Why We Need a More Open and Honest Theology

In July, our friends at Modern Church are holding their annual conference, ‘God: none, one, three or many?’ It promises to be a fascinating three day event, exploring hard questions about Christianity, the nature of what we as Christians ‘believe’ about God, and whether there are fresh ways to understand and approach the divine. We would encourage students and SCM members to attend – thanks to the generosity of Modern Church members, there are free places available for students to attend the entire conference – more details about that below.

Hearing about the conference got us thinking about how and why we do theology, and why it’s important to keep asking difficult questions about faith and God. SCM blogger Rebekah Blyth has written in the past about why theology is important, not merely as an academic pursuit but as something we do and a vital part of being in relationship with God. Theology is the foundation to our experience of faith, as we study it, reflect upon its implications for the world, and actively live out those ideas in our day-to-day lives. These elements are what keep our faith honest, alive and meaningful.

The first part of that process – studying and thinking through ideas about the nature of God and what we believe – is essential. Why? Because it shapes everything else: how we choose to live and act, and how we relate to others, individually and within communities. As former university chaplain (and former Modern Church General Secretary) Jonathan Clatworthy puts it:

‘All of our values – our moral judgements, our sense of meaning, our hopes of progress – presuppose some account of how we have come to exist, for what purpose and how it is appropriate to respond. Often we never think about our presuppositions, but we all have them. They guide us in our judgements about what is worth doing, what is valuable and what would count as progress.’

Presuppositions are dangerous, especially when applied to faith and belief. We all have assumptions that shape our perception of the world – and as Christians, we must seek to ask where those presuppositions might lead us. Will they box us into a corner, where we strive to defend our dogmas and beliefs, confident in the knowledge we are ‘right’?  Or should we be able to break down the assumptions themselves, open to God’s fresh revelation for the world today?

Like Modern Church, SCM strives to be a place that seeks fresh revelation from God in order to live more fully in the richness of God’s love and mercy. We know it isn’t easy. Religious institutions are often places of pain and hurt for many. Society seems to be heading in a dangerously hostile direction, particularly against those from marginalised communities. Many of these trends are being built on the back of a Christian religion that is rigid and polarising. That’s why it is so important to carve out a space to hear God’s word today, question what we think we believe, and do so in an environment that is open and welcoming to both people and their ideas.

The upcoming Modern Church conference is a fantastic opportunity to ask some of those questions and explore how we might build a church that lives more fully in relation to God and each other. Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh, current acting General Secretary for Modern Church, puts it like this:

‘How we engage, or fail to engage, with a loving God matters more than ever. It matters to society and the wider world, because the abuse of good religion and the consequent violence generated through such abuse could now determine the course of history.

A safe liberal theological forum which is also a worshipping community draws us more  closely together in our humanity and in our shared belonging to God – however this is worked out. We look forward eagerly to the next generation of Modern Church, from whom we expect to continue learning and making sense of the Christian faith in the 21st century.’

For more information about the Modern Church conference, please click here. It's taking place from 10 - 12 July at High Leigh Conference Centre. Thanks to the generosity of Modern Church members, there are now a number of free places available for students, in exchange for some time volunteering at the conference. If you are interested in attending, please email the Modern Church Administrator Diane Kutar.