Comments: opinion

"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..."]

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 27 September 2015 at 10:11am BST

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.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Sunday, 27 September 2015 at 2:53pm BST

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.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 28 September 2015 at 1:51am BST

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

Posted by John at Monday, 28 September 2015 at 9:55am BST

@ 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 and spiritual devotion together.When people at events ask her whether she will be giving a devotional talk or an academic talk, Gooder says her answer is usually: 'Yes.' "

Now note this from The Canadian Marriage Commission report, Section 5.1.1, Biblical and Theological Rationale, "Thus we take a
via media approach to Scripture between one
way which appeals to isolated texts as 'proof' of a particular understanding of being biblical, and another which discards Scripture as a site for hearing any authoritative word that stands over against uncritically accepted and culturally derived ideas."

Both of these perspectives gloss over the tension between theological insight and corporate piety. This is the kind of thing that leaves one wondering, when is N.T. Wright speaking as a scholar and when is he speaking as an apologist?

The reaction against the cutting edge of biblical scholarship, against its often logical conclusions, produces a forgetfulness of another stream of Anglican theology, begun in the era of Lux Mundi and Essays Catholic And Critical, the era of Charles Gore and Edwyn Hoskins. A reading of Paul Elmer Moore's, The Spirit of Anglicanism, in the venerable Anglicanism (More and Cross) could go a long way to helping those folks who think they have resolved the problem of the bifurcation between scholarship and ecclesiastical policy.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 28 September 2015 at 2:29pm BST

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 Christianity in the long term?

Posted by Richard Franklin at Monday, 28 September 2015 at 2:58pm BST

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?

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 28 September 2015 at 6:05pm BST

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, and how?

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 28 September 2015 at 6:25pm BST

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.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 12:33am BST

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.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 4:42am BST

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 of varied background and knowledge. Goodness knows we need that. I for one am very grateful, not 'sad'.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 11:54am BST

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.

Posted by Kate at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 12:03pm BST

'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?

Posted by Jamie Wood at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 12:09pm BST

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 of suffering: it has a single passing allusion to evolution. That's not theology: it's childish biblicism.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 12:21pm BST

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 with a narrow biblical and 'traditional' world view. Eventually this will lead to theology losing any point of contact with other forms of human discourse.

Posted by Richard Franklin at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 1:10pm BST

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 my suggestion in a group at a clergy conference, that Paul might not have written the Pastoral Epistles, or that the Book of Revelation might not have been penned by the self-same hand (singular) as the fourth Gospel... When the clergy think like that, we need the Paula Gooders of this world.

So, what defines someone as a theologian? I reckon the late Fr Ken Leech was a theologian of the highest order, incarnating his instinctive Catholic faith in radical action allied to spiritual and academic rigour. But he’s not an academic theologian in a narrower sense. But Fr Ken and Paula Gooder have helped me to be a better community theologian as a parish priest.

Posted by Jonathan MacGillivray at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 1:18pm BST

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?

Posted by James Byron at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 1:44pm BST

Thank you David Runcorn.

Posted by Erika Baker at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 1:57pm BST

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, which are buried under silted layers of unread articles and tomes too many to count.

So, she's a "theologian", not a theologian. She hasn't produced anything particularly new to add to the heritage of the past, and her rather false piety, summarised in her claim that she prays while she talks and writes, much like many priests' demonstrative piety before delivering their homilies, provides scant evidence that her "theology" is likely to inform the Church's theology.

In truth there’s no theology that really measures up to the greats of the past, to Barth, or Rahner, or Küng, or Lonergan (to mention one of Rod's favourites), or Tillich, not because they sucked the life out of theology, but because theology today is largely commentary on the past, and the only reason that Bergoglio sticks out is because he's the pope, and a certain proportion of Christians have to pay attention to what "he" (or the Magisterium) writes.

Besides, it's no longer clear where the Bible fits into all this, although we all make polite genuflections towards it. But considering the twists and turns that are employed to fit the latest issue into hermeneutics, or to keep it out (so egregiously in evidence in the Canadian Church’s report on the marriage canon), no matter how well we can account for its meaning in terms of its original context (Gooder's apparent claim to fame), of which we know very little, especially since the Bible is hermeneutics through and through, isn't it time that we began to stand on our own two feet instead of raiding scripture, and pretending that we have a word directly from God?

