We are always and endlessly fascinated with knowing the truth about ourselves.
I’ve been attending the Moore College Annual Lectures over the past couple of day, there are 2 to go next week. This year’s speaker is Mike Ovey, the principal of Oak Hill Theological College in London. His topic is ‘Repentance’.
His particular angle is the extent and role of repentance in our preaching of the gospel. Have we proclaimed the gospel when we set forth the truth that ‘Jesus is Lord’, all the rest is implication and consequence, or is the call to repent an intrinsic element of the proclamation, so that, unless you have called on your hearers to ‘repent’ you have not proclaimed the gospel.
It’s a great question.
Today’s lecture included the claim that repentance, and particularly confession, is a form of self-understanding, specifically the revelation of yourself in and through the word of God addressed to you. Perhaps I’ve tarted it up a little, but that was the gist.
Ovey suggested that confession, understood in this way, is alien and hostile to the mind of a (post)modern committed to personal autonomy.
But is it?
There certainly appear to be aspects of our culture that revolve around ‘confessing’. Seemingly trivial examples might include the appeal of TV shows like Oprah, Denton’s ‘Enough Rope, Jerry Springer, or Dr Phil.
But what about, the Doctor’s Surgery, the leather couch in a psychologists office, or more pointedly, the ‘coming out’ of someone gay.
I asked Dr Ovey to comment on these situations, and he made the excellent point that many of these examples are situations in which a confession is given in order to engage the hearers in some form of complicity, i.e. I’ll tell you who I am, and you’ll tell me, that’s all right. There is almost an implied contract that creates the space for the confession.
But that really doesn’t cover the whole field, there are distinct and given situations in which people engage in ‘secular’ confession in order to be told who they are, even if who they are is ‘bad’. Dr Phil or Jerry Springer are examples, sometimes so is the Psychologist, although ‘bad’ is ‘sick’ in line with our tendency to pathologise evil (I’m aware that it is more complicated that this bland statement). The ‘coming out’ of someone gay, is not conceived of as the search for validation of an identity so much as the confession of an identity you have and which has been pronounced over you.
The danger seems to me, that there is a deep temptation to this style of confession because it allows us to abdicate responsibility. Confession relieves us of guilt, but it can do so in different ways. Secular confession relieves us of guilt by relieving us of responsibility and freedom.
But what kind of confession are we calling for when we preach the gospel? And what kind do we get when hundreds of kids go streaming down the front to commit themselves to Christ?
I haven’t really set this out very well, or thought it through thoroughly because I don’t have time, but someone should.