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Jonathan Langley Christian Today Five reasons why Paula Gooder is going to influence your theology

Nigel Genders Church Times Education: A vision to transform the world
This is one of several feature articles on education in this week’s Church Times; the others are behind the paywall.

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Rod GillisEric MacDonaldDavid RuncornSusannah ClarkNJ Recent comment authors
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JCF
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JCF

“In a world plagued by atheists painting all Christians as idiots (and Christians seeming to do all in their power to aid them in their mission)”

Isn’t an example of the latter one where Christians portray atheists (any kind of atheist) as a “plague”? Without regards to Dr Gooder, FAIL “Christian Today”! [NB: now I’m hearing the CT quote in the late great Don LaFontaine’s voice: “In a world…”]

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Actually, to be fair, the article didn’t say that all atheists of any kind are a plague. It said that the world is plagued by a specific type of atheist – the ones who claim all Christians are idiots. At least, that’s how I read the grammar.

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re. the Jonathan Langley article, this reminds me of the kind of thing you would read on the liner notes of a pop l.p. back in the sixties. You know, “idiocy” takes many forms, marketing being not the least. Reading this article,and so many other current Anglican items, including the Marriage Commission report from Canada, you would think Charles Gore had never lived and that Essays Catholic and Critical had never been published.

John
Guest
John

Couldn’t agree more with Rod. And these people are supposed to be theologians?

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ John. In my haste to be concise, my editing suffered. I wanted to point out the marketing feel of Langley’s article. Hype is indeed everywhere. However,my last sentence was intended to make a separate additional point, and should have begun, ” Additionally, reading this article …etc.” It is not my intention to attach the label “idiocy” to the views of either the good doctor of theology or the Canadian Marriage Commission panel. I would like to expand on that additional point. Langely writes that Gooder “… counts herself as part of a newer generation of theologians holding academic rigour… Read more »

Richard Franklin
Guest
Richard Franklin

I have to agree with the Rod Gillis and John. Though Paula Gooder is a solid popular bible teacher, she is not a great biblical critic and theologian like some of the giants she disparages as having sucked the life out of theology in the 1960s. She is another of that seemingly ever-growing group of intellectual Christians who are distancing Christian discourse from other academic discourse. My heart sinks when she or other similar conference regulars are wheeled out at conventions I have to attend. Sadly her style of ‘theology’ may be the future. I wonder where that will leave… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

John, I’m not quite clear whose credentials as a theologian you are so scornfully dismissing – Jonathan Langley’s, Paula Gooder’s, or those of the people who wrote the Marriage Commission report (one of whom, Dr. Stephen Martin, Professor of Theology at King’s University College, Edmonton, is a personal friend of mine). Could you clarify, please?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I was immediately turned off Gooder by her claim that theologians had “almost sucked the life out of theology by the 1960s,” followed by her claim to blend academic rigor and devotion, two things that directly conflict. The glibness of the claim is embodied in her clever-clever answer of “Yes” when asked if she’s giving an academic or devotional talk. What are Gooder’s masterworks, that qualify her to sit in judgment of her predecessors? If she’s somehow managed to reconcile the tension between reason and faith without compromising either, that certainly counts, but if so, where has she done it,… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Personally, I prefer the theology of the present Pontiff, who often ends his discourses with the admission that he, himself, is a sinner. Humility wins over theological certitude by a country mile.
One can see why he preferred to take on the name of St. Francis of Assisi, rather than Francis Xavier.

Father David
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Father David

I’ve only once sat at the feet of Paula Gooder at a conference for clergy in the diocese of Chelmsford. I found her lectures to be very much “A” level R. E. standard, although as the day wore on they did improve and the lunch which the diocese provided was exceptionally good. Not intentionally wishing to be unkind but Paula Gooder is certainly not in the same class nor has the same theological stature as someone like Sarah Coakley.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Am I alone in finding this a rather patronising and dismissive discussion of the ministry of a significant contemporary lay theological teacher? Ron prefers the Pope. Fr David preferred the lunch. Theologians graded here by ‘greatness’, ‘class’ and ‘status’ and ‘masterpieces’. How is it then that over the last 10 years there are few diocesan and church conferences that have not invited Paula Gooder? She has also been a significant theological presence and contributor to debates at General Synod. She has a particularly enviable ability to bridge the gap between the devotional faith and theology and to teach to audiences… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

Father Ron Smith

For me too the present Pope is of a calibre we have not seen before in my lifetime, with the possible exception of the ill-fated John Paul I. I am left wishing that someone like Owen Chadwick had become Archbishop of Canterbury, a man who combined humility and grace with academic theology.