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 3:25pm BST

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.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 5:21pm BST

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.

Posted by John at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 7:59pm BST

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

Posted by ian at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 8:13pm BST

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) I have no idea. I repeat, a thoroughly unpleasant thread which makes me feel rather ashamed of 'Thinking Anglicans'.

Posted by fr rob hall at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 9:13pm BST

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 in some respect at least, theological - such as pastoral theology, for instance, which, in part at least, is a form of counselling, or biblical theology, historical theology, etc. (Pelican used to have a three volume "compendium" of theology, the three volumes entitled, as I recall, Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, and Systematic Theology [or perhaps Philosophical Theology?].)

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 9:19pm BST

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?

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 29 September 2015 at 10:33pm BST

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 that. It is my position that the Canadian Marriage Commission Report tends toward that paradigm.

However, if one wants an example of a statement that is patronizing and dismissive, here is one for you: "But for Gooder, the era of the academic theology that had, according to her, 'almost sucked the life out of theology by the 1960s' is over. She counts herself as part of a newer generation of theologians holding academic rigour and spiritual devotion together." Really. Let have some names, along with a critical analysis of how they "sucked the life out of theology". Then, lets have a go at a peer review of said analysis.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 12:28am BST

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.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 1:07am BST

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 lecture on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. On returning home I noticed that Tom Wright, then a Canon Residentiary at Westminster Abbey, was giving a series of three sermons at Sunday Evensong on the Churches of the Apocalypse. I attended all three and they were well worth the trip into London. A fine orator delivered a trio of exceptionally good and inspiringly erudite addresses on that ever puzzling but always thought provoking final book of Holy Writ.

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 5:23am BST

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.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 9:18am BST

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 the leap necessary in order to move from fundamentalist Biblical pietism to honest engagement with the fruits of critical theology. If she can now help large numbers of folk to begin to engage with 20th century thinking (never mind 21st century stuff!) then she deserves recognition.
We probably need to be less precious about defending the dead from theological assault. Perhaps if their insights had engaged rather more of us in praxis at a local level, we wouldn't now need the Paula Gooders of today to challenge that growing lobby of conservative clergy (certainly in the CofE).
For those who treasure the work of that other skilled communicator, Fr Ken Leech's requiem is at St John Chrysostom, Victoria Park, Manchester, UK on 14 October.

Posted by Jonathan MacGillivray at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 10:42am BST

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/

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 1:59pm BST

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

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 2:21pm BST

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 theologians who, because they are not, like NT Wright or herself, evangelically sound about the Bible, and makes throw away comments about praying while she writes and speaks - which no doubt endears her to the Bible Society, but seems to me to express the same kind of false piety as is displayed by priests who make a great show of piety before delivering their homilies (especially in light of the fact that Jesus told us, when we pray, to go into a room by ourselves and close the door - and the Father who sees in secret will reward you).

I had forborne to speak dismissively of NT Wright, who, as Bishop of Durham, appeared on 100 Huntley Street, a Canadian knock-off American televangelism (which put him off my reading list), and is widely known, for all his appparent scholarship, as a biblical fundamentalist who eschews a genuinely critical approach to the scriptures. Here's a quote from the letter of a Professor of Theology at the American University of the South (in Sewanee, Tennessee), regarding Wright's reception of an honourary doctorate from that institution, linked above by Rod Gillis: "My complaint is that Sewanee has recognized Wright as a scholar in my discipline, when in fact he is little more than a book-a-year apologist. Wright comes to the evidence not with honest questions but with ideologically generated answers that he seeks to defend. I know of no critical scholar in the field who trusts his work."

So, if you are seeking to put Gooder in the same class as Wright, it scarcely sheds much glory on the former, and makes it extremely unlikely that she will influence my theology.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 3:05pm BST

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 think critically, she's sold herself short.

Posted by James Byron at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 5:39pm BST

'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 when we do either we should do so in awe, remembering that we stand on holy ground. Most of the theologians of Christian history, Church Fathers, mediaeval scholastics, Protestant Reformers, would agree on that. For that occasionally to be stated is surely no bad thing.

As to 'bringing to light something of importance', I agree that there are some important things that this conversation may bring to light:
1) the sidelining of academic theology from C of E discourse - indeed, reading some of the Reform and Renewal documents might lead me to say a sidelining of theology in general.

