Our Church

Our Church

Curate's Corner - February 2016

A few weeks ago, I went back to the Theological College to do some studying. While I was there, I met up with a friend who had just started college as I was leaving. We were in the pub having a drink and a chat, and I was asking her how the last couple of years at college had been. She was explaining that she had really struggled during her second year of training. Expecting her to cite as reasons for this struggle such things as ‘living in community’ and the process of ‘formation’ that is so much a part of preparation for ordination, she instead told me that she had really struggled with Jesus!

Well I wasn’t expecting that! She went on to explain that her Christology, (i.e. her understanding of the person of Jesus and the extent to which he was fully human and fully divine) had been seriously challenged, to the point that it had made her ask some fundamental questions about her own vocation. Fortunately, she had been able to resolve this, and was looking forward with eagerness to her forthcoming ordination in the summer.

Whilst it was encouraging to know that my friend had grappled with issues of integrity around her own understanding of Jesus and how that related to her fundamental calling to ordained ministry, it did make me wonder whether in fact we have a tendency in the Church to over-intellectualise issues of our faith.

This concern had been on my mind since I spent some time recently with the chaplaincy team at an independent school. I was privileged to spend a few days shadowing the chaplains going about their work in a variety of different contexts; in Divinity & Philosophy lessons; in confirmation preparation classes; in staff meetings; and in the worshipping life of the community.

I was very struck by just how much God was talked about! Now that might sound a bit odd, given that I was with the chaplains – ‘what else did you expect them to talk about?’ – I hear you ask! But it was the way in which God was discussed that really struck me. God was discussed almost in abstract terms very often, as a theory that needed to be debated, proved or disproved. There was a strong emphasis on exploring the intellectual interpretations of well-known philosophical figures, both ancient and contemporary; on exploring the way in which we have come to understand God over thousands of years.

Of course, this is no different to what the Church itself has done down the centuries, not least in the fourth and fifth centuries AD with the Councils of Nicea, Constantinople and Chalcedon among others. It is of course from these councils that the Church has its ‘Creeds’, its statements of what it is that we as Christians believe and affirm to be true, such as the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed. There is clearly great value and importance on discussion and debate to help us to understand how God and Jesus have been understood by the Church and by society over the centuries.

But what really struck me was the apparent contrast between the intellectual focus on God, and the idea of being in relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, there was a lot of talk about God, but not much talk about Jesus. It strikes me that we can very often make that mistake ourselves; that in our 21st century lives lived in the ‘Information Revolution’, we seek to find ways of proving or disproving the existence of God through intellectual discussion, debate and analysis. If the argument doesn’t stand up to apparent scrutiny, then that’s the debate settled once and for all. But what about relationship? Why did Jesus come and live as one of us in the first place? What was the point? Surely it was about Jesus coming and living among us; “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (John 1. 14).

We don’t really know what someone is like until we live with them, until we get to know them. If you register with a dating agency you might get a profile that tells you all about a particular person, what they’re like etc. It’s a start, but it’s not until you really get to know someone, until you live with them, until they are a part of your life, that you really get to know them, and that you are able to love them for who they are.

And, to an extent, it’s the same with Jesus. I don’t think Jesus wants to be over-intellectualised. I think he wants to be in relationship with us. That way, we can get to know who he is and what he means to us. If we just treat him as a theory to be proved or disproved, we miss the point completely.

Fr Mitch