Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seeking After Truth

There is a certain way that churches do evangelism. Probably applies to conservative and evangelical churches more than liberal ones. Liberal ones tend not to do evangelism.

The methodology uses the metaphor of a meal and feeding a baby.

The parent has the food. As much food is put into the baby as possible who then needs to burp before any more can be taken.

The teacher has the truth. As much truth is put into the enquirer as possible who then needs to burp before more can be taken.

Alpha uses this model. The talks are the food and the discussion groups are the burp. It still works for some people, especially those who have a respect for the knowledge and ability of the teacher. The discussion groups allow people to respond to the talk and the next talk builds on this.

It was perhaps nearly twenty years ago that I met my first brother in Christ who would describe himself as an 'emergent' Christian. The person in question, who I encountered at a very funky little group at the Custard Factory in Brum where Christians involved in the arts could support each other, called himself a 'Seeker After Truth'.

I loved that. I loved the language, the spirit of enquiry, the lack of certainty (therefore the presence of mystery), the general cultural alertness of the members of the group.

In doing their work (and all were highly effective communicators of the gospel) they emphasised some things that operated counter to conservative Christian culture. I will call the communicator 'teacher' in these examples but I mean it more in the sense of philosopher, or journey-leader. Here are some emphases:

1. Seeking. Both teacher and disciple are seeking. Both might be changed by the process. The person who is interested or enquiring is valued as someone who has something to bring to the party. The whole one-beggar-sharing-bread-with-another thing.

2. Vulnerability A. The teacher owns up to uncertainty or times when Christians have disagreed. If there are two views both are expounded and decisions are not forced.

3. Vulnerability B. Rather than packing a meeting with seven Christians for every enquirer (again, often my Alpha experience) the teacher will go alone into a room full of seekers, facing the questions, the difficulties, alone.

4. Biblical literacy means talking about the historicity questions academic theologians have discussed for years but have largely been kept from congregations. It is about being honest with the truth.

5. Story. Stories have a power. Jesus used fiction to communicate. He very rarely told people what the story meant and even when he did his explanation often contained more mystery than certainty.

I ran Alpha for some years. Still would given half a chance. But I was quietly subverting it by setting out options and not insisting on one line. My Alpha course embraced universalism, hell as a metaphor not a reality, the possibility there was not a real Satan, the possibility of God no longer healing physically, the fact that some committed Christians were gay ... not saying these things were all acceptable but allowing people to come on board with such views and be included.

In reality Alpha don't like you mucking about with their course and still calling it Alpha. In my last church I just about held together some of the most liberal thinkers I have ever seen in a traditionally evangelical place of worship, including a number of lesbian and gay Christians. Almost all left shortly after I did. Which saddens me.

I'd like there to be a possibility of this not happening where I am now.

1 comment:

Esther Rachma said...

I became a Christian in a 'liberal' church that behaved like this in many ways - and by the way I don't think it's true that liberal churches don't do evangelism - we just don't call it that knowing that we often work with those who have fears of that word based on experiences not like those you offered - I hope that your desire for leaving not to mean others do is fulfilled where you are now.