Shifting Currents in Turbulent Times
Some time ago I read a column by a particularly sharp journalist. He is an astute observer of the religious landscape and his words disturbed me. I have been thinking about them for a little while now.
The essence of this message was this: Christian leaders have noted the upsurge of interest in spirituality. Don’t be fooled, says this particular journalist. Amongst the most intelligent, active, imaginative, culture shaping younger set that he knows, this is not an interest in religion or God. It is better characterized as an interest in a kind of “this worldly”, secular spirituality. The arts are celebrated, altruistic causes embraced, rigorous thought about the nature of society and life style is explored. God, religion, and the church? Not on the agenda.
These are chilling thoughts. I suspect they are accurate. The journalist concerned is not hostile to Christianity. Far from it, he is involved and is a believing committed Christian. He just wants Christian leaders to be informed about the reality of the scene out there.
So what do we make of such a situation, especially when it is mixed in with a broader interest in spirituality that does seem to be benefiting the church? There are very mixed signals out there.
First, a comment on those intelligent, creative individuals who are shaping our culture and who have no interest in God – you can be brilliant and completely wrong. Remember, the intelligent, creative individuals in the 1930’s who thought that Stalin was the soon coming saviour, that the Soviet Union represented an inevitable and more hopeful future, who gave their commitment (and in the case of some in Spain – their lives), to the ideals of socialism.
They were tragically mistaken at all kinds of levels, not least in their rejection of God and Christianity as a force for good and constructive societal change. The poor have been better served by the winsome and patient kindness of Christians than by the centrally planned communal farms of forceful Stalinism. Moreover, it turns out that Christianity is far more resilient as a basis for society than those in the 1930’s had imagined.
Second, it is important to argue for a Christian basis for society and not just to accept that we have somehow irrevocably lost the case just because many, even amongst the brightest and the best, don’t presently accept our case. We have a great case but often one that is poorly articulated. There is work to do here.
Third, at the level of ordinary people something does seem to be shifting out there. One can see it in a number of very different arenas. For example: in the past few weeks, leaders within a number of denominations have told me that their latest statistics show a growth in numbers (mainly in attendance) for the first time in decades. I doubt that this is a co-incidence.
Faith is currently a topic in the public square in a way that it has not been for a long time. Leaving aside David Cameron’s recent discovery that he is far more committed as a Christian than he thought, I am interested in the reactions to his comments. Amongst many other comments, I noted the observation of one politician on the Labour side that the 2010 intake of MP’s had produced far more people motivated by their Christian faith.
The impact of faith on the ground is beginning to be noticed by those with a concern for human flourishing. One leading local council officer in a major UK city made this observation, “This city is held together by faith.” This was not a politically correct statement about the value of all faiths, he was particularly talking about the Christian faith and difference Christians make on the ground to the welfare of local communities.
This is a time for thinking carefully about our faith and arguing convincingly for it in the public square. It is also the time to do more on the ground. All the evidence suggests that churches that engage with local communities in practical acts of compassion lay the foundation for future growth.