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The Drama of 2020

It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it – is no longer effective… We need a story that will educate us, a story that will heal, guide, and discipline us.
Thomas Berry

Well we are into a New Year and its designation sounds like something from a science-fiction movie. Of course 2020 vision is being able to see with clarity and precision (although I need to go to Specsavers soon!) so the question is will human beings manage that this coming year, given the challenges we face globally, nationally and even personally? Furthermore, will the Church of Jesus Christ manage this too!

History is full of drama much of which bequeathed to the modern world a mixed bag of good and bad. We have just finished a year of political turmoil in our own country and however we voted let us pray that some stability and progress can be made in social and political terms for the good of all. Unfortunately none of us can stop the world and get off so we have to make do with the situation we find ourselves in. Yet, drama is at the heart of existence. Nothing worthwhile, novel, unique, important, interesting or radical happens without struggle, effort, sacrifice, and creative tension. It is so in nature; it is so in history; it is so in our own personal journeys of life and faith.

Many of us enjoy a good drama on the TV and appreciate the twists and turns of a clever plot line which keeps us in suspense and is full of surprises. These usually involve competing characters, motives, behaviours, unforeseen events, and action packed incidents. From the point of view of entertainment this is all well and good, but what of our own lives. Are we part of a narrative bigger than ourselves? Are we engaged and participating in a plot line that is exciting, enriching and purposeful? Are we going anywhere? It’s a “vision” thing as opposed to a Homer Simpson “stuff” thing. Are our lives all about the “stuff “that is in them or that happens to them or, are we able to transcend all of that with a larger and more expansive “vision” of the world and our place in it?

The Biblical narrative is an Epic from the Creation to the Consummation of all things. It once undergirded the way we saw the world and our role within it but that has been lost. Perhaps we need to recover that.

Interestingly, a survey conducted in August 2019 indicated that 89% of 16-29yr olds felt that life had no meaning or purpose and headlines like “Millennial Angst” appeared. The influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview has ebbed away and we are all fumbling about trying to adapt to a brave new world. Perhaps it’s time to get back to our roots. We can’t recreate the past and who would want to, it wasn’t perfect anyway, but we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater… something we do with Jesus every year along with the decorations when tidying up in the aftermath. But then as they say, “The trouble with Christmas is the bills come in January and the Baby grows up!” Every church building in the country is a testimony to something bigger than itself and to the longevity of a message, a hope, and a faith that has inspired and guided many generations past and present. How much longer will that be the case? In the epigraph quotation above by the late cultural historian Thomas Berry, we have the common assumption today that the Biblical worldview is past its sell by date. I could not disagree more.

The Christian faith has, in ways apparent and hidden, shaped and nurtured our culture. At its centre there is an amazing person who challenges us personally and individually. It is the Jesus of Easter (crucified yet Risen) we have to reckon with: the one who started a revolution; the one whose influence and impact on the world is second to none. The great Napoleon once said that “Jesus may have won men’s hearts but I control their destinies.” Then he marched into Russia and was defeated by the snow. Hitler once said, referring to Jesus, that “No anaemic Jew was worthy of the worship of any good German.” His Reich which was to last a thousand years ended in catastrophe after only twelve. Joseph Stalin once vowed to eradicate the name of Jesus from the land of Mother Russia. Yet immediately after his death, it was his name which was removed, and even the city of Stalingrad was changed to Volgograd.

The Monty Python Team were right: “Brian” wasn’t the Messiah, only a “very naughty boy!” Jesus however, was and is. Will 2020 be the year when the Church regains its confidence in its own message once again? Yes, to be concerned with social issues is right and commendable, but we have a worldview to promote and defend: one which deals with origins and endings and everything in between that is about identity and destiny for the human race. This encompasses science, history, philosophy, politics and morality. What an epic! What an adventure! What a message! To this challenge we can only posit these questions. If not this, then what? If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

by Rev Dr Russel Moffat
 

7 Responses

  1. /February 6, 2020/ by Alan J F fraser /

    I love your final sentences. I do hope and pray the church will regain its confidence in its own message - the whole message of the God breathed Scriptures. I’ve booked into a SOLAS event in Kiltarlity lead by Andy Bannister. SOLAS talks a lot about the confident Christian, one having a clear grasp of the message entrusted to us that speaks so powerfully on origins, meaning, purpose and destiny. It is a positive message of hope and should be presented as such, in contemporary language and with compassion, to a world that doesn’t know where it is going to and has good cause to be gloomy on a number of fronts, not least global warming. This means Christians feeling confident to get involved in contemporary politics and community groups to work as salt and light in the messy structures that exist.

