From the Archbishop

Returning to our 'disruptive beginnings'

Archbishop Philip Freier's column in this month's TMA

June 6 2017I often encounter a passionate collision of opinions about whether the world is becoming a better place or not. It is easy to imagine how this conversation goes. A tragedy happens and as we reflect on it we come to see a trend for the worse in the state of the world. People nod their heads and throw in their own experiences and observations to confirm the trend. Just as the mood descends into a low ebb and an increasing sense of powerlessness someone inevitably says, “Well I’m an optimist and I don’t think that things are as bad as you’re saying”.

The success of lifting many people out of poverty during the period of millennium development goals, the increase in life span and the eradication of some diseases, amongst other things, are cited as proof of a contrary position. In the 1980’s, two billion people in the world were literate whereas now the figure is 6.2 billion; back then only 400 million were digitally networked whereas now six billion are connected.

We are all living in a more anxious time than we might have imagined even as recently as a decade ago and conversations of the kind I’ve described are to be expected. We are all prone to what is sometimes called “group-think”, a kind of easy consensus that closes itself off to other views. Nik Gowing, the distinguished BBC broadcaster, says that group-think is killing off inspiration and that we should actively seek out disruptive ideas that are so readily excluded by the consensus position.

The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have many examples of disruptive ideas overturning the group-think of their age. Prophets speak a disruptive word into the settled thinking of kings and courts, and our Lord’s presence in the locked room where the disciples hid in fear turned everything around for them and for Christ’s mission.

The Christendom era saw Christianity identified with the established order, and disruptions were inevitably seen as threats to that order. In a post-Christendom era we are yet to find the measure of our faith as the essentially disruptive force it has been from its beginnings. We know how our faith disrupts the primacy of the old Adam of our human nature in place of the Spirit-filled life of the new person we are in Christ, but are often torn between that reality and the Christendom entanglement with the social order.

Jesus’ resurrection is perhaps the greatest disruption to the settled ideas of our human understanding. It is as disruptive now as it was then. We who gather in his name as his disciples are called by Jesus to carry his message to the people and communities of our generation and place. Whether Jesus was an optimist or pessimist I cannot say, but he was a great disrupter of the easy consensus.

Today is the right time to have our group-think about the decline of Christianity challenged as much as it is to hear afresh the words of Jesus inaugurating the coming Kingdom of God: “See I am making all things new” (Rev 21.5).