Christian education and the reconstruction of christian faith


Download 101.42 Kb.
Date conversion13.07.2017
Size101.42 Kb.

‘Christian Education and the Reconstruction of Christian Faith’ in Marian de Souza, Gloria Durka, Kathleen Engebretson, Robert Jackson and Andrew McGrady (eds) International Handbook of the Religious, Moral and Spiritual Dimensions in Education Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2006, pp 23-40, ISBN 978 1 4020 4803 6
by John M. Hull


The history of Christianity presents certain problems to the Christian educator. The self-understanding of faith has passed through many revisions and development is particularly rapid during the present period of religious and economic globalisation. Christian consciousness carries forward the impressions left by earlier experiences, and the natural tendency to conserve tends to retard recognition of these impressions, making it difficult for religion to fulfil its responsibilities toward the contemporary world.

A major impression upon Christian faith has been left by 1700 years of residence within the political power, first of the Roman empire and then of successive European Christian empires. Since the modern missionary movement took place during the period of European and American ascendancy, those forms of Christian faith received by the evangelised countries carry the marks of this geo-political context. The task of disentangling Christian faith, which comes to modern people with these many layers of earlier interpretations, is complex, and demands criteria both historical, theological and ethical. The one who attempts such disentanglement also stands in a certain socio-political reality, and has to grapple with both conscious and unconscious vested interest. This demands a sophisticated theological approach to both false consciousness as a collective phenomenon and self-deception as a feature of individual life. Nevertheless, the legacy of faith and the suffering of the present world insist that the Christian educator make an effort in this direction. There is no pure essence of Christian faith. There is no simple, unmediated approach to the Bible. Naïvety only succeeds in landing us in a morass of unsuspected depths and leaves Christian faith without defence and without the analytic energy to tackle the problems of life and death today.

The present essay attempts to grasp this nettle through a combination of theological assertion and historical interpretation, commencing with a series of theological fundamentals springing from faith in God as living God of Christian tradition.

Basic Orientations

The church is an instrument of Christian faith (Eph 3:10). The church is also part of Christian faith, since faith in the one, holy catholic and apostolic church is affirmed in the ancient creeds. However, when we are considering the role and prospects of a particular denomination, it is important to emphasise that the church as a whole (and therefore the particular, historic denominations as well) does not live unto itself but is an instrument to further the mission of Christian faith in the world (2 Cor 4:5). No specific denomination is essential to this task, and Christian faith will generate new movements from time to time to become new instruments of its own mission.

Christian faith is an instrument of the mission of God (Eph 3:9). It is not the only such instrument. In spite of its unique characteristics and value, Christian faith does not live to and for itself, but is to be judged by its faithfulness to the mission of God (Rom 11:21).

The mission of God is a mission of life for all human beings and for the whole creation (Gen 2:9; Deut 30:15; Ps 36:9; 103:4; John 1:4; 10:10; Tit 1:2). In scripture God is shown to be opposed to every force and structure which frustrates life (Ex 2:23-5; Rom 1:18; James 4:6). God is energetic in the pursuit of justice (Ps 9:8; Is 11:4; Luke 1:52-3). God tears down the oppression, exploitation, greed and pride which oppose the fulfilment of God's mission Amos 5:21-4; Luke 11:20-2).

The special characteristic of the mission of God which found expression through Jesus was the inauguration of a community of inclusive love (Matt 5:43; Luke 7:36-50; John 13:34). Jesus declared that the mission of God was to establish the rule of God in his words and actions (Mark 1:14-5; Luke 11:20). As prophet (Matt 13:57), teacher (John 3:2) and Son of God (John 1:49) he opposed the social and physical distortions which were obstructing the appearance of the new community (Luke 6:6-10; 13:10-16). Faithful to the end, he sealed his witness with his blood (Mark 12:1-8; 14:24; Heb 13:20). The church flows from the life of Jesus (Acts 20:28; Rom 5:10), a life laid down and restored (John 10:15-17), and through the church the risen Christ continues his mission (Matt 28:20 John 15:1-2). The mission of the church is thus the same, by continuation, as that of Jesus Christ (Matt 16:18; John 20:21; 2 Cor 4:10), and the mission of Jesus is identical with but not the only form (Amos 9:7; Mal 1:11; Acts 10:35) (Falk, 1985) of the mission of God (Matt 11:27; John 1:18).

In reflecting upon the God who is the ground and source of mission, the followers of Jesus affirmed faith in God as the one who sends the mission (Matt 10:40; Acts 10:38), faith in Jesus as the one who was sent (John 5:36), and faith in the Holy Spirit who is the loving energy of the sending (Acts 2:33; 19:2-6). In this Trinitarian faith in the sender, the sent and the sending the church finds the ground of its hope (Matt 28:19-20; Rom 8:16-17). This hope is made actual insofar as the disciples of Jesus, formed into the church by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), are becoming the symbol of the community of inclusive love, and thus remain faithful to the mission of the triune God (Eph 2:18).

The Mission in History

God acts through creating creativity (Hartshorne, 1967, p. 26). The world that God created is not a static reality, emerging complete and entire. Rather, it is a dynamic, evolving world which carries the stamp of its originator in its endless innovation, novelty and change. Thus the mission of God in promoting life must be mediated through the dynamics, structures and vicissitudes of life itself (Tillich, 1953, p. 162). By the same token, the meaning of the mission will be interpreted by human beings (1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 4:7), who are both the objects and the agents of the mission. This meaning will be distorted, misunderstood and contradicted. It will also be accepted, transformed and transforming.