Jamie Wood
Guest
Jamie Wood

‘A’ level R.E. standard sounds like just what I need, and probably just what 95% of the laypeople with whom I share a pew on Sundays need too. Anything more sophisticated will go over our heads. So it boils down to the evergreen questions – how much do we trust our own judgement, and how much do we trust the judgement of the experts? And how do we choose which experts we are going to trust?

John
Guest
John

Tim, Especially Paula Gooder but all of them really, for the reasons implicit or explicit in other people’s observations here (especially Rod’s). One uses the term ‘theologian’ in two senses, one neutral, the other evaluative. The prime criterion for such evaluation is whether or not the people concerned confine themselves to biblical ‘authority’ (in some sense). So Tom Wright isn’t a theologian, but Gore certainly was. When I said a few years ago to John Barclay that I didn’t consider Tom Wright to be a theologian, he agreed. Further proof: Wright wrote a book some years ago on the problem… Read more »

Richard Franklin
Guest
Richard Franklin

I think you go too far, John. But it is certainly true that Gooder, Wright et al. want to to do their theology in a hermetically sealed biblical box, whereas Gore and the critical tradition of Anglican theology were open to the modern. This was actually true for Gore in theology and practice. Hence his desire to found a diocese in the heart of the industrial West Midlands and a religious order in West Yorkshire. It is also the case that a lot of contemporary theologians in the name of post modernism reject the insights of enlightenment thought and work… Read more »

Jonathan MacGillivray
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Jonathan MacGillivray

Paula Gooder’s great gift, surely, is that she makes accessible to almost everyone many of the insights of contemporary academic Biblical study, without alienating most of the more conservative Biblicists amongst her many listeners. Because she is a person of faith her more academic studies (which seem to me to underpin her populist presentations) are heard by conservative Christians, whilst many of those great names of the 1960s/70s/80s etc, whose insights shaped much of my own Biblical understanding, were dismissed out of hand. Until recently I worked in a diocese where a significant proportion of the clergy were appalled by… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

David, our judgment varies by the field.

If I were rating Gooder as a communicator and popularizer, I’d rate her highly, as I likewise rate Bart Ehrman highly on those grounds. But since she’s made a sweeping criticism of 20th century theologians, it’s fair to ask what her own contribution to the field is, and why her work’s superior to that of Barth, Tillich and Bultmann.

So, as I asked, what is Gooder’s contribution to theology, and why is it superior to that of the people she criticized?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Thank you David Runcorn.

Eric MacDonald
Guest

I was going to comment earlier, but took it that it would not be welcome, given that I thought that Langley’s article presented little more than anodyne pap for fools. My question: What great theological work has this paragon produced? And truth to say, I couldn’t find a single review of any substantive contribution that Gooder has made. That she is scary smart is piffle, unless she can produce a way to cut through the morass of confusion that constitutes contemporary theology, a problem that faces not only theologians, but also literary critics, philosophers, and the rest of the humanities,… Read more »

Father David
Guest
Father David

I’d categorise Tom Wright not so much a theologian rather a First Rate New Testament scholar. After resigning from the great Northern See of Durham he returned to academic life and became “Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity” at St. Andrew’s University. Many have benefitted greatly from his considerable output of books on the N. T. and excellent lectures.

