Liberal theology in the Renewal and Reform era
From the Revd Andrew Lightbown
Sir, — The Revd Dr Ian Paul concludes his letter (4 November) with the following dogmatic statement, in relation to a group of theologians he regards as the guarantors of orthodoxy. Such theologians include Dick France, Howard Marshall, Tom Wright, and Richard Bauckham, all of whom deserve the highest levels of respect.
He writes: “It is just such a well-informed confidence that is needed to undergird Renewal and Reform — not more tired, dogmatic liberalism from the 1960s.”
In making this statement, Dr Paul is seeking to erase the possibility of any continuing influence from the likes of “Wiles, Hick, Nineham, Robinson, Houlden”, and, no doubt, any who continue to hold a candle for liberal and progressive theologies.
Last week, however, the National Director for Renewal and Reform, Mike Eastwood, in a thought piece on Facebook, “Neglecting the Gifts”, wrote: “We need our church in all its forms — liberal, catholic, evangelical, and those who are quite happy not to identify with any particular churchmanship — to be equally missionally ambitious.”
If the Church of England is serious about re-evangelising this land of 62 million people while at the same time preserving its status as a national Established Church, sitting in the centre of the widest possible nexus of relationships and taking seriously the very real differences between people and the way they may choose to engage with the Church of England, only one of these two perspectives can be correct. It is the one offered by Mr Eastwood.
Andover House, Main Street
Bucks MK18 2AN
From the Ven. J. H. C. Laurence
Sir, — At the height of the Death of God debate, more than 40 years ago, the troubled clergy of Manlake deanery invited the theologian Eric Heaton to help them in their discussion. At evensong, the opening verse of the set Psalm 14 was read out: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The assembled clergy collapsed in laughter.
Heaton concluded his address with a quotation from Hebrews referring to the “removal of what is shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain”. For me, as evidently for some of your correspondents, the debate is not yet over, and the challenge to discernment remains.
I guess this makes us uncomfortable companions where we are suspicious of “cheap grace”. But we represent a deep and honourable Anglican tradition.
5 Haffenden Road
Lincoln LN2 1RP
From the Revd Dr C. J.-B. Hammond
Sir, — Like the Revd Dr Ian Paul, I, too, was a student at St John’s College, Oxford, during Canon Anthony Phillips’s chaplaincy. His way of doing theology was honest, enthusiastic, and invigorating, and showed me, and my friends, a way of being Christian which did not force us to switch off our reason or our academic training.
Nor were we corrupted by a flawed intellectual method which treated Christian doctrine as a set of “right answers”, and the theologian’s job as merely the formulation of questions in such a way as to get those right answers.
Eventually, the inspiring examples of priests like Anthony, and Jeffrey John, as well as others, led me on the path to ordination, and a vocation the rightness of which I no more doubt than I doubt the existence of the God with whom we have to deal.
Dean and Director of Studies in Theology
Gonville and Caius College
Cambridge CB2 1TA
From the Revd Paul King
Sir, — Like Canons Anthony Phillips, David Eaton, and Andrew Norman, I found Bishop Inge’s review of Sceptical Christianity (Books, 7 October) depressing and annoying.
Like them, I gained a great deal from the “critical” writing of John A. T. Robinson and others. Because of them and their successors, I am able to “hang in”, but the apparently incurable conservatism in much of the Church makes it difficult. Thank goodness for Canon Robert Reiss and his Sceptical Christianity.
There is a crying need for people to know and to hear, for instance, that it is respectable to query the virginal conception of our Lord, of which there is no mention in Mark, John, or Paul.
“Renewal and Reform”? I wish. It is no wonder that thoughtful, educated people in the Church are like hen’s teeth. Quakers and Unitarians are able to make headway. They leave more room for people to be theologically and socially progressive.