The fulfilment of God's mission will be a renewed creation, when the liberty of the children of God will reach its glorious realisation, along with the renewal of the created order (Rom 8:21). This lies in the future. The God who originated the mission from the past is also the God who calls from the future (John 14:18; Rev 1:8).

Since the mission is a proclamation and a demand for justice it will be countered and opposed by injustice. The mission to actualise a community of universal love will be opposed by sectional interests and tribal loyalties (Erikson, 1975, pp. 176-179; 1982, p. 95). The mission to establish a community of inclusive love will be opposed by selection, hierarchy, the setting of boundaries and limits, the distinction between us and them (Nipkow, 2003, p. 193). The forces of opposition to God's mission are also dynamic, proactive, intelligent, forcing acceptance of their own will rather than the will of God (Rom 7:21-3; Eph 6:12), seeking life for themselves rather than life for all, building up structures, concentrated centres of hostility and opposition (Hinkelammert, 1986, pp. 125-126) just as the mission of God builds up structures and powers of the life of love.

The prophetic and apostolic mission of the church, the incarnated mission, will be subject to ambiguity and compromise (Hinkelammert, 1986, pp. 240-241). It will tend to be understood from the position in the life cycle (Fowler, 1981; Oser & Gmünder, 1991) and the place within the power structure (Metz, 1981; Hull, 1992) inhabited by those who seek to promote it. Moreover, those who benefit from the injustice in the world will not read the mission in the same way as those who suffer from the injustice (Lamb, 1982; Schüttke-Scherle, 1989). The meaning of the mission, which is the meaning of Christian faith and the nature of the church, has become part of social memory. It has passed through the distortions and deceptions which are typical of the way that societies remember (Connerton, 1989; Halbwachs, 1992; Werbner, 1998). Each national or linguistic or ethnic group that comes into contact with the mission will understand it experientially within the confines of their own historical and geo-political setting. In so far as the mission is made articulate in language and speech it will express the vested interests, the grammatical aggression by means of which each language subdues meaninglessness in the interests of those who are structured by that language (Foucault, 1972; Pêcheux, 1982; Derida, 1998). Religion itself will be found on both sides of the antitheses created by the mission (Baum, 1975). There is no other way for the life of God to communicate with the spontaneous and developing character of created life than through these ambiguities.

The Mission of God and Christian Faith in Europe

Five hundred years of association with the European search for power have lead to a huge expansion of Christian influence but have also seriously compromised the Christian tradition insofar as it is a witness to and an agent of the mission of God. Those who inherit the results of these centuries of collaboration and protest tend to understand Christian faith from within this context. The contamination exists both objectively in that it has taken place, and subjectively in the mental and spiritual lives of those who are its products (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1991; 1992). Those who have been shaped by the European tradition of Christian faith find it hard to recognise its distorted character. This would mean perceiving distortion within themselves, and that implies some contrast or antithesis which would render the distortion visible.

Moreover, the process is itself highly ambiguous. As this ambiguity is realised, attitudes towards it are necessarily ambivalent. We do not know what would have become of Britain (to take an example of one significant European country) within the context of aggressive international competition if the theology of God's special covenant with Britain had not given the peoples of these Western European islands a sense of identity, confidence and purpose in the world (Drinnon, 1980; Hughes and Allen, 1988). If Britain had not received its vigorous sense of identity and national destiny from Christian faith, perhaps it would have got it somewhere else with profound consequences both for Britain and for Christian faith in Europe and the world.

When we read how Frances Drake and his sailors on their voyage around the world, anchoring off the Pacific coast of North America, went ashore, and going down on their knees sang psalms whilst pointing to the sky in order to evangelise the group of native Californians who met them (Heizer, 1947), we do not know whether to groan with embarrassment at this early example of the arrogance with which Europeans have treated native cultures (Berkhofer, 1965; 1978; Swain and Rose, 1988; Tinker, 1993), or whether to admire the confidence and the courage which drove those isolated men in that tiny vessel across the unknown oceans of the world.

It is not our business to condemn previous generations, but it is our responsibility to understand ourselves in relation to them. The dramatic effects of Britain's appropriation of Christian tradition in the service of its newly discovered national enterprise demand our attention.

When the colonisation of North America was being undertaken in the early decades of the seventeenth century, the passages of scripture which inspired the colonisers included Genesis 12: 1 'Now the Lord said unto Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great,"' (Symonds, 1609) and Joshua 17:14-18 where the tribes of Joseph complained that too small a portion of land had been given them. Joshua told the tribes to go up into the land, cut down the forests, 'cast out the Canaanites' and possess the land (Gray, 1609). Here we find the seeds of that contempt for the so-called primitive and savage ‘Red Indians’, an image of white supremacy and destiny which is still with us today.

By the end of the French wars of the early eighteenth century, Britain had emerged as a world power with a mission to spread political and economic enlightenment together with Christian civilisation around the globe.