  2. /February 8, 2020/ by Russel Moffat (Blog Author) /

    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for your reply. I agree with what you say but remember the situation we find ourselves in. The Church has not exactly covered itself in glory over the centuries and even today. We have an “image” problem.  Rightly or wrongly we are seen as judgmental, lacking grace and love and being on the wrong end of many perceived moral issues. 1914 was a watershed moment when so called Christian Europe entered the horror of WW1 and its fateful aftermath. The only saving grace here is that Christendom is dead but the Gospel still “lives” with all its saving power. The problem is that few want to listen to us!
    Unfortunately, there are two further problems. First, the perceived (and I would say real) problem of anti-intellectualism within Protestant Fundamentalism, in particular, although not exclusively, in regard to science. Secondly, the wholesale sell out of Protestant Liberalism to the agenda of “Athens” whilst “Jerusalem” is in ruins.
    Do you agree, at least in part with this and more to the point do you have any thoughts about how we go about rectifying this? I’m thinking here in both general terms but also in relation to the work of GTN.

  3. /February 10, 2020/ by Alan J F Fraser /

    Hi Russell

    I agree with what you say.  Yesterday I heard Ravi Zacharias suggest that persecution of Christians can open up opportunities for the Christian message. That was the case with the persecution of Jewish believers after Pentecost. Indeed, the Bible seems to portray a God who turns disaster into triumph. The cross being the clearest example. In today’s secular/superstitious climate UCCF are finding many students more open to listening to the gospel that their parents were. We are now the underdogs in society and that can be liberating.
    My own conviction is that we have a coherent, rational story that gives hope and meaning to life and we should spend more time trying to get that out into the open. There are many things happening that quite rightly grieve and shock us but always responding to them keeps us in the negative, defensive mode. As you point out that just confirms our image as judgmental and narrow minded.

  4. /February 13, 2020/ by Tony Foreman /

    I suppose it was always challenging delivering the message: not exactly easy for Jesus, or for Paul, or for the other apostles, so many of whom apparently, were martyred. Society has moved a long way from the Christendom in which I grew up, let alone the Early Church, and now the Faith, which was once so influential, is thought of in the same category as voodoo or UFOs. The Church in Scotland at the moment is not exactly the dawn rising behind the horizon. I see no signs of it ‘regaining its confidence’. One thing is that history does not stand still and events may well overtake us. If they do and there is financial collapse, or war, or totalitarianism, or something; if society fails significantly and life becomes unbearable, then people may look for other options.’ If not now..?’  - well, it may take some time.

  5. /February 18, 2020/ by Russel Moffat (Blog Author) /

    Hi Tony

    Thanks for your honest and real assessment of where we are at present re Church and Society. We have both witnessed the ebb flow of the optimism and expectation we had as ministerial candidates back in the early 80’s and the dramatic decline of the church in the face of a rapidly changing world. The years since then have seen Christians approach each decade with a rubric for action (e.g. decade of Evangelism – remember that one!) all of which didn’t even get as far as spluttering out but actually never really got off the ground! But of course, hope springs eternal in the human breast especially a Christ-centred one. That said your caveats are perhaps timely and necessary and reminded me of the ending of David Bentley Hart’s magisterial “Atheists Delusions” where he seems to suggest that revival may be far off and this is a time for honesty, realism and humility: a time to retreat to the “desert” (as the church as done before) to renew ourselves spiritually and inwardly. Perhaps without that purifying period all our apologetics and evangelism will just be clever words, argumentation and programmatic endeavours lacking power and conviction just like many of our atheist and secular counterparts. You have given me an idea for my next blog post so keep watching and responding. 

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