10 Rossendale Close
Chesterfield S40 3EL
Various journeys but a single destination
From Mr Nick Pollard
Sir, — Thank you for the excellent feature “Faith from a standing start” (4 November), which described such a variety of people’s experiences, and illustrated that there is no one-size-fits-all journey to faith.
Jesus did not give us one model for sharing the good news: he gave us many. His conversation with Nicodemus was different from his conversation with the woman at the well, or the rich young ruler, or the thief on the cross, or . . . and so the list goes on.
It reminded me of my recent experience of walking through a maze with my granddaughter. I knew the route to the middle, but I didn’t grab her by the hand or even tell her which ways to turn. Instead, I walked beside her, talking about the options at each point, and inviting her to decide. When she took a wrong turn, as she often did, I continued to walk and talk with her.
As the Church (quite rightly) emphasises the importance of evangelism, and some (quite sadly) are promoting formulas and scripts, I pray that your article may help us all to be respectful, patient, and gracious, as we walk with people on their own particular journeys to faith.
Co-founder of EthosEducation.org and EthosMedia.org
3 Elmsleigh Gardens
Southampton SO16 3GE
The ‘panorama of saints’ and Common Worship
From Canon Ian Gomersall
Sir, — You report (News, 4 November) the Archbishops’ Council’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns worthy hope of exposing people to “the great panorama of saints”.
One would expect that the calendar of saints of Common Worship could help. It does, to a degree. Approximately 80 per cent of its saints and holy people, however, are male, most are European, and the majority are clergy. Perhaps a renewal and reform of the calendar would help reflect a greater “panorama of saints”.
St Chrysostom’s Rectory
38 Park Range
Manchester M14 5HQ
Glitter and foil
From Caroline Burkitt
Sir, — Your delightful front cover (4 November) prompted me to investigate any Christmas cards sold by the charities featured. Oxfam and RNLI appear to be the only ones that sell cards using gold/silver foil and glitter that cannot be composted. This is good news.
It surely behoves all charities to consider the care of our planet, and the problems of landfill, and desist from their use. Unfortunately, most of them appear not to care.
10 George Street
Cambridge CB24 5LJ
Debates on morality and their methodology
From Mr Peter Andrews
Sir, — Self-righteous, condemnatory, pitiable — these are some of the epithets that occurred to me as I read Timothy N. Nunns’s invocation of 1 Corinthians 5 (Letters, 21 October).
Using verses of scripture in this way can lead to some unfortunate logical consequences that our fundamentalist brethren don’t seem to appreciate. A particular favourite of mine is Revelation 14.3-4: “No one could learn that song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins . . .” (NRSV).
Besides the notorious limiting of the number of heavenly residents, the one rule of membership appears to make heaven a boys’ own club, possibly more, by implication.
Having looked for enlightenment about these verses in various commentaries, and seen the somewhat desperate academic attempts to explain them, I conclude that this is an example of a monk or scribe having a bad-hair day in transcribing the word of the Lord.
That’s the problem with biblical fundamentalism. It leads to some very strange conclusions in failing to allow for developments in social, cultural, and psychological knowledge over two millennia. I do know, however, that I don’t qualify for membership of this elect gentlemen’s club; but, as a friend remarked, would I want to be one?
Carlisle CA4 8JD
From the Revd James Paice
Sir, — The Revd Russ Naylor (Letters, 4 November) can rest assured that the Gamaliel principle regarding same-sex marriage in the Church is already well in process: he need only examine the recent history of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The Southwark Good Stewards Trust
c/o 28 Farquhar Road
London SW19 8DA
From Mrs Mary P. Roe
Sir, — Is there any collect for any Sunday of the year which does not end with the words, “. . . Jesus Christ, who lives/who is alive and reigns . . .” — a few words that sum up our Easter faith?
I am increasingly puzzled by some of the letters that appear in your paper and other Christian publications, from people who often quite vociferously proclaim the importance that they attach to the teaching of Jesus when difficult decisions are called for in the life of today’s Church.