We can trace that mission in the hymns of Isaac Watts (1674-1748), generally recognised as the most significant creator of the English hymn (Hull, 2002a; 2004) in whom the experiential theology of the Puritan tradition became the nationalistic theology of the Protestant empire. In translating the Psalms Watts wanted to address the present day experience of his congregation, including politics.
In Israel stood His ancient throne;

He loved that ancient race

But now he calls the world His own

And heathens taste his grace.

The British Islands are the Lord's,

There Abram's God is known,

While powers and princes,

Shields and swords submit before His throne

(Watts, 1719, Psalm 47).


Shine, mighty God, on Britain shine

With beams of heavenly grace

Reveal thy power through all our coasts

And show thy smiling face.

Earth shall obey her maker's will

And yield a full increase;

Our God will crown his chosen isle

With fruitfulness and peace

(Watts, 1719, Psalm 67).


The heathens know thy glory Lord,

The wondering nations read thy word,

In Britain is Jehovah known,

Our worship shall no more be paid

To gods which mortal hands have made;

Our maker is our God alone

(Watts, 1719, Psalm 96).


He sits upon the eternal hills,

With grace and pardon in his hands

And sends his covenant with the seals,

To bless the distant British lands

(Watts, 1782, I, No. 52).


Ye British isles who read His love

In long epistles from above,

(He hath not sent his sacred word

To every land) praise ye the Lord!

(Watts, 1782, II, No. 53)


This northern isle, our native land,

lies safe in the Almighty's hand

Our foes of victory dream in vain,

And wear the captivating chain.

He builds and guards the British throne

And makes it gracious like his own;

Makes our successive princes kind

And gives our dangers to the wind

(Watts, 1782, II, No. 1).

It is a striking fact that in the approximately six hundred hymns written by Isaac Watts, some twenty of which remain in the repertoire, there is hardly one dealing with the service of the church to the community and the world in any other way other than spiritual and material domination. In these hymns, the congregation has become a world unto itself. Everything is reduced to worship. Indeed, there is nothing but doctrine and worship; the mission has been swallowed up by 'gospel', the repetitive celebration by the local congregation of its own intellectual and emotional life.

Between 1770 and 1850 the nation of commerce, agriculture and industry became the first capitalist country in the world (Macfie, 1967; Viner, 1972; Hirschman, 1977; Smith, 1993; 2002). The power of money, first located in the north Italian cities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, moving to Portugal and Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and to the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, now made its temporary home in London (Arrighi, 1994). These years have been called 'the age of atonement', because not only was there an emphasis upon responsibility for one’s debts and the need to repay them, and so atone for one’s financial mismanagement, but this was mirrored in a theology of the cross which interpreted the death of Christ as God's punishment for human sin, diverted away from the debtors themselves and inflicted upon the head of the innocent Jesus, thus maintaining confidence in the stability of the moral economy of the world (Hilton, 1988; Selby, 1997).

From approximately 1870 to 1914 the pound sterling ruled the world, and the British theology reached its climax. In the Victorian and Edwardian hymns we find the principal statements and popularisations of this theology. The military metaphors, often taken all too literally, the sense of weariness in the face of a surrounding world of evil, the concentration upon the glories of heaven, and the nostalgic recreation of a pastoral life, are the typical emphases which emerged (Tamke, 1978; Adey, 1988; Wolffe, 1997).

The Present Situation: First Phase

This is the tradition of Christian faith which congregations and local churches in areas influenced by Europe have inherited. For more than four centuries, this theology was functioning. We may deplore it or we may admire it, but this theology did something. It gave a sense of identity, confidence and purpose (Wolffe, 1994). Moreover, it played an important part in establishing Christian faith in almost every nation on earth (Stanley, 1990). We may sometimes be embarrassed about how this took place, but without it Christian faith would not now be in such an advantageous position to influence the history of the world.

However, this faith is no longer functional. The theology of the empire has outlived the empire. The empire has gone but the theology lingers on. Much of the modern church is like the Israelites, going into exile with a royal kingdom theology. Faith has become a remnant, far from the glories of its greatest achievements. How can the Lord's song be sung in a strange land? How can the imperial theology still be proclaimed in a post-imperial age? However, before describing in further detail the characteristics of the religious situation today we must examine in greater detail the content of this received power-theology. In doing so, we shall notice that it is not a recent development. Christian faith has been the partner of imperial power ever since the conversion of Constantine and the adoption of Christian faith as the official religion of the Roman Empire (Kee, 1982). The developments in Britain would not have been possible without a thousand years of preparation. Moreover, since this theology in the form we have received it was shaped by Britain's aspirations and Britain's place in the world, and since those aspirations were shared by other European nations who sometimes had a similar place in the world, or wished to have one (Christensen and Hutchison, 1982), or were influenced by those who did so, the British theology has many links and parallels with theological developments in other European countries. Since Europeans exported this collaborative faith in the hey-day of European power, from approximately 1800 to 1939, it is not surprising that Christians nurtured in the non-European world often bring back to Europe the faith which Europe had a century ago.

The principal features of this imperial faith as it is received today are as follows:

1. The doctrine of sin: Sin is driven out of the actual, material world into pre-historical origins, provided with a sexual or mystical transmission and a post-mundane judgement.

2. God: The forward dynamic of Christian faith is denied as the God in front of us becomes the god above us. Metaphysics and its accompanying hierarchy takes the place of apocalyptic with its hope of transformation (Bloch, 1972; 1986).

