'Otherways' - Review
Andrew called by the other night - partly to break a journey, partly because I wanted to talk about a publishing project, and partly to deliver a review copy of ‘Otherways’ - the book he has recently produced which consists of a selection of his own articles culled from the OST site. Also it’s just nice to get together. I have since been scanning ‘Otherways’ - and very helpful and challenging it is. Helpful, because items which are buried in various unmarked, disparate places in the OST archives are now dug out and placed side by side where they can more easily be read and related to each other. Challenging, because it politely but firmly insists that the whole edifice of my faith should be systematically dismantled and replaced with an alternative!
At least, that is what the selection of essays proposes. I am encouraged that at least one other person in the world has encountered some of the difficulties which I have found with the proposal - (on page 205). Also, on the subject of page references, and just to show I was paying attention whilst reading the book, the expanded account of the ‘Court of the Gentiles’, referred to on page 84, comes on pages 190-191 (not 183-184).
The challenge, to which every reader of the book should rise, is one which runs throughout: that the church has developed a theological interpretation of the faith which is at variance with the historical narrative which found its completion in Jesus. It is a propitious time to be rediscovering this historical narrative: with the church in crisis, so Andrew believes, over its identity, mission and beliefs - a crisis brought about by a cultural shift (in the developed world at least) from modernism to postmodernism. Evidence of the cultural crisis can be seen in new expressions of church in the world. Andrew believes that innovation in expression needs to be anchored in a theology which will provide stable moorings in a new cultural environment.
As the selections from the OST site retain something of the site’s interactive and occasional character, I noticed that sometimes my own name surfaces (along with names of others). So I do have some investment in the book - though my contributions are mostly disagreements with Andrew. Embarrassingly, they appear in the book as blunt instruments compared with Andrew’s surgical precision – hammer and tongs compared with scalpel and knife.
Andrew’s position is consistent, and he has certainly built an impressive base of painstaking exegetical work and research with which to support it. As far as I understand it, it is this: that most of the New Testament describes and relates to a historically fulfilled eschatological OT narrative of Israel, and has little relevance to today’s church - except in inviting us to form our own sense of identity with the historic narrative, and with the community which the narrative brought into being. The narrative is not ‘the old, old story’, but an eschatological narrative of judgement on Israel, and the triumph of the Son of Man over the Roman Empire and imperial oppression of the church. Understand this overarching paradigm, and you can understand most of what Andrew says in the great variety of threads and subjects which form the book.
Also of interest is that Andrew’s views were formed early on, so that in the earliest posts, dating back to 2002, his views are perhaps most fully reflected and expounded. It is especially helpful to have these in print, as most of what follows on the site is underpinned by them. I would refer the reader especially to selections 7,8,9,13 and 21 – and mention that the selections are clustered thematically, not chronologically. The earliest post is, I think, 20. Also striking, to me, is that the posts do not seem to reflect a development of Andrew’s basic thesis, but are an exploration, or justification of it. The exegetical work is formidable.
Finally, some posts at the end of the selections stand out. These have a more practical application – looking at the issue of how the church should function in the world. Interestingly, these emerge through book reviews, or engagement with mission practitioners. At this point, it is a something of a relief to emerge from the exegetical or theological forest, and come into clearings of human contact!
The forest metaphor forms the substance of the first selection - in which scripture is compared to a forest, with well worn paths which people follow. Why not let the forest revert to its wild state, Andrew suggests, and let the paths disappear into the undergrowth? Could we not start again, and remap the forest from its virgin state? The question has a wistful note. Andrew certainly has made an attempt to do this. When you have become accustomed to the paths of tradition, it is very difficult to contemplate something radically different – especially when it is so extensively supported by exegetical argument.
Andrew has been remarkably generous in allowing me to review the book – given my consistent questions and criticisms of his strategy. My questions and criticisms remain – and have not diminished with time. I have often felt that Andrew does not see the theological wood for exegetical trees - but I would make that comment with considerable reservation in the light of the book as a whole. I am aware that I need to come up with rather more convincing arguments than the stock answers, and the book is a challenge to a very different way of living the faith, based on a very different way of understanding and believing the material. It deserves to have a wide audience.