Friday, 12 December 2008

columns in the middle of Advent

The Dean of Perth (Western Australia), John Shepherd has written in The Times Salvation is not about who is in and who is out.

Christopher Howse writes in the Telegraph about Sister Wendy’s pictures of love.

David Peel writes about his battle with cancer in the Guardian’s Face to Faith.

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times that One size of school can’t fit all values.

The Cif Belief Question this week is What should evangelicals believe? Answers come from John Richardson, Christina Rees, Justin Thacker and Graham Kings.

At Ekklesia Simon Barrow asks Which Jesus are we expecting?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 12 December 2008 at 9:52am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

I have always thought the proper answer to the question posed in John Shepherd's column--at least for any Anglican--is, "Yes, of course." Jesus came to save the whole world...and to suggest that we need to do anything to accept his gift is to suggest that he was picking and choosing who was saved.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 13 December 2008 at 2:11pm GMT

Advent Antiphon:

"Drop down you heavens from above,
And let the skies pour down righteousness"

O come, O come, Emmanuel! Come Lord Jesus, come!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 13 December 2008 at 6:27pm GMT

Shepherd's essay in particular comes close to admitting the crisis of penal religion without being able to see what it comes so close to knowing. Then of course he cannot weigh at all how targeting and scapegoating are innately derived from the divinized ancient near eastern penal transactions that are supposed to be the sole and complete holy heart of the salvation matter. As a believer I'd rather go back to Jesus' very first formal sermon in the NT synagogue and be delivered from all that bondage, including bible-olatries (thanks CR) that seem to await us in USA on every right hand.

It seems pretty clear that the real enduring fruits of the Spirit are as precious and valuable - and rare? - among evangelical believers as they are among the rest of us?

Separating individuals from their overlapping communities is also a dicey business - as if we could ever be human let alone thriving apart from each and every web of relationships? Few of us so isolated-abstracted can or could or will want to survive that familiar sort of intellectual surgery, whether carried out by precise ethical scalpels or grand theological saw tooths.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 13 December 2008 at 6:37pm GMT


There are evangelicals that claim that Jesus only came to save just them. They are the kind who can't wait for the "rapture" where they are taken off to their new heaven and earth and the rest of us are extinguished or left to suffer of eternity.

It is a stupid proposition, as it voids Jesus' missives to be Lord of ALL the earth, the inspirational Messiah to all the peopleS of all the nationS.

It is similarly stupid to advocate for limbo or purgatory, particularly for those who simply refuse to be bullied into forced conversion. God is responsible for all of Creation, and thus God provides suitable dwellings for all its members. God's ways are higher than humans and God does not show partiality in matters of law.

While being openly in an affirming Christian community is a beautiful religious experience, it is not the only way to find God. God can and does seek out God's own. Further, sometimes God calls upon souls to take the stand, to be the outsider, to be the persecuted, rejected, abandoned and alone. They are our reminder that God's grace does not come about through human connivance or construction (whether that be a building or organisational structure).

What God has done before, God can do again, and God is not channelled or controlled by humans. Creation has a sense of self-presevation, and humanity has a collective consciousness. Souls might take suffering, famine, war, poverty, disease, insults and abuse for a time. But when it becomes clear that they are on a doomed path to extinction, humanity at both an individual and collective level chooses life.

Some souls think that wars change history. They don't. Reformations change history, and reformations involve the masses. A great war or famine might be the triggering inspiration for a reform (we will never choose to go there again), but it is the masses with their chosen reform leaders that recreate history.

Isaiah 43:19 "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Saturday, 13 December 2008 at 9:19pm GMT

To the Dean of Perth (John Shepherd): AMEN! And Thank you. :-)

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 13 December 2008 at 10:30pm GMT

John Shepherd's article from the Times, quoted here, reminds me of the story of the English Bishop travelling on a train who, when approached by a young man (patently 'Pentecostal) who asked him: "Bishop, are you saved", gave this immediate answer: "Young man. I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved!"

I suspect the young man had been counselled by his mentors to challenge everone he met (and especially every clergy-person in a collar) to give a testimony to their personal faith in the Christ he himself believed in. This is the way in which many evangelicals are urged to make sure that nobody escapes their need to submit to their particular understanding of what it is to 'be saved'. It is as though God depended solely upon them, and their charismatic urge to personally recruit individuals into the Kingdom which Christ has laid open for all who come to know him.