3. Jesus Christ: The teaching of Jesus is reduced to a comma in the Apostles' Creed. As with the doctrine of sin, so with the person and work of Jesus, everything has become either beginning (the Nativity), ending (the Crucifixion and Resurrection) or future (the Second Coming and the Last Judgement), but rarely focuses upon the words and deeds of Jesus. In some traditions, there is a kind of concentration upon Jesus which is almost unhealthy. Jesus is no longer conceived of within the Holy Trinity but in a sort of isolation. When Christian faith interpreted Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, the effect was to relativise Jesus, to regard him as relative to the Father and the Spirit, and so to emphasise the place of Jesus Christ in the mission of the whole godhead. When this is forgotten, it becomes easier to adore Jesus in a kind of erotic manner than to obey him. We gaze upon him but rarely follow after him. The Christian mission has been turned into a personality cult of Jesus.

4. Salvation: Salvation is conceived of in spiritual and eternal terms. It is realised in heaven or lost in hell. Salvation is individualised and interiorised.

5. The Church: The centre of the life of the church has become worship. Because of the church's concentration upon its own life, and its isolation from the mission of God which called it into being, church itself becomes a fetish. The theology of justice and peace is replaced by an orifice theology concerned with what comes in or out of the bodily orifices (Douglas, 1996): sex, speech and sacraments. As the Eucharist becomes intrinsic rather than instrumental, church life becomes trivialised.

6. The Christian Life: The Christian faith is conceived of in terms of truth rather than action within the mission of God, through Jesus. This leads to a preoccupation with words, ideas, revelation and authority. The emotional repertoire of the Christian emphasises guilt for oneself rather than anger on behalf of others, while deportment is characterised by niceness rather than by committed action.

7. The Bible: The Bible is read in the light of the above assumptions and may thus become incomprehensible, irrelevant, ritualised and boring.

8. Christian Education: The Christian education of children often becomes merely moralistically biblical.

9. Relations with other Religions: As the mission of God against injustice and for a universal community of inclusion is increasingly minimised, the consciousness of Christians is nurtured into a competitive relationship with people from other faiths.

The Present Situation: Second Phase

Although the British power theology has lost its old function and remains only in a number of fetishised fragments, the powers opposing the mission of God continue to proliferate and strengthen. The power of money has moved not only from London to New York, but already has passed beyond the control of the world's last remaining independent state (the USA), into a globalised form, where it exercises greater authority than ever before (Wachtel, 1990; Amin, 1997; Martin & Schumann, 1997). A money-curtain has been erected around the rich two-sevenths of the world, and the character of Christian tradition continues to evolve within the perspectives of reality which life within this enclosure creates. Money is worshipped as God, and God is worshipped as money (Hull, 1996a; 1997). The most energetic forms of the new power-and-money theology may be found in the United States, which as the most powerful nation in the world today, is able to offer the context within which this sort of theology can still function (Stoll, 1982; Diamond, 1989; Barkun, 1994). The contrast between the relative vigour of Christian faith in the United States and the languid, nostalgic, exhausted form which it often takes in Britain is to be accounted for in terms of the different positions in the history of global economics occupied by these two nations.

We now see that the residue of the British imperial theology begins to take on a new function, which is mainly unconscious. Since the fragments masquerade as genuine Christian faith, and are taken to be so by many British Christians, the mask of British theology now functions at least sometimes and to some extent as a protection against facing the reality of genuine encounter with the mission of God and its implications. This is actually a less healthy situation than the previous one. The relationship between the imperial theology and the place of Britain in the nineteenth century world was positive - the two realities, faith and world, were mutually supportive and this mutuality was consciously realised and spoken about.

Today, however, Christian faith as the remnant of a past reality has a negative relationship towards the modern world of capital and power. Rather than supporting the church and the Gospel in pursuing the mission of God, the theological fragments act as a kind of collective anaesthesia, existing in a dream-like state of nostalgic self-deception. It functions in the service of the money-God to obstruct and prevent Christian faith from re-claiming its calling to serve the mission of God. It is because of this negative, substitutionary dream-like quality that contemporary Christian faith in Britain tends to become a fetish, whereas the genuinely functioning, living, imperial theology of a century ago was not a fetish but an ideology.

The Theology of Resistance

Did no one challenge the growth of the collaboration between the Christian faith in Britain and Britain's search for powerful identity? Yes, there were continual protests and challenges. One of the most striking movements of protest took place during the period 1630 to 1662, the period of the first British overseas colonies and the civil war. The community at Little Gidding, gathered around Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637) (Williams, 1970), and the leader of the diggers’ movement, Gerrard Winstanley (1609?-1660) (Winstanley, 1973; Bradstock, 1997), are two outstanding examples. There are interesting parallels between Winstanley’s theology and the Minjung and liberation theologies of South Korea and Latin America today.

The movement initiated by John Wesley in the eighteenth century can be interpreted as a massive popular protest on behalf of the poor and the marginalised, against the power theology which had been re-established early in the eighteenth century, following the upheavals of the previous period. Although the Arminianism of John Wesley was not new, in its context it represented an explosion of energy for the inclusive community of universal love, the pursuit of which is the mission of God.

