Friday, January 08, 2021


The word 'crisis' has been thrown around a lot in the last year, including by yours truly.  But what is a crisis?  A crisis is really a moment of decision, a moment when circumstances and pressures and potential outcomes load this decision with more than ordinary significance.  The crisis is not really the moment to be doing any deep thinking; rather it is the moment that your foundations are exposed and your past thinking (or lack thereof) is brought into the light.  Often the crisis is the moment when the world is shown - and perhaps you are shown - that you don't believe or value the things you seemed to believe or value.  The crisis is the moment when the rubber hits the road.  The crisis is also the point at which a direction is determined, or perhaps the point at which it might be possible to change direction.  The crisis is the moment you look back to when asking the question 'how did we get here?'

2020 surely did present us with a crisis on lots of levels.  Societally, for example, it raised the question of what (and who!) we really value.  But I, and others, have been mainly thinking about the crisis in the church.  The situation in which the Government outlawed corporate worship seemed to ask deep questions of us: how much do we value worship, preaching, the sacraments?  To what extent ought we to go along with the presuppositions of a government and society which are non- and to an extent anti-Christian?  How should we respond?

It sure seemed like a crisis.

And yet in recent weeks I've been wondering if it was.  The thing is, there is definitely part of me that really wants a crisis.  A crisis is awful, in terms of the pressure, and this particular crisis had the potential to put me and others in a really awkward place.  But on the other hand, the crisis is decisive.  Having discerned what seems to be the right decision, you count the cost and you take it.  The crisis, you hope, sets you on the right road.  It is the crossroads at which, if you choose wisely, you will determine your arrival at the right destination.  Then again, there is something individually satisfying about responding to a crisis.  Perhaps it's just me, but there is an attraction to the last stand, the forlorn hope, the death-or-glory charge.

And there are other reasons to be on the lookout for the crisis.  I've done a fair bit of work on Bonhoeffer and the German church of the 1930s, and one of the things you notice is that because many people refused to contemplate the possibility that this might be the crisis, the time when it was necessary to take a stand, the church as a whole ended up sleepwalking into complicity with, and sometimes active support for, Nazism.  It ought to be an established rule of discourse that nothing else is quite like 1930s Germany, but still.  You don't want to miss the moment.  Many of those moments didn't look so serious to lots of people as they did to someone like Bonhoeffer, and the church as a whole was unwilling to elevate them to the level of crisis.  And yet in retrospect all of those small and seemingly insignificant decisions paved the way for a betrayal of the church's being and mission.

For those of you who are impatient with those of us who tend to see a crisis everywhere: please consider that we just really, really don't want to miss the crucial stand that we are called to make.  No doubt we sometimes over-analyse the issue and make it more significant than it really is.  If we're annoying you, just think of us as canaries in the mine; maybe we're hypersensitive, but it might be helpful to have someone hypersensitive down here with you.

But was it - and to the extent that it continues, is it - a crisis?  Re-reading Impossible People by Os Guinness I've been reminded of his description of our cultural issues: it's less like the boy with his finger in the dyke, and more like a mudslide.  That is to say, everything is on the move.  A heroic stand won't work here.  There are myriad ways in which we could betray the Lord every day, myriad little crises.  Maybe everything is a crisis.  The point is: I wonder whether I've been looking for one big decision, when it actually comes down to lots of little decisions.  Not one bold act of defiance of the world, but the resolution to keep on believing unpopular things, to keep on living for things that the majority think are myths, to keep on pursuing a vision of life which is shaped by invisible realities.

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