As a theme for serious and sustained treatment, church and society tends to be regarded as a subject from a bygone age. This reflects the way in which our cultural, social and political situation has changed over the last fifty years, during which it has become increasingly difficult (and has increasingly appeared to be redundant) to relate church and God-talk to society.
One of the most marked shifts during this period has been the virtually complete secularisation of culture, at least in its public spheres, and the consequent marginalization of the church, of God and of God-talk. Hence it is not now clear whether the church can legitimately and effectively claim public space and communicate in a radically secular society.
However, instead of a sense of crisis, there is complacency within the churches about the present and future status and contribution of the church to national life (evident in both sides of the debate concerning Establishment). In addition, there is no clear understanding among the churches either of what their relationship to society might properly be or even of what society is or might be.
Put theologically, this crisis is about whether it is possible any longer to have a public theology: one which is socially and confessionally responsible, which has theological integrity in responding to and addressing society. Put in more ecclesiastical terms, it concerns the possibility of being church in and for society.
This series is envisaged as an opportunity for contributors to discuss concrete issues, attending seriously to specific historical, cultural, political and ecclesiastical dynamics. It is hoped that discussion of the particular will be framed in such away as to invite comparisons which will illuminate other situations too.
The series invites authors to write against the background of this crisis and to ask what the church might have to say to the next generation. We are not seeking extensive monographs concerning the abstract question of how theology and faith may be mediated after fifty years of liberalism. Short books will throw fresh light on conventional topics by treating them in unconventional ways, and we have also commissioned works which discuss society and church through surprising themes not conventionally associated with the field.
Vernon White's refreshing and philosophically nuanced treatment of identity focuses on the notion of change as being fundamental to human life. On the one hand, change resonates with hope, creativity and new life; on the other hand, it reminds us of risk, loss and mortality. Change eventually brings physical death, and even prior to that delivers another kind of death by the question it puts to our very self. For the 'we' who will change seems insecure. If we are someone yet to be, will we be so radically changed that it makes little sense to talk of the same person? Our contemporary context forces this issue on us with a particular intensity. Change is rampant. There are major, rapid and interconnected changes in information technology, globalization, work and employment practices, consumerism, and family, all of which affect human beings deeply, ambivalently, and at every level. How best can we live through this process of change, which often seems to have no sense of direction?
In trying to answer this question, White asks two others: does Christian faith propose a way of living withchange, and if so, can it have beneficial effects on personal identity? In responding affirmatively to these questions, the author develops the notion of faithfulness, which -- while itself embracing change -- equally encapsulates an enduring insight that will always, and in every situation, have fresh light to shed. For the author, faithfulness, in its various forms, has been neglected along with theology itself, and needs to be re-formed and rediscovered as a means of sustaining true identity. The discussion ranges widely and in fascinating ways through social philosophy and recent theology; and in skilfully negotiating his way between past and present, local and general, and abstract and concrete, the author enables theology to speak to issues of contemporary life with considerable power and persuasiveness.