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Letters to the Editor

by
26 February 2016

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New funding system penalises growing diocese

From the Revd Alexander Faludy

Sir, — Bishop Philip North’s words at the General Synod (News, 19 February) concerning the North-South divide are timely and perceptive.

A few years ago, I enquired about a Team Vicar job in the diocese of Guildford. If appointed, I would have had a residential population of fewer than 2000 to care for, paid secretarial help three mornings a week, and the assistance of four ordained and one lay licensed minister-colleagues, shared with the mother church near by (also blessed with an administrator).

On arrival in my present, North-East council-estate, parish, I had a population of 10,500 projected to rise to 15,000 over the next few years, and was, to begin with, completely alone.

The disparities in resourcing speak for themselves. None the less, at present the national growth agenda places pressure on clergy everywhere to emulate the “results” achieved in metropolitan/South-East dioceses without anything like Home Counties levels of resourcing for basic parish infrastructure.

Instead, in Newcastle we are to see a reduction of £700,000 p.a. of “block grant” funding from the Church Commissioners, phased in over a decade. Some money will be recouped through grant applications for time-limited evangelism projects. Such initiatives are of limited value, however, if there is not a properly resourced parochial network to draw people into as faith and discipleship deepen.

At senior levels in the C of E, there is understandable reluctance to “subsidise failure”; but that is simply not the case here. Despite the formidable obstacles detailed above, Newcastle diocese attained a two-per-cent increase in attendance in the period 2000-10, while the national figure declined by about ten per cent. There is bewilderment here about the seeming reluctance on the part of those framing national strategy to hear and learn from our story.

ALEXANDER FALUDY
The Vicarage
381 Station Road
Wallsend NE28 8DT

 

Marrakesh Declaration a momentous outcome

From Mr William Weston

Sir, — You report (News, 12 February): “We must aim at nothing less than chasing religiously motivated violence out of every tradition,” and how a deeply held and nuanced faith can be a bulwark against extremism and radicalisation, with the intensity and beauty to capture dreams, hopes, and expectations (Archbishop Welby); and also how Near Neighbours schemes are providing the antidote to hate across religious divides.

So one would expect a wide welcome for and vigorous engagement with the Declaration of Marrakesh, the outcome in late January of a three-day conference, convened by the King of Morocco, of more than 300 muftis, academics, and leaders from Muslim states around the world, which, among other things, opposes aggression and extremism as expressions of Islamic faith, and calls for genuine respect for minority religious groups living in Muslim countries.

Non-Muslim observers at the Conference included Bishop David Hamid, who has reported on it in the diocese in Europe. He described it as a momentous gathering, with unusual breadth and depth of authority, probably the first of its kind in 1400 years, and with great potential significance.

The full Declaration reads as having huge potential to further much more constructive and active relationships between Islam and other faiths, and it is surprising that it has received so little attention in the media, especially when bad news about Islam is reported so readily. May I suggest that it would be a real service, not least to readers actively engaging with Islamic communities, for the Church Times to give it serious appraisal?

W. R. WESTON
Apartamento 9b,
Ed. Ventur, 9125-031 Canico
Madeira, Portugall

 

Responses to Theology Now series: Creation, and glossary definitions 

From the Rt Revd John D. Davies

Sir, — Thank you for the issue about Creation (Theology Now, 19 February): it was good to see such wide coverage of a central theme.

But I had a sense of a missing element. Apart from the proper and inevitable concern for the environment, there was little about the implications of creation doctrine for our ethical and political commitment; a lot about the chessmen, not much about the game.

In these days, we are glad to note points at which the biblical narrative converges with the narrative of the sciences. We are reassured to recognise the way in which, for instance, Genesis 1 places the creation of humankind firmly in the same bag as the creation of animal life; we are in continuity with other mammals, produced close to knocking-off time on the Friday.

But the biblical account then proceeds where the sciences do not tread. Scientific humanism tells us that the emergence of humankind is the climax of the process; for Genesis, human creation may well be the end of the crescendo, but the climax is the seventh day. The sciences have no adjudication concerning the truth of the seventh day. For the writers of Genesis 1, sweating and depressed in their exile, the truth of the seventh day was hope and reassurance, the conviction that the last word did not lie with the aggressive power-systems that soaked up their labour and gave nothing in return. The sabbath stated that, for one day in seven, the inescapable hostility between employer and employee was done away. Society would not be absolutely divided into boss and slave.

Further, the sabbath vision provided that the monopoly control of the land by a privileged minority had a time-limit, and that, in due course, the wealth of the land would be shared equitably among the community. Society would not be divided into privileged owners and landless paupers.

