A Crossroads

Professor Alec Ryrie FBA
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11:30 - 12:30
University Church
High St
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Entrance via High St

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As the postwar moral era comes to an end, Christians find themselves divided as to how to respond. With the assertively secular values of the post-1960s era beginning to feel brittle, it is unsurprising that many Christians across the world have sensed an opportunity. The result is an acceleration of culture wars, with certain kinds of Christianity positioning themselves in opposition to particular forms of secular modernism. The instinct to turn back the clock and to return to the old certainties of Christendom’s value systems is very understandable.

This final lecture will argue that it would nevertheless be a grave error; that even (or especially) doctrinally or socially conservative Christians ought to seek a constructive engagement with the anti-Nazi values of the postwar age, which are much less antagonistic to Christianity than their construction as ‘secular humanism’ suggests. This is partly because, in such a culture war, assertive Christendom-Christianity will lose. Indeed, it emboldens its secularist ‘enemies’ by giving them precisely the kind of opposition they crave. Yet this approach is flawed theologically as well as tactically, based as it is on a hollowed-out Christian identity politics as brittle as any secular alternative.

The lecture will suggest some alternative, subtler ways in which Christians can engage with fracturing secular values, breathing life into those values’ inadequacies but while also learning from them. As numerous commentators involved in the revival of virtue ethics have suggested, deploying and modelling unfashionable but essential practices such as humility and repentance both makes it possible to learn the very hard-won moral lessons of the modern era, and to demonstrate that, essential as those lessons are, they are not enough. The lecture will conclude by pointing to signs of an emergent Christian politics, especially but not only in parts of the global South, which suggest that such a constructive synthesis between Christian and secular values is not only necessary, but already happening.