2)While I am not particularly sympathetic to the deconstruction of Christian faith of a generation above mine (Myth of God Incarnate etc), simply to put to bed as passe the questions raised by scholars such as Nineham, Wiles, Lampe, Frances Young doesn't strike me as altogether wise.

I hope that helps clarification...

Posted by fr rob hall at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 6:05pm BST

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 objective than Wright's, even though they are just as fervent Christians. On the actual scholarship, as a world (yes!) expert on ancient Cynicism, I find Wright's much-quoted dismissal of the 'Jesus Cynic' model ignorant and flatulent and some of his attitudes repugnant: when I first heard him in the 90s, he said people's conceptions of Jesus reflected themselves - hence JD Crossan's conception of Jesus as an Irish leprechaun. Everyone laughed - except me, Irish Protestant as I am, I found his attitude pig-ignorant racist. Comparable egoism infuses all his writings and doings.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 8:11pm BST

"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.

Posted by Interested Observer at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 9:44pm BST

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

Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 30 September 2015 at 11:43pm BST

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.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:13am BST

"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 those of different attitudes towards gender and sexuality from our own. Now that could be more of a challenge.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:34am BST

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.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 1:52am BST

‘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.

Posted by David Runcorn at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 7:31am BST

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.

Posted by John at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:47pm BST

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.

Posted by James Byron at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 12:54pm BST

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 to Paula Gooder. Perhaps it would be good were she to read this discussion. Surely, she is not averse to the thrust and parry of argument. But her claim that theologians sucked the life out of theology strikes me as something that guides her study today, and she needs to justify it. Seldom are significant contributions to theology not reviewed in the obvious places, but Google provides practically nothing. Google 'Maurice Wiles' and you are immediately directed to dozens of fairly serious commentaries on 'Wiles definition of theology', 'The Theological Legacy of Maurice Wiles', etc. Gooder, if she is what Langley, starry eyed, says about her, should have attracted at least some such attention by now, and she hasn't. I would certainly welcome her contribution here, where she could, scary smart as she is, put us all firmly in our place.

Perhaps, however, the claim that she is going to influence our theology is simply a sad acknowledgement that British theology is simply in the doldrums. Which reminds me that Nineham's "The Use and Abuse of the Bible: A Study of the Bible in an Age of Rapid Cultural Change," is perhaps even more relevant today than ever. Those reading this will be more aware of what theology is accomplishing these days in Britain; however, if Wright it being taken seriously as a first rate biblical scholar, then the video linked by Rod should be sufficient to disabuse us of that. Who are the bright lights in English theology today? (Gooder excepted, of course.)

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 2:15pm BST

@ 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 of " beam in your own eye" if like allusions to the good book.

From the article, "Proper academic study is the heart of devotion and vice versa," [Gooder] says. 'It's when you're using your brain that you can really encounter God.' 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), what is not to love about that view?" So, its a situation of hoisted on his own petard.

"This is a very unpleasant thread. I hope Paula hasn't read it." Actually I would hope Dr. Gooder had read the thread, and might engage in some rejoinders. The primary concern I have raised is the tension between genuine scholarship and its use, or not, or perhaps even its abuse at times, by the church in developing policy. It's a reasonable intervention that deserves a rejoinder.

I for one hope that the pious and politically grounded rhetoric we hear in the Canadian church about studying the Report of The Marriage Commission "prayerfully" will give way to the production of some critical criticism of the theological content therein. But, having experienced the anxiety ridden and at times manipulative m.o. of church bureaucracy over time, I can't be optimistic.


Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 2:32pm BST

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 respect to the possibility of diverse understandings of faith, and he never darkened the church door again. I don't find Wright all that far away from that man, though Wright has the ability to fence himself round with greater appearance of scholarship. But anyone who says, without qualification, that the resurrection was an historical event, is simply not reading the gospel narratives with any sensitivity whatever, and is rightly excluded as a responsible historian, whatever his evangelical bona fides.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 3:07pm BST

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 a criticism? I always understood that genuine piety was a good thing in a Christian. And if a simple challenge to live by the teachings of the sermon on the mount is automatically construed as false piety, then I think I'd better resign my orders and try to make my living as a musician.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 4:49pm BST

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. Classic liberal Anglican scholarship hadn't made a dent in my sixth form at all, which is interesting given its claim to be rescuing Christianity from obscurantism and making it relevant to a new age.