John
Guest
John

Father David,

I don’t think many have benefited. I think those that already agreed with him have found support for their views. I also think – most strongly – that many have suffered from his opportunistic homophobia (a sickening vice from which you personally do not suffer). There are very serious issues at stake here – and personally I deeply resent imputations that ‘liberals’ are sneery and superior: on the absolute contrary, they think that ‘Evangelicals’ of this ilk are ushering Christianity into oblivion.

ian
Guest
ian

Am I alone in finding this rather patronising and dismissive?
No

fr rob hall
Guest
fr rob hall

No, David Runcorn, you’re not alone in finding this thread patronising and dismissive. Actually it’s proving one of the most thoroughly unpleasant I’ve come across on Thinking Anglicans. Paula Gooder is a very fine biblical scholar and an excellent communicator. I, and many others I know, including people who might not ordinarily attend lectures etc,have found her insightful, helpful and refreshing. That doesn’t make her a theologian of the stature of a Barth, obviously, but so what, she doesn’t claim to be. What the ‘claim’ of praying while writing and talking should be construed as ‘rather false piety’ (Eric Macdonald)… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

I don’t know about first rate, Father David, but surely Wright is a biblical scholar, and so, despite her title, is Paula Gooder. Although, on the other side of the coin, there is the whole area of biblical theology, and all theology is, to some degree, biblical. However, if we are speaking of systematic theology (which is what is usually meant when we refer to theologians, anywhere from Origen to the present), neither Gooder nor Wright qualify as theologians, as such. The word ‘theologian’ has a fairly wide penumbra of meaning, however, shading off into various other disciplines that are… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Let me get this right. Unless someone has produced a theological ‘masterpiece’ of their own to hold alongside the work of the handful of theological giants listed above they should not be offering critical comments of their own about them. Well that wipes out most of the theological teachers in this country then doesn’t it?

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

The notion that this thread is patronizing and dismissive is, well, patronizing and dismissive. The question for me is the distinction I raised in my previous two posts, the tension between scholarship and corporate piety in the service of ecclesiastical policy development. Some denominations police their scholars punitively if they do not stay the party line. Rome comes to mind as the most outstanding example. However, control can be more subtle and nuanced, the work of theologians can be co-opted, scholarship can be domesticated under the banner of some pious notion like “community discernment”.Anglicanism has been adept at doing just… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

David Runcorn, Gooder didn’t merely criticize previous theologians, she dismissed them wholesale in vague, sweeping, and strong terms: according to Gooder, her predecessors had “almost sucked the life out of theology by the 1960s.”

What exactly is patronizing about asking to see that statement substantiated, with reference to her own corpus? As for being dismissive, so far, no theology of Gooder’s has been produced: you can’t dismiss what’s yet to arrive.

Father David
Guest
Father David

Dear John, I know that my own personal ministry has benefitted greatly from hearing Tom Wright speak on New Testament issues on a number of occasions. I remember particularly one excellent lecture that he gave on St. Paul delivered at an Oxford Diocesan Conference which greatly impressed me with its erudition and scholarship. A number of years ago I was also fortunate enough to go on a pilgrimage to the island of Patmos, this was jointly organised by the Ramblers Association and the London College of Divinity. Each day we had walks around the beautiful Aegean island followed by a… Read more »

John
Guest
John

Father David,

Thanks. I accept (some of!) what you say. I continue to believe that people of this general ilk don’t properly face up to the challenge of justifying Christianity in the modern world and undoubtedly put many people off.

Jonathan MacGillivray
Guest
Jonathan MacGillivray

Even the most capable of communicators (such as Paula Gooder undoubtedly is) at times miss the mark and thereby condemn themselves to an ill-deserved legacy when their mistakes come back to haunt them. I suspect her comment about previous generations of theologians has far more to do with trying to win over conservative Biblicists to engage with critical thinking, than any genuine wholesale dismissal of the great names so many of us here revere. It may also reflect something of her own personal history, having been brought up in an exceedingly conservative theological mileu. Most ‘liberals’ have little comprehension of… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

N.T. Wright is mentioned several times on this thread, and in the Langley article. Controversy around his work does shed some light on the matter at hand here.

