Gleanings from this week’s news: Terror, “British values”, curing the C of E, Keller

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The response of the government to Paris and the threat of Islamic extremism to physical safety in the UK has been predictably swift ; a consultation which will restrict freedom of speech by expecting all religious speakers at universities to be checked by the university authorities for speech inciting terrorism (tolerance being seen as one of our “British values”). Schools also are under a new duty to have policies in place to vet guest speakers. Were I a university officer I would probably not relish this complex and sensitive new responsibility to be the arbiter of moral freedom. The UCCF (the national network of Christian Unions in universities) may find that every speaker and church leader addressing them will have to have their talks “vetted”. This Evangelical Alliance article expresses extreme concern about the speed and breadth of this legislation and its impact of freedom of thought and speech in universities. The consultation is very short (closing this Friday) and if you read the linked document on the EA page you can respond to Preventdutyconsultation@homeoffice.x.gsi.gov.uk .

Archbishop Cranmer’s blog offers a bleak prospect of potential negative consequences for mainstream Christians of the legislation. Who is going to define “British values” in a way that protects our safety from terrorism AND our  freedom of speech?

This seems to be a pattern today: Islamic terrorism leads to press horror at extremism, which leads to a government clampdown, the end result of which is that free speech, not terrorism, is limited . This article in the Church Times rightly points out that “British values” (in a culture going back centuries) are very largely based on Christian values, and are in turn greatly valued by the Jewish community who currently feel under threat, and by many of other faiths.

There has been lively discussion about the (patchy) decline of the Church of England, and the reasons and cure for it.  Do we need better-trained clergy and bishops, which would entail increased discipleship, leading to enhanced giving to support the cost (as suggested in several recent and sensible C of E reports)? Professor Linda Woodhead (a sociologist) has suggested that the solution lies not in promoting “peripheral” discipleship and better clergy leadership, but in having fewer “expensive” (her view) clergy and releasing lay expertise to save the day. This Church Times article addresses her views with the necessary theological response.

She may be right to say that we need to ask how the C of E “car” got into the ditch in the first place, but is surely mistaken to call “discipleship” peripheral, when most of us see it  as central to faith. She appears to see discipleship as only for the 12 disciples of Jesus and (her implication) just church “leaders” today, not for all followers of Jesus. But when Jesus said “God and make disciples” he didn’t mean “Go and make clergy”. We are all disciples, and part of that life is simplicity and generosity. Discipleship, including giving to ministry, seems to me central to the Biblical picture of faith. She is right to spot that only increased giving by members (disciples) will enable the church to pay our clergy, but wrong to think the solution is to cut clergy and do their jobs using “theology-lite”: untrained, and often unavailable, volunteers. She is right to emphasise the equal importance of clergy and lay people, but wrong to think that developing better clergy is in contradiction of encouraging lay discipleship too. Do we not need the classic Anglican “both/and”?

Finally, I am loving Tim Keller’s recent book on “Prayer”, and it is book of the term at our church for Lent. Here’s a lovely short video introduction to the heart of prayer and the book, from the author.

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