Monday, May 08, 2006

Considering Orthodoxy

From chapter 1 of Considering Orthodoxy – foundations for faith today, edited by Paul Trebilco, published by ColCom Press 1995. Chapter 1 is by Stephen May; other contributors include Harold Turner, Sue Patterson, Graham Redding and David Kettle.

I do not believe that Christianity excuses us from listening or facing up to difficult questions. From what I have written, you will have gathered that what Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza said annoyed me! But I would not want anybody to be so stupid as to think that the issues she is addressing are either unimportant, or that they will go away. In that sense, she is good for us. She jolts us into awareness that not all is well.

Another example. I remember in England reading books about this country about nine years ago when I was first appointed to my job here (as Anglican Systematic Theology Lecturer); they almost universally described new Zealand as a model of harmonious race relations. How things have changed! Or have they? Perhaps Maori always felt this way, but Pakeha never knew – or had never listened.

I actually believe that the responsibility of a double listening is laid upon us: to God and to human beings. Sometimes God speaks through human beings, telling us of things we need to know. It seems to me (how’s this for a massive oversimplification?) liberals like to think they are better than evangelicals at listening to the world; evangelicals would like to believe they are better at listening to God. I believe true orthodoxy consists in listening to both. As I rather severely lecture my Theology and Science course at the beginning of the semester, I get fed up with Christians thinking that because of their faith they have a short-cut to scientific truth. We have a responsibility not to avoid the hard questions, simply because they are hard.

Yet on the other hand, listening to the world is no substitute for listening to God. We have to do both. I do not believe that, in the words of the 60s, the world should set the agenda. As William Willimon said recently sometimes we should not worry too much about making the Bible relevant to the modern world. It doesn’t deserve it! Rather the modern world needs the Bible.

We indeed do need to listen. My understanding of Christian Orthodoxy is that it is based on listening –listening to the word of God which is given to us to utter. Those who are familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book on Christology, know that from the very beginning of that work, he says that the Church has no choice about the Word it is given. It does not choose the Word. It passes it on, as those who are equally recipients of it. As we proclaim it, we are silent before it. But in receiving it, we need to witness to it.
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