Let's have more scholars who can speak the language of the sixth form, please! The common people heard Jesus gladly, so I've heard.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 5:01pm BST

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 am no doubt sharper in response than many, but I should have thought that Paula Gooder, having been held up to our considered admiration by Jonathan Langley, and having been characterised as "scary smart", would be quite capable of reading this thread without feeling terribly threatened. Indeed, like Rod, I have already expressed my wish that she would comment here, so that some possible misunderstandings could be cleared up and with her undoubted expertise could respond ably to some criticisms that have been, pro tem at least, levelled in her direction.

I do find it surprising that on a site entitled "Thinking Anglicans" there should be so much opposition to thinking.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 5:49pm BST

Eric. So a fundamentalist is someone who talks about being born again? Didn’t Jesus do that? Well the person you met would have annoyed me too for what it is worth. Clumsy? Arrogant? Opinionated? Naïve? Maybe all of them, who knows? But there are versions of them in every tradition of the church. I find your use of the word ‘fundamentalist’ so broad as to be meaningless - though paradoxically it can then be narrowly applied to any person or group we choose.

Posted by David Runcorn at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 6:43pm BST

By all means, Tim, let's have scholars who can speak the language of sixth form, but also let's remember that the clergy have a responsibility - which, by and large, they have not met - to make scholarship accessible in this way to the people they serve.

A young priest, just ordained, once said to me: "If I were to tell these people what I believe, they would not think that I am a Christian." So, he never bothered to tell them what he was taught, and so the learning and scholarship from which he benefitted was not passed on to the people who sat at his feet (so to speak), as common people sat at Jesus' feet and heard what he had to say gladly - which, if the gospels are anything to go by, was full of complex symbolism from the Jewish tradition. And, despite that, they heard him gladly, as you point out.

Do you not think that people could have learned from Wiles or Nineham, and even from "The Myth of God Incarnate" too, if it comes to that. Clergy have such low expectations of "their" people. They constantly speak down to them, as though what they learnt at theological school was not intended for them. But it was. And if clergy had integrated classical Anglican liberalism with their faith and passed it on, perhaps the Church would be far more alive now than it is.

I have heard more bishops than I care to count pass on the anodyne pabulum of the Sunday School, instead of reaching down to their scholarly roots and actually treating people in the pews as adults. Sure, if Gooder can make complex scholarship intelligible to the sixth form (and I'm not at all sure that that's what Father David meant), by all means, more power to her. But it's scarcely fair to blame scholars for their failure to make themselves widely intelligible to the Church. There's a whole cadre of people who are supposed to do that, and, broadly speaking, they have not been remarkably successful.

As you can tell, your comment hit a live nerve. I spent my last fourteen years of active ministry demonstrating that complex theological ideas can not only be made intelligible to ordinary people, but that they respond positively to being treated as adult human beings with the capacity to think intelligently about their faith.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 8:10pm BST

@ Tim Chesterton, "By the way, did you intend the word 'pious' to be a criticism?" You got it! I did. See The Canadian Oxford Dictionary entry for pious, second definition, which defines pious in terms of "sanctimonious".

I'm familiar with that Peers proverb. I'm not sure how advice about being aware of vulnerable folks who may feel they cannot be vocal applies to this thread. As Far as I can tell Langley, Gooder, Wright, ain't reluctant to pontificate.
So, don't get your tippet in a knot.

In another comment you state, "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."

How disadvantageous for that particular sector of the intelligentsia. Gore marks a critical juncture in early modernism and Anglo-catholic liberalism and in the trend that marks how scripture has come to be utilized by some in the Anglican tradition. Even William Temple and Michael Ramsey are said to have claimed to have been influenced by Gore.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 8:25pm BST