Look back to the controversy earlier this year generated by criticism of Wright by NT specialist Paul Holloway, who in a letter to the editor (see link) alleges:

” [N.T.] Wright comes to the evidence not with honest questions but with ideologically generated answers that he seeks to defend.”

http://thesewaneepurple.org/2015/02/06/letter-to-the-editor-honorary-degrees-to-bring-a-little-less-honor/

David Runcorn
Guest

Jonathan MacGillivray – a very shrewd and helpful reflection. Thank you.

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Well, Fr. Bob Hall, what would you like to see? A sequence of sychophantic cries of approval of what is up for debate, or a rigorous and sometimes sharp discussion that stands a chance of bringing to light something of importance? What is thoroughly unpleasant is the dismissive attitude towards those who speak critically about the subject at hand. We are told, by Langley, that Gooder’s theology “is going to influence your theology.” I don’t see anything in Gooder’s performance, to the extent that I am familiar with it, that would lead me to consider approvingly her negative attitude towards… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Paul Holloway’s letter is a perfect summary of my problem with Wright. Thanks to Rod for posting it. That Wright was awarded so many advanced degrees and positions without ever setting aside his personal opinions and critically analyzing his sources is a damning indictment of academic theology. He’s clearly an extremely smart guy, but thanks to the apparent unwillingness of his teachers to challenge his childhood beliefs, that talent’s been squandered on apologetics masquerading as scholarship. If Gooder isn’t in the same mold, I’m glad: but if she was currying favor with conservatives by dissing those who break dogma and… Read more »

fr rob hall
Guest
fr rob hall

‘Well, Fr. Bob Hall, what would you like to see..?’ Eric, I guess I would like to see a rigorous discussion which is conducted in a way which refrains from being unpleasantly personal in seeking to knock an (in my experience) fairly modest person from a pedestal onto which she hasn’t placed herself, simply on the grounds that a rather breathlessly sycophantic interviewer appears to wish to place her there. I don’t think that implies ‘sycophantic cries of approval’, just respectful but robust debate. Praying while speaking or writing about God would seem to me to be simply remembering that… Read more »

John
Guest
John

The issues require definition: Wright’s (and Gooder’s) competence as NT scholars; their competence as theologians. As to the latter, I maintain (as before) that soi-disant theologians who rest their theology only on the Bible aren’t real theologians. As to the former, opinions differ on the merits of Wright’s NT scholarship and the situation isn’t nearly as simple as that represented by Paul Holloway, but assessment certainly raises the question of how far the scholarship is confession-driven and how far it is objective (as far as possible). I think the scholarship of (e.g.) J Dunn and J Barclay is far more… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“What exactly is patronizing about asking to see that statement substantiated, with reference to her own corpus?”

Actually, the key point is substantiating your claim. You don’t have to be able to do something yourself in order to critique other’s work, but being able to do something yourself doesn’t of itself justify your criticism. Nabokov is a great novelist. But when he described Mann’s Death in Venice as “asinine” or Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago as “melodramatic [and] vilely written” he didn’t trouble himself to explain why, and merely having written Lolita doesn’t make his opinion any more valuable.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Regarding N.T. Wright, ecce homo. In his own words, in the first minute and a half of this video, Wright, in his own words, presents a picture perfect presentation of role confusion as bishop, Christian, and “historian”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqc7–CaCpM

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Interested Obsever’s right to say that the merits of Gooder’s claim about 20th century theology is separate from the merits of her own theological works, and I thank him for the correction.

The favorable comparison of Gooder to her predecessors that immediately follows, whether it comes from her, Langley, or both, should be taken separately, and does make her works directly at issue.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“We are looking not just at grit and resilience, but how the examples we use in teaching, and the virtues we promote, help children and young people to grow in steadfastness, humility, and loving kindness, and how they might practise hospitality to the stranger in their midst.” – Nigel Genders – What an admirable intention! As long as it includes people of other Faith Communities among the ‘stranger in the midst’. there are so many other people whose faith is not Christian, whom we need to welcome amongst us – in the way of Jesus. One must needs, also, include… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

I think people who claim to follow the one who gave us the Sermon on the Mount ought to be a little more sparing in describing others as fools and idiots.

