Mainline Christianity—whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox—is undergoing monumental strains in what we sometimes call the economically developed world: most of Europe, Canada and the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The strains are centred around belief: What do we believe? What do we want to believe? Do we even want to believe?
The answer on the one far side is an interest in God but a complete distrust of the way God is presented in institutional Christianity and a consequent falling away from the church. The far opposite side has developed a one – dimensional perspective on classical Christianity by drawing a picture of God created from an unreflective reading of scripture using whatever prejudices one brings as the crayons.
Most Christians in the developed world fall into the first camp. On every survey they say they are interested in spirituality. They say they are Christian in their leanings but have no denominational affiliation.
The question the church—any church—has to ask is does it want to have a conversation with these people on their terms, at least initially?
You may be wondering where I am going with this and why I have raised it. What prompted me are some readers’ letters this month.
Kenneth Oakes and Ken McMillan question the role of reason in relation to faith and scripture. John Vaudry charges that we are relativist (“doctrinal indifferentism”). Joyce Gladwell raises a point about reading the Bible literally.
All these writers are addressing the intersection of faith and reason, possibly the most crowded square in Christianity. The battles fought here can’t be counted. The misunderstandings and emotions are overwhelming, the deaths shocking and discouraging.
So I want to declare here where the Record stands in this traffic jam. The short version is managing editor Andrew Faiz’s reply to John Vaudry. “I view it as my personal mission to encourage conversation within our church; I believe conversation is very important to a dynamic confessional institution like the PCC seeking the contemporary Christ.”
Let’s be clear: Andrew’s mission is the Record’s mission. No successful magazine just dispenses information.
In fact no subscription – based magazine I know of survives if it does not engage its readers in conversation.
Some magazines owned by denominations have tried publishing only articles that expound the official line. None have survived. Because most people want to engage.
They don’t want to be talked down to. And they certainly don’t want to be told they must believe this or do that or they will be shown the door.
So first, let’s also revisit what we mean by reason in the sense of intellect and it’s role in this engagement. Reason is indeed a gift from God. Our whole existence is a gift from God! That’s what the first part of Genesis is all about. God created the world and it was good.
The story of humanity’s falling away from a perfect relationship with God is about the misuse of those gifts, but if those gifts had become totally evil, we would cease to exist.
Reason is one of the gifts that allows us to communicate and think about God. It is not, of course, all that we need to develop our faith.
There is a long – standing discussion between the two largest divisions in Christianity, Roman Catholics and Orthodox. It’s beautifully and aptly called the Dialogue of Love.
It’s apt, because God’s conversation with humanity as revealed in scripture is nothing if not a dialogue of love. That is God’s whole stated purpose behind entering the world in the person of Jesus.
Christians have been rebelling against this truth since the beginning of the church, trying to make faith a dialogue of laws. The failure of this enterprise is evident in our divisions and our decline in the world.
The Record is committed to dialogue. To dialogue with those in the church and to the extent that it is possible to dialogue with those outside the church whose spiritual curiosity draws them to look inside the doors of their local Presbyterian church.
And it is committed to conducting that dialogue with one underlying law: love. Because ultimately, only love can reveal the truth.