Theologians At Lunch

Imagining new paradigms: by Cate Vose

My boss, Dr Brian Harris, might be one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. In his recent book “When Faith Turns Ugly”, he unpacks what he argues are the three main criticisms being levelled at the church; that it is morally suspect, intellectually vacuous and experientially empty. As someone who deeply loves the church and is committed to her flourishing, he gives this diagnosis as someone who would be a healer; not an executioner; and so it is actually a profoundly moving treatise on moving forward in ways which are helpful and restorative.

Recently, when the Vose team was away together at our annual conference with our consortium, Brian was speaking into this, in our final session together at the close of the conference; and he began to speak prophetically into the future of theological education in Australia. He drew this beautiful parallel with the story of creation; and about how God invited Adam to be part of naming all the animals. Now, surely God, who created them all, could have named them himself! But in his relational God-self wisdom, he invited the human into this exciting task; essentially apprenticing humans in the task of co-creation.

If the church is to survive, and even thrive, going forward, he argued; we are going to need new paradigms for doing that. The old ones have served us a long time, and they have served us well. But the challenges posed by this day and age are as difficult as any we have faced in the past; make no doubt.

In order to continue to speak life and hope and healing in the hearts of the broken, lost and hurting; the church needs a radical shift away from the status quo; and into uncharted territory. This idea seems to polarise people; it either makes them terrified or happy. I’m one of the strange breed who finds this prospect a happy one. I, too, have seen so much harm done by the church in amongst the good, and I do believe that if we engage our theological imaginations, we can start to imagine beauty, and depth, and nuance and texture; dimensions to exploring faith in ways we’ve not encountered before.

I believe these new expressions can transform our churches from being places where people feel excluded, judged, and afraid to being like an oasis in the desert for a generation dying for meaningful connection, for love, for belonging; just like all the generations who came before.  As with any change, we take our hearts into our mouths for this holy and difficult work, and we do it with great gratitude to those who have gone before us; we only are where we are because they came before. And just like them, one day our grandchildren will inherit our legacy and will make their own paradigm shifts. In all the change; in all the growth; at the end of the day; these three things remain; faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these, is love.