Thinking Anglicans

bishops attack a talk they have not read

The BBC Radio 4 series Lent Talks has had six well-known figures reflect on the story of Jesus’ ministry and Passion from the perspective of their own personal and professional experience. The BBC web page, with all the audio and text files is here.

Tonight, the talk by Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans “rejects the idea of a God of wrath” to quote the BBC blurb.

The full text of the talk can now be read here.

This talk has been the subject of a surprising amount of pre-publicity, starting with a report in the Sunday Telegraph with a ridiculously misleading headline, Easter message: Christ did not die for sin.

Giles Fraser writing today on Comment is Free in an article titled Cross purposes says:

Easter is a time for stringing up the innocent. And this year, once again, the sacrificial victim is the dean of St Albans, Dr Jeffrey John. Of course, we all know the reason why he’s hated by conservatives in the church. No, not because he is gay, but because he’s honest. And it’s this same honesty that has got him in trouble again. For, once again, what he has been saying is nothing other than a truth known by most people in the pews: that the idea of God murdering his son for the salvation of the world is barbaric and morally indefensible. It turns Christianity into “cosmic child abuse”.

The technical theological term for this nasty perversion of the Easter story is penal substitution

The topic was also discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning:

0735 A senior clergymen is afraid that some Christian teaching suggests God is a psychopath.

Ekklesia had Evangelical Bishops attack Jeffrey John talk (without reading it):

Two junior evangelical bishops have attacked a Lent talk to be given tonight on BBC’s Radio 4 by Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans cathedral, without reading it.

In a statement released today from the evangelical Spring Harvest event, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willsden, said Jeffrey John had “got it wrong”.

However, both bishops later told Ekklesia that they had yet to read the 2,200 word transcript of the talk.

However, apparently contradicting several of the claims made by the bishops, in the transcript obtained by Ekklesia in advance of the broadcast tonight, Jeffrey John states: “On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid.”

When asked whether the bishops would issue a correction Pete Broadbent, the Bishop of Willsden declined. He said: “As the BBC have not made a transcript available, we have had to comment on the material that is available.”

He said that he had read an article in the Sunday Telegraph about it, and listened to a discussion on Radio 4 this morning about it…

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Kurt
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Kurt

Just like a bunch of evangelicals—to attack a talk they have not even heard or read yet!

Raspberry Rabbit
Guest

Giles Fraser creates a paper tiger – in this case God the Father ‘murdering’ his son, ‘cosmic child abuse’, &c to set out what he imagines the case for Substitutionary Atonement to be (although I suspect he knows better) in such a way as to provoke an emotional reaction from his readers. I’m so tired of bullies from the ‘right’ and from the ‘left’ and the regrettable use of language as a weapon.

cryptogram
Guest
cryptogram

On reading the account on Ekklesia, I was amused to see that the paragraph quoted from Bishop Benn was one which even Anglican Mainstream hadn’t the gall to include: “The Rt Revd Wallace Benn added that ‘the truth that Jesus died as our sin-bearing substitute carrying the punishment for our sins on the cross is the glorious heart of the Gospel. It displays the love of God: Father, Son and Spirit, for us. To deny or vilify that is a tragic denial of the power and heart of the Gospel. I hope Jeffrey John will speedily reconsider and repent of… Read more »

Patrick Bridges
Guest

Here’s the finale of Jeffrey John’s talk, for those that haven’t read the transcript. Judge it’s hereticalness for yourself: “On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it’s like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It’s a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it’s one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God’s given is simply himself; to show that, so far from… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

When people of the calibre of Broadbent are chosen as bishops, then the CofE must be in serious trouble.

This, just to remind you, is the Bishop who used to be a red-hot left-winger, an Islington councillor no less – he and people like him is exactly what is wrong with the CofE

Ita about time liberals got the gloves off and made it clear that they do not believe in the conservative version of Christianity. It is a totally different belief. The sooner liberals are in a separate organisation to people like Broadbent, the better.

Pluralist
Guest

Tom Wright also said he was fed up with the BBC for airing such views, so he also jumped in with both feet – not looking where he was going.

