Christianity in a changing world. Biblical insight on contemporary issuesWritten by Michael Schluter & the Cambridge Papers Group Reviewed By Andy Draycott
This book collects together short papers, previously published individually as ‘Cambridge Papers’ dating back over the last decade and its introduction is convincingly apologetic:
for a Christian, meeting secular thought on the basis of common rational discourse is a match played at home. But the Christian must also recall that secular knowledge is to be set in its fullest context, its theological context (xv).
In his foreword David Jackman identifies the bewildering array of questions that Christians are being asked on social, political and ethical issues, suggesting that ‘We know that there must be biblical principles which are relevant, but we are not always sure of their location, or once found, the validity of our interpretative processes’. Readers are assured that, agreeing or not, they will have their framework for thinking challenged and changed.
The hermeneutical question Jackman raises for us is certainly one that crops up as we read through sections as diverse as: Human Identity and Sexuality; Christianity and Society; Crime and Justice; Economics and Finance; Science and Medicine; History and Providence; Postmodernism and Culture. So, is a ‘biblical’ reading necessarily equivalent to a ‘theological’ one? Do we really seek ‘biblical insight’ or are we after theological (too dry?), or better still, evangelical insight on contemporary issues gained as we reflect in the light of the Bible? We would be advised to assess the authors as seeking to work humbly under this second self-understanding. Nevertheless, this collection, framed as it is, and throwing up what some readers may identify as conservative (is this a theological or modern liberal category anyway?) applications may alert us to the need for caution with our easy shorthand. Clearly this is not an area that the essays sets out to address but, as the papers tacitly adopt a method, the framework questions must responsibly come back to the reader’s mind. The collection may then be helpful to readers as a companion in that churchly task of continually seeking a renewed mind to test and approve what is God’s will.
A little gem in the collection (and immediately interesting to students) is John Coffey’s essay on ‘Engaging with Cinema’. All essays are accompanied with useful endnotes, but this particular essay recommends further reading and lists a few websites that deal responsibly with Christian reflection in this area. Also worthy of note is the forthright paper from Ranald Macaulay on ‘The Great Commissions’ and Michael Ovey’s trinitarian emphasis in ‘The Human Identity Crisis’. The section on science was weaker as useful factual information seemed to be filtered uncritically through the secular utilitarian prism causing us to query whether the managerial aspect of popular ‘stewardship’ discussion in Christian circles is helping us as much as we like to believe.
This collection is accessibly engaging for student readers and stimulates thinking far beyond the methodological to an examination of our settled assumptions and practices as Christians living in the world.
La Mirada, California, USA