Is a Radical Church Possible? Reshaping its life for Jesus’ sake
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ADRIAN ALKER has just retired after four decades of parochial and youth ministry characterised by two abiding passions.
As Chair of the Progressive Christian Network Britain, he has sought to promote a radically liberal approach to theology and biblical studies resourced by the likes of Bishop Jack Spong, Marcus Borg, and Dominic Crossan. As an Anglican priest, he has prioritised an open and inclusive engagement with local communities — he was awarded an honorary degree by Sheffield University for his service to the community.
In this very accessible and engaging memoir-cum-manifesto, he makes a serious and sincere attempt to apply his theological principles to the Church of England, which he loves enough to want it to change.
The book was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the publication of John Robinson’s Honest to God, and Alker focuses on what it must mean in the 21st century to be also honest about Jesus (Part One) and honest about the Church (Part Two).
So he rehearses the findings of biblical criticism to establish who it was that the Early Church was remembering in the Gospels. This Jesus majors on justice, compassion, and inclusivity. Alker can live with doubts about the Virgin birth, miracles, and physical resurrection of Jesus because the way is thereby cleared to concentrate on the character and convictions of this “radical Jewish prophet and teacher”.
Furthermore, while acknowledging many exemplary Christian people and their good deeds through the centuries, he generally sees the history of the Church as a sorry tale of deviation from the example of Jesus, and descent into dogmatism, intolerance, and arid institutionalism. As he puts it, “We need to hold loose to creeds and statements of faith . . . more able to live with unknowing and ambiguity and know that the only absolute is love.”
There is little new here when it comes to the essential themes of liberal Christianity. Its biblical and theological conclusions are asserted rather than closely argued, and Alker generally relies on Borg, Crossan, Spong, and Cupitt as expert witnesses.
When it comes, however, to how radical Christianity can be applied to a Church needing to move on from entrenched orthodoxies in its teaching, worship, pastoral practice, and moral attitudes. here is much here to engage those who are troubled by organised religion but still feel the force of Jesus’s life and teaching.
Alker offers a challenging way forward for the Church, earthed in his own experience, and graced by the honesty and liberality of a thoughtful Christian who has walked the talk and so earned the right to be heard.
The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.