BACI Bible Studies for Lent 2012
FOR THE PAST three years the Biblical Association for the Church of Ireland has provided a Lenten Bible Study Resource linked to the Anglican Communion’s Bible in the Life of the Church Project – on Creation, Economic Justice and Gender Justice respectively. This year, that Project being completed, we have chosen the subject Church and Culture; and these studies have been developed with Revd Dr Ron Elsdon from a series he designed for Connor diocese.
The Church’s relation to its surrounding culture is a perennial question for Christians, but one which is of increasing urgency today, when the gap between the internal life of the churches and the culture in which they are set has been widening at an alarming rate. Even basic knowledge or personal experience of Christian faith can no longer be assumed today, even in Ireland, where a degree of church “belonging” has always been assumed.
The question of “Christ and Culture” is one which Christian thinkers have answered in different ways, none of which can be acclaimed exclusively as “correct”. Christ was certainly critical of many aspects of the Jewish culture of his day; on the other hand he also demanded a deepening of Jewish spirituality. Similarly Christ challenges all human culture; but does this mean that Christians should necessarily reject the secular culture around them? Surely not, for the Church has to admit that its traditional teaching can be wrong and must be corrected in the light of new discoveries and insights (remember Copernicus and Galileo - not to mention new understandings of the biblical text itself). God’s Spirit of Truth reaches into every field of human endeavour, so it is hazardous to attempt any simplistic notions of the Church’s relation to culture.
Some sixty years ago American scholar H Richard Niebuhr wrote a seminal work Christ and Culture (Harper and Row 1951) which outlines five typical Christian attitudes to the question of Christ’s relation to the culture of any time and place – “cultures which hold us as the sea holds fish” to quote an early book review. It may be helpful to bear these in mind as we make our way through the five Bible Studies offered this year, though rarely will any one identify with only one of the types.
Following Niebuhr’s pattern, we may see Christ as Against Culture, calling us to reject “the world” entirely, or conversely we may recognize the Christ of Culture, the source and perfecter of all that is good in society. In more centrist fashion, we may see Christ as Above Culture, drawing all humanity through grace and example to become all that God created us to be. This may involve a degree of synthesis between the spiritual and the cultural aspects of our lives, but always with the aim of fulfilling our God-given potential. The synthesis is hard to hold, however; so some Christians think rather of Christ and culture being In Paradox, the worlds of church and state being inevitably separate until all is fulfilled in God’s Kingdom. Finally we can see Christ as the converter or Transformer of Culture, enabling us to jettison the fallen aspects of our culture, and our selves, and empowering us to bring all that is good in it into the fullness of the ever creative and redemptive love of God.
The Bible Studies which follow come under the headings Affirmation and Celebration, Definition and Separation, Understanding and Compassion, Faithfulness and Service, and Lifestyle and Proclamation. As we converse with one another and with the Bible texts offered under these headings, it may be helpful to bear in mind Richard Niebuhr’s patterns of relationship between Christ and culture.
Anotheron , suggests:
very set of study questions ends with important question: Where do we go from here?
Ginnie Kennerley and William Olhausen
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
- 1. AFFIRMATION AND CELEBRATION
Psalm 104:1,5-27 1 Timothy 4:1-6
- 2. DEFINITION AND SEPARATION
1 Samuel 8
- 3. UNDERSTANDING AND COMPASSION
Ezekiel 34 Matthew 9:35-10:7
- 4. FAITHFULNESS AND SERVICE
Daniel 1 Mark 10:-45
- 5. LIFESTYLE AND PROCLAMATION
Isaiah 2:1-4 Acts 2:42-47; 17:16-34 Colossians 3:12-17
Outline structure of each study
- Old and New Testament passages
- Notes on these two passages
- Questions/discussion starters
- Where do we go from here?