As one example of the later influence of Methodism as providing a counter-theology, we could consider the Methodist movement for the rights of agricultural labourers in East Anglia between 1872 and 1896 (Scotland, 1981). In their effort to articulate a gospel theology which would empower the labourers in their struggle, the Methodist preachers and organisers used the expression 'temporal salvation' as a limitation and criticism of 'eternal salvation', which was being used to defer the expectations of justice from this world to the next.

The next example of the protest theology of justice and human rights to be mentioned here is that of Bishop Colenso (1814-1883), Bishop of Natal, who became famous for his courageous attempt to bring biblical study into line with nineteenth century developments in the natural and social sciences. Even more significant, however, was his anthropological work, especially his re-statement of the purpose of Christian missions and his struggle on behalf of the rights of the black people of South Africa against the encroaching demands of British power. In spite of the opposition which his ministry aroused from his fellow bishops in Southern Africa and England, John William Colenso may be regarded as a prophetic figure, one of the earliest champions of liberty and a precursor of liberation theology (Morris, 1973; Parsons, 1997).

Next, we must mention the Christian socialist movement associated with the names of Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872), Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), John Ruskin (1819-1900) and others. Maurice lost his Chair of Theology in King's College, London, in 1853, because of his refusal to accept the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell, and had a profound impact upon the emergence of a liberating political education for working people (Maurice, 1968).

Finally, mention must be made of the various expressions of the 'everlasting Gospel' of the mission of God in our own century, including the work of Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944) especially his influence upon the creation of the Welfare State (Temple, 1956). We should also consider the many movements for theological reform in recent decades (Ambler, 1980).

Contributions of enormous significance to the revitalisation of Christian faith as an instrument of God's mission are being made today by new theological movements outside Europe: South American liberation theology, South Korean Minjung theology, Indian Dalit theology, while movements within the European and North American cultural circles such as, black theology and women's theology, are making very important contributions to our general awareness of the inner nature and purpose of the Christian traditions in America and England, so virulent in the one, so decadent in the other.

In spite of their significance as examples of theology outside the European power-tradition, it is not possible to make a simple application of these non-European theologies to the situation in Europe. There is ample scope for renewal in the critical, protesting, prophetic theology which has always lived on in Europe itself. There is a need to develop these resources in order to recover a fresh sense of Christian mission in Britain today.

Characteristics of a Reconstructed Theological Contribution to God’s Mission

I will now make some positive suggestions for the reconstruction of the aspects of the imperial theology noted above.

1. Sin

The traditional doctrine of sin, which concentrates upon the salvation and sanctification of the sinner, should be supported but qualified by a doctrine which places equal emphasis upon the sufferings of those who are the recipients and victims of sin. At present, the Christian approach towards evil in the world is lopsided in favour of forgiveness for the actors, rather than compensation and justice for the victims (Park, 1993).

2. God

Increasingly God will be found not in the endless discussions about meaning which have characterised western theological reflection, but through participation and involvement in theological action on behalf of the emerging community of inclusive love. God will become real when the knowledge of God is pursued in the works of justice and peace (Jer 22:14-16).

3. Jesus Christ

Rather than merely adoring Jesus, Christian education should encourage discipleship of him. The nations are to be instructed in the things that Jesus has taught (Matt 28:20). The principle features of this teaching are the great reversal between the weak and the powerful, the rich and the poor, and the breaking out everywhere of the community of inclusive love. The death of Jesus Christ will be understood as indicating and exemplifying the presence of God amidst human sufferings, and this will move Christian disciples towards the discovery of God in the midst of those who suffer. Moreover, Jesus died as a faithful witness to what he had taught and done. Thus his death sanctifies all the movements which seek to establish the community of inclusive love, the protest movements against oppression and injustice. Jesus is the archetype, representative and instigator of God's action for deliverance and is thus the founder and finisher of faith (Heb 12:1). Jesus is the crucified people (Song, 1996).

4. The Holy Trinity

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity will be seen as a witness and a symbol of the unfinished character of the Christian understanding of the community of inclusive love since the full meaning of the Holy Trinity is still veiled in the future. Moreover, the perichoretic unity of the three persons will inspire and activate Christians into all forms of social solidarity. The Greek theologians of the fourth century spoke of the Holy Trinity as a perichoresis, an ecstatic circular dance. The Holy Trinity will be increasingly understood as the incorporation of human suffering into the divine experience and as thus motivating and justifying a similar involvement on the part of the church. The essential openness of the Holy Trinity, as representing God's self-disclosure in history and for history, will initiate attitudes of openness towards other historical impressions of the Ultimate (Hull, 1995).

5. Salvation

Salvation, as the eternal well-being of the soul or person of the individual, will be modified and enriched by understanding salvation as everything which overcomes the powers which are hostile to the community of inclusive love, and everything which encourages the flourishing of human life and all life in creation (Jantzen, 1998, pp. 156-70).

6. The Christian Life

Justification by love will modify and enrich a one-sided emphasis upon justification by faith.

7. The Bible

As the ambiguity of the Bible is increasingly recognised, and its patriarchal assumptions are grappled with, the Bible will come to have a new relevance as conversation rather than as a reification of the Word of God (Pui-Lan, 1995).

8. Other Religions

Christian faith will be seen increasingly as the partner of God's other saving projects, and the futile and competitive relationships between the world religions, which have characterised centuries of European domination, will come to an end.

