Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cross and Context: Douglas Hall

Just noticed this piece from several weeks ago in Christian Century from Douglas John Hall, one of Canada's premiere Protestant theologians, now retired from McGill University. Nothing controversial from this doyen of liberal protestantism, yet there is a nod to theology as a counter-cultural force. Instance this:

What then is the mission of a church that can no longer count on its favored status in Western civilization to ensure its meaning and its continued existence?

I believed that the very first responsibility of Christian communities in such a situation was a) to begin at last to recognize the radical incompatibility of Christian establishment with the biblical and best traditional conceptions of the Christian movement, and b) to explore the possibilities of Christian witness and service from a position outside or on the edge of the dominant culture.

I remember a conversation early in the 1970s in which a small group of clergy in the city where I lived were discussing the question, "On the pattern of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, what do you think ought to be the 'message of the Spirit' to the churches of this city?" I found myself answering this question almost without knowing what I said: "The Spirit writes to the churches of North America: Disestablish yourselves!"
To which one might heartily agree, except that one is also hard pressed nowadays to name a church or church figures whom we might call established! Of course, there are vestiges of the old order, such as official chaplains to sundry offices of state carrying out various public functions. Then again, as in Quebec curently, efforts are fully under way to rid hospitals of their official, denominationally affiliated chaplains. Now there's disestablishement - with a vengeance.

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