Foundations: No.73 Autumn 2017

Editorial

Ralph Cunnington

Recently I have been reading The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart, the founding editor of Prospect and a writer for The Guardian and The Times. The book is an attempt to provide a general explanation for the two upsets of 2016 – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – by showing divisions that exist in developed democracies, which are rarely given the attention they deserve.

Goodhart contends that there exists a sizeable minority within society of highly educated and mobile people.  They are the “exam-passing class” who usually move from home to a residential university in their late teens and often end up in a professional career. They are mobile and have portable, “achieved” identities based on attainment and success. This group, which Goodhart labels “Anywheres”, make up approximately 25% of the population and dominate the media and politics. They follow the ideology of “progressive individualism” valuing autonomy, openness, equality (although not necessarily economic) and meritocracy. They are comfortable with immigration and human rights legislation and often see themselves as citizens of the world. Because of their position in society, “where the interests of Anywheres are at stake – in everything from reform of higher education to gay marriage – things happen.”

Somewheres are, by comparison, a much larger group making up nearly half the population. They are more rooted and have “ascribed” identities based upon group cohesion and particular places, e.g. Northumberland farmers, Cornish housewives. They are generally less well educated and value security and familiarity. Somewheres are less adaptable to change and have been disadvantaged by changes in the labour market and the bias against domesticity in family policy. They are more socially conservative by instinct and uncomfortable with various aspects of cultural change, e.g. mass immigration, an achievement society in which they struggle to achieve, and more fluid gender roles. They feel moderately nationalistic and oppose openness that disadvantages them.

Goodhart’s thesis is that, although Somewheres are more numerous than Anywheres, their views have been under-represented in the media and within the echelons of political power. Their more socially conservative intuitions have been excluded from the public sphere and this has led to the political backlash witnessed in the Brexit and Trump votes. It is a fascinating analysis and, although readers are bound to disagree at various points, it provides an incredibly helpful insight into the forces at play in society today. The book stimulated a number of thoughts for me.

Firstly, Christians are Anywheres in terms of their geographical mobility and identity. As the apostle Peter affirms, we are “aliens and strangers” in the world (1 Peter 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and one of the things that has marked the church down through the millennia is how its geographical centre has shifted. Beginning in the Near East it moved to Asia and North Africa and then on to Europe, the Americas and more recently South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Unlike Islam, Christianity’s identity and culture is not geographically tied. Moreover, Christ’s missionary call demands that his disciples go into all nations with the hope that one day people from every “nation, tribe, people and tongue” will gather to worship the Lamb (Rev 7:9). Christians also share Anywhere values of openness and equality. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches an expansive notion of neighbour (although see debate in Issues 61 and 64 of Foundations) and Christians are implored to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).

Secondly, however, Christians are Somewheres in terms of their status and identity. The gospel is antithetical to the Anywhere insistence upon achieved identity. Our righteous deeds are filthy rags (Isa 64:6) and our works achieve nothing but judgment and condemnation. The Christian’s identity is most certainly ascribed, not acquired. We are counted righteous in Christ who is for us “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30). Christians also insist upon the intrinsic (not acquired) value of all human beings based upon their being made in the image of God. This means that we react against the Anywhere insistence upon a strict meritocracy, recognising the oppression and injustice that it causes. Duty is owed to God and, derivatively, to all human beings who are made in his image, rather than just to those who deserve our help.

Thirdly, Goodhart’s analysis overlooks the distinctive contribution of Christians to society. He recognises this in the Introduction to the 2017 edition, noting that “friendly critics pointed, rightly, to the absence of religion in the book”. As I have already shown, Christians do not straightforwardly fall into either of the two categories (although background and upbringing might mean that we have a propensity to one or the other). Christians in either group also don’t manifest the values and priorities to be expected. For example, Goodhart argues that Somewhere values on gender roles, sex outside marriage and homosexuality have changed much more quickly than attachment to ethnicity. That may be true of the group as a whole but one would expect a very different movement to be reflected among Bible-believing Christians (especially those who hold to complementarian convictions).