Sadly, though the potential evangelists may have all the good will in the world towards those s/he is trying to proselytise, it often comes across as arrogant or as a sort of 'lady-bountiful' action calculated to ensnare the subject of the exercise in some sort of 'promise-makers' pact that will bring salvation to them and a good-feeling bonus for their pursuer.

What needs to be understood by every would-be evangelist, is that God's gift of redemption and salvation is free - to all who want it, with no strings attached. The clue to understanding how salvation works is that, in Christ, it has already happened. The work has been done, and no-one is exempt from the graces this confers. The problem of the Church, surely, is not that hardly anyone seems to be listening to us; but the sort of message we may be proclaiming. It may be that people are unable to discern the spirit of lova and joy within us that would, even without words, proclaim God's love for all whom we meet.

The question here is: Can others outside of the Church distinguish in us, and our treatment of them, 'The Christ within' who is our Joy, our Hope and our power to Love? In the early Church, Christians were distinguished in this particular way: "See how these Christians love one another".
We seem sometimes to be so concerned with what we perceive as needing to be put right, that we are blind to the image and likeness of God in the other person. Judgement is not ours to administer. Our call is to be co-Redeemers with the Christ who gave his life for ALL.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 14 December 2008 at 1:53am GMT

David Ould, an English deacon ministering in Sydney, has written an article on the Stand Firm site 'The Tragedy of the faux-Evangelicals',

which responds to the Guardian Comment is Free belief question this week, 'What Should Evangelicals Believe?'

Unfortunately he makes a basic factual error by confusing Christina Rees (a member of General Synod, a broadcaster and a writer), who is liberal on issues of human sexuality, with Christina Baxter (Principal of St John's College, Nottingham, Chair of the House of Laity of General Synod and a recent speaker on the panel at NEAC 2008), who is conservative on issues of human sexuality.

This really does need amending as soon as possible.

Posted by: Graham Kings on Sunday, 14 December 2008 at 8:58am GMT

"This really does need amending as soon as possible."

And you're posting this here because??????

Posted by: Rosemary Behan on Sunday, 14 December 2008 at 10:18am GMT

"This really does need amending as soon as possible."

Yes it does Graham, and it has been.

But, with the greatest respect, it might have been more productive to contact us directly about my error. Posting a comment here is not actually working towards a solution since it will not surprise any of the readers here that we've not given Simon S any admin access on Stand Firm.

Indeed it seems a rather bizarre way to go about the matter. Unless the intent was not to correct that mistake but, rather, to point it out to as many as possible.

Posted by: David Ould on Sunday, 14 December 2008 at 10:32am GMT

I wonder, David Ould, whether you have reflected sufficiently on a position, associated, and not without justification, with your Diocese, that 'we are in fellowship with those with whom we agree, and not with other people'. That focus on 'truth' does put a rather heavy priority on getting it right, and expose you to criticism when you don't.

Maybe Graham Kings has been a bit unfair, but the corresponding and parallel "injustice" seems to me to come rather regularly in the other direction - and while I don't know you and your views well enough to comment personally, I think you will find the words 'pot' and 'kettle' come to the minds on many of the people who are reading this simply because of the context. It doesn't help constructive debate.

Personally, I would read Graham as publicising your commentary to a wider audience, but cautioning people about one particular fact which might otherwise have confused those more distant from the detail. Don't you want us to read what you write?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Sunday, 14 December 2008 at 9:59pm GMT

Christina Rees writes that 'in some circles', 'these days', it is required of evangelicals to beleive that sex is restricted to marriage. Neither qualifier is accurate. (1) 'In some circles' suggests a minority position whereas this has always been the majority evangelical and Christian position, whether or not it is correct. (2) 'These days' also makes no sense since the situation of which she speaks was more, not less, the case in former days. Point (3): what viable alternative is she proposing?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 15 December 2008 at 12:22pm GMT

"the situation of which she speaks was more, not less, the case in former days."

Well, the idea that sex was restricted to marriage certainly had more currency in former times, but the practice was not exactly a good fit with the belief. It has always been true that "It's a lucky man that knows his own father." The only difference now is that liberals want to be honest about it.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 15 December 2008 at 2:22pm GMT


Yes, anyone who can seriously suggest that "sex was restricted to marriage" before the 20th Century is laughingly naive or in serious denial (possibly both).

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 15 December 2008 at 4:57pm GMT

The thing is that, for me, liberal honesty is no more satisfying as the conservative idea that Ozzie and Harriet reigned supreme from the Garden of Eden to sometime in the 1960s. Can't "sexual continence" be a matter of personal choice intended to make you a better person, than a matter of legality that necessarily invites judgment on those who "break the Law", or an inevitability we simply must accept because "boys will be boys(or rather people will be people)"?

