THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
Stephen C. Barton
The history of the twentieth century is a history of calamitous failures in human neighbourliness. In consequence, there is widespread recognition today of the need to find ways of building and maintaining patterns of sociality which are life-giving. So strong are the perceived threats to human sociality that many political, social and religious leaders are turning their attention to ways of resisting the threats and making space for the renewal of society. In his Reith Lectures for 1990, for example, the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, highlighted a number of threats to our social fabric: economic individualism, moral pluralism and the privatisation of values, the loss of institutions that sustain communities of memory and character, the shift from a traditional duty-based ethic to a secular rights-based ethic, the tendency of the religions to polarise into extremes of liberalism or conservatism, and so on. In the light of such threats, Sacks calls for the renewal of community, both at the local level of families, churches and voluntary associations, and at the national level of society now reconceived as a “community of communities”.1
Building communities which allow all people to attain their full humanity as children of God are central Christian concerns also. Indeed, the vocation of Israel according to the Old Testament and of the Church according to the New is so to share in the life and love of God that it becomes the people and the place where the virtues and skills for life together among the nations are known and practised. The truthful, just and life-giving encounter between human beings in all their diversity which constitutes community is dependent upon true worship of the truthful, justifying, life-giving God. This means that true community is a gift of divine grace; and its quality as
1 J. Sacks, The Persistence of Faith. Religion, Morality and Society in a Secular Age (London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991).