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In thought and deed: Easter now

24 March 2016

THE historical root of Christianity has a different significance for different people. It remains integral to the faith, however. Those first accounts of the Easter events have been presented in myriad ways, but few dismiss them as fiction. God was not only revealed, but encountered. The Gospels contain more theological interpretation than is sometimes admitted, but the element of genuine reportage is hard to gainsay.

But Christianity is a living faith, and thus the Holy Week and Easter services that will take place in churches over the next few days will be doing more than merely re-enacting events in the Jerusalem of 2000 years ago. The liturgy provides the focus, but every congregation member brings to church his or her own experience and understanding of God. The confession, creed, and thanksgiving might be general acts, but the request for forgiveness, the interpretation of the tenets of belief, and the expressions of praise are intensely personal.

One of the lessons of our Theology Now series has been that this individuality permeates the academic study of God and godly things. As the range of contributions has shown, backed up by a lively correspondence, the academic world is as varied as any congregation. The study of theology does not engender agreement between students. But it does encourage a respect for opinions formed and conclusions drawn with intellectual rigour. We maintain that there is a core of belief (the word “orthodoxy” having been appropriated by interest groups); but even that remains alive only through constant testing against the political and pastoral challenges of the day. Our motivation for commissioning the series was our alarm at how seldom academic insights filter down into ordinary church life to inform personal faith and practice. What we have learned over the course of seven weeks and more than 75,000 words, is that academics share that alarm on their own behalf. A theology that does not interact with a living faith is a dead discipline, consigning the events of the first Easter to the level of a mere historical curiosity. More than this: theology is not only tested in the parish — it is where the roots of the next discoveries are to be found.

For, although it is imperative that believers employ their intellects — and draw on the intellects of others — this is not the only way in which Christ is encountered. Christianity is an embodied faith, and no serious theologian would discount the God who is known through the senses and the emotions. And, as Christ’s words remind us, he is most present in acts of love and gratitude. It is here, through the actions of the Holy Spirit, that the outworkings of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can be found — and the joy of the resurrection can be felt and shared.

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