Saturday, February 16, 2008

Which way now?

A recent renewal in historical interest in The Salvation Army seems to be prompting some interesting questions about our identity as a Christian movement. I don't know too many people that would openly argue (against William Booth) that the evangelical and social wings of our Army do not both form essential characteristics of who we are. Yet sometimes it would seem that the guiding influences of parts of our movement find it difficult to hold these in positive tension. For instance, I doubt that one of the primary insights of church growth facilitators is to bring lots of smelly, homeless, drug addicted and mentally ill people into your church. Yet this is exactly the kind of challenge that lies before some of us.

I'm sympathetic to popular Christian writers like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren who are trying to communicate the gospel in a way that makes sense to this generation (and cop a lot of criticism in the process) but I'm not sure their working context is quite the same as ours. The difficulty is that in many ways, The Salvation Army has few peers - there are lots of organisations that do similar things or part of what we do, but few that do it all in the same way. At the same time, it is unhealthy only to look internally for the kind of inspiration and guidance that will inform both our present and future. What do we do then? I think we have to look very carefully and critically about who our influences are (both historic and contemporary) and reassess their value for The Salvation Army today. Where to start looking? Well that is exactly the question...

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