Gasp! He talks about Jesus!

One of the things I noticed about Archbishop of Canterbury-select Justin Welby is that in his announcement tour on Friday, he talked about Jesus a lot. There were multiple references in the press conference and various interviews to “the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Now, to point out that a bishop talks about Jesus might not seem like the most noteworthy event. But it’s striking how frequently it has been mentioned in the press accounts. For instance, the Guardian:

Constitutional convention also mostly stops archbishops from talking about Jesus in public. No one seems to have told this one.

The Mail—not admittedly the best source—had a similar sentiment in a headline:

Not your average Archbish! Not only does he actually believe in God, but the new Archbishop of Canterbury is the son of a bootlegger who was Vanessa Redgrave’s lover

(This is more than modestly unfair to the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who believes deeply in God and talks a lot about Jesus. Sometimes, though, it take a little while to realize that’s who he’s talking about.)

One thing I am learning in the Church of England is that there is actual debate about how overt clergy can be about their faith—that is, how much they can talk about Jesus. At a meeting I was at the other day, one priest said that in her marriage preparation, she didn’t want to give the couple anything that was “too Christian.” This came as a bit of a shock to me and is, perhaps, a sign of the ways in which Britain is farther down the secularization path than the United States is. (I’ve been chronicling some of those points in my Death of Christian Britain series of posts.)

On the other hand, back in April, I was noting the ways in which the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church went a whole interview without mentioning Jesus.

In every market, competitors are always on the lookout for the thing that will distinguish them from their competitors and make them stand out. Our world has a pretty crowded marketplace of ideas right now. Call me silly, but I think talking about Jesus—the one idea that Christians have that no one else does—is one way to stand out. We still need to answer the question of what the good news is. But for now, I’ll be content with an archbishop who can talk about Jesus—even if it is depressing that that alone is noteworthy.

The Death of Christian Britain: “What’s Theology?”

Before my recent move to England, I was told repeatedly that I would be surprised at how secular Europe has become. To that end, I’m inaugurating a new series of posts on this blog—inspired by a book from a few years back—called “The Death of Christian Britain.”

My introduction to the secularization of Europe actually happened on the ship that we took over here. My wife and I wanted to celebrate a Eucharist on a Sunday morning. We approached the purser’s desk and explained what we wanted to do: “We’d like to have an Anglican or Episcopal Eucharist service on Sunday.” The man behind the desk—who was German—looked at us uncomprehendingly. It was clear the words “Anglican,” “Episcopal,” and “Eucharist” totally flummoxed him.

“You know,” we said, “we want to have a mass.”

He did understand that word. “There’s a Catholic mass every day on board,” he said.

“But we’re not Catholic,” we said. “We want a Protestant Eucharist.”

“Oh,” he said, now getting it. “The captain will hold some sort of”—he paused, looking for the right word before hitting on it—”multicultural service on Sunday.”

“You mean, ‘ecumenical’,” we said.

“Yes, that,” he said, now completely uninterested. He referred us to the entertainment director who helped us set up the service.

Today, we went to set up a bank account. The woman who was helping us needed our professional details and I said I was a student.

“What do you study?” she asked, as she needed the information for her records.

“Theology,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, “what’s theology?” She added hastily, “I don’t need it for my records, I just want to know what it is.”

I had not expected this and fumbled for an answer. “Well,” I said. “I guess the classic answer is ‘faith seeking understanding.'”

“Oh,” she said. “Sounds interesting” and went back to filling in the details.

In 30 seconds or less, how would you have answered her question?

Before too long I hope to have another series on this blog: the Renewal of Christian Britain. For now, however, secularization is much easier to spot!