Friday, 20 July 2007

Chalk and Cheese

We're about to begin another summer (summer? Hah - it's pouring down outside!) bookended by the 'right and left wings' of Christian conferences in that, for the third year running we will be in Keswick next week during Convention time and going to some of the meetings, and then at the end of August going to Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham. The history of how we got to this point is complex and can wait for another time, but it is fascinating comparing and contrasting the two events. Chalk and cheese.

We've been to some excellent events at Keswick, but I still find myself getting mildly irritated with what I perceive - maybe wrongly - to be a slightly smug, self-satisfied tone emanating from some meetings and leaders. The emphasis is on personal spirituality to the extent that in 2005, a couple of weeks after the 7/7 bombings, at only one of the meetings I was at was this nation-shaking event or the issues behind it even mentioned! Maybe I was at the wrong meetings. Where is the application of the gospel to where people are itching, starting with where they are at rather than with what we have to tell them? Is the Church as represented here just getting older and more irrelevant?

Certainly the age profile at Greenbelt is much younger and there are all sorts of professing Christians who go there who would not be found at Keswick - e.g. Goths, Gays, 'Emerging' Church, post-congregation (of course the opposite also applies!) so levels of relevance and inclusion would appear to be better. We've been to some excellent events at Greenbelt, but I still find myself getting mildly irritated with what I perceive - maybe wrongly - to be a
slightly 'trendy lefty', 'we're more enlightened and intelligent than all those comfortable middle-class church-goers' attitude. The emphasis is on issues - environment, politics, sexuality etc. However, does Greenbelt go too far in the other direction - right out on the edge, far away from the safety, certainty and soundness of Keswick? It's been said you only find out where the line is by stepping over it sometimes.

In 'The Church After Christendom' Stuart Murray talks about different models of church:
- Bounded-set: fixed core and boundaries. Believe then belong. Secure, but restrictive. Exclusive.
- Centred-set: fixed core values; no patrolling of boundaries, good for belonging before believing
- Open-set: neither boundaries or defined centre. Inclusive but undisciplined.
- Fuzzy-set: ill-defined boundaries; liberal, relaxed. Unstable - liable to go to open-set or bounded-set

Keswick seems to me to be for those of the 'bounded set' type of church, Greenbelt ideally for 'centred set' but I wonder sometimes if it is in danger of going 'open set' in it's desire to include everyone, and so lose Christian distinctiveness... not likely to be a problem for Keswick! Or is that the chance you take when you get out of the boat? This relevance and inclusion thing is tricky isn't it? Needless to say it is another issue I've been reading and thinking about over the last while.

The two conferences are very different (I'm trying hard to think of a speaker who has appeared at both conferences and can't. Anyone know of one?), but its good to remember that both are also populated with people sincerely trying to follow Jesus as best they can and he loves them/us all!

P.S. Speaking of chalk, last year I went to the Keswick Convention Bookshop to buy 'Intelligent Church' by Steve Chalke (ouch) and couldn't see it anywhere. I asked the assistant and she, obviously embarrassed, reached into a box hidden under a table and got me a copy. Apparently the leadership at Keswick were concerned that people would be offended if Steve's books were on display. I was offended that they weren't!

P.P.S. Cartoon from here. Check it out.

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