Well, David, what am I to say? I took his question as a sign that he was a fundamentalist, and my subsequent visits and conversations with him confirmed me in this interpretation. I did not define 'fundamentalist', and will not do so here, since it would probably take more than the 400 word allotment, but taking my story as a definition is uncalled for. American/Canadian fundamentalism consists largely in some very literal beliefs regarding the Bible and its message, which ties it to a number of "fundamental" beliefs derived therefrom, including blood atonement, patriarchy, direct creation (which conflicts with what we know), historical resurrection, individual salvation through a distinct experience of rebirth through the Holy Spirit (which defines true believers - not unlike in the Alpha Course - who alone are truly full of the Spirit), the Bible as an absolute source of truth in every particular, including the historical truth of miraculous events, and so forth, almost all of which were held by the person of which I was speaking.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 9:08pm BST

Eric: I was not using the Sermon on the Mount as a weapon. And I am not against thinking. I am, however, against insulting.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 9:42pm BST

Sorry Tim, just picking up on what Rod said. I did not mean to insult you, and don't think I did. At the same time, I think the claim that this thread is thoroughly unpleasant (or something of the sort) amounts to an objection to the thought process of criticism and response. My surprise was that people who thought Paula Gooder was being discredited, or whatever the concern was, by the discussion, were refusing to think about the implications of some of the claims made on her behalf in an article that was linked for our consideration. Such criticism as there was was not, so far as I am concerned, in any way a personal attack on Dr. Gooder, but by way of asking whether the person described so hyperbolically by Jonathan Langley deserved to be so described, despite her fine speeches at General Synod, or her devotional books about biblical authors, and whether she should have been described in such inflated terms as a theologian that would influence all of us. Perhaps she is such a figure, but allow us at least to doubt that, and ask whether in fact her claim (apparently) that theology had somehow sucked the life out of faith, was entirely deserved. I also echo Rod's sentiment about the apparent lack of knowledge you express of such a key moment in Anglican theological history as Charles Gore and the Lux Mundi school of theology. I commend to you the volume, edited by Bishop Gore, entitled "Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation," to say nothing of Gore's own seminal writings on the incarnation, society and the reconstruction of belief.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 10:26pm BST

Rod, I have on a number of occasions been reminded by fellow-Christians of my responsibility to live my life according to certain aspects of the teaching of Jesus that they thought I was neglecting. I did not take them to be sanctimonious; I took them to be faithful. I was annoyed at first, of course, but when I calmed down, I realized that they were right.

However, in this instance my criticism was obviously not offered in a helpful way, and for this you have my unreserved apology.

As far as my comment about my fellow sixth-formers goes, I'm not aware of too many who have heard of the eminent theologians you name. The context of the comment was my belief that if Paula Gooder is capable of speaking in language that sixth-formers can relate to, I'd prefer to applaud her for that, not criticize her for it. The vast majority of my sixth form friends had never heard a presentation of Christianity that interested them.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 10:37pm BST

Come, come, Rod. It is hard to find an Anglican theologian in the 20th century that was not influenced by Gore and the Lux Mundi school. It was a movement to assimilate the latest discoveries of science and biblical research and to turn them to the uses of faith. I am still struck by Holland's reference to secular knowledge in the chapter on faith in "Lux Mundi":

"The advance of secular knowledge, then, is for faith, an acquired gainL for by it, it knows itself better; it sees more of what was involved in its vital convictions. It has a struggle, no doubt, inn dropping off the expressions that have grown familiar to it, and in detecting fresh insight into its own nature which it can win by the new terminology: but when once it has mastered the terms, new lights break out upon it, new suggestions flash, new capacities disclose themselves. It has won a new tool: when it has become familiarised with the use of it, it can do great and unexpected things with it." (p. 26 - and this was published in 1889!)

The strange thing is that we are still fighting many of the same battles over the relationship of theology to other disciplines, and in the process have so often betrayed the faith, by making it seem old and outworn and inapplicable to the modern condition.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 1 October 2015 at 10:41pm BST

@ Tim, very kind, but really, no apology was expected, or is required. ( :

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 2 October 2015 at 1:41am BST

@ Eric, "Come, come, Rod. It is hard to find an Anglican theologian in the 20th century that was not influenced by Gore and the Lux Mundi school."

What can I say, except you are re-iterating what I stated in my initial comment on this thread ( 28 Sept.1:51 am), and repeated in my second (28 Sept. 2:29 pm). Gore was one of the most influential theologians of his time, so much so, that, even ( emphasis on "even" as I wrote last) two Archbishops of Canterbury wanted to claim something of the legacy.

