Theology Now: further responses as our series of supplements continues
From the Revd Lore Chumbley
Sir, — On 12 March, I shall be licensed to my first parish. In my sermon the following day, I intend to exhort the congregation of Christ Church, Bath, to read “Theology Now”. The articles have both intellectual clarity and spiritual integrity — and they are short!
I am not alone in believing that the schism that has developed since the time of Aquinas between faith and theology must be healed if the Church is to be whole and healthy — fit to proclaim the gospel with intelligence and guts.
In publishing the “Theology Now” series, the Revd Dr Andrew Davison and the Church Times substantially narrow that schism, demonstrating the possibility of the co-inherence of faith and theology in the public arena.
I enjoy the Church Times, with its cartoon in-jokes and arcane questions about faculties and vestments; but I wouldn’t generally recommend it to spiritual seekers: at best they would be baffled. The “Theology Now” supplement, however, provides attractive, accessible, challenging reading. My husband has insisted on reading and keeping each week’s articles.
Professor Ludlow’s, Professor Woodhead’s, and others’ concern about a lack of diversity is worth registering, but must not be allowed to overshadow the significance of this supplement. Professor Pickstock in her article “Thought and deeds” (4 March) writes that “thinking matters.” Yes, it does, and “Theology Now” has got non-theologians thinking. Thank you.
16 Marlborough Buildings
Bath BA1 2LY
From the Revd David Haslam
Sir, — It is hard to spot one reference to a non-Anglo-Saxon name in “Theology Now”. There is nothing so far to acknowledge the great theological initiatives from the South over the past 50 years.
The theologies that have challenged, inspired, and encouraged me over five decades of ministry have almost all originated in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, or among the minority-ethnic groups of Europe and North America. Where is there reference to Gutiérrez and Sobrino, Bonino and Boff, Cone and King, Boesak and Buthelezi, Pieris and Balasuriya? There is a weakness even here in that the better-known names are male, but there are, of course, female theologians in these continents also, as well as many more males.
The difference with these theologians is that most were writing in the context of struggle against the principalities and powers of racism, militarism, economic oppression, and globalisation. They and people around them were threatened, imprisoned, and sometimes assassinated. This was theology on the front line, demanding discipleship and courage. Ignoring them has led to the irrelevance of much contemporary British and European theology.
59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG
From Canon Peter Groves
Sir, — I am much enjoying “Theology Now”, but was disappointed to find that the otherwise excellent piece on hymnody repeated the common assumption that the words “veiled in flesh the Godhead see” must suggest that “God is disguised as human”.
Wesley’s line is a direct allusion to Hebrews 10.20 (“By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh”, AV), and thus depends upon the word veil being used not to mean “disguise”, but rather “opening” or “access”. It reflects, therefore, the same robustly participatory Christology we find elsewhere in the hymn, as in so much of Wesley’s output.
If we find a writer so scripturally and patristically grounded as Charles Wesley unorthodox, the failure might well be our own.
15 Beaumont Street
Oxford OX1 2NA
From Professor the Revd S. G. Hall
Sir, — Thank you for the admirable series on Theology Now. Here is a footnote to your glossary of technical terms in Christology by Andrew Davison (26 February).
“Virgin birth” is there properly distinguished from “immaculate conception”, but defined as meaning “that Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin”. It is true that it can mean that. That is the truth that Matthew and Luke found in Isaiah 7, and clearly report.
But that is virginal conception, not birth. Since some time in the second century it has been widely held that Mary remained virgo intacta even while and after Jesus was born: she is addressed as “Ever-virgin”, in spite of the apparent implications of Matthew that after the birth Joseph and Mary came together, and that of other Evangelists that she bore brothers and sisters for Jesus. Pious veneration of the Blessed Virgin finds ingenious ways of evading these implications.
She remains full of grace for us all, even if this meaning of “virgin birth” is rejected.
STUART G. HALL
15 High Street, Elie
Fife KY9 1BY
From the Revd F. Gerald Downing
Sir, — Missing, it seems, from your assembly of varied, lively, and very confident pieces on “Theology Now” is any note of Christian agnosticism to match St Paul’s “Now we see puzzling reflections in a mirror . . . Now I know in part; [only] then shall I understand fully.”
Paul is sure he has not yet grasped what needs to be grasped, convinced only that Christ has grasped him. Such convictions (including Paul’s unease with any confident claim to knowledge) were taken up by the later theologians (Eastern and Western) cited by some of your contributors, with an insistence that God remains ungraspable, incomprehensible, too much to get our little minds round.
To claim explicitly, as four contributors do (26 February), that in Christ we already have divine self-revelation, stands as a comparatively recent, post-Enlightenment development. That was pointed out by writers such as John McIntyre and James Barr half a century ago — followed in painstaking detail by me, in my Has Christianity a Revelation? (SCM, 1964), and more recently.
F. GERALD DOWNING
33 Westhoughton Road
Adlington, Lancs PR7 4EU
From Mr Paul Taylor
Sir, — While reading the “Theology Now” series, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a typical Church Times reader. Some of the articles are accessible, but plenty seem to be written for people of a more intellectual persuasion. Either that, or the authors just enjoy showing off their knowledge of big words.
