I am feeling curiously heartened tonight. I have spent a very quiet evening in Palmerston North watching the final episode of Diarmaid MacCulloch's wonderful A History of Christianity, which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. In the final episode, 'God in the Dock' (named for CS Lewis' book of that name), he looks at Christianity post-Enlightenment: the effect of the advent of "natural philosophy" (science) and doubt on the church in the West (curiously, he does not look at the effects of this period on the Orthodox church - maybe because the effect of the Enlightenment was not so strong there?).
In some ways, it's a very grim chronicle: wars and rumours of wars, loss of faith, doubt, fear, pride, revolutions, collusion with power; French Revolution, Catholicism in bed with Mussolini and Franco, the Holocaust and national socialism, doubt. Where is the God of love and compassion, the God of hope, the God who made humans in God's own image and likeness to care for each other and the world God has made?
A wise old pastor once said to me that "Doubt is not the opposite of faith; unbelief is the opposite of faith". Professor MacCulloch finished his series wondering if Christianity was dead in the West. But he visited St Martin-in-the-Fields, which besides being famous for its stupendous church music, has also been a church that has consistently explored what it means to be the face of a loving God in a changing world - ranging from pacisfism through to protest against apartheid, through to feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. As the vicar of St Martin's said, "Yes, we're firmly part of the British Establishment [it's an Anglican/Church of England parish], but we constantly find gentle ways to undermine that establishment' in the name of a God of love and justice.
Some may believe that the Church, the institution, is dead or dying, and maybe in some places it is (not where I worship though!). But God, and faith in a God who is love and who inspires us to live lives of love and kindness, compassion, humility and gentleness and justice, who was born in a stable and lived part of his life on the streets with 'nowhere to lay his head', who called the religious establishment hypocritical whitewashed tombs full of decay, that God, and that faith, will not ever die.
So, my heart is strangely warmed. I must just seek to live in that love, that justice, kindness and compassion, to be open to being challenged and changed by it, to hear the call of Jesus the Jew, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. Easier said than done, perhaps, but Professor MacCulloch has reminded me that Jesus asks that of all of us.