Two cheers for David Cameron. It is a bold politician who speaks of the centrality of the Christian faith in our culture and calls for Christians to be bold advocates of it. I am grateful to him for the debate it has provoked.
His sharpest insight, as far as I was concerned, was this: 'the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too'. This is an argument that Vinoth Ramachandra makes about the Christian faith in a world of faiths and is well made.
The problem with the speech, though, is a problem that has beset politicians of all hues for a generation. It is the tendency to treat Christianity as a sort of black box of cultural and moral values. It is as if the nation has crash landed in some moral wilderness and rescuers searching for survivors have come across the black box flight recorder that tells us that prior to the crash we were heading one way, according to one compass setting of rules or values, then we suddenly changed course and hit a mountainside.
It is very appealing to a lot of traditional and conservative Christians (with both a small and a big 'C'). But I think Cameron's comments that he was a 'committed' but 'only vaguely practising' Christian and that he was 'full of doubts' about big theological questions betrays the problem here. The Christian faith is not a black box that can be consulted when we need a bit of moral guidance.
It is first and foremost a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus, to embody his way of living in communities of like-minded disciples. Yes, Christian values are good and should be given a hearing in the public square; they speak to the human condition in a way that other systems do not. But to be Christian is follow Christ, to be caught up in the adventure of discovering who we are in him and to embody his revolution in our lives and communities. This is a radical call to remember the poor, to live for justice, to welcome the stranger and signpost the coming of his Kingdom of peace and equity.
So, let's hope David Cameron has begun a conversation. Let's join him in it and sees where it leads us.