Dawkins, the Blessed Virgin and the challenge of evangelism.

I need to be up front and honest: I am far more sympathetic to faith as a lived mystical experience than I am to faith at the centre of a rationally conceived encounter with the Divine.

I have chosen my words carefully, seeking to express how I am drawn into faith, whilst accepting that all journeys into faith are equally legitimate. All faith is ‘conceived,’ this has always been the case in the Christian faith, just think of the birth of Jesus, conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

I suppose, thinking of my own experience, whilst I write, that I can, or even did, become a theist based on some level of rational analysis, but became a Christian through a mystical encounter. The sheer majesty and truth of which is reinforced through the Christian calender. 

Harvest reinforces the mystery of creation (and its subsequent fall). Advent provides a carefully designed fallow period, where we wait for Christmas, pregnant with anticipation, Christmas celebrates the mystery of the birth of Christ and then onto Lent, where we remember (for a second time!) our ability to cock it all up , followed by the Easter season where we celebrate all that Christ accomplished on the cross. Pentecost invites us to remain open to the work of the Holy Spirit and  to the God of all possibilities. The core sacraments of baptism and Eucharist provide the opportunity to enter into the entirety of the Christian story whenever they are celebrated (it is for this reason that I believe that the Eucharist should be celebrated weekly – I like Robert Webber’s pithy analysis that ‘the cup without the word is empty, the word without the cup is incomplete.’) The liturgical calender powerfully invites those who live through it to enter into the entirety of the Christian story, enacting our core beliefs (the Creeds in other words), in as Mary might have put it ‘in imagination of their hearts.’ 

Mary of course was famous for pondering all things in her heart and it is worth asking ourselves where we locate our own ponderings?  

I think that the evangelical questions facing all of us are:

‘Are we stimulating the imagination of the heart?’ 

‘Have we, in reality, become the products of an intellectual system that only regards that which can be empirically proven to be meaningful and modified our approach to mission and ministry accordingly?’

You can guess how I would answer my own questions!

My problem with much of contemporary evangelism is that it fails to stimulate the imagination in a way that allows people, using Mary as the prototype, to move from conception to resurrection. Mary shows us  that by pondering all things in the heart the strength can be found to go to the foot of the cross and, ultimately to experience resurrection joy. Yes we need renewal of the mind but how much more do we need to capture the heart. 

My fear is that an exclusive focus on the mind can only lead either to a dry faith (maybe one that through liturgical style masquerades as a lively faith!), abstract theism, or a fundamental rejection of the Gospel message. Some of those who fundamentally reject the gospel become our fiercest critics, the fundamental atheists. But here is a challenge to us:

‘Is fundamental atheism, of the sort successfully propagated by evangelists such as Richard Dawkins, in part a consequence of a crisis in Christian evangelism, a crisis made manifest by our inability to capture the imagination of the heart? If it is we are all complicit! Now that is a scary and sobering thought!


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