These bishops produce their own red rag and then also do the charge. It is a spectacle for the rest of us – but one with a victim who has actually written a careful, reasoned, piece.

Neil Barber
Guest
Neil Barber

“in the end, I think I’m rather more concerned that people find reconcilation through the crucified and risen Lord than with the minutiae of how it works.” Well that’s all very well and to a point I agree – but only to a point. To totally reject the idea of penal substitionary atonement is another matter completely. And JJ is hardly the poor, innocent victim being suggested by Giles Fraser. Anyone who publicly denies penal substitutionary atonement as “..pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical” is inviting challenge and yes outcry. For any Thinking Anglicans who would like to consider for… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

This is one of those times that there is a need to attack a theological position – which is the cornerstone of some dioceses’ theology and justifies all sorts of atrocities. e.g women attempting reforms are automatically evil and can be charged, trialled and judged; without her knowledge nor natural justice. Having cast judgement they can then act with impunity blockade her attempts at communication, commit slander about her and any who are hospitable, and proceed to rape and pillage her home and resources. We have seen this happen at varying levels with individuals, parishes and even the bigger fractal… Read more »

garth
Guest
garth

Nothing about the Evangelical Right surprises me much anymore. Again and again they show that they are less interested in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ (true evangelism) and more interested being promoting their own narrow world view. Thank God for people like Jeffrey John who are courageous in making Christ’s love known in our day.

badman
Guest
badman

It is very sad to see how low the calibre of the Bishops’ Bench has sunk in our generation.

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

Neil; perhaps, then ‘biblical faith’ is so revolting it is very well worth rejecting.

I think repulsive is an understatement – morbid, blood-lust fantasy is more appropriate.

ruidh
Guest
ruidh

“Anyone who publicly denies penal substitutionary atonement as “..pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical” is inviting challenge and yes outcry.”

I’ll chime in here. Penal substitutionary atonement is pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical. It does not describe God as Jesus testifies to the Father. The crucifixion was a massive injustice perpetrated by men on an innocent man. The resurrection is the victory over death, not the crucifixion.

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

There is a phrase in Jeffrey John’s talk where I don’t understand his meaning. I wonder if anyone can elucidate. It occurs in this sentence: “Not sending a substitute to vent his punishment on, but going himself to the bitter end, sharing in the worst of suffering and grief that life can throw at us, and finally sharing our death, so that he can bring us through death to life in him.” The phrase is “so that”. I might say, for example, I obtained a passport “so that” I could travel abroad, or I took a tablet “so that” my… Read more »

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

Paper tigers ?

Steve Chalke, the well-known Baptist minister and broadaster has written something similar to Jeffrey John and Giles Fraser, also speaking of ‘divine child abuse’. Chalke was heavily critizied by the Evangelical Alliance for his pains.

Non-Evangelicals do not subscribe to penal substitution — and clearly neither do all Evangelicals.

I thought ‘the glorious message’ of Jesus is love for God and neighbour, or should I say God in neighbour.

No wonder Churchianity is in decline throught Britain, inclduing Evangelcialism.

Jerry Hannon
Guest
Jerry Hannon

Condemning what they had not even read!

Broadbent and Benn must be pathetic excuses for Christians, and it is shocking to think of them as bishops of the Church universal.

Pluralist
Guest

I deny penal substitionary atonement, and also many authors steeped in biblical study do so.

Dennis
Guest

surprise! surprise!
Evangelical bishops talking before thinking.
I think we’ve seen this sort of thing before.

counterlight
Guest
counterlight

If Christ bore wrath, it wasn’t from God, it was from us.