Moreover, the sabbath vision provided a regular sabbatical year, not to enable the academic high-fliers to fly higher, but to enable the community as a whole to have a refresher-course on the meaning of the law in all its facets. Society would not be divided into secluded scholars and illiterate peasants. All this was included in the vision of “sabbath”. The Genesis writers claimed this as the necessary implication of creation.

By the time that Jesus was at work, human perversity had corrupted the sabbath vision into a mechanism of exclusion. But, at every point in his ministry, Jesus was reclaiming the defiant inclusiveness of the sabbath creativity.

With regard to the three areas of labour, land, and learning, Christian moral and political commitment has a massive agenda to be derived from the creation narrative. I would like to see this explored in much more detail.

JOHN D. DAVIES
Nyddfa, By Pass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG

 

From the Revd John Bunyan

Sir, — “Theology Now” already has provided intellectual blessings, for me especially in Part 1 from David Bentley Hart (whose Atheist Delusions I value highly) and from Ann Loades. I was, however, disturbed by some of the glossary definitions, which, for the sake of truth and fairness, I think, should be corrected.

To describe panentheism (which takes many forms and which I don’t claim to understand) as subtly “heretical” is unfortunate. That condemns many modern scholars, ranging from the theologian Jürgen Moltmann to the physicist Arthur Peacocke; some would add the eminent John Macquarrie.

Equally, I am dismayed to see “Unitarianism” described as “a departure from Christianity” because it denies the doctrine of the Trinity. There have always been some Christians who would reject that doctrine, not found in the scriptures but developed over several centuries. They would include our Lord’s disciples and all the Christians of the first century, especially those Jewish Christians of various kinds who did not follow St Paul’s developing thought, who saw Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, not as divine, but as God’s anointed, groups that disappear from history — though influencing the character of Islam.

In spirit, they appear again in the 16th-century Reformation, when, for example, unitarian Christians formed their still lively (episcopal) Church in Transylvania. And the 18th century brought the beginnings of the gentle Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (today with 33 congregations), biblical, liberal, and unitarian.

In the reformed Church of England itself, unitarian Christians include, for example, in the 16th century, two simple Bible Christians, condemned in Archbishop Cranmer’s court to death by burning for denying the Trinity, in the 17th century, the philanthropist, Thomas Firmin, in the 19th, I think, Bishop John Colenso, in the 20th, Professor G. W. Lampe, who explains in his Bampton Lectures in what precise sense his views can be called unitarian.

There are unitarians now who are not Christian at all, but England has its Unitarian Christian Association and the United States its Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship.

JOHN BUNYAN
“Colenso Corner”
PO Box N109
Campbelltown North
NSW, 2560
Australia

 

TAP Fund: the ordinands speak for themselves

From Tim Smith, Gemma Wilkinson, and Dominic Holroyd

Sir, — We write on behalf of the Ordinands’ Association (OA) to express our thanks to your readers for their generosity and support for the Church Times Train-A-Priest (TAP) Fund. At a time when many continue to feel financial pressures, ordinands from across the Church of England are very grateful for the magnanimous gestures of kindness from all who have supported the fund over the past year.

The TAP grant goes to every ordinand, married or single, who is in full-time training for the priesthood in the Church of England. Every donation made helps support the next generation of priests, and for that we are truly thankful. Thank you also to the staff at the Church Times who facilitate and organise the appeal each year.

TIM SMITH, Chair (Trinity College, Bristol)
GEMMA WILKINSON, Treasurer (Ripon College, Cuddesdon)
DOMINIC HOLROYD, Secretary (Westcott House, Cambridge)
c/o Dominic Holroyd
Westcott House
Cambridge CB5 8BP

 

False impression circulates of Cuban meeting

From Canon Michael Bourdeaux

Sir, — The comprehensive article by Jonathan Luxmoore on the brief meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Russia in Cuba (Comment, 19 February) stands in contradistinction to the inadequate coverage elsewhere in the media.

Mr Luxmoore refutes the false statement, widely made elsewhere, that this was the first-ever such meeting since the Great Schism of the 11th century. In fact, Patriarch Athenagoras met Pope Paul VI in 1965, and they lifted the mutual anathemas laid down a thousand years earler.

The question arises: who misinformed the BBC headline-writers in their bulletins on Friday 12 February? Invited to comment by the BBC, my colleague Xenia Dennen (twice) and I (once) lost valuable air time by first having to refute the misinformation in the headline.

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is the senior of the patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches, and no further reconciliation is possible unless he leads it. The BBC headlines must have been music to Moscow’s ears, because Patriarch Kirill, supported by the Kremlin, would like to usurp Patriarch Bartholomew’s position.