I have spent years writing reports in plain English, with my target audience in mind. I’m not advocating the dumbing down of theology, but if the aim is to encourage thought and debate, it helps if readers don’t lose the will to live halfway through an opaque article.
I was particularly bemused by Professor Catherine Pickstock, who mentions the need to “examine ways of presenting what we do in terms that will capture the attention of primary- and secondary-school children, as well as of young adults”. This comes after the most extensive use of multi-syllabic, exclusive language I’ve come across in a long time. I’m afraid I could only “fragmentarily grasp” the point of the article, as Professor Pickstock referred to “ineluctably theological questions”, “doctrinally expositional approaches”, and “credal norms”.
Crocus Cottage, 1 Bright Grove
Broseley, Shropshire TF12 5DQ
From the Revd Dr Melanie Marshall and Sarah Lenton
Sir, — In response to Professor Morwenna Ludlow’s comment about the placing of our articles in “Theology Now”: if the margins are good enough for Jesus, they’re good enough for us.
Chaplain and Student Welfare Co-ordinator
Oxford OX1 3DR
c/o St Michael and All Angels’ Church
Bath Road, London W4 1TT
From the Revd Kevin Scott
Sir, — I was sorry to read that the mission of Anglicans in Africa is inhibited by the actions of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States (News, 4 March). Surely this is a clear signal that the Anglican Communion should be disbanded. African Churches would then be free to pursue their course without taint. So would the Churches of Canada, the United States, and the British Isles.
Why should we be inhibited in our pursuit of truth and justice just because some of Dr LeMarquand’s neighbours believe that Anglicans (or anyone) can “make you into homosexuals”?
5 Vicarage Close
Surrey KT4 7LZ
Support for ministry on northern housing estates
From Mr Roger Lazenby
Sir, — I read with interest the comments of the Bishop of Burnley (News, 19 February) and of your various correspondents on the subject of housing-estate ministry.
Thirty years ago, I came with my family to an urban parish of then probably 9000 population. The vast majority of the houses, split between private and social housing, have been built since the 1940s. Building still continues, the population now nearing 12,000. Over the same period, the ministry provision has been reduced to a house-for-duty priest and a (small) share of the priest-in-charge who is also solely responsible for an adjacent parish.
It is an impossibility to expect the current ministry provision to be able make an impact in an area where it is desperately needed.
The wider Church needs to recognise that it is necessary to invest in such parishes. I am convinced that, if that was done, much success would be achieved in bringing the gospel to many people who must feel “forgotten” by the Church.
2 Holt Park Approach
Leeds LS16 7PW
From the Rt Revd Dr Laurie Green
Sir, — The Bishop of Burnley’s recent General Synod speech and the subsequent York conference on housing-estate ministry focus for us the Church’s “bias to the rich” when it comes to investment of resources and deployment of ministry.
This flies in the face of the Gospel mandate to pay special attention to the poor, and ignores the fact that our significant renewal movements have often begun when the Church gets alongside the poor in mission.
For 20 years, the National Estate Churches Network (NECN) has supported those who live and work on the poorest housing estates of Britain. Their in-depth and hands-on experience endorses everything Bishop North is saying.
In 1979, no less than 42 per cent of Britain’s population lived in council housing, and millions opted for the “Right to Buy”. But the unforeseen consequence of that programme was to concentrate our remaining poorest citizens into the residual properties that no one in their right minds wanted to buy.
What amazes us now is that Christians living and ministering in these poorest estates tell us stories of being repeatedly and overwhelmingly confronted by the presence of God in their midst, even from within the sorrows as much as the joys. This experience profoundly deepens them spiritually, and brings fresh insights to bear on the faith. This is something we seek to share in the book Blessed are the Poor? Urban poverty and the Church (SCM Press).
The Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis agree that “to abandon the poor is to abandon God”, and plead with the Church to put itself once again alongside the poor, as Jesus did, so that renewal may take place and the Church grow and deepen. It seems like foolishness to many, but the gospel always turns us upside down for the better; and the NECN network has experience to prove it.
86 Belle Hill, Bexhill on Sea
Perspectives on the European Union referendum
From Mr John Scrivener
Sir, — Your report of various comments by bishops on the EU referendum (News, 26 February) doesn’t suggest that they are any less ill-informed than the rest of us. The only statement the House of Bishops could usefully release would be a statement of the obvious: namely, that the EU referendum question is not a theological one, and that members of the Church of England are free, like everybody else, to answer it as they see fit.
The Old Royal Oak
Oak Bank Lane
Chester CH2 4ER
From the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke
Sir, — “Europe for Peace — Count Me In” is another faith-based EU educational campaign with a message of hope which you may like to add to those mentioned (News, 4 March). It will highlight the positive benefits of the longest period of peace in Europe and work for an outward-looking EU that promotes democracy and human rights around the world, supports aid programmes to help development in poorer countries, and takes a lead in combatting climate change.
17 Courtiers Green
Abingdon OX14 3EN