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Doing an internet browse in my lunchbreak, I came across some scathing articles from Virtue Online http://news.google.com.au/news?hl=en&ned=au&ie=UTF-8&ncl=1115089424 One of their core concerns is that there is no “safe haven” for orthodox Christians. Yet the top article opens with prayers for the demise of the US church, is that a “safe” proposition/prayer that they are offering for “the others”? Similarly this kind of theology is not satisfied to swim in their own waters. I remember when EMU (website http://www.emu.asn.au/ )was set up to go into the Uniting Church: it was to reclaim the church for their kind of theology. Whenever they… Read more »

Josh Thomas
Guest

It’s not just English bishops who attacked what they hadn’t read; American theocons in and out of the Episcopal Church did the same thing. All from one little sermon on the BBC delivered by a… faithful priest.

God said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifices.” But the Gay-hating crowd keeps gathering bundles of sticks.

Burl Stoutmack
Guest

The Calvinist bent of the English Evangelicals is so antithetical to the gospels it is painful to read. As has been discussed at Fr. Jake’s place, these gents need an emergency crash course in reading the Scriptures by Rene Girard & Co. Dean John is quite right. God is not/was not angry. The Incarnate One embraces us in love from the cross, and the veil of the temple of our religiosity (the belief in an angry deity who requires sacrifice) is rent revealing that it is we who are angry. We require sacrifice. Furthermore, the sacrifice of calvary has exposed… Read more »

NP
Guest
NP

So amusing – people here are obviously trying hard to be outraged, acting as if JJ did not challenge / reject penal substitution and use words like “insane” and “nonsensical”! I am sure some enjoy the outrage and playing the victim…. but please don’t pretend he did not deliberately and publicly take on the teaching of the church (again) I am sure a bouquet is on its way to JJ from the ABC who must be very grateful for this latest bit of help from his old friend. But, I agree with Merseymike, it is time for liberals to stand… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Any normal person would hide in shame after performing the kind of gaffe the 3 bishops have.

But I do not see anyone covering themselves in dust and ashes here…

On the contrary, they are as unrepentant as if nothing happened – or rather, as if Dean John was the one who had been telling lies and slander to defend a very late sectarian position, blasphemous to Christians and non christians alike.

I don’t get it, I just don’t get it.

James David Walley
Guest

To me, the $64,000 (or its equivalent in Euros) Question is: will those (especially +N.T. Wright, who stands out because of his prominence as a theologian and spokesman for a traditional understanding of Christianity) who denounced John+, based on incomplete words taken out of context, now apologize for having spoken out before knowing what was being said? Or will they avoid their own error by, instead, expressing righteous anger at the media that allowed those out-of-context clips to be presented as the entire story? I suspect the latter, although, particularly knowing how the media generally simplifies and/or confuses matters of… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

In the Penal Substitution link the NRSV renders Rom 3:25-26 as: “… whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.” This “translation” is false. Paul does not say either “sacrifice of atonement”, or “propitiation” as does the KJV. Paul says Hilasterion; the Seat of Grace (= or God’s Shekina).… Read more »

Fr Joe O'Leary
Guest

I find the caricaturing of penal atonement ill-judged and bound to produce the usual knee-jerk reaction. The New Testament interprets the death of Jesus in terms of Old Testament representations of Sacrifice, even if it be a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The binding of Abraham is traditionally interpreted as a type of the atonement. These traditions need to be interpreted sensitively, not scoffed at.

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

Hands up all those who have criticized Pete Broadbent and Wallace Benn here and have read their actual statement in full, not just the report of it on the Ekklesia website.

Neil
Guest
Neil

NP – I don’t think people are denying JJs challenging of penal substitution – in fact I hope they are rightly proud of it. The point is that Jesus’ death on the cross was an OFFERING by him for the sins of the world – and was an inevitable consequence of the incarnation. Nothing to do with anger, appeasement, punishment and the like dear brother. I don’t even read the Older Testament with all the sacrifices there as calming an angry God. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll notice how many people need liberating from a gospel based on fear… Read more »

Simon Sarmiento
Guest

The Ekklesia report at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/4980
contains the full text of the two bishops’ press release.

