Can sacred writings over two thousand years old really shed light on the questions many politicians are asking today about Europe’s future? Most definitely, say a group of academics who will address the upcoming Cambridge Winter School, 2-5 January 2007. The Old Testament unfolds God’s pattern for society based on right relationships. It is relevant for believers and non-believers alike. This is the view of Dr Michael Schluter and his colleagues of the Jubilee Centre, organisers of the four-day school to help equip believers for biblically-based social action and reform.
“Because all people are made in God’s image, we can expect non-Christians to see the wisdom of God’s ways,” says Jubilee Centre’s Jason Fletcher. “A biblically-inspired ethic will not always or necessarily be rejected outside the community of faith. Just as in Proverbs 8, Wisdom is said to ‘raise my voice to all mankind’, so we ought to be seeking to persuade non-Christian friends, colleagues or political leaders to embrace the way of Wisdom. Doing so is (or ought to be) an act of love because non-Christians, or predominantly non-Christian societies, that listen will in general experience blessing.”
Dr Schluter, will open the school with an address calling for a radical evaluation of the aims of modern development. Should economic growth be the goal? Or rather, the means to something else? He believes the Old Testament gives a clear vision for a society based on shalom, or right relatedness. “Whether in high- or low-income countries, a society’s vision of the future matters, for it determines the long-term pattern of social, political and economic relationships,” writes Dr Schluter in a recent Cambridge Paper on the subject (which you can download from www.jubilee-centre.org, as a preview of what the Winter School will offer.)
Dr Jonathan Burnside, lecturer in law at Bristol University, will explore lessons drawn from the Old Testament concerning criminal justice. Today’s prisons are often overcrowded, yet what enabled Israel to exist without any prisons at all? Dr Burnside applies a fresh paradigm drawn from biblical law to sexual offenses legislation. Is consent a sufficient basis for determining the legality of sexual activity? Or should the long-term consequences of such activity for the broader community be brought into consideration? (A sneak preview of this topic is also available on the same website.)
But, some will ask, is this not all just a distraction from the church’s core business of evangelism and church-planting?
Fletcher says, “Of course, we understand the brokenness and downright rebelliousness of fallen human nature and thus, ultimately, the need for sweeping conversion (see Romans 8:3-4). Seeking the good of society is no substitute for proclaiming the gospel, ‘the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’
“But neither can evangelism displace engagement with moral issues. Jesus is interested in making disciples, and so no Christian can avoid the question of ethics: how does God want us to live? Moreover, Christian mission requires us to demonstrate, as well as proclaim, the love of God by addressing the causes and painful consequences of a social order out of step with God’s ways.
“We are eager to help Christians understand, model and advocate a biblically-based vision of human flourishing in a troubled world. The Winter School is one step towards that goal”
Dr John Coffey’s talk on the abolition of the slave trade in England (exactly 200 years ago in England) will be a reminder of the leading role evangelicals played in effecting social change as the industrial age began. Wesley, Carey, Wilberforce and Shaftesbury clearly understood the church’s role as embracing much more than just evangelism and church planting. Wesley’s goal for the Methodist movement was ‘the reform of the nation, particularly the church, and the spread of scriptural holiness over the land’.
Dare we dream as wildly? Dare we aim for the ‘reform of the continent…? If so, the Winter School is an excellent place to start to understand what such reform might look like for 21st century society.
Why not download your registration form now from www.jubilee-centre.org and plan to join us in Cambridge this winter? Don’t wait too long-people got turned away last time.
Till next week,