MICHAEL BOURDEAUX
Keston Institute
Oxford OX4 4EG

 

Dominance of ‘Evangelicals’ in today’s C of E: but what does it mean?

From the Rev Stephen Parsons

Sir, — I read with interest the article by the Revd Dr Ian Paul about “the quiet revolution” that is changing the Church of England, through the increasing number of Evangelicals in senior posts and offering themselves as ordinands (Comment, 19 February).

The problem that arises for those parts of the Church which are not Evangelical is knowing who are the genuine article. There are so many different ways of being an Evangelical in the Church today that the rest of us can get confused about what the word actually means in practice. Some claim the word for an adherence to a Reformation-style theology, while others define themselves by joining on to a distinct network of churches. Still others will claim that the vigorous Evangelical movement they knew as a young person has vanished.

The differences, even divisions, between these various groups are sometimes fairly acute. One of the main areas of internal debate among Evangelicals seems to be over the acceptance or not of Charismatic styles of ministry and worship. I also have to query whether the debates of Keele/Nottingham are any longer useful in describing the contemporary face of Anglican Evangelicalism.

On a practical level, I find myself, as a non-Evangelical, categorising the movement as having three distinct faces. The particular classification I here have in mind does not accord with any of the historic/theological distinctions I have hinted at above. My attempt to understand and work with Evangelicals derives simply from the way I observe them to relate to other Christians beyond their group.

In the first group, we find those who would describe themselves as “open”. These are Christians who owe their spiritual formation to an Evangelical heritage, but they currently occupy what we could describe as a broadly inclusivist position. They may or may not, to take one example, approve of gay marriage, but any disapproval is unlikely to lead them to write off everyone who disagrees with them.

In a second group are those who feel fundamentally at odds with those who take a different theological position from their own. These Evangelicals will condemn “liberal” ideas about scripture, and will deny politely and firmly the title of Christian to anyone who does not sign up to their classic position on such things as substitutionary atonement and the nature of heaven and hell. This could be described as the exclusivist position.

In a third category — and these are by far the most difficult to deal with — are Evangelicals who swing between the two poles of exclusion and inclusion. What they present of themselves in one setting may be quite different from what they present in another.

While I am aware of the difficulty of being totally consistent in one’s theological outlook, it is hard to have proper dialogue with a theological position that shifts according to its audience. I suspect that this in-between position may be far commoner than we would want to admit.

All in all, I have to question how useful the word “Evangelical” is when it has to enfold such a variety of positions and outlooks. If we are going to talk about the Church of England becoming more Evangelical, let us learn to be a bit clearer about what we are actually saying. “Holding together our diversity by means of a reflective biblical theology” sounds like a good agenda that all could share. The problem is that quite considerable swaths of Evangelical opinion in this country, I suspect, would simply have no idea what this means.

STEPHEN PARSONS
12 The Green, Dalston
Carlisle CA5 7QB

 

From the Revd Liam Beadle

Sir, — In his article, the Revd Dr Ian Paul refers to two great Evangelical figures of the 20th century: Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott. Both men were renowned not only for significant expository ministries, but also for their commitment to Reformed theology.

Dr Paul presents us with an impressive list of sees to which those he regards as Evangelical in their outlook have been appointed. But the casual onlooker might wonder to what extent the bishops share the theological method of Lloyd-Jones and Stott. For example, few of our bishops are renowned expository preachers. A renewed emphasis on evangelism is to be welcomed, but Anglicans of every shade are beginning to wonder whether a pragmatic desire for good contextualisation is having the last word while the deep wells of Reformed theology remain virtually untapped. Sociologically, we may understand when ecclesiological minimalism and conservatism on moral issues are mistaken for Evangelicalism, but for the Church the doctrinal consequences may echo for years to come.

Evangelicals may traditionally have been hostile to ritualistic decadence and liberal revisionism, but that did not make them Evangelical. Dr Paul writes of his desire “that we recover what it means to be a Reformed Catholic Church”. Historically, that would have meant a commitment to both the supreme authority of scripture and the threefold order of ministry, supported by the liturgical and spiritual inheritance bequeathed by our Anglican fathers and mothers.

Sitting lightly to that inheritance may sound Evangelical, but it doesn’t require a cynic or a dinosaur to wonder whether it is Evangelically sound.

LIAM BEADLE
The Vicarage, St Mary’s Road
Honley HD9 6AZ

 

From the Revd Michael Champneys

Sir, — The Revd Dr Ian Paul states that the one area of ministry largely untouched by Evangelicals is that of cathedral deans. One cannot help wondering whether the unprecedented increase in the numbers attending cathedral worship in recent years might not be entirely coincidental.

MICHAEL CHAMPNEYS
1 Friars House, Wentworth
Rotherham S62 7TW

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