Our need to go deep
At the FIEC Leader’s Conference in Blackpool, I was given five minutes in the main meeting to answer the question:
“What will be the main theological issues facing us in the next few years?”
Quite a challenge! Here’s what I said in full recognition that I’d canvassed some friends and colleagues as to how they’d answer the question:
It’s been said that the main issue in the first millennium was ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’ In the second millennium the question was ‘How are we saved?’ And now as we are into the third millennium, the question is and will continue be ‘What is a human being?’ The seismic implications of this individually, culturally and politically, and while still recognising a Christian ‘afterglow’, cannot be underestimated and we are all feeling them whether it’s the presenting issues surrounding sexuality, gender, transhumanism, embodiment, and the underlying worldviews and of the focus on the self, expressive individualism, social construction, or just what we call human identity. The main theological issue facing us will be a danger that our responses will be superficial and we’ll hear the words of Star Wars’ Red Leader as he shot at the Death Star: ‘Negative, negative. It didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface.’ And so we will need to go deep.
First, our challenge will be to go deep theologically. As we dig down into the presenting issues we see all around us we discover competing interpretations of reality what are called ‘theories’ – the lenses through which we view the world which highlight certain things as viable, visible and valuable. Our challenge in our preaching, praying, discipling and evangelising, will be to analyse, critique and construct – looking through the Bible to demonstrate how the biblical story and Christ crucified is the true interpretation of reality – if I might say the subversive fulfilment of all other idolatrous interpretations. This will include (and I think Covid helpfully highlighted this for us), how thin our political/public theologies have been. So simply prioritising time and resources for theological (in the broadest sense) thinking and teaching at every level from basic catechesis to advanced research is vital. In that sense, the biggest theological challenge is ignorance and lack of concern.
Second, our challenge will be to go deep affectively. The increasing grip of secularism is going to make the social cost of Christianity higher and higher. We will not pay that cost unless we perceive the incomparable nature of God not just quantitively but qualitatively. Our challenge will be to live in reverent fear, not fearing what other people fear (increasingly apocalyptically). This is a theological issue. How are we going to engender this affection and its fruit which should lead to sense our own solid and stable identity in Christ and a love for Him in which there is a boldness, freedom and joy?
Third, our challenge will be to go deep historically. By this I don’t mean a sentimentalised romanticism or retreat. We are going to have to come to terms with being a minority (often a despised minority) in our churches with certain professions closed to Christians – professions like teaching and medicine from which we have disproportionately drawn from. I think our Independent churches have a particular contribution to make here if we can remember our history. It was only 200 years ago that we couldn’t stand for parliament and 150 years ago that we couldn’t go to university and therefore into the professions. Let’s draw on this heritage.
Fourth and finally our challenge will be to go deep ‘fellowshiply’. We need each other not simply the challenge of making time for relationships between us at FIEC, but the challenge of maintaining firm theological convictions whilst recognising the need to collaborate with other gospel-centred Christians in the UK and around the world. However much this puts us out of our cultural comfort zones will have to be working on a theology of collaboration.
All these are great challenges but we have a God who is with us in them and Lord over all of them.