This is a very unpleasant thread. I hope Paula hasn’t read it.

David Runcorn
Guest

‘A theologian is one who prays. One who prays is a theologian’ (Evagrius). Paula Gooder is in very good company.
As to Tom Wright, some contributors are clearly not aware that he is regarded as unsound in conservative theological circles for being ‘liberal’ (yes really). If I read correctly and some here actually call him a ‘widely known … biblical fundamentalist’ I can only assume they have never met a real one – and for the sake of their health I pray (behind closed doors Matt 6.6) that they never do.

John
Guest
John

Insufficient definition of the term ‘theologian’, David. I’m perfectly aware that some so regard TW: those ‘some’ (many of whom I’ve met and with a few of whom we’re actually friends) are pretty loony. But here’s something we do know about TW: in the 80s in Oxford he couldn’t care a hoot about the gay state of many of his Anglican pupils and associates (witness: Father Mark of Copenhagen). Why has he changed and assumed so noisy a public position (and practice, as Bishop of Durham)? Answer, I’m afraid: selling books.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

David, most anyone’s a liberal relative to the farthest extreme: Rowan Williams called Peter Akinola a liberal in his own context, and technically, Williams was right, while missing the point totally.

So yes, there’s people a lot more fundie that the man with two names, but in subordinating his reason to his faith, Wright isn’t different in kind, merely degree.

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Yes, Fr. Bob, that helps, especially the last part, where you speak of the unwisdom of burying the theological past, or about the lack of genuinely serious theology in the contemporary Church of England. One used to look to England for serious Anglicanism, and that no longer seems to be the case (at least from where I stand), and your mentioning of Nineham, Lampe, Wiles, etc., on whom I cut my theological teeth, reminds me of the (at least onetime) soundness of English theology. To suggest that such people “sucked the life out of theology” is a terrible slander. As… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Tim Chesterton, ” I think people who claim to follow the one who gave us the Sermon on the Mount ought to be a little more sparing in describing others as fools and idiots.” Now Tim, don’t you think this kind of pious retort is something of an attempt to use the sermon on the mount as a weapon, and short circuit debate? To be fair, the term “idiot” was introduced by the Langley article. For the record, and I’m speaking only for myself, I used it only in reference to the marketing feel of Langley’s article, a kind… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Well, David, since your comment seems to refer to something I said – yes, I have met fundamentalists, and have tried to have discussions with them too, without much success. I recall going to a new parish, and after the first service a man shook me by the hand and asked, “Are you born again?” My reply was that I was, but not in the sense that I believed he had in mind, which happened to be the case. I visited him on a few occasions until it was obvious that he was not going to give an inch with… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Rod says ‘Now Tim, don’t you think this kind of pious retort is something of an attempt to use the sermon on the mount as a weapon, and short circuit debate?’ No, Rod, I do not. I’m not against debate at all. I’m simply mindful of what Michael Peers used to say to us back in the 1980s when we started seriously engaging with issues around homosexuality in the Canadian church: ‘We should talk about people as if they are in the room with us, because they probably are’. By the way, did you intend the word ‘pious’ to be… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Father David says of Paula Gooder, ‘I found her lectures to be very much “A” level R. E. standard’. Personally, if a biblical scholar can speak the language of sixth formers in such a way as to make the gospel clear to them, I think we should be cheering for that, no deriding it. I went to the sixth form in the mid 1970s and I have to say that none of the highly intelligent people I sat in class with had ever heard of Lux Mundi or Charles Gore or Hoskyns or any of those eminent and erudite theologians.… Read more »

Eric MacDonald
Guest

Tim, while I am sure that Rod can defend himself, I assume that “genuine piety” would not use reference to the Sermon on the Mount as a weapon, which makes such a retort “pious” in a negative sense, which you should not overlook. I had inserted a comment here about Michael Peers, but I forebear. In any event, since you had called this “a thoroughly unpleasant thread” (which I am prepared to dispute with you), you should not be surprised at this response. Having been trained as a philosopher, which some people have characterised as an academic “blood sport”, I… Read more »