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Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Escaping Fundamentalism, Evading Liberalism

Recent comments from Simon Barrow capture nicely the difficulty of pinning down what it means to be "biblical". It is as he rightly says being part of a community involved in an on-going, necessarily non-violent argument, about how we should respond to the humanity and freedom we meet in Jesus.

Such an argument might well include people who do not regard themselves as conventionally religious or affiliated with the church as an institution. Great - just so long as we can all get beyond the assumption that if you are not a "liberal" you are a "fundamentalist" and that if you are not a "fundamentalist" you must be a "liberal".

Christian faith is inescapably rooted in biblical tradition. But the Bible isn't a series of knock-down propositions. It is a set of living, dynamic, troubling, inspiring and disturbing accounts of the ways of God among wayward people across the centuries. For Christians its interpretative core is the Gospels. They are, by their nature, diverse rather than singular. They speak of a God of unutterable grace who, in Jesus, turns upside-down every expectation of the conventionally religious. In Christ nothing we thought we knew about God, the world or ourselves remains untransformed. But, as the New Testament records demonstrate, and as the communities that have been formed from it show, Christians have continued to disagree about the precise nature and impact of what God has declared in Christ. To be 'biblical people' involves recognising ourselves as part of this vital argument. It also requires us to engage vigorously (as the prophets did) with God in the contemporary world. In all this we are gloriously free. But we are also constrained by the Jesus whose concern was the last, the least and the lost; not the powerful, the sufficient and the self-righteous. For we are, finally, the people of a person, not a book. That is the living irony of 'being biblical'. To come to terms with it requires openness and generosity, but also the discipline to be formed into a people focussed on what might be involved in being Christ-like.

All this has implications for ecclesiology - an open ongoing argument embodied in our everyday life would end up with something that represented a disorganised religion, much less amenable to top down control and tight models of structure. Much more experimental - like the Jesus movement recorded in the book of Acts. That might be taking things a bit far though - they ended up spending lots of time in gaol.

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