God and Mammon on same course

24th February 1995 at 00:00
The "pagan" forces of Western culture are facing a challenge from a tiny college in one of the furthest corners of England.

After nearly 50 years of training Christians to carry the Word abroad, the Northumbria Bible College in Berwick-upon-Tweed is about to start a course for missionaries to godless Britain.

The college's new diploma in Biblical and cross-cultural studies will start this autumn, with the official validation of the Open University.

Dr David Smith, the college principal and a Baptist minister, said that Western culture is collapsing, and the major churches have failed to recognise the fact.

He said: "At the end of the twentieth century there are many voices, not necessarily Christian, which are talking in terms of cultural crisis.

"In the nineteenth century there was a common assumption that it was possible to cease being Christian and yet retain a Christian morality. Sadly, that does not appear to be possible.

"What we're really looking at is the major challenge of secularisation. Too many churches have simply failed to relate to it. They have been able to turn to the rather comfortable assumption that here we operate within the structure of Christianity. We want people to recognise that this is something that has collapsed."

The college, he said, has always attempted to explain to its 120 students how their faith relates to, and might be seen by, people in foreign cultures. Now they can take in something equally alien to Christianity but closer to home - Western relativism.

Dr Smith said: "The people who come here are looking for two things. They want the opportunities to reflect on their own faith. They're also extremely concerned to understand the context within which they're working."

With the new course, Dr Smith said, "we offer a chance to look seriously at other religions and to look at what it means in practical terms to live in a different culture."

Although the college is broadly evangelical, Dr Smith said, it was not rigidly literal in its approach to the Bible. Nor, he said, does it promote what the Archbishop of Canterbury has termed "megaphone theology".

He said: "If we're concerned that people should respond to what they meet abroad with understanding and sensitivity, we must also reflect what it means to live and work in the West."

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