Day: November 22, 2010

why the church needs to reclaim the evangelical margins

'Christian Dirce', Henryk Siemiradzki (1897)

I’ve got this growing sense that the church needs to reclaim the ‘evangelical margins’ — at least as far as our engagement in the wider culture is concerned.

Read pretty much any portrait of the early church. Whether it’s Rowan Williams’ subtle and masterful treatment in Why Study The Past? (which should be mandatory reading for every theological student). Or Rodney Stark’s racy The Rise of Christianity.

What do you see?

A church clinging fiercely to its crucified (and risen) Lord. Often in the face of entrenched suspicion and social exclusion — if not always of direct and active opposition.

The early church’s position of social and political powerless, was used by God’s Spirit to confront the powers and authorities and contest, e.g., Caesar’s false claim to absoluteness.

There’s something about the marginal situation of the early church that makes the church’s identity and mission transparent. Which is why I’m convinced that Richard Bauckham‘s words need to be our rallying cry:

The church in the West may have to get used to the idea that its own centre in God, from which it goes out to others in proclamation and compassion, is actually a position of social and cultural marginality.

It may take some getting used to. But with Bauckham we may hope that ‘This may improve its witness to the Christ who was himself usually also found at the margins’.