My writing aims to take seriously all of our different kinds of knowledge and experience. My first book showed how Christian theology could offer a framework for doing this, a true theory of everything which spans the arts and the sciences. I’m working on my second book now, provisionally titled The View from the Centre, which again will seek to look around widely. It will look more into the details of the Christian faith, comparing the various insights explored by different churches and traditions.
I am an Anglican, and I love being an Anglican. I wasn’t brought up that way, but I chose to join the Church of England because of its breadth. I deeply value its potential for bringing together the resources and experiences of all the main approaches to the world’s largest faith: Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, including Evangelicalism, Liberalism and Pentecostalism.
There is, it seems to me, a middle ground where all of the riches of these different forms of Christianity can cheerfully be brought together and enjoyed. This middle ground can easily be found within the Church of England, which is intentionally a broad church, but it is accessible to other churches also.
The odd thing about this middle ground is that people tend not to write about it. Or, if they do, they do so in very vague and woolly terms. They may be so good at seeing all sides of an argument that they are reluctant to describe their own position. Or, their ecumenical generosity leads them to be wary of appearing critical. In trying to embrace as much as possible, they can unfortunately end up seeming to stand for very little. Or they write for a niche, academic audience, homing in on details which are of interest to few. To others, those of us in the middle can seem to offer something rather grey, consisting mainly of niceness, hymns and lukewarm tea.
Meanwhile, away from the middle ground, different Christian factions often appear more popular, more energetic and more confident. They are very clear about what they stand for, and argue for it loudly. They have recognisable brands with active networks, conferences, summer camps, youth events and seminaries. They have outspoken preachers who pick sides in a small number of controversial battles and fight hard for them. They function as tribes, being clear about who their allies are and who the dangerous outsiders are. Within their movements, there are obvious pathways through which rising leaders are trained and are invited to make their names known and their voices heard.
In religion, as in politics, the extremes often seem more exciting, more innovative, more challenging, more newsworthy and more authentic. Each one seems to be increasingly necessary in order to stand up to its opposite. And in religion, as in politics, the urgent question remains: can the centre hold?
I want to insist that the centre is the most interesting and most fruitful place to be, for ordinary believers as much as it is for academic theologians. There are things that we should value about many different branches of Christianity, but each has its weaknesses, and some of those weaknesses are serious. My second book will describe my view of a central approach to Christianity, enthusiastically appropriating all that is good from all around me, while carefully resisting all that is harmful.