Saturday, December 27, 2008

Matthew Parris: "It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God" but...

Matthew Parris is always fascinating to read on any subject - all the more when he strays near to Christianity:
"It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God. Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa....
Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith. But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary...
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates... Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete." -- Matthew Parris in The Times
Question is, would anyone say the same about what Christian Unions do on campus or about our church?
"In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…"
ht: Pete Dray and Michael Ots.

UPDATE: Glen Scrivener adds some insightful perspective: Parris’s fearless individualism based on unmediated access to God isn’t the Christian gospel. What’s it missing? Well, notably - the Mediator and the community - Christ and His church.


  1. Yes, that is the question that I've been pondering too.

    Certainly the perception of evangelicals in Britain is that were not exactly meeting needs. I'm not sure that it's completely true. I remember hearing that something like 90% of voluntary work done with teenagers is by Christians. But overwhelmingly I think the perception is true. Liberals tend not to accompany social engagement with the gospel. Evangelicals tend to see the only needs to be met as evangelistic needs.

    I remember when I was a Relay Worker Andy Shudall speaking on social action, and how CUs often relegate this to giving out sweets. But real social engagement on campus is messy: it's having international students home at Christmas, it's listening to the friend whose parents are divorcing, it's getting involved in SU politics. Social engagement on campus like this - REALLY meeting needs, like the church is evidently trying to do in Africa - and preaching the gospel at the same time would have electric effect. Occasionally this is seen today: one of the CUs I've worked with has been publicly thanked for its social impact on campus by the SU, but I think a more integrated and holistic view of engaging the campus (such as in the 'Free for all' course) would be more healthy for our CUs.

  2. Whoops I added that before I meant to... I meant to say...

    And so we have the problem when the perception is that Christian beliefs are unintegrated from the rest of life. What Matthew Parris has seen in Africa is Christianity lived and experienced and believed holistically. So long as we keep Jesus is just one sphere - whether the 'spiritual' or the mental sphere - people will never see what authentic Christianity looks like. And so I think they'll be unlikely to write articles commending Christian beliefs in the Times.

  3. By the way, the comments on the internet version of the article are interesting and worth reading too.

  4. I remember similar stuff from Andy. We do need to reclaim real messy doing-good-to-all approaches that rise above trite gestures into costly loving service.

    I'm sure there is a substantial place for that in the 'mission' of a CU (though what that should like is one to think hard on), and certainly in a church context where every need is on the doorstep.

  5. Great quote from Matthew Parris. Thanks.

  6. An amazingly insightful article from Parris... like the article from a number of years ago where he challenged Christians over what they would live like if they really believed what they claimed.

  7. Yeh very reminiscent of that article. Parris is thought provoking whatever he writes about, but particularly when he turns to Christianity as his topic.

  8. This article reminded me of an article a few years in the Guardian by Roy Hattersley:

    "Faith does breed charity
    We atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings...
    Civilised people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags and - probably most difficult of all - argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment. Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists.

    The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand...."