Our world is suffering an identity crisis, argues NT Wright and the Church should have the answers. But does it? In this two-part series, the former Bishop of Durham digs deeps and considers the role and work of the Church in society today
It was a hot, sticky afternoon in early summer. I sat in a traffic jam in down- town Montreal, wishing, not for the first time, that the car had air-conditioning. I turned on the radio. A news bulletin slotted itself in between other items. Out in Vancouver a big international exhibition was getting under way. It was the turn of the Russian pavilion to put on its display. There were dignitaries, receptions, speeches. Then, all of a sudden – and this was why it had made the news headlines – a young Jewish man rushed up from the audience and grabbed the microphone. “I have a message for the Russian people,” he shouted. “And it’s this: there is a God, and he is calling them to account. He will bring them to judgment for…” – but the rest of what he wanted to say was drowned by officials hurriedly snatching back the microphone and bustling him out of the way.
I sat there in the traffic jam, listening to the commotion, and the thought struck me with peculiar force: that man was announcing the kingdom of God. Then the second thought: he doesn’t even know the name of the King. The ambiguities of his action were plain for all to see. Is that the way to make a protest? Won’t it do more harm than good? Surely it’s better to work through the normal channels? But the normal channels are just as problematic. And what about the Church? Is the Church supposed to be standing up and saying something? If so, what? Which micro- phones should it be grabbing, and what announcement or message should it be getting out before the microphone is snatched away? And, if that young Jew was right in calling the Russian people to repent because of the coming judgment of God, how does his message apply (if at all) to the Church or world elsewhere? What ought we to be repenting of, and what difference might it make?