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“Rendering an account of faith is even more important now, in the present century, when the religious a priori no longer exists and God has become problematical precisely as God.”
This extract from Schillebeeckx was projected on the screen as I began a Bible study given to the Queensland Synod in May. As leaders of parishes and agencies, rural and urban, sat making crucial decisions for the future of the church, I hoped the quote would illustrate an enormous challenge facing Christians today. Our primary challenge is not how to manage money, retain youth, or defuse internal controversy. In culture where religious atheism, “non-Christian” religions, and "syrupy dogooderism" simultaneously thrive, the church must be driven back to rudimentary theological categories.
If as liturgists, theologs, and Sunday school teachers we are doing our work properly, it should be a discomfiting problem: what does it mean to speak of God?
The Bible study was titled “A Debatable Way”. As the Synod gathered around the theme “Disciples on the Way,” I chose the adjective debatable to signal that the Way (a) is not self-evident and (b) must be contended for. Drawing on Paul’s approach in Athens (Acts 17), the study had three themes:
1. An Eclectic Social Context
2. A Curiosity-Inducing Message
3. A Pagan-Friendly Doctrine
The first theme, social context, seems especially crucial for understanding this text. Ministry in Athens (vv.15-34) is juxtaposed to ministry in Beroea (vv.10-14).
Beroea is every theologian’s dream! In Beroea, Paul’s can really play up his Hauerwasian credentials. It is a “counter-polis” – a “story-formed” “community of character.” Paul can break-out his classic post-liberal moves, for in Beroea, Scripture is the “native language, the primary medium in which they think, feel, act, and dream” (Lindbeck). The Beroeans are eager to accept the authority of Scripture. In Beroea, Paul can also play up his Bonhoefferian credentials and give sermons about “single-minded radical obedience.” Sermons which muse: “Only the believers obey and only the obedient believe.”
But the assumptions Paul can rightfully make (about Scripture, about authority) in Beroea, he cannot get away with in Athens. Perhaps this is true in Australia too. In the study – available by podcast here – I propose that we are not in Beroea anymore.
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