I took delivery yesterday of Living Faith a ten session DVD-based introduction to the Chrisian faith by Tom Wright. I haven't watched any of it yet but I'm sure it'll be brilliant. Tom has one of those amazingly listenable voices - like Morgan Freeman. I'd happily listen to him reading the phone book! Fortunately, he is also the most wonderful theologian and biblical scholar and hence what he has to say is always worth hearing.
But I do wonder about the proliferation of courses exploring the essence of Christianity - Alpha, Christianity Explored, Essence, etc
I've just finished a Tyndale Bulletin article by J R Harrison (pity they don't go in for Christian names!) on Paul's use of Roman imperial language in Romans to describe what Jesus has achieved. This is Christianity explained. Yet it is explained in very political terms, a true alternative to the imperial ideology that dominated the world of Paul's day.
Tom Wright would say a hearty amen to this emphasis (he has written a lot about Paul and Caesar). But I wonder if his course will pick this theme up.
It seems to me that we are still offering the Christian faith as a religious option in a supermarket of faiths. We do this, we say, because that's what the early Christians did. In a world of Judaism, paganism and mystery cults, Christianity was another (albeit better) spirituality.
But this is to assume the separation of politics and religion in the ancient world. And that was not the case. Wright and others have shown that the world of the early Christians was dominated by the cult of the emperor, a religious and spiritual movement that underpinned Roman imperial power.
So Harrison demonstrates the extravagent language used to praise the age of Augustus, the Caesar who brought an end to Rome's civil strife and ushered in an age of peace, prosperity and hope. He then shows that Paul uses the same words in Romans to describe what God had done in Christ.
So, is Paul making a religious or a political point. It strikes me that the obvious answer - both - is a bit of a cop-out, because it enables us to pay lip service to the political import of Paul's statements but to stress that the spiritual meaning takes precedence over the political. What matters is that I sort out my relationship with God. My relation with the political power structures of the world I live in can be sorted out later. I wonder if Paul would be happy with that.
I'd love to see a course introducing Christianity that stresses Jesus as the leader of a movement of radical social and political change based on the ethic peace and reconciliation and founded on his defeat on the cross of all the forces that undermine peace and keep people fighting.
Perhaps Tom's done that on Living faith. You tell me. I'll keep you posted.