Opening Up: Speaking Out in the Church

 Opening Up: Speaking Out in the Church, ed. by Julian Filochowski and Peter Stanford, (DLT, London, 2005), ISBN: 0-232-52624-9

This book is not going to be every Christian's cup of tea. This is precisely why it is an important publication and should be widely read. It is a compilation of articles, written by authors across a wide spectrum of theological opinion, on some of our present day's thorniest issues. Written in honour of Martin Prendergast, who has spent most of his adult life addressing and living out of these issues, it expresses the faith and struggles of many who live in 'the dynamic relationship between the centre and the edges' (Timothy Radcliffe) of the faith community. The conversations initiated by these articles are sometimes awkward and difficult, but they are invitations to fellow-believers to seek and speak the truth in love.

The line-up of authors is impressive. They tackle a variety of themes connected with the interface between the church and society: Timothy Radcliffe writes on the Eucharist, Jon Sobrino on the option for the poor, Enda McDonagh on love and justice in God and church, sexuality and society, Julie Clague on the position of women.

Further sections on sexuality and the world in crisis take an honest and often challenging look at points of ethical and political conflict. James Alison, Mark Jordan, Bruce Kent and Julian Filochowski are among those whose articles take few prisoners. Theirs is a faith perspective that seeks to integrate their personal and pastoral experience. This can put them at variance with others who speak with an authority founded on a theological orthodoxy rarely challenged by living experiences that shake the faith of many Christians at grass root level.

This is not, however, a book full of gripes or tired rantings from a dying liberal agenda. The final section of the book looks at the future, seeing it, with Jeremiah's eyes, as a 'future full of hope' if only we can seize the opportunities afforded in the arenas of ecumenism, liturgy and governance. Jeannine Gramick, Conor Gearty and Kevin Kelly and others take up these questions with the authority they have won in their own spheres of expertise, pushing out the boundaries with a fine mixture of fidelity and critique.

Those inclined to dismiss the idea that faith can be lived in tension with critical questions will at least find here a clear and honest account of the view from another side. Those who struggle to fit together their faith and their experience will find it encouraging to hear the voice of others whose struggle is no less painful but whose faith has held and who have engaged their minds and hearts to find a solution. There were parts of this book with which I could not agree. There was no part of it I did not find worth the reading, if only to challenge me to articulate my own understanding of what it is to be a Christian who asks awkward questions.

first posted LONDON - 16 June 2006 - 507 words

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