Two days ago I enjoyed my second visit to the Christian Socialist Movement's church service held in Manchester. The event takes place at the start of the Labour Party Annual Conference and remains a signal of the Party's tangential relationship with its past. Graham Dale's book, God's Politicians (2001) reminded us that Keir Hardy, the founder of the Labour party was himself a member of the Evangelical Union following his conversion under the famous evangelist Dwight Moody.
And then yesterday I had a wonderful time with World Vision as the staff team met for a day of prayer under the theme 'God is Love'.
Both meetings were concerned about the same thing: making a God of love intelligible to our world and alongside that, making Christian faith an engagement for transformation in the world.
It’s the same old challenge. In an age of cynicism in which 'religion' is often another word for 'ridiculous' or 'extremism', Christians still have the tall task of presenting a good God as relevant to an often hurting world. In this world, simplistic and crudely written placards telling people, 'JeSus LOveS YoU' seem a long way from reality or political seriousness. Truth can be such an awkward message in an impatient world! But if it’s true, then how will people know it? And how will the melody of love which runs through the complex and comprehensive character of God, reach people in Venezuela, New York, or Nigeria?
Christians believe that the greatest expression of God's love is expressed supremely and thoroughly in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Orthodox and historic Christian faith begins with personal encounter with God, as transformation begins in our lives and values. Christians will not have a doctrine of transformation with a heart bypass. But this amazing love of God is also being expressed and understood in relation to God's radical care for people. In the true spirit of Christmas, Jesus came to save us from our sins; but he is also keen to do something about everything else which oppresses people. And this is precisely why it is that Christians have been at the forefront of the voluntarism revolution for 2000 years. Christ for the Common Good is a truly Catholic idea.
And guess what? Politicians, and opinion formers are beginning to realise this all over again. So I have to admit that I took a slightly un-Christian pleasure in reminding the CSM meeting that in the words of Roy Hattersley, a Labour giant and journalist, "The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me." (Guardian 12 September 2000)
But it’s not gloating really, it’s just another way for an old socialist to admit that God's love makes sense.
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