Doing away with professional clergy; meeting in homes rather than Grade 1 listed buildings; redistributing money from the rich to the poor. All sounds very Gospel, doesn’t it? It certainly sounds very ’emerging church’. Not quite what you’d expect from a report to the General Synod of the dear old C of E. And it’s on the front page of today’s Times.
What a shame that a financial crisis has prompted this report, rather than creative missional thinking and prayer. Still, God uses all things for good for those who love him. Let’s pray this is a providential moment, and not only for the Church of England but for the wider Church.
We’re getting ready to move house soon, and have lots of stuff to sell. Much of it is going on eBay. Today I had an email from them, congratulating me on getting my fifth positive feedback. ‘Only five more to go,’ they say, ‘and you’ll have your first Feedback Star!’ (Mmm, can’t wait.)
Then comes the theology. Yes: theology. ‘Your Feedback reinforces the eBay value that ‘People are basically good.”
My Christian ears pricked up at this, and so I looked up the values. They’re very positive:
We believe people are basically good.
We believe everyone has something to contribute.
We believe that an honest, open environment can bring out the best in people.
We recognise and respect everyone as a unique individual.
We encourage you to treat others the way you want to be treated.
In reverse order, they’re pretty Christian. Treat others how you want to be treated sounds pretty Christlike. Respecting everyone as an unique individual for me comes from humans being created ‘in the image of God’. An open, honest environment reminds me of Paul’s words about ‘speaking the truth in love’. Everyone having something to contribute is redolent of the idea that all have gifts.
The difficult one for many Christians is the first one, where I came in: ‘People are basically good’. Classically we’ve said ‘People are basically bad’. But as one of the characters in Brian McLaren’s novel ‘The Last Word And The Word After That’ says,
“I’m not denying the old doctrine of original sin, but it can be abused in a way that shifts the focus away from human injsutice, oppression, and suffering on Planet Earth. It shifts the focus to getting your hiundquarters into heaven after you leave Planet Earth. So it makes you worry less about how bad humanity is and more about how mad the deity is.”
So there has been a shift in more postmodern thinkers to a creation-centred spirituality, but which runs the equal and opposite danger of under-estimating the human capacity for evil. Just how do we keep the two in tension? It’s one of those paradoxes with which Christians always need to live.