Chris Baker
Guest
Chris Baker

Three comments. Firstly the Bishop’s reacted to a fairly plain story on the Today programme. I heard part of it, and the attack on “penal substitution” was clear. Whatever John said in his broadcast, the Bishop’s reaction was to what was said on air and thus far from being a reaction based on ignorance and prejudice. Secondly, whether Thinking Anglicans like it or not, this theory of the atonement is one that finds major support in scripture (although I agree other explanations of the atonement are also found there), and to react so vehemently against it is, to some degree,… Read more »

Raspberry Rabbit
Guest

Fr Joe. I agree. Things have gotten so bitter on either side that there appears to be no attempt to grapple with the reality of another side’s position on anything – we are satisfied to throw stones at a caricature. We’ve certainly seen enough of that coming from the conservative end of the debate for a few years now. Increasingly it is becoming difficult to find a reasonable voice on the liberal end of the spectrum as well. If PSA has been the predominant or even majority view of the work of Christ on the cross – in the west… Read more »

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

Simon wrote, “The Ekklesia report at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/4980 contains the full text of the two bishops’ press release.” But the full text of the press release is evidently not the “full text” of what the bishops themselves said, as indicated by this quotation: “Jeffrey John … is saying that the cross is not about anger or wrath or sin or atonement, but only about God’s unconditional love.” An omission is indicated by “…”. I know this is a quibble, but the fact is we all depend on reports which edit statements. I’ve tried to find what Broadbent and Benn actually said,… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Having read through most of the American Wikipeda article linked to (now, who comments on the un-read and un-seen ;=), I must say, that it is extraordinarily (that is ordinarily) in-reading. Quoting various platonizing academics of the 1st Millennium Wiki proudly announces that they proclaim late 2nd Millennium penal substitution! But the article itself makes clear, that the 1st Millennium saw atonement as Mercenary, as an exchange; the exchange of Death for Life, of Sin for Freedom – and that any kind of Anselmic substitutionary whatever is in stead of; a replacement, not an exchange. So Wiki makes 1st Millennium… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

“Whatever John said in his broadcast, the Bishop’s reaction was to what was said on air and thus far from being a reaction based on ignorance and prejudice.”

Sure looks to me as the definition of ignorance and pre-judice.

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

“If PSA has been the predominant or even majority view of the work of Christ on the cross – in the west – since the Reformation – …”

No it wasn’t.

This is just an empty political claim, as always.

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

John Richardson wrote: “PS, anyone got any comment about my question on John’s “so that” phrase?”

What is it that you don’t understand?

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

“Jeffrey John … is saying that the cross is not about anger or wrath or sin or atonement, but only about God’s unconditional love.” An omission is indicated by “…” The “…” also indicates that the omission is of 3 words in that same phrase. In this case, the “…” is preceded by the name of the person referred to (Dean Jeffrey John) and followed by a verb “is”. This probably means that the “…” is some kind of determinant to the “Jeffrey John”… In short: the “…” is without importance. It probably says no more than “the Dean of… Read more »

Cheryl Clough
Guest

Goran You prove there is hope for humanity. The concept of the shekina has not been completely lost. Nor her correlation to the art. Hallelujah. What has become confused is her masculine component to the ark. Also, the deaths that were accidents because she became too excited and did not realise the limitation of the human vessels until it was too late. Now leading to the latter conundrum of not testing any human vessel lest she lead to another inadvertantly create another Boaz disaster due to human inadequacy. The ABC himself is complicit in this confusion when he refused to… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

RR ; the time for compromise has passed – it should have never existed in the first place.

I very much want to see the CofE split ; nothing worthwhile can ever come out of an organisation which incorporates conservative evangelicalism.

There really are two entirely different world views – lets stop pretending otherwise.

NP
Guest
NP

Neil / Counterlight / Pluralist – you seem to be happy to ignore the many references to PSA in the OT and NT….is this another example of picking and choosing verses you like and ignoring those you do not? It does not help your position to write off so easily a well-established biblical idea. It is good to see a more “Thinking” approach from RR and FrJoe: one does not have to say that PSA is the only way to understand the cross in order to admit that it is certainly in the Bible and the Anglican Prayer Book.