Despite the influence of Lux Mundi and Essays Catholic And Critical, Charles Gore and Edwyn Hoskyns, officially commissioned ecclesiastical documents down play or domesticate the trends and legacy traceable back to them over the past century plus.

Footnotes are not the only place to look for an homage; but instance The Canadian Marriage Commission Report. One looks in vain for a candid dealing with this aspect of Anglicanism. There are some references to critical scholars like Pheme Perkins and Deirdre Good. However, while the report makes much of via media and even quotes the 39 Articles, there is no overt reference to the legacy of Scholarship traceable to Gore and others. This is a serious omission from a report that wants to present a distinctively Anglican perspective. Interestingly, N.T. Wright appears in at least two footnotes by my count.

Consider, Believing In The Church: The Corporate Nature of Faith produced in 1981 by The Church of England. It pays its tithes to the notion of scholarship. However while folks from Richard Baxter to William Temple are mentioned in the index of names, not so Gore or Hoskins. The subject index mentions Myth of God Incarnate but not Lux Mundi. Although, their reference to the former in the text is interesting.

There is tension here, part of it the fight between the academy and the churches for, if not scholarship, then the produce of scholarship. So, on the point of the faith (its preaching and teaching especially), being rendered seemingly inapplicable to the modern condition, no great disagreement there. But even in the church dissidents and impious cranks can keep the faith.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 2 October 2015 at 3:51am BST

Thank you Rod, that was just the kind of response I hoped to prompt. I didn't go back to earlier comments (this thread is becoming quite long), but thought you could add substantially to your remarks about Ramsey and Temple. The theological depth of most church "study" documents (like the 1990's one on assisted dying) is, as you point out, woefully short on substantive theology, and certainly shows little acquaintance with the Anglican tradition. That is precisely the concern I had about Jonathan Langley's canonisation of Paula Gooder's theology: it shows scant knowledge of the theological tradition, or how Gooder's work fits into that tradition, which, to begin with, she seems already to have marginalised.

One of my concerns about the ultra-conservative strain in contemporary Anglicanism (represented by Gafcon) is that it tends to concentrate on an almost still-born catholicity, without noting that Anglican catholicity has always been a more dynamic movement in the Church, which is where my own early attachment to the movement came to grief. I can still remember the theological conference at which this occurred, when one member stood up and said, "Well, brother, if that's what you really believe, then we are all praying for you." One well-known member of that theological group in the Diocese of NS and PEI was known for saying that he had more in common with Pentecostalists than he had with other Anglicans, yet he ended up joining a small branch of Eastern Orthodoxy instead.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 2 October 2015 at 1:47pm BST

Eric you misunderstand me. I did not say that I myself was unfamiliar with Gore and Lux Mundi etc. I said that, for a movement that claimed to be rescuing Christianity from obscurantism and relating it to modern thought, I could not detect in my sixth form class that it had had much influence on modern thought - outside the Church, that is. Yes indeed, Gore may well have been one of the most influential theologians of his time, but my point was 'influential over who?'

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 2 October 2015 at 3:25pm BST

Well, Tim, I stand corrected, but the way you wrote it sounded a bit more general than that: "As far as my comment about my fellow sixth-formers goes, I'm not aware of too many who have heard of the eminent theologians you name." Had you written "too many of them" or "too many who had not heard ...", your meaning would have been clearer, but "I'm not aware of too many who have heard of..." does not obviously refer to the beginning of that sentence, indeed, if anything, it seems to excuse the ignorance of your sixth formers, since you don't know of too many (full stop) who have heard of the eminent theologians named.

Having said that, you tend to compound the problem by speaking directly to your own ignorance, when you say, "Gore may well have been one of the most influential theologians of his time, but my point was 'influential over who?'" (You did mean 'whom', didn't you?) But if you were even superficially familiar with Gore and Lux Mundi, then you will be aware that the Lux Mundi school was the "aggiornamento" of its day, taking both the sciences and critical biblical scholarship seriously, and raising, to the alarm of some, even the question of the infallibility of scripture. They were also strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, and founded the Christian Social Union (if I remember correctly). Their influence is everywhere demonstrated in Roger Lloyd's two volume "History of the Church of England in the Twentieth Century" (which was published in 1950, and didn't get much past 1939!). Indeed, perhaps they succeeded so well that liberal theology became the theological air that most of us breathe even now, unless, like followers of Nicky Gumbel, we have become know-nothing primitivists, and hark back to even earlier theological traditions (such as Calvinism).

