Stimulus Volume 22 Issue 1 - Apr 2015
TABLE OF CONTENTS
"Cultural Irritants": Probing the Complexities of Missionary-Maori Engagement
Interview with Tony Ballantyne
The Pattern of Theological Truth
An Interview with Robert Jenson
The Voice: From Text to Life: What Ezekiel Teachers Preachers "The Lord is There"
Synergeo: A Theological Exchange in Social Practice, or, Coversations Between Education and Counselling
Lisa Spriggens and Yael Klangwisan
Vision: Love's Big Bang
In 2012 the Eastman Kodak company filed for bankruptcy protection. Although the writing had been on the wall for some time, the apparent failure of this once leading company was a profound shock to many. The manufacturer which had dominated camera film production had failed to adapt to the digital revolution. Kodak had continued to develop and enhance its products – it just had the wrong products. It offered excellent traditional film and cameras, when the world was surging towards new formats. The cruel irony was that Kodak was doing an excellent job. It was just working in the wrong space.
We might ask ourselves whether Christianity worldwide is facing a similar “Kodak moment”. The church is struggling with a context which includes the confronting violence of Islamic radicalism on one hand and a rapid shift in the popular moral compass in the West. In North Africa and the Middle East entire Christian traditions are displaced, their survival threatened. At the same time churches in the Anglo countries are now facing what much of Europe has struggled with for centuries: a popular disinclination to assume the rightness of traditional Christian positions on marriage, sexuality, even life itself. This is especially shocking to those have until this moment clung to these mores as bastions of Christian moral continuity – the vaunted “family values” space into which many concerned Christians have retreated. “All else might collapse, but the rightness of our ways in these areas is surely self-evident.” Turns out, we were wrong. Like Kodak, we were building our fortress in the wrong space.
Is this moment so unique? In one sense, not at all. The Gospel has always been “news” in a marketplace of competing motivations and conceptions. Christianity, after all, contains within itself a thorough and realistic account of why it is that the world will not instantly embrace its tenets. Yet it is also true that the particularities of the current challenges are ours alone.
How then are we to be church in this moment of the missio Dei?
Our experience has shown us over and over that neither surrender nor retreat leads to gains in the long run. It is a seductive notion that the church might simply adapt to the times and embrace the moment. But the gospel is not culture, and the culture of ultra-modernity is certainly not the gospel. Such surrender is a cypher for defeat. Retreat, on the other hand is equally doomed. When Sennacherib’s army threatened Jerusalem, Hezekiah’s officials attempted to protect the populace from the Babylonian taunts by demanding the empire speak only Aramaic, rather than the Hebrew the people would understand. (2 Kings 18:17–37). They failed. Ultimately their salvation came, not from closing their ears to the threat, but from opening their eyes to Yahweh.
We are, after all, called to live in this world. In a forthcoming article, my colleague at Laidlaw, Tim Meadowcroft, argues that the example of Daniel and his friends provides a model of nuanced engagement with an often (although, crucially, not always) hostile culture. They are to “‘seek the welfare of the city’ in which God has placed them.”
In the face of contemporary challenges, Christians cannot avoid the hard work of genuine dialogue. Stimulus and journals like it exist to help facilitate this difficult task. The various columnists seek to model a genuine engagement. Among the longer pieces in this issue, Stephen Garner explores the potential for this venture of theology which is both public and contextual, Gareth Jones addresses the complexities presented by new biomedical technologies, and we feature an interview with historian Tony Ballantyne about his recent book which adds a new depth and richness to our understanding of the Maori/Missionary encounter in Aotearoa. A second interview, with the influential theologian Robert Jenson, reveals his conviction that the critical task is “to conform the world’s truth to the pattern of theological truth, rather than the other way around.”
The task, the call, cannot be forced into a bogus completeness. As Jenson acknowledges, “until the end comes there will be questions arising in the life of the church and its mission that haven’t been answered.” In the meantime the church remains, called to a constantly renewed witness to the Gospel. In this regard, perhaps, it is worth noting that Eastman Kodak eventually emerged from bankruptcy. Its focus, its self-understanding, had radically shifted, but it was still Kodak.
Academic Dean - Laidlaw College