Pluralist
Guest

_to react so vehemently against it is, to some degree, to deny the validity of those scriptures._ Chris Baker On that basis, there are parts of the scriptures that, to some degree, deny the validity of the scriptures. All the way through, on many topics, the scriptures contain varieties and contradictions of explanations due to sources, traditions and communities they were written for. The argument against penal substitution has long been made as contradictory to other parts and the overall message. No one has to sign up to penal substitution, nor to any particular mechanical exchange. That the argument has… Read more »

Robert
Guest
Robert

Dr. Jeffrey has brought many bright people to the table of theological wonder and debate over the meaning and interpretation of the crucifixion. He deserves our thanks–regardless of whether we find ourselves in agreement with him. Importantly, I don’t hear him pounding the pulpit insisting that we get in line behind his theology “or else.” If only we could use nicer words and be a little more polite in expressing our beliefs on the meaning of Jesus death and resurection…we might actually learn something and, who knows, end up loving each other in a way that Jesus would applaud!

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

“The Calvinist bent of the English Evangelicals is so antithetical to the gospels it is painful to read.” Bill Stoutmack.

Amen, amen, amen!

Raspberry Rabbit
Guest

“nothing worthwhile can ever come out of an organisation which incorporates conservative evangelicalism”

At which point you reveal yourself as part of the problem. One looks high and low for partners who don’t seem to be intent on remaking the Church in the model of their particular sect. One suspects that the offensive language used in this dispute is as much about ‘raiding the goods’ of an opponent as it is about coming to a better understanding of the work of Christ on the Cross.

John Richardson
Guest
John Richardson

Goran wrote, “An omission is indicated by “…” The “…” also indicates that the omission is of 3 words in that same phrase.” This is not actually so. The three dots are simply an ellipsis, which conventionally is “three evenly spaced dots (periods) with spaces between the ellipsis and surrounding letters or other marks”. There is no necessary correlation between the number of dots and the omitted number of words. However, it is true to say that precisely what is omitted is irrelevant to my point, which is that without knowing exactly and everything that Benn and Broadbent said, commentators… Read more »

drdanfee
Guest
drdanfee

God also commands killing in the OT. We read that and do not ignore it, but we put it in the larger sweep of other scriptural witness, mainly about love of God and love of neighbor as equal – so we do not literally commit ourselves to killing in God’s name now do we? (Except of course when we do.) One interesting element that is scriptural involves what is meant, even in OT, by sacrifice in connection with Yahweh. Fr. James Alison argues that we fall into the PSA errors when we begin with an incomplete or inadequate understanding of… Read more »

Merseymike
Guest
Merseymike

No, RR, I think the unity of the Church is a myth, and so I welcome separation. I see that as entirely beneficial an outcome.

Ruth
Guest
Ruth

Exactly so, RR. None of us can say whether PSA is “correct” or not, nor can any of say whether JJ’s theory of the Atonment is “correct.” (I read the text of his talk and found it very thoughtful and helpful and worth meditating on.) I suspect they are both correct and they are both incorrect and incomplete. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. We cannot hope to be right. We can only hope to learn from one another and to grow as much as we can. When we throw stones at one another… Read more »

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

“One looks high and low for partners who don’t seem to be intent on remaking the Church in the model of their particular sect.”—Raspberry Rabbit Actually, I think that part of the problem is that some people don’t realize that the ideal of a state church which encompasses a broad, national spectrum, is a dead idea in the 21st century. It’s time that the CofE was disestablished, and that its disparate parts go their own way. It may have served a purpose in limiting religious conflict in the 16th century, but today it’s an anachronism. Believe me, everyone will be… Read more »

counterlight
Guest
counterlight

Mercy! I post barely a sentence here, and I find myself singled out. Well, since you asked, here is my limited contribution to the atonement discussion over at Fr. Jake’s blog: “I’ve always felt that if God was so wrathful, that if He was so angry, to the point of murder, with His creation so often, then why not destroy the whole thing once and for all and either start over again, or go back to the solitude of primordial chaos. Indeed, He is God. He’s all powerful. He could wave his hand and all this death and suffering could… Read more »