*** DEBUG END ***

Rachel Mann: We should embrace our oddness

30 August 2019


I AM fascinated by the window displays in secondhand bookshops. They represent the store’s key opportunity to tempt the passer-by inside. I was, therefore, intrigued when a local bookshop filled its display with religious books. There were Bibles, and guides to the main world religions, and then there were “fruitier” texts: books on prophecy, Bible codes, and St Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s wife.

The crotchety old priest in me wanted to rush inside and say, “Religion is not simply a version of esoterica, you know,” or some such pomposity.

Perhaps part of the issue is religious literacy. Certainly, fewer people study religion at GCSE and beyond. There is arguably a lack of biblical literacy among many committed C of E members. The Bible is no longer part of the texture of people’s lives.

It can feel cathartic to moan about this lack of literacy, but it doesn’t change anything. A little honesty, however, might. Most of us know that Christianity, let alone the C of E, no longer sets the tone of public discourse, if it ever did. We live in a culture that writes religion off as either an awkward cultural inheritance or just weird: it has become the oddball relative who turns up to every family gathering and whom few people want to talk to.

To remind ourselves that, for all our Establishment privileges, the C of E is culturally oddball, however, might be liberating. It may, ironically, indicate rich paths for honest approaches to mission and discipleship. The death of priggish and supercilious certainties about our message might generate space for humble and nuanced evangelism that is full of hope.

So, for example, consider how we handle our biblical texts. I wonder what our preaching and teaching might look like if we were to be properly honest about the Bible’s complexity and contradictions. What happens to the authority of St Paul’s Letters to Timothy, for example, when we accept that he didn’t write them?

If we want our society to be biblically literate, we need to sort our own house out. So many of our existing church members have been sold a childish take on the Bible. As I’m sure you know, that very word means “library”, and we must wrestle with the fact that it is a library of wonder, terror, and hope, and not an instruction manual with a univocal position.

Thomas Cranmer rightly called the Bible “the fountain and well of truth”, but wells can stagnate. Educated honesty about this library’s messy origins, gambits, and redactions may help more people to live Christian faith in the post-modern world rather than fewer.

Canon Rachel Mann is the Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, Manchester.

Canon Angela Tilby returns next week.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)