The Education of Faith

In seeking to interpret the educational problem in the context of a non-functioning post-imperial theology, which is the implicit collaborator with the forces which oppose the emergence of the community of inclusive love, it may be helpful to model our theory and action upon Sigmund Freud's theory of the interpretation of dreams (Freud, 1991). Freud distinguished the latent dream, the manifest dream and the elaborated dream. The latent dream is the real dream, the dream which expresses the desires which are normally concealed and repressed. We may compare this with Britain's growing desire for identity, security and prosperity in the world, amalgamated with the Christian tradition which thus acts as an expression of it.

Before the latent dream comes into full consciousness, however, the energies that originally concealed and repressed the desires for wealth and fulfilment come into operation again and affect the remembering of the dream. The manifest dream is the result. This is the dream as we remember it upon waking up. The older elements in the dream which served the primordial desires have been censored out, and one only remembers the innocuous fragments. This is what we have left in the Christian religious folk-consciousness of Britain today. We will not be able to understand many contemporary manifestations of Christian consciousness unless we realise that they are to be accounted for as the residual fragments of what was once the latent dream. The censorship is the prophetic resistance to the collaboration between Christian faith and tribal desire, which has never been entirely without a voice. However, those voices of protest and opposition were operating without the assistance of the social sciences. Before Christian theology had received the penetrating illuminations offered by Karl Marx, Freidrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Ernst Bloch, Paul Ricoeur, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and many others, it was more difficult for Christians (even under the pressures of modernity) to understand, analyse and respond to the driving forces behind and beneath the theological surface of Britain. Their attention was, on the whole, fastened upon the content of faith rather than its processes and its functions.

Finally, the dream that is the product of what Freud called secondary elaboration is the dream as we describe it to others, or perhaps to ourselves. Now the incoherent fragments of the manifest dream are bound together into a more-or-less coherent narrative, the mysterious gaps left by the censorship are smoothed over with little explanatory phrases and the result is a kind of story. This is similar to the systematic theology which attempts to make the residual fragments of the manifest dream seem plausible and coherent. This tends to be found in some kinds of the written theology, the theology of books, rather than the theology of lived experience, which generally remains unsophisticated and fragmentary. For example, if Weber was right about the connection between Calvinism and capitalism (Weber, 2002), the desires for wealth and domination which were amongst the human motivations of capitalism, when supported by Calvinism, would be the latent dream. However, as the unity of the latent dream was disrupted by the challenge of a Christian faith dedicated to justice, the latent dream was fragmented, driven into the unconscious, and what remained were fragments, the manifest dream of certain aspects of post-imperial Christian consciousness. Finally, these fragments were now synthesised, systematised, fused together again in a coherent narrative which became the dream of secondary elaboration, e.g. the hymns of Isaac Watts or the prosperity gospel of contemporary Christian life in wealthy countries.

Educational practice for the reconstruction of relevant Christian consciousness today must confront the problems of self-deception, both individual and collective. In the short-term, modifying the money-curtain may appear to be contrary to British and European interests. This is only one example of the ways in which moving Britain towards a historic mission on behalf of suffering humanity in order to establish an ecumenical community of justice and reconciliation may be seen to be contrary to British interests. Since it is difficult to combine this insight with ones continued self-respect and moral integrity, the mechanisms of self-deception are in continual use. This is particularly true for people within the Christian tradition, for whom the options of a hardened secularised hedonism or a defiant hypocrisy are not so easily available. Self-deception is one of the ways that communities try to forget, and the church as the custodian of the subversive memory of Jesus (Metz,1980, pp. 88-99) must always struggle against its own self-deception.

This means that Christian education, whether for ministry or for lay discipleship, must reappraise the history of theology in Europe and North America. This can best be done within the context of the social sciences, for the character of this theological tradition can only be understood in relationship to the geo-political and social/economic situation of Britain, in Europe and the world, and is fundamental to the re-education of faith (Hull, 2002b).

By way of contrast, the emerging non-European theologies should also be studied. These should not be added to the theological curriculum as a special study but should be thoroughly integrated into the study of systematics, biblical and historical theology.

A central place must be given in this reconstruction to the study of sin, qualified and enriched as described above, because this represents the church's struggle to comprehend and oppose the structures of evil. The re-education of faith has been seriously hampered by a deficient doctrine of sin. This action/study will involve evaluation and participant action in the realities of such sin, as expressed through poverty, the oppression of children and women, and racism, both in Britain and abroad.

The hymn books must be purged of the relics of the Victorian theology of power.

Hark how the heavenly anthem drowns

All music but its own.

This represents the British theology of power. The gospel of redeeming love does not drown out all music but its own, since it does not seek to oppress and dominate. The music of God is a receptive, listening harmony, which penetrates and elevates all the music of the world. On the other hand, churches must avoid the dangers of the Jesus-fetish music as well.

Christian education must learn to read the Bible again as representing the cry of the oppressed people, and as God's redemptive action on their behalf.

Finally, the theological re-education of the churches cannot be done through talking, words and study. Only through thoughtful participation in action on behalf of the community of inclusive love will the dreaming theology of the post-imperial church be dissipated.