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 2 October 2015 at 10:54pm BST

Well Eric, if they did their work so well, why is it that the era in which the leaders of the church have 'breathed in their theological air' has become an era of massive membership decline, an era when those sixth formers with whom I was in high school largely rejected the church they led? If they were so good at relating Christianity to the modern world, why was the modern world largely not persuaded by their presentation?

And is it really true that the only two alternatives are 'breathing in the air of liberal theology' or becoming 'know nothing primitivists'? When you see those words set down again in black and white, don't they sound just a tad smug or arrogant to you? "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not an ignorant know-nothing like Alister McGrath or Karl Barth or Lesslie Newbigin or Miroslav Volf or Stanley Hauerwas".

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Friday, 2 October 2015 at 11:38pm BST

Eric, there is not a whole lot to add about Archbishop Temple other than that which surely must be widely known on a thread like this. He was a towering Anglican figure of the 20th century church. His accomplishments in the areas of social theology, ecumenism, Jewish-Christian relations, together with his being an early open mind with regard to Gore, these all speak for themselves. He is right up there with clerics like Msgr. Moses Coady in the pantheon of post great war depression era social voices in the church.

Temple was not the textual technician his ecumenical contemporary C.H. Dodd was. Dodd's Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel was one of the books that I just had to hang onto when I down sized upon retirement, as was Temple's more devotional two volume commentary on John. As you likely know, the two men appear together in some of the same bibliographies back in the day.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 5:12am BST

I am wondering how Charles Gore would have engaged with Paula Gooder or NT Wright? Eric and Rod your learned debate tracing back 140 years to where you find the theological heart of Anglicanism has help me understand much better why the original article for this thread lit such a touch paper. I wish I had understood this sooner. But Eric, if you and others really want NT Wright, Paula Gooder and their like to turn up here and engage with you it might be a good idea not to start by insulting them, their intelligence, tradition, faith, motives for publishing and general theological competence don't you think?

Posted by David Runcorn at Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 9:15am BST

@ David Runcorn, "... might be a good idea not to start by insulting them, their intelligence, tradition, faith, motives for publishing and general theological competence don't you think?"

Can't speak for anyone else, but leveling a critique against a stated public position, one that is dismissive of others at that, is not an attack on that person's faith or intelligence. I'm quite certain that N.T. Wright, and Dr. Gooder, who frankly I'd never heard of until last week ( should I have?) are both intelligent people of faith.

Notwithstanding, the question of the relationship of critical scholarship to corporate piety is important. The development of ecclesiastical policy based on a blurring of lines can have consequences for people who are marginalized by said policies.

A new testament scholar can tackle such questions as: authorship, intended audience, the author's sense of history, how subsequent generations understood, or misunderstood, the text, and so on and so on. However, when a scholar begins stating that this or that text "proves" that such and such a religious experience from antiquity is an historical event, as we understand the notion of history, that "really happened" then s/he, whatever they are doing at that point, is probably no longer engaging in scholarship.

In the end, and I say this with a clear conscience as an Anglo-catholic, the New Testament is a creation of the church, the church is not the creation of the New Testament.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 3:41pm BST

Tim, I think one reason for the falling away of Christians from the Church is largely a result of the childishness of fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist faith, which makes faith faintly ridiculous, and people of faith so easily caricatured. Church leadership, by and large, failed to live up to its responsibilities of mediating the best that has been thought and said in the Church to the people it served. Theological schools and seminaries taught critical methods of thought (without which faith devolves into drivel), and different trends in theology, and there it stopped, so many Christians never got to hear of, let alone begin to understand, the best that was thought and said in the Church (to echo Thomas Arnold).

To take two of your examples, the contrast between Alister McGrath and Karl Barth is so enormous it is bizarre to yoke them together. I don't know that there is a middle way between liberalism (or mondernism, since the Lux Mundi school were effectively Anglican modernists) and primitism, but I haven't seen a good example of it yet. And, Tim, while I'm at it, I'd beware unctious piety in your criticism, if I were you. If Nicky Gumbel isn't an example of know-nothing primitivism (and