Thursday, 31 March 2011

North - South divide

Our Italian friends, reporting on Cape Town 2010, drew out a dichotomy, which they say was encapsulated in what John Piper said, contrasted with René Padilla. 

The reason I draw out this implication of the cross is to hold together in this congress and in the church of Christ two truths that are often felt to be at odds with each other, but don’t have to be.
One truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it impels us out toward the alleviation of all unjust suffering in this age. That’s what love does!
The other truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it awakens us to the horrible reality of eternal suffering in hell, under the wrath of a just and omnipotent God. And it impels us to rescue the perishing, and to warn people to flee from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
I plead with you. Don’t choose between those two truths. Embrace them both. It doesn’t mean we all spend our time in the same way. God forbid. But it means we let the Bible define reality and define love.
Could Lausanne say—could the evangelical church say—we Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering? I hope we can say that. But if we feel resistant to saying “especially eternal suffering,” or if we feel resistant to saying “we care about all suffering in this age,” then either we have a defective view of hell or a defective heart.
I pray that Lausanne would have neither.
This felt consistently in line with The Lausanne Covenant
Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. ...
In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary.  
René Padilla expressed a concern not to speak of prioritisation, when given the stage for a conversation with Samuel Escobar
After Lausanne '74 there were several consultations. ... I had the privilege of attending the 4 consultations arranged by John Stott. ... The last, in Grand Rapids, 1982, Evangelism & Social Responsibility. I think those conferences were very very important for the Lausanne Movement. And they really emphasised the importance of a holistic mission, what we, in Latin America call 'integral mission'. Not trying to specialise in evangelism, to specialise in social action, but combining all that the church is supposed to be about. 
Global North - South Divide
Our Italian friends (reported by ICN), and some bloggers, describe this as a critique of Piper's earlier comments. It could equally have been a (well known) ongoing emphasis of René Padilla, or correcting a vibe from others at the Congress. I don't see this as necessarily opposed theologically. I think they might agree. But it is a classic north - south approach to the question: Piper likes to express things numerated, clear and prioritised; Padilla wants a more global, encompassing approach. Piper would have logical points leading to a conclusion to resolve apparent tensions; Padilla would draw a picture including all these things to show they're not in tension. 

Tension can hold us together
In my admittedly young and probably naïve opinion, the failure to understand this difference of outlook has contributed to holding N.Irish politics back for decades at least. Unsurprisingly, those from global souths resonated more with Padilla, and northerners with Piper. This may reflect a natural leaning more one way or the other (which was not what either leader wants, from what they said), and it may reflect that global souths are most aware of grave social injustices and issues of life which the gospel addresses. But the north - south resonance with different speakers is also quite probably not because of theological distinction, but because of the way we think

Some were looking for that tension to be resolved or addressed in The Cape Town Commitment, which it isn't (don't think a difference of outlook can be resolved in a document like that) - but it does have a good section on the integrity of our mission, which concludes: 
We commit ourselves to the integral and dynamic exercise of all dimensions of mission to which God calls his Church.
  • God commands us to make known to all nations the truth of God’s revelation and the gospel of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, calling all people to repentance, faith, baptism and obedient discipleship.
  • God commands us to reflect his own character through compassionate care for the needy, and to demonstrate the values and the power of the kingdom of God in striving for justice and peace and in caring for God’s creation.
Having come from a mathematical training, I'd expect to want logic, priorities, and points. I do appreciate those - without priorities, it's hard to have direction. But I've been learning to embrace things a lot more globally, drawing on a background of storytelling, myths and music, and learning from those who think differently: whether Ravi Zacharias moving persuasively with circles and spokes, our African friends giving time to description until you 'get the picture' rather than expediently moving in a line to 'getting the point', or a former colleague giving a talk from such an artist's perspective that it was tremendously engaging but I couldn't follow it - and he said similar of my logical discourse!

I delight in how God in his great wisdom has revealed his Word to us in Scriptures of such literary diversity - to wrestle with the argument of Romans pushing on, or to plunge into the whirlpool of Job and let it batter you, or to throw yourself on the safety net of John's dichotomies and let them hold you up. Let's seek to borrow others' spectacles, at least occasionally, so that our blind spots get smaller, and our blinkers more transparent.


Chris said...


PG said...

can you expand on your NI comment please?

étrangère said...

In Europe, this n-s divide is also an RC-Prod divide. But correlation not implying causality, I don't know how much one has influenced the other. But it is interesting that northern Europe corresponds more to northern hemisphere in individualism, linear argumentation to a point, etc., and was more concerned with legal justification, while southern Europe tends more towards the collectivity/community stress of the global souths, and painting a picture, etc., and was more concerned with being in The Church.

In NI, take classic time-frame disputes, over decommissioning, commitment to various stages of govt, etc. Unionist side wanted a clear time-scale set down in writing: first decommissioning, then proof, then talk about stage 1 govt, etc. Nationalist side wanted a conversation assuming commitment and trust, and then they'd have the space to work on the other things. Unionists see this as the N's clearly not committing so they can get away with murder, being unwilling; nationalists see U's as not committing until everything's their way, being stubborn and unwilling!

To me, it's almost as obvious as this trivial analogy (not necessarily the case): 'Ulster Prods believe in setting a price and clearly labelling it, and paying what is due, to achieve what is Right; more Southern Irish mentality believe in taking time to haggle through, in relationship, to achieve what is Mutually Satisfactory. In this analogy, U.P.s would think the Irish cheats and swindlers, unwilling to commit to Justice; S.I.s would think the UPs unable to engage in meaningful conversation or trust, and unable to build to mutual advantage! It's classic 2-tribe culture clash, and it's kinda weird no-one has called it...

What d'ya think, Peter?

PG said...

Particularly interesting within NI context as I wouldn't have thought religion would have played that big a part in the lives of most people here (enough to influence it completely in the way we thought - unable to see the other side) but perhaps that's where the older generation had more influences that direction and it were more segregated.

Perhaps the new atheists are right in calling it a religious divide! haha

hmm, time will be needed to think. I'll get back to you when I next see you at the end of the month. Ta for the thoughts.