The Christian tradition in Europe and North America today faces a critical choice. The medieval concept of Christendom was replaced by the modern concept of Christianity. This was an understanding of the Christian tradition as being a systematic structure of belief forming a world religion in competitive relations with other similar religious systems. As such, Christianity was para-phenomenal, being the reified expression on the plane of ideas of the emerging global competition between Europe and the rest of the world. The period of Christianity is now coming to an end. The future lies with what we might call Christian-ness (Panikkar, 1988), a revival of ethical discipleship to Jesus inspired by biblical faith in God as sender, sent and sending, the Triune God in redemptive action on behalf of God's world. However, the passage of Christianity into Christian-ness is not uncontested. A shrewd and hardened form of Christianity is also emerging. This adopts even more competitive and rigid forms of life as its dream-like facade is unmasked. We may describe this as Christian Religionism (Hull, 1996b), and it serves the Money God, just as Christian-ness serves the living God.

Is there a future for the church? There will continue to be a future for the church as the instrument of Christian faith as long as the church is true to the Christian faith and Christian faith is faithful to the mission of God. However, one might imagine another future for the church, a future in which it becomes the shrewd and hardened collaborator with the powers of financial oppression. Then the church would no longer be the church.


Adey, L. (1988). Class and idol in the English hymn. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press.
Ambler, R. & Haslam, J. (Eds.) (1980). Agenda for prophets: Towards a political theology of Britain. London: Bowerdean Press.
Amin, S. (1997). Capitalism in the age of globalization: The management of contemporary society. London: Zed Books.
Arrighi, G. (1994). The long twentieth century: Money, power and the origins of our times. London: Verso.
Barkun, M. (1994). Religion and the racist right: The origins of the Christian identity movement. London: University of North Carolina Press.
Baum, G. (1975). Religion and alienation: A theological reading of sociology. New York: Paulist Press.
Berkhofer, R. F. (1965). Salvation and the savage: An analysis of Protestant missions and American Indian responses 1787-1862. Lexington, KT: University of Kentucky Press.
Berkhofer, R. F. (1978). The white man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the present. New York: Knopf.
Bloch, E. (1972). Atheism in Christianity: The religion of the exodus and the kingdom. London: Herder & Herder.
Bloch, E. (1986). The principle of hope (3 volumes). Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.
Bradstock, A. (1997). Faith in the revolution: The political theologies of Müntzer and Winstanley. London: SPCK.

Christensen, T. & Hutchison, W. R. (Eds.) (1982). Missionary ideologies in the imperialist era, 1880-1920. Aarhus, Denmark: Aros.

Comaroff, J. & Comaroff, J. (1991). Of revelation and revolution. Vol. 1. Christianity, colonialism and consciousness in South Africa. London: University of Chicago Press.
Comaroff, J. & Comaroff, J. (1992). Ethnography and the historical imagination. Oxford, England: Westview Press.
Connerton, P. (1989). How societies remember. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Derida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Diamond, S. (1989). Spiritual warfare: The politics of the Christian right. London: Pluto Press.
Douglas, M. (1996). Natural symbols: Explorations in cosmology. London: Routledge.
Drinnon, R. (1980). Facing west: The metaphysics of Indian-hating and empire-building. London: New English Library.
Erikson, E. H. (1975). Life history and the historical moment. New York: Norton.
Erikson, E. H. (1982). The life cycle completed: A review. New York: Norton.
Falk, Z. W. (1985). From east to west my name is lauded among the nations. In J. Hick & H. Askari (Eds.), The experience of religious diversity (pp. 25-33). Aldershot, England: Gower.
Foucault, M. (1972). The archaeology of knowledge. London: Tavistock.
Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

Freud, S. (1991). The interpretation of dreams. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.

Gray, R. (1609). A good speed to Virginia. London. Available on
Halbwachs, M. (1992). On collective memory. London: University of Chicago Press.
Hartshorne, C. (1967). A natural theology for our time. La Salle, IL: Open Court.
Heizer, R. F. (1947). Francis Drake and the California Indians, 1579. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hilton, B. (1988). The age of atonement: The influence of evangelicalism on social and economic thought, 1795-1865. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Hinkelammert, F. J. (1986). The ideological weapons of death: A theological critique of capitalism. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Hirschman, A. O. (1977). The passions and the interests: Political arguments for capitalism before its triumph. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hughes, R. T. & Allen, C. L. (1988). Illusions of innocence: Protestant primitivism in America, 1630-1875. London: University of Chicago Press.
Hull, J. M. (1992). Human development and capitalist society. In J. W. Fowler, K. E. Nipkow & F. Schweitzer (Eds.), Stages of faith and religious development (pp. 209-223). London: SCM.
Hull, J. M. (1995). The Holy Trinity and Christian education in a pluralist world. London: National Society/Church House Publishing.

Hull, J. M. (1996a). Christian education in a capitalist society: Money and God. In D. Ford & D. L. Stamp (Eds.), Essentials of Christian community, essays in honour of Daniel W, Hardy (pp. 241-252). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Hull, J. M. (1996b). A critique of Christian religionism in recent British education. In J. Astley & L. J. Francis (Eds.), Christian theology and religious education: Connections and contradictions (pp. 140-164). London: SPCK.
Hull, J. M. (1997). Christian education: Sufficient or necessary? (2) The necessity of Christian education. Epworth Review, 24(2), 38-46.
Hull, J. M. (2002a). From experiential educator to nationalist theologian: The hymns of Isaac Watts. Panorama: International Journal of Comparative Religious Education and Values, 14(1), 91-106.
Hull, J. M. (2002b). Understanding contemporary European religious consciousness: An approach through geo-politics. Panorama: International Journal of Comparative Religious Education and Values, 14(2), 123-140.
Hull, J. M. (2005). Isaac Watts and the Origins of British Imperial Theology. International Congregational Journal, 4(2) 59-79
Jantzen, G. M. (1998). Becoming divine: Towards a feminist philosophy of religion. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press.
Kee, A. (1982). Constantine versus Christ: The triumph of ideology. London: SCM Press.
Lamb, M. L. (1982). Solidarity with victims: Toward a theology of social transformation. New York: Crossroad.

