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’.

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2 comments

  1. Hey Chris – this is interesting, and I think you’re right. Any thoughts as to what such a scenario might look like?

    I remember someone writing recently (perhaps Carl Trueman?) that believers clinging to the Lordship of Jesus, and all that entails, will someday soon be considered by a world that hates him, as offensive as, for example, the KKK. Likewise, those who affirm fantastic doctrines such as the resurrection of Christ, may well find themselves on the cultic fringe of society. Not sure if that’s what you’re getting at, but it seems to me that the contemporary evangelical church is hardly ready or willing for that to happen.

    1. Hi Chris. Yeah. I’m not totally sure what to envisage — my crystal ball only gives vague enough details to never risk being falsified!

      I guess I was thinking of the standard ‘moral issues’ Christians are often known (and reviled) for speaking out on. Maybe imagine what it would say about our identity and mission if Christians were known for being pro-life in cases where there was zero chance that our opposition would affect policy. Wouldn’t that at least raise questions about the basis on which we held such views?

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