Liberals, Evangelicals and Deep Church
A year ago I read Amy and Frog Orr-Ewing’s book, “Deep”. I realised recently I never wrote anything on my blog about it, even though it provoked some useful thoughts. Their assessment of the state of the Church in Britain today is often very useful, inspired amongst other things, by work in deprived areas and mission trips to repressive Islamic regimes, including Afghanistan.
“Deep” is not a book many would expect me to read, and the Orr-Ewing’s are certainly more traditionally Evangelical than I am, but what they have to say often draws my interest, and this book was no different at all. First and foremost, this book is an attempt to engage with the issues raised by the post-Evangelical movement, one that I have a lot of sympathies with.
It is perhaps the most subtly insidious remark to accuse a fellow Christian’s theology of being shallow. One need not accuse someone of not being a Christian in order to do so, and the argument swings both ways between Liberals and Evangelicals. It runs something like this: the Liberal calls the Evangelical’s theology shallow because they take everything at surface-value, unprepared to consider deeper meanings and incapable of taking historical context into account. The Evangelical then accuses the Liberal of having shallow theology for being prepared to dismiss large chunks of the bible (though the Evangelical probably dismisses other chunks instead, and who bar God is to say which bits are more important).
One of my greatest problems with placing myself into that classification is that I want to be accused of neither. My social action and campaigning work is (I hope) rooted in the biblical call for Justice, Peace, etc, a part that many Liberals might accuse the Evangelicals of discarding. My involvement in churches that have placed a heavy emphasis on sharing Bread and WIne in services comes from a recognition that this is what Jesus exhorts his followers to do.
I don’t believe we should discount any part of the scriptures, nor do I believe we should attempt to simply read off the page and into my life, but rather to wrestle with the texts, often over a period of time. This appears to be something the Orr-Ewings are concerned with as well, as they challenge the Evangelical church with some of the same arguments raised by the post-Evangelical movement.
They essentially argue that we must seek depth first and foremost, not orthodoxy, a brand of faith or a position of forthrightness. Essentially when we forget to keep challenging the scriptures to yield more Truth to us, people will divide in two directions: those who are content with a shallow faith, and those who will look elsewhere as they are affronted by the shallowness.
My sympathy is largely with the latter group, which is why I get accused of being a Liberal half the time. But I see the path to a resolution of this problem in challenging the scriptures much more deeply, on the premise that they must contain a Truth beyond my own perception. I don’t, by the way, claim that I have some Truth that others do not or cannot attain; Gnosticism is a fallacy oft fallen into, and I’m very aware of this.
I love the challenge the Orr-Ewings present in their book; the challenge to find deeper passion for the Gospel, deeper understanding of what God is saying in the Bible, deeper personal transformation, and from it, deeper engagement with the world around us, especially in our increasingly urban contexts.
The authors start with the story of C S Lewis (author of the Narnia books) being asked if he saw himself as High or Low church, and Lewis’ response, a rejection of the question, as Deep Church. I want to expand that somewhat, and ask whether it matters if we are Liberal or Evangelical, or somewhere in between, but instead whether the depth of commitment, the depth we attempt in our understanding, and the depth with which we seek to live out that understanding, aren’t really what matters? After all, believing in God and living a life in relationship with him are two very very different things.
Deep is published by Authentic, 2008. Frog and Amy also explored the topics covered in their two Deep Church seminars at Momentum 2009. Frog (who’s name is actually Francis) is the vicar of All Saints, Peckham. Amy works for Zacharias Trust, a leading Christian Apologetics organisation..