What does it mean to love God with our minds?

Is Christian faith about an affective encounter with God, or about becoming convinced about the case for Christianity? You will immediately be crying ‘False dichotomy!’—but it is worth reflecting on the balance between these two ideas in contemporary expressions of faith. There was a time when the tradition of rational enquiry was most influential, but the impact of the Charismatic Movement has decisively shifted the balance. You might think that on the Alpha Course from HTB in London it would be the explanation of Why Jesus Died that would lead to personal commitment—but since the influence of the Toronto Blessing in the 1990s, it has been the ‘Holy Spirit’ day that has been seen as the turning point.

And yet there are people who have either come to faith or come to appreciate faith on the basis of thinking and analysis. Tom Holland is a historian, largely of the ancient world, and he explains in an article in the New Statesman how he came to realise through his studies that everything he really valued originated with Christian faith and not with the values of the classical period:

Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. Most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. [Christianity] is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value..In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

(You can see him in discussion with Tom Wright on this subject as part of the Unbelievable project.)

Rodney Stark is an American social scientist and author of The Rise of Christianity where he applied social scientific analysis to explore the factors that explain the phenomenal growth of the Christian movement in the first four centuries. He came to committed faith as a result of these studies:

I have always been a “cultural” Christian in that I have always been strongly committed to Western Civilization. Through most of my career, however, including when I wrote The Rise of Christianity, I was an admirer, but not a believer. I was never an atheist, but I probably could have been best described as an agnostic. As I continued to write about religion and continued to devote more attention Christian history, I found one day several years ago that I was a Christian. Consequently, I was willing to accept an appointment at Baylor University, the world’s largest Baptist university. They do not require faculty member to be Baptists (many are Catholic) and I am not one. I suppose “independent Christian” is the best description of my current position.

Stark has continued to argue that it is the rational element of Christianity’s belief in a transcendent, creator God which has had a major impact on the development of civilisation:

The appeal to reason also dominated Christian learning. Science, Stark points out, did not emerge in opposition to Christianity but within it: the first universities were established by the church, and early science was conducted almost exclusively by people in holy orders. Stark’s roster of the most eminent 16th- and 17th-century scientists reveals that a majority were personally devout and many were themselves church officials. What is significant for Stark is that the first scientists were not only religiously affiliated but religiously inspired. Science was a calling to discover God’s plan in the arrangement of nature, or, as Stark puts it, to “know God’s handiwork.”…

Even today, Stark says, the alleged incompatibility of science and faith is not supported by the facts. Recent surveys show that more than half of “hard” scientists such as physicists and chemists report a belief in God. A similar profile emerges in the life sciences. And if hard science is not antagonistic to religion, neither is strong religion inimical to science, insists Stark. “The most ardent evangelical Christians assume that the truth exists. And they don’t just mean that God is there but that the world is there.”

What does Scripture say about disability?

I write a quarterly column for Preach magazine, in which I explore a significant word or phrase in the Bible and the ideas that it expresses. I have written for them on: the phrase ‘Word of God’ the theme of ‘Mission’ the meaning of ‘Apocalypse‘ the ministry of ‘Healing’, the question of ‘Welcome’, the biblical understanding … Continue Reading

The End of (the) Communion? (ii): So where are we now?

Andrew Goddard writes: Building on my earlier reading of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s contributions about Communion life, this article explores the ecclesiological questions that are important, and currently intertwined with, the questions relating to sexuality that tend to dominate discussion.  It argues that although all wish for unity and communion there are currently two main competing visions … Continue Reading

The End of (the) Communion? (i) What has been said?

Andrew Goddard writes: On Tuesday at the Lambeth Conference there were a number of significant developments in relation to the questions of sexuality and ecclesiology. The Global South, headed by Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan, issued a resolution in relation to Lambeth I.10 with a covering explanatory letter. Archbishop Justin Welby also issued a letter … Continue Reading

Paying attention to power in Lambeth ‘Calls’

Andrew Goddard writes: Among the Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together developed by the Church of England and commended by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the College of Bishops is “Pay Attention to Power”. Applying this to the Lambeth Calls process raises important and worrying questions. The Gestation of “Invitations”  The Lambeth Conference would, if it … Continue Reading

Lambeth ‘Calls’, Lambeth I.10, and the nature of the Anglican Communion (2): the future

Andrew Goddard writes: in my previous article, I explored the place of Lambeth I.10 in the Communion, mapped how different people and provinces had responded, and explored this as the background to the present controversy about the Lambeth Calls at this conference. I now turn to look at the Call on Human Dignity in detail, … Continue Reading

Bullying in the Church of England: Theological and Ethical Perspectives

On 31st May, 2022, there was an online conference organised by ABEL (Against Bullying, Encouraging Love) entitled Pedestals, Pulpits and Pews: Perspectives on Bullying in the Church of England. Recordings of the presentations are viewable on YouTube. This article from Andrew Goddard is his presentation which, while only exploratory in nature, opens with how to … Continue Reading