Macfie, A. L. (1967). The individual in society: Papers on Adam Smith. London: Allen & Unwin.

Martin, H.-P. & Schumann, H. (1997). The global trap: Globalization and the assault on prosperity and democracy. London: Zed Books.
Maurice, F. D. (1968). Learning and working. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Metz, J. B. (1980). Faith in history and society: Toward a practical fundamental theology. London: Burns & Oates.
Metz, J. B. (1981). The emergent church: The future of Christianity in a postbourgeois world. London: SCM.
Morris, J. (1973). Heaven’s command: An imperial progress. London: Faber & Faber.
Nipkow, K. E. (2003). God, human nature and education for peace: New approaches to moral and religious maturity. Aldershot, England: Ashgate.
Oser, F. & Gmünder, P. (1991). Religious judgement: A developmental approach. Birmingham, AL: REP.
Panikkar, R. (1988). The Jordan, the Tiber and the Ganges: Three kairological moments of Christic self-consciousness. In J. Hick & P. Knitter (Eds.), The myth of Christian uniqueness pp. 89-116). London: SCM Press.
Park, A. S. (1993). The wounded heart of God: The Asian idea of han and the Christian doctrine of sin. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Parsons, G. (1997). Rethinking the missionary position: Bishop Colenso of Natal. In J. Wolffe (Ed.), Religion in Victorian Britain. Vol. 5. Culture and empire (pp. 135-175). Manchester, England: Manchester University Press.

Pêcheux, M. (1982). Language, semantics and ideology: Stating the obvious. London: Macmillan.

Pui-Lan, K. (1995). Discovering the Bible in the non-biblical world. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
Schüttke-Scherle, P. (1989). From contextual to ecumenical theology?: A dialogue between Minjung theology and “theology after Auschwitz”. Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang.
Scotland, N. (1981). Methodism and the revolt of the field: A study of the Methodist contribution to agricultural trade unionism in East Anglia 1872-96. Gloucester, England: Sutton.
Selby, P. (1997). Grace and mortgage: The language of faith and the debt of the world. London: Darton Longman and Todd.
Smith, A. (1993). An enquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. New York: Modern Library.
Smith, A. (2002). The theory of moral sentiments. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Song, C.-S. (1996). Jesus, the crucified people. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Stanley, B. (1990). The Bible and the flag: Protestant missions and British imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Leicester, England: Apollos.
Stoll, D. (1982). Fishers of men or founders of empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America. London: Zed Books.
Swain, T. & Rose, D. B. (Eds.) (1988). Aboriginal Australians and Christian missions: Ethnographic and historical studies. Adelaide: Australian Association for the Study of Religions.

Symonds, W. (1609). Virginia: A sermon preached at Whitechapel in the presence of many honorable and worshipful adventurers and planters for Virginia 25th April 1609 published for the benefit and use of the colony planted and to be planted there and for the advancement of their Christian purpose. London. Available on

Tamke, S. S. (1978). Make a joyful noise unto the Lord: Hymns as a reflection of Victorian social attitudes. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Temple, W. (1956). Christianity and social order. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.
Tillich, P. (1953). Systematic theology (volume 1). Welwyn, England: Nisbet & Co.
Tinker, G. E. (1993). Missionary conquest: The gospel and native American cultural genocide. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Viner, J. (1972). The role of providence in the social order. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society.
Wachtel, H. M. (1990). The money mandarins: The making of a supranational economic order. London: Pluto Press.
Watts, I. (1719). The Psalms of David imitated in the New Testament and applied to the Christian state and worship. London.
Watts, I. (1782). Hymns and spiritual songs in three books. Coventry, England: T. Luckman.
Weber, M. (2002). The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Werbner, R. (Ed.) (1998). Memory and the postcolony: African anthropology and the critique of power. London: Zed Books.
Williams, A. M. (Ed.) (1970). Conversations at Little Gidding. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Winstanley, G. (1973). The law of freedom and other writings (ed. Christopher Hill). Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.

Wolffe, J. (1994). God and greater Britain: Religion and national life in Britain and Ireland 1843-1945. London: Routledge.

Wolffe, J. (1997). ‘Praise to the holiest in the height’: Hymns and church music. In J. Wolffe (Ed.), Religion in Victorian Britain. Vol. 5. Culture and empire (pp. 59-99). Manchester, England: Manchester University Press.

I am grateful to the Alan & Nesta Ferguson Charitable Trust for their generous support and also to the British Academy whose grants SG29978 and SG35222 made possible the research that led to this study and to its final production.

John M. Hull is Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Professor of Practical Theology in the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. Other works by John Hull may be read on


The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page