar chicken, beef or lamb, a diner might take some time to contemplate the possibilities, including working out what a civilised (i.e. Anglican) person would choose. Circa 1912, in the midst of an Antarctic blizzard, miles from the next food depot, with no food left on the sledge, there is only one question to ask, and that is the urgent question. Which is the weakest dog? The answer to the question is shot. And eaten.
Our Anglican problem (at least in these islands but I sense elsewhere as well) is that we act as though we are in the restaurant when the reality is a post-Christendom blizzard in which we have few options if we are to survive.
Now it would be rather grand and unattractively ego-centric to proffer 'my' answer to the situation. But I wonder if it might be acceptable to encourage a new look at John's Gospel and humbly suggest, as many Christians have done through the centuries, that John offers some exceptional gospel theology in his theological gospel, by which we might profit?
Given that John has generated quite a few words through Christian history, I confine myself with supreme discipline to two brief observations here. More may follow in subsequent posts ...
(1) Whatever we make of why John makes his distinctive offering (internal division within the Johannine church(es), attempt to marry Jewish Christianity with true insights from Greek philosophy, dissatisfaction with other gospel presentations, etc), John is crystal clear - 20:30-31 - that he writes to lead people to belief in Jesus Christ. That is, John's Gospel models for every church wrestling with the challenges of some new situation the possibility of finding a new expression of the gospel which connects with that new situation.*
(2) John's gospel highlights the issue of God. In a world of competing claims about God, including the claim that there is no God, John makes the claim that in and through Jesus we can know truly (and truthfully) the unseeable God (1:18) - indeed we can know that God exists because Jesus' claims about God were validated. In the twenty-first century Western Christianity could die but, if so, it will not be replaced by atheism but by other religions making different claims about who God is. One future for, say, Western Anglicanism, is to work on Johnannine lines, steadily making the case that God is this and not that.
What do you think?
*One explanation of John's Gospel in relation to the Synoptics, which accounts for its similarities to and differences from them, is that with the similarities, John is saying, 'Look, my gospel is the same gospel about the same Jesus.' With the differences, John is saying, 'Think with me, penetrate deeply into the meaning of the familiar gospel, and, look, is this not what the gospel means?' (Another idea I am toying with is that John's Gospel is among the earliest commentaries on the Synoptic Gospels).