Fourthly, the book challenged me to consider what groups of people I tend to overlook. That was the burden of the book after all. Goodhart’s thesis is that Anywheres have over-reached and that populism has arisen, in various shapes and forms, to counter-balance Anywhere dominance in the developed world. Looking at my own context, two things gave me cause for concern. Firstly, the vocal and widespread support for the Remain campaign within my own church. I was careful to remain neutral in conversations with church members and usually simply offered the counter-argument to help people make an informed decision. To this day, not even my wife knows which way I voted in the referendum. Nevertheless, there was a sense that the majority of the church would vote for Remain and I knew of at least one Leave voter who didn’t express his views for fear of the response. This was concerning, especially in a church where Somewheres are better represented than in most Reformed churches.  This brings me to my second observation: given that the vast majority of churches within Affinity are led by university educated ministers (and Goodhart argues that universities are the main drivers for Anywhere values), we must be mindful of the danger that we might overlook or worse still denigrate Somewhere values and priorities. This may lead to exclusion and division and will undermine the Somewhere / Anywhere beauty of union with Christ which should be visible in the church and of great apologetic appeal in our divided society.

This is my last issue of Foundations as Editor. Due to other commitments, particularly in mission and church planting, I have decided to hand on the reins to someone else (more on that below). Fittingly, this last issue has a focus on mission. In the first article, Keith Walker explores a framework for considering priorities in both global and local mission. He questions the helpfulness of the traditional emphasis upon the concept of “unreached people groups” and exposes problems with the theological and definitional underpinnings of such an approach. Walker argues that the focus should instead be upon reaching today’s communities where Christ is least known. This will demand the development of fresh strategies for mission involving rejoicing in diversity and better understanding the dynamics of division and gospel reconciliation (the Anywhere / Somewhere divide is just one of many).

On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation it seemed fitting to publish an article on Luther and I was delighted to receive Thorsten Prill’s defence of the mission theology and practice of Luther. Prill engages with the numerous critiques of Luther’s missiology (or alleged lack of it) and shows how Wittenberg acted as a hub for a huge missionary enterprise. From Wittenberg, gospel preachers were sent out all over Europe, helping people to rediscover the gospel of justification by faith alone. Luther’s emphases upon the personal character of faith in Christ, the priesthood of all believers, the missio Dei, and the importance of the Bible being available in the vernacular laid the crucial groundwork for future missionary endeavours.

In the third article, Tom Brand revisits the subject of the eternal subordination of the Son. In a previous review published in Foundations, Brand cautiously endorsed Mike Ovey’s position that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. Further reading and reflection has led Brand to reject that position and he seeks to set out his reasons in this short article. Relying upon various patristic sources, Brand argues for the orthodoxy of belief in one divine will. He uses Maximus the Confessor to advance the argument that volition is tied to nature rather than person, and thus argues that subordinationist statements ought to be read as examples of Christ’s human will submitting to the single divine will, rather than God the Son submitting to God the Father.

The final article is a review of David Garrison’s Cross Currents in Muslim Ministry. Mark Pickett highlights various methodological difficulties with Garrison’s approach. Some of these are inevitable given the challenges to undertaking empirical research in the Muslim world but they nevertheless caution readers against over-reliance upon Garrison’s conclusions. Pickett also challenges what he considers to be an overly-pragmatic approach to missiology in Garrison’s book.

The issue also features eleven book reviews covering topics ranging from the Book of Ecclesiastes, to same-sex attraction, to prayer, to covenant theology. These are incredibly helpful in directing readers toward useful avenues for further study.

Finally, it is my pleasure to introduce the new editor of Foundations. When we began the process of identifying a new editor, Martin Salter was at the top of my list. I was delighted that he agreed to take on this role. Martin is on the leadership team at Grace Community Church in Bedford and has just completed his PhD in Missional Ethics. He is committed to combining rigorous theological engagement with practical application to ministry and mission. I look forward to seeing how he takes the journal forward and trust that the Lord will continue to use it to bless, equip and encourage his people.

 

Ralph Cunnington
December 2017

  

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