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Rend Collective: Brothers and sisters, come to the campfire

UCCF's training director Jason Clarke talks about us being marked by centred unity rather than boundaried. Centred on the gospel rather than with a fenced boundary. People sometimes say we gather around the flag of the gospel. Rend Collective who were guests at our national student leaders conference a couple of years ago, and Krish Kandiah's reflections tell this in terms of the image of campfire. It's a much better image.
It's an appealing vision - and often we get it wrong, but Jesus is a fire worth gathering around - especially for the kind of people who get it wrong.
The fire of the gospel, of life in Christ is the greatest place to be, a place to which everyone is invited, everyone is welcome to come, where there is warmth, conversation, somewhere marked by friendship, somewhere attractive, somewhere to share your trials and your joys, and to sing a song in the middle of it all.


  1. Interesting. My impression was that UCCF subscribed to an ideal of "confessional evangelicalism", i.e. working with people who hold to core evangelical convictions which can be stated propositionally. I also have the impression, however, that UCCF leadership has in recent years been making a conscious effort to be broader and more generous in ethos by embracing a wide range of evangelicals within those confessional boundaries, but I still had the sense that certain doctrinal boundaries were definitive. Perhaps CU membership in many universities has a centred set approach (including students who identify as Christians but whose theology might be a little fuzzy), but it seems that a bounded set approach is used to assess the suitability of speakers or leaders.

    I also have the impression that many of those in the broadly evangelical world who stress "centred set" over "bounded set" tend to downplay the importance of doctrinal orthodoxy in favour of an ethos where relationship is more important than doctrine. I don't think that's where UCCF is, so I would appreciate some clarification as to how you think these principles play out.

    I'm also wondering how this fits with some of the accounts you are posting from Christ and the Colleges, particularly the warnings about getting too close to the SCM, e.g. from your Reading post:

    "Owing to this and to the attitude of some of the younger members, who, not realising the true significance of the E.U. and desiring more fellowship with the members of S.C.M. had tended to broaden their outlook too much, disunity grew up within the Union."

    Isn't this warning against a centred set approach in order to maintain boundaries which were deemed to maintain a "pure" evangelical witness? My impression of the history is that even though the SCM gave a platform to some questionable theology, there were at least some in the SCM who were clearly committed Christians who held to biblical authority and the centrality of Christ (e.g. Lesslie Newbigin). A "centred set" emphasis would seem to suggest working with them rather than the policy of strict separation which the pre-WW2 Inter-Varsity Fellowship developed.

    I'm not really arguing for one emphasis over the other - I think both bounded set and centred set approaches come with both blessings and dangers and I'm not sure myself what is the right balance between the two. Perhaps it is necessary to have boundaries but spiritually healthier to emphasise the centre rather than the boundaries. I would value your thoughts on this.

  2. I guess the tension is resolved because the campfire is a defined thing... the shared gospel we confess, whatever else we bring...

  3. To me, centred rather than boundaried is equally confessional. A strong doctrinal core of the gospel. The question is how you handle that - to gather people around that 'campfire' or a more 'walled' approach that sets itself up as an excluding bastion of truth. The latter doesn't really sit well with the nature of the gospel. That doesn't mean there aren't doctrinal lines to draw and inevitable exclusions - but the goal is to win people to the gospel which isn't always possible.

    The common struggle is to be those who welcome all who love the gospel, even when they differ from us on all sorts of other matters. What impresses me in the early CUs is that they often made some tough calls for gospel unity but seem equally to have included well, and go on with witness together. Not a lot of fall out over the kinds of things that tend to unnecessarily divide evangelicals today.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts. Saying the gospel is the centre and that the gospel is defined doctrinally seems like a different approach to some who would say that Jesus is the centre rather than doctrines about Jesus and so we shouldn't exclude on the basis of doctrine (which is what some of those who advocate "centred set" thinking would say). I suppose the come back to that point of view is "Which Jesus are you talking about?"

    I'm not sure where this leaves people like William Temple and Lesslie Newbigin, who were committed to the SCM but seem to have been people who loved the gospel (and are regularly quoted in evangelical churches these days). My impression is that their SCM affiliation would have put them the wrong side of the boundary from the CUs' point of view, regardless of their personal faith and substantially orthodox theology.

    Have you read Justin Thacker and Susannah Clark's article on the CICCU/SCM split? This somewhat challenges the usual version of the story. It can be downloaded from here.

    1. Jesus vs. doctrine about Jesus is a false divide - you can't say anything about Jesus without doing 'doctrine' whether we want to use the term or not. The Jesus we mean is revealed, known, able to be described by doctrine. How we handle that doctrine is perhaps the point -

      I guess the question isn't whether or not someone affiliates to whatever organisation, Christianity is confessional not partisan. People might differently feel able to minister in different contexts for different reasons, and I can't speak directly for Temple or Newbigin...

      I've read the Thacker/Clark paper. Doesn't entirely fit with other things I've read... I grant that things were more complex and messy than Grubb's account alone might suggest. There are always many influences on situations, and people inevitably reflect differently on moments of division.

      The battle rages differently at different times too. Stott would I think have sided with Grubb's account, but that doesn't mean he'd not call for a right social engagement too - whether or not his predecessors in CICCU would have.

      In any case, we learn from those before us - we take the good, without necessarily aligning completely with them in every way. The challenge of the campfire is to stand together around the fire of the gospel, even when we'll differ on a multitude of other important things. What exactly that fire is, is of course a vital question!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. OK. Thanks for engaging my questions thoughtfully and non-tribalistically. You are mostly resolving the slight qualms I had.

      I agree with you that Jesus vs. doctrine about Jesus is a false divide. I think there is a core of necessary doctrinal affirmation to Christianity. However, I wouldn't necessarily equate gospel-loving with "evangelical" in the sense of visibly belonging to the tradition known as Evangelicalism - I think there are Christians who are evangelical in the sense of gospel-believing without identifying themselves as "evangelicals". I'm not sure how that plays out practically on the ground though.


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