I am enormously exited about the huge potential of the new 3 year project, “Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science“, which I am privileged to co- lead with Professors David Wilkinson and Tom McLeish from Durham University, with close involvement from the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Department. The project has received major funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation.
The context of the Church of England’s mission is complex – there is widespread spirituality, deep secularism, lively Christian and other faiths, all intertwined. Many people are disconnected from, or indifferent to, the Church as an institution and from the basic teachings of Christian faith. Part of this is the fact that religious faith of any variety is often viewed with suspicion and scepticism. Religious beliefs are seen as private, subjective opinions, which can often lead to a small minded, reactionary and divisive view of life. By contrast science is widely seen as giving ‘true’, objective and useful knowledge about the way the world really is.
Science pervades the way we see reality, even for those who do not consider themselves scientific in any way. The widespread and pervasive caricature of the relationship between science and religion remains the conflict model. Although discredited both historically and philosophically, this model is deeply damaging to any attempts at evangelism. There is an urgent need for a much deeper understanding of the nature of Christian faith, and of science, and of their relationship and interaction, to be communicated very widely in both the life of the Church and the wider world.
This is not simply a minority interest activity for a few slightly nerdy specialists, but a matter which infuses the cultural air we breathe and profoundly affects the credibility of the Christian faith and our ability to proclaim the Gospel effectively in our generation. So it is deeply related to the primary mission of the Church and to the core roles of Bishops.
The major challenge in this area is to communicate the mountain of excellent academic literature which has been generated over the last thirty or more years much more widely so that it enters the bloodstream of the Churches, the education system, the media and the wider world. Failure to do this has meant that there is a prevailing caricature of the conflict model between science and theology which is particularly influential amongst young people. Tackling this communication challenge is not something for a few specialists, but a task for the whole of the leadership of the Church, and especially Bishops as Teachers of the Faith, amongst others. Well handled, it is a task which a non-science specialist could and should be able to undertake.
A second challenge is the equipping of Christian thinking around science and technology, so that the church in general (and C of E in particular) may speak with confidence and wisdom into public and political debates on ‘troubled technologies’ (examples are GMOs, fracking, genetic medicine, etc,).
This exciting new project, ‘Equipping Christian Leadership in and Age of Science’ offers a tremendous opportunity to meet these challenges.
Bishop Richard Cheetham
15 March 2015