Mary le Bow: Reasonable Religion

I called at the Church of St Mary le Bow, of Bow-bells fame. This London Church is another jewel in the City’s architectural crown. Upon entering, I was greeted by a vinyl information banner, describing the church’s mission, one aspect of which was to ‘advance reasonable religion’. The phrase baffled me; I have always thought a phrase or opinion meaningless if the opposite cannot be sensibly defended. Who, for example, would ever say that the mission was the advancement of unreasonable religion?

A little digging revealed that the church hosts the annual Boyle lectures, an ancient programme of debate on the relationship between science and faith. The last one, given on 15 June 2022, was by Professor Christopher Southgate, Professor of Christian Theodicy at the University of Exeter, on God and a World of Natural Evil: Theology and Science in Hard Conversation. Doubtless, many try to reconcile the apparent contradictions in the goodness of the Bible’s omnibenevolent God with the Big Bang’s arbitrariness and evolution’s blind cruelty.

The church has two pulpits, as though it were a debating chamber, with one speaker able to comment upon or take issue with the other. For the well-heeled intellectuals who live and work within striking distance of this fine church with its lectures and beauty, it must represent a refreshing alternative to the district's cold, hard materialism. Yet in another respect, Christianity, or specifically the Gospel itself, is utterly unreasonable. In lieu of a cross on the altar is a 1960s-era image of Christ hanging in cruciform manner. Calvary demonstrates something incurably, outrageously irrational: that Christ, the eternal Son, should come to our stinking world to pay for our crimes. Why would He not just give up on a bad job and start again, or content Himself with the more glorious, angelic worlds?

I commend the Boyle Lectures, and St Mary le Bow’s attempt to be reasonable, but the Christian gospel is the most wonderfully, fantastically unreasonable thing of which a wise and intelligent deity was ever deemed capable:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

1 Corinthians 1:17-19, NKJV