My difficulty arises from the fact that, despite these writers’ claims, the impression that they give and the strong implication of what they say is that, for them, Jesus was a Jew who lived, healed, taught, died, and was believed to have risen from the dead in the first third of the first century AD, and then disappeared by means of vertical lift-off into the upper atmosphere, to reign at the right hand of God the Father, but who takes no further interest in life on earth today, and has no inclination to communicate with people living in the third millennium.
If we are seeking answers to deeply worrying contemporary questions, we are told to refer to the comparatively few of our Lord’s specific sayings that were written down many years after his death and by different people who often had a different understanding of their meaning. We can also consult self-appointed experts who will explain to us who are the “lost sheep”, the “prodigal sons”, or the Good Samaritans of our own day — according to those experts’ own cultural agenda.
The people who describe themselves as “Bible-based Christians” often wear a bracelet with the letters “WWJD” to remind themselves to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” but I suspect that an additional “H” has got lost along the way, and that what they are really asking is, “What would Jesus Have Done?”
It is clear that the afflictions that Jesus healed during his time on earth are not exactly the same as those for which we ask healing (in some form) today. Should the neighbour who suffers from epilepsy throw away drugs that enable him to live a normal life in safety, because Jesus said that that illness could be cured only by fasting and prayer?
It would seem to be equally obvious that our moral and ethical decisions in a society separated from his by 2000 years and several hundred miles must take account of the advances in medicine and technology which make such decisions necessary. So, at the risk of being labelled a liberal, I must cling to my belief that Jesus is alive, that, by means of our partaking of his Body and Blood in the eucharist we become his Body on earth (he has none but ours, now); and that if we seek him sincerely and listen to his voice, he will communicate the Father’s will to us as he did long ago.
Probably now, as then, there will be religious people who will be offended by his answers to our prayers and questions.
MARY P. ROE
1 The North Lodge, Kings End
Bicester OX26 6NT
If you are sitting comfortably, what does that say?
From Jean Fenwick
Sir, — I, too, like Kathleen Robertson (Letters, 4 November), value deeply the aesthetics of a church; but first I need to see and hear clearly. So I am very grateful that our PCC provides me with the technical means.
Neither does it begrudge arthritic joints cushioned comfort. (I am sure that God doesn’t either.)
104 Bramhall Lane
Stockport SK7 2 EB
From the Revd Janet Fife
Sir, — I was interested in the Revd James Graham’s letter (28 October) on what a bench and a chair respectively say to someone attending church.
In my own view, the right chair might say the following: “Welcome to St Agape’s. We serve a God who cares about you and knows what it’s like to live in a human body. We know it’s hard to believe in God’s love if his house is a difficult place to be. We also know it’s not easy to focus on God if you’re being distracted by an aching back or a sore bottom; so we hope you’ll be comfortable in this chair.”
12 Waterstead Crescent
Whitby YO21 1PY
Tracing the footsteps of Huguenot ancestors
From Anne Boileau
Sir, — I was moved by Tim Wyatt’s excellent report on the Huguenots and the mulberry tree (News, 21 October). In May, we visited la Musée du Desert in the Cévennes National Park. The friendly staff were interested to hear that my ancestor Charles Boileau had arrived in London as a Huguenot refugee with nothing but his good looks and charm. He married the only child of a farmer in Barnes, and made good.
We were appalled at the scenes we witnessed at the museum, depicted in paintings, and described in official records and personal accounts, of the persecution and massacres inflicted on Protestants in that region and beyond. They would meet in remote and mountainous areas to worship in secret, and lived in constant fear of arrest and murder. Eventually, they had no choice but to flee the country in order to survive.
Before we left, the staff showed us on a map where my family had come from, not far from there. I realised then that, had England not accepted those French refugees, I might never have been born.
The next day, we visited a silk museum and watched with wonder the life cycle of the silk worm. The moths have no mouths and cannot fly. They are completely dependent on the women who are looking after them.
39 West Street
Essex C06 1NS