David Spriggs: Theos - A New Word on the Street

|PIC1|For Christians who know only a smattering of Greek, Theos is likely to be one of those words, it means God. So why are all kinds of newspapers suddenly writing about Theos? It would be less than the whole story to say it's because they are becoming more and more interested in God, although religion is certainly becoming an increasingly frequent topic for journalists and broadcasters.

No, the cause for this foray at the moment is because a new think tank has chosen Theos as its name. Its intention is to research issues that relate faith, particularly the Christian faith, to public square concerns. And a couple of weeks ago Theos went public and in so doing raised a great deal of interest in the media. As Christians we should be glad it did.

The Director of Theos is Paul Woolley a man with a clear mind and a committed and dynamic faith. He tells us

In the 1980s and 1990s think tanks challenged the status quo and helped change the climate of opinion in society. Theos is a new public theology think tank. It aims to provide alternative perspectives to the orthodoxies of secular culture and impact public opinion about the role faith and belief in society.

The launch of Theos took place at Millbank Tower on 7 November. It began with commuters receiving free bottles of water labelled Theos - perhaps symbolising the concern to refresh parts of society that other world views can't reach! Later on there was a public debate chaired by Ed Sturton. The panellists included Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting, Dame Shirley Williams, Frank Field MP and Nick Spencer. A lively time was had by all, and not just the panellists! There were many significant journalists and media people there as well as theologians, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. He, together with Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O' Connor, have strongly endorsed Theos.

Issues of belief and faith, of how human beings perceive the world, have rarely been so important in society, or so badly misunderstood ... Together, we look forward to the contribution that Theos will make to future debates.

It was however, Nick Spencer who had produced the first report, "Doing God" - A future for faith in the public square. The title is taken from a comment by Alistair Campbell, claiming that as the government 'We don't do God'. Nick's argument is that

It is difficult to think of a time when faith has been so important or misunderstood. The report examines the reasons why faith will play an increasingly significant role in public life, identifying three major trends: the return of civil society, the pursuit of happiness and the politics of identity.

Theos, then is a voice which is challenging the view of secular society that God and ordinary life don't and should not mix. Christians should be profoundly grateful for all that Theos stands for. Among other things it will be striving to keep the public square open for Christians to express their views, by providing excellent examples of the contributions and insights which Christians can bring. It will also, through it research and publications be constantly reminding us all that Christian faith is not simply a private matter of belief but has implications which affect the 'real world'. Both of these are important for us as ordinary Christians when it comes to giving an explanation for that hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). Over time, Theos will be altering the climate in which we seek to express our faith. It should generate a more sympathetic and open community, which is eager to listen to us, as well as a more informed one about the rich benefits that Christians bring to our society.

Theos will be working to resist the encroachment of secularism into every aspect of our lives, with its tendencies to want to silence Christian views as political incorrect or socially disruptive. Rather Theos will be exploring intelligently, analytically and factually the vital contribution which the Christian faith and Christian people make to our society through their participation in politics, involvement in a huge range of charities as well as providing more of the general 'glue' which enables society to function as we seek to live honourable and stable lives, working hard and developing trust. In short it will be exposing how Christians are 'salt and light' and reminding most people of what they have forgotten, that without a vibrant and caring Christian population our country cannot really survive.

So how will Theos work?

Theos will undertake research across a wide range of subject areas. It will offer analysis of social and political change and interesting new angles and alternative perspectives which include the validity of faith, on the issues that matter.

Theos can also provide research, analysis and advice to individuals and organisations across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Its unique position within the think tank sector means that it has the capacity to develop proposals that carry values - with an eye to demonstrating what really works. The staff and consultants have strong public affairs experience, and excellent research track record, together with a high level of theological literacy. Equally important they will succeed in getting their messages out their and taken notice of. They are practiced in campaigning, media relations, detailed policy development and effecting policy change. In other words, Theos, is not simply about producing informative reports it is also geared up to using its expertise to change our society for the better.

Theos, then, will provide:

• high-quality research, reports and publications;

• an events' programme (including public debates, an annual Theos lecture and an extensive fringe programme at the party conferences);

• news, information and analysis to media companies and other opinion formers, with a one-stop information line available to journalists; and

• regular email bulletins.

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick CBE, (Chairman, Crime Concern) has expressed it this way,
Theos always gives an interesting alternative view to the complex and critical issues leaders face. It's the place to go for a new angle or different perspective. Its research capacity is impressive, enhanced by a deep vein of moral clarity underpinning all its work.
To read the initial report and to find out more, including how you can be involved, go to www.theosthinktank.co.uk.

David Spriggs

|PIC2|David Spriggs has been a Local Baptist Minister for 20 years; Previously headed up the Evangelism Department of the Evangelical Alliance; Now working for Bible Society in various roles relating to the place of the Bible in the mission of the church in England and Wales, currently Bible and Church Consultant; Author of several books, and many articles mainly on church leadership and growth, prayer and spirituality, the Bible; Writes regularly for a number of daily Bible reading notes publishers, including, BRF, CWR, IBRA, SU and Living Light.

For more information about the Bible Society please click