Tim Gorringe: social cement or great disturbance?

Timothy Gorringe has a homily in the most recent issue of Expository Times on Luke 12:32-40 which touches on some of the issues that I have raised recently regarding consumerism and the Christian's place in society. He begins by mentioning the ancient document, “The Ruin of Britain,” by the monk Gildas in 520 CE, as an example of doom and destruction. The question raised, then, is what is the church's role in the midst of a society in turmoil and disarray? Here are Gorringe’s own words from the sermon. I think he asks the right questions, and we would do well to listen to them carefully.
In this country we are currently spared such horrors, but many books on climate change have the same tone as Gildas. One way or another, we live in uncertain times. One response is to look to the church for security. Are we not about building up community, about healing wounds, giving hope to the hopeless? Yes, of course we are. And yet Jesus did not call his disciples to be social cement, and did not give them a gospel of middle class niceties and securities.

Our passage is addressed to a ‘little flock’ which also lived, for sure, in uncertain times. Inflation is running high, mortgages are being foreclosed, the pillars of the world, the social sureties by which we live, are shaken. Luke knew that some early Christians had taken Jesus’ advice literally: they had sold up and shared what they had. Perhaps he, the companion of Paul, also knew how Paul had had to put an aid package together for these very same Christians. But Luke now puts together a series of sayings and parables of Jesus which are not about social certainties but about the great disturbance of the gospel. ... Christians looked towards the coming of the kingdom, not as the promised land of welfare capitalism, not as somewhere which they would reach with a little common sense just over the next hill, but as the coming of the Lord which would relativize all their efforts and all their moral proprieties—their family relationships, for example. ... Luke [knows] that the gospel sets the world by the ears, turns the world upside down.

What does our text mean for us today, therefore? Ought we, like the first community, or St Francis, to sell all we have and give to the poor? Or do we, like Christians throughout the ages, and as the passage implies in its word about treasure, say that the big deal is not being possessed by our possessions? That often sounds like a ‘cop out’, a piece of casuistry designed to send us to bed comfortable with our comfortable lives. I think it can be, but it need not be. The question is how seriously we take ourselves as members of this new group which is intended to be what both Jesus and Paul quite clearly understood be ecclesia (‘church’), the seedbed of a new humanity. Are we recognizable as that, and if not, is it because we have replaced the great disturbance of the kingdom with the very different gospel of providing a safe anchorage in a troubled world? Or is it that we don't see how the safe anchorage only comes in and through the great disturbance? And being part of the great disturbance is centrally connected with what we do with our money and our time. That is the question! To what end are our possessions, purses and alms put?

And what does it mean for us to be the community eagerly awaiting its Lord, if it does not mean gathering together on some chilly mountain top waiting for dawn, or voting for ‘son of Trident’ in the hope that this means the Lord will come in some great conflagration in which the wicked are eliminated? Every syllable of Scripture speaks against this, I believe, but equally it speaks of a burning hope for a different world which makes a domesticated church impossible. ... The real challenge is to understand what this means for our local Christian communities, our parishes ... If we have understood our gospel aright, however, community maintenance will never be the pious support of the status quo ... but a constant challenge to understand the practical outworking of love in a way which responds to Jesus' original shaking of our moral and social foundations.
—Tim Gorringe, “Sermon on Luke 12:32-40,” Expository Times 118:10 (2007), pp. 497-98.


Mykel G. Larson said…
Why do I feel like I hear echoes of Augustine's "City of God" in this post?
You're probably right. But I suppose anything that presents the church as a disturbance to the world rather than a fixed part of it is indebted to Augustine's magnum opus. Few works remain as relevant today as that great work.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the great post. Gorringe's book A Theology of the Built Environment is excellent reading on the intersection of theology and architecture (or lack thereof) and the consequent problems in the West.