Friday, 28 December 2007

Iwerne, FitS and all that.

A post from the end of the summer, the charismatic question is still up for grabs.

The summer was a three months of work broken in the middle by a fortnight’s break for St Mary’s Fun in the Sun followed immediately by Iwerne C. I don’t know that I have ever juxtaposed two so profoundly different takes on the Christian game, and raising the issue of these curious differences with more mature Christians on each of the holidays was revealing. I’m left feeling that I have missed some historical grievance now unspoken that might account for the comical stereotyping from St Mary-ans and wounded embitteredness and stern caution from the St Helenites.

I was saddened to listen to Iwerne leaders variously expound their contempt for all music from the Soul Survivor, Vineyard and Hillsong stables, and one so embittered approach to such churches in London as to wish to go to Hillsong ‘to criticise it’, and noted that St Mary’s (the negative press JP is so concerned that we all know) was a ‘good-looking church’.. and that 'a chap Kissell was all over the place..'

It was interesting to hear of the glory years of CICCU missions with thousands at the Bible readings, and to find Nicky Gumbel is a Iwerne Boy. One talk in a series of senior bible readings on “what the cross tells us about…” quoted as much as I knew about the CICCU formation from the preface to The Cross of Christ, and it was in this that my central objection to the theology being pushed began to emerge, not that I do not believe in the centrality of the Cross but rather that I do not believe that the intellectual assent to its centrality is a trumph card to cover all evils. I see it this intellectualism as both misguided and idolatrous, firstly as it tends towards a faith in faith which is idolatry (?) And secondly, the intellectual depth, coherence and wonder of the Christian gospel which I glory in becomes an –ism at the point where it is taken to be used to support an aggressive stance against other less Oxbridgian arms of the body of Christ.

Is the presentation of a divorced-from-church gospel an assimilation of culture's venerated individualism? Is the emphasis on meetings, argumentation and doctrine to the exclusion of experience and imagination predicated in a less-than-christian modernist paradigm? I want to understand the question of second-generation christians, if the church is hemorrhaging this young demographic, is the question one of means of communicating the former generation's belief or more a question of the substance of the former generation's belief? Is there a good answer to the parachurch question?

I was surprised at FitS to find how far the Iwerne Boy’s reputation stretches and that it is not a completely positive one, and that the Iwernites hitting places like Durham’s CU were known more for their public school arrogance and aggressive conservatism. There was one introduction made at FitS who seemed quite wounded from her time as DICCU Vice-President over the charismatic question there.

One Iwerne talk claimed “There is a popular Christian cliché that God loves the sinner but hates the sin, well the bible tells us that this is simply not true” This is one of my favourite Christian clichés, and regardless of whether, in a lengthy exposition of penal substitution you can construct a semantic argument against the cliché, to phrase an objection as such is unhelpful.

JB has a healthy abrasiveness and concluded the reason I wasn’t leading people to Christ through the magic of the ‘two ways to live’ diagram was laziness. Protesting that perhaps depression, confusion and unbelief that were more likely the culprits for the fruitlessness of my words spilt on facebook, over coffee and in the studio, “Depression? You weren’t going to get in Cambridge with those grades anyways.”

On the issue of women speakers, at Iwerne as NUCU, there seems to be this reasoning going around, “The issue of women speakers is a controversial one, so to avoid offending people we’re not going to have women speakers” That was PB's reason for NUCU and it was JB's for Iwerne. Am I alone in finding this inadequate? Let women speak on the grounds that young women need to see thinking women, let them speak on the grounds that there are a great many gifted and much used of god women speakers out there, let them speak that both the feminine and masculine aspects of the character made in the image of god may be reflected in the teaching and forming of the church. That or come up with a good theological and or practical position on what your church believes the proactive role of women to be and then actively affirm them in that. I am uncomfortable with the notion that we should pander to a vocal minority, abdicating responsibility to wrestle with the issue is not the maturity I expected from Iwerne and it does no favours to men or women. I am conscious that men and women are not made the same, and the leadership debate is not the one I am fighting, rather teaching which I would contend can be discussed separately.

Finally, I don't know what to do with gospel preached as pie in the sky, without a Kingdom of God at hand in-breaking, and without practical application of a spirit filled life. I’m barely charismatic but I cannot concede that to discuss healing or prophecy is to emotionally manipulate people. I don’t like for-musical-accompaniment approach or the as-educational-aid approach to worship music.

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