Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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The Man For Others
by Paul Walker

A great deal of Christian theology is speculation - speculation about the nature of God, about exactly who Jesus of Nazareth thought he was, about how we can communicate with God.

We then speculate yet more about how we are to act in accordance with what we believe about all this speculation.

All that speculation is brought into sharp focus for me at Christmas. I find it increasingly difficult to speak in traditional terms about God becoming man in Bethlehem. So as Boxing Day dawned this year, I was relieved that Christmas was over and I could enjoy a few days with my family.

Then a wave came out of the Indian Ocean, a fascinating wave which physicists can easily explain as the result of an under-sea earthquake, an exotically named tsunami. First accounts said that over three hundred people were dead. Today we know that the numbers may be counted in the hundreds of thousands and that many more will die as a result of disease.

It is hard to speculate about anything, much less theology, when the world is faced with such a scenario. Millions feel paralysed by their inability to do anything to help, so money pours into the coffers of aid agencies. I hear a few words of sympathy from the churches, and we know that admirable work is being done by agencies such as Christian Aid.

Yet I also note with embarrassment that this tsunami will not exercise the churches for long. They seem to have more pressing issues.

For many churches more effort than anything else is put into getting people to come to Church. Evangelism seems to be the number one priority. Once people are in church, they seem concerned with issues that look somewhat esoteric to outsiders.

Please forgive the following crudeness I use to make my point strongly. Most churches seem obsessed with penises, especially when it comes to their ministers. Whether or not you have one seems crucial. And if you do have one, into which orifice it is put, and with what intention it is used, is clearly seen as vital. Such issues look likely to split the Anglican Church.

I have never known a church to split over its aid budget.

What saddens me more than anything is what all Christians know - that inasmuch as we can discern what Jesus of Nazareth actually said, care for the poor was a priority.

Let us remember that of all the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels not one concerns getting people to come to church. Nor did he ever mention homosexuality. Yet he told a rich young man to give all his money to the poor (Mark 10). He implied in his parable of the king at judgement day (Matthew 25) that how we react to people such as those affected by this tsunami will determine how we ourselves are judged.

For those who speculate about God, disasters like this tidal wave can be a great challenge. For either God is all-powerful and allows such events - in which case he is not all-loving. Or God is all-loving and cannot prevent this from happening - in which case he is not all-powerful. For myself, I�m not sure what I mean when I speak about God. I would certainly never aim to speculate about God's nature.

But when I hear of natural disasters I am reminded of what first attracted me to Jesus of Nazareth. In his own small world he seems to have put healing, love and care for the poor above theological speculation, above scriptural rules, and above the political and religious authorities of his day. In calling his followers to go out with nothing and heal the broken (Luke 10), he called them to follow that way of life.

I�m not sure what many of us can do about this earthquake beyond praying and giving.

But I am pretty certain that how we react to this and events like it is of far more concern than whether we believe that God is a Trinity or that Jesus died for our sins.

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