A Wiser Idiot

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Editors’ note: 

This excerpt is from Themelios 43.1. The new April 2018 issue has 168 pages of editorials, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three formats: (1) PDF, (2) web version, and (3) Logos Bible Software.

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
In the markets she raises her voice;
At the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
At the entrance of the city gates she speaks. (Prov. 1:20)

The British comedian Frank Skinner has a regular feature on his podcast called “Idiot Eureka Moments” (IEMs), those times when you discover you have been innocently oblivious to what seems blindingly obvious to everyone else. So, for example, the correspondent who hadn’t realized that the contemporary music artist “will. i. am” was a play on the name “William” (please don’t tell me you didn’t realize that!), or the person who suddenly realized the nomenclature of “Banoffee Pie” was related to its constituent ingredients.

Earlier this year, I was invited to take part in a symposium organized by the doctrinal commission of a large Irish Presbyterian denomination. The topic concerned whether or not the denomination should participate in “multi-faith civic events.” The experience triggered a number of IEMs that might be worth sharing just in case there are some other like-minded idiots out there. If you are not an idiot and what follows is obvious to you, then my apologies—you can give a little smug chuckle, and get on with being edified by the rest of Themelios.

I said above “the experience” because what I want to focus on is not so much on what I actually said to these leaders on the topic: those who have read stuff I have done before will not be surprised to know that the framework of “subversive fulfilment” had a starring role. Rather, my “revelations” came in the peripheral and often unseen “areas” of preparation, methodology, pedagogy and reflection, intensified by a series what I shall call “providential coincidences.”

IEM 1. Were all in the same boat, and that’s both encouraging and discouraging. Over the last decade I have done a fair amount of reading on both the theology of religions and public theology, and I like to think I’m fairly on top of my subject. However, I very quickly realized that the presenting issue was more complex than I had first imagined (of which more anon). My slightly panicked response was to contact a number of the great and good in our constituency and ask for their comments and advice, scholars from whom I have learnt a lot, and some of my best former students now in ministry around the UK and beyond. Surely they would come to my rescue? While there were a number of astute observations and insights, there emerged a constant refrain running through most of the responses, “Really great question Dan. It’s a toughie. I haven’t personally come across this but it’s definitely something that we need to think about more and more. I’ll be interested to know what you come up with . . . .”

Now while such responses renewed my confidence that I wasn’t alone in recognizing the complexity, and that there wasn’t a seminal text on the subject that I’d neglected, I’m not that solipsistic in realizing a broader implication which was troubling. My sneaking suspicion is that this is an (other) area where, as conservative evangelicals, we are behind the curve. At best this shows a lack of joined up thinking and at worst a burying our head in the sand.

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