Posted by: Fors Elms on Tuesday, 16 December 2008 at 12:00pm GMT


I quite agree...God gave us free will for a reason. But it seems the extreme conservatives consider free will the great flaw in human nature.

And extreme liberals seem never to have learned Stan Lee's lesson from the origin of Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility."

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 16 December 2008 at 2:41pm GMT

"But it seems the extreme conservatives consider free will the great flaw in human nature."

Or that we just don't know how to use it. Either way, the freedom Christ died to give us seems to scare them to death, or at least to rage.

Posted by: Ford ELms on Tuesday, 16 December 2008 at 4:29pm GMT

Hi Father Ron

This is an oft-told story, but my understanding is that far from being 'patently Pentecostal' (since in those days no movement called 'pentecostalism' existed) the person who asked Bishop Westcott this question was not even a man, but was a Salvation Army sister. The threefold reply was accurate in Bishop Westcott's case. It does not even remotely follow that it was accurate in the case of every single other traveller in that railway carriage. Each was a unique individual, and each would have a different story to tell.

The New Testament is [even] clearer and more united than usual on this. Namely: Christ died for all; some of whom repent and believe and others of whom do not. Of those who do not, some wilfully/deliberately do not, while others do not through procrastination, lack of opportunity, lack of knowledge etc.. These are all clearly different categories - all the less reason to lump everyone together (with Pat) as being jointly/universally saved without needing to do anything about it.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 22 December 2008 at 1:06pm GMT

"Christ died for all; some of whom repent and believe and others of whom do not. Of those who do not, some wilfully/deliberately do not, while others do not through procrastination, lack of opportunity, lack of knowledge etc.. These are all clearly different categories - all the less reason to lump everyone together (with Pat) as being jointly/universally saved without needing to do anything about it." - Christopher Shell -

Christopher, it seems there might have been one (self-acknowledged) sinner who was admitted into Paradise by Jesus, who may not actually have made an actual plea of repentance; and that was the so-called *Penitent Thief*, on Good Friday. The thief knew he was a sinner, but didn't seem to actually say he was sorry. What he did do, by that time knowing clearly who Jesus was and what he stood for, was to ask Jesus if he would take him into his kingdom. The answer was "yes".

What I consistently pin my theology of redemption by Jesus upon is the statement of the 'beloved disciple', John: "God so loved THE WORLD, that he gave his only Son, that all who come to BELIEVE in him might have eternal life". Surely this is the most efficacious way of looking at, and the pre-requisite for, the free gift of salvation?

Could it not be that we are asking the world for repentance (for whatever) before we ask them to actually believe? I think that sheer belief in Jesus was enough for him to grant redemption to the thief on the Cross.

And what was the purpose of Jesus' descent to the Dead, do you think? Was it to give former 'non-believers' in God a vision of the crucified Jesus so that they might believe, and receive 'eternal life'? One might say it would have been a bit late for any act of penitence beyond this life, and therefore their redemption could have been seen as a direct response to their new-found faith. That sounds more like the will of the God and Father of Jesus, who "So loved the world....."

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 23 December 2008 at 3:18am GMT

"one (self-acknowledged) sinner"
The Publican also went back to being a publican, one assumes, though he was fictitious. But, you see, if everyone gets in, there are no consequences for sin, and where's the justice in that? I mean, if the wicked aren't punished, what's the point of being good? (I know the answer, BTW)

"we are asking the world for repentance"

But the majority voice of Christianity sees repentance as remorse for specific sins. It must contain that, of course, but it is much more. It is actually metanoia, changing of one's mind. Not on a particular issue, but changing how one thinks, changing to the heavenly mind. So, one could say the Good Thief, and the Publican, DID repent. He realized Who Jesus was, realized what the Kingdom was, and wanted to be part of it. He didn't say "I'm sorry I stole stuff", he said, in essence "I'm sorry I thought with the worldly mind that led me to live the way I lived."

"And what was the purpose of Jesus' descent to the Dead, do you think?"

Again, a theology that sees things in terms of punishment for crime can't really address this. The icon of the Resurrection showing Jesus leading Adam and Eve up out of Hell, the broken locks and gates littered beneath their feet, doesn't mean much in a theology that understands salvation as being allowed to get away with your crimes if you are sufficiently remorseful and conformist in this life. Not to put words in Christopher's mouth, I have no idea what he will say.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 23 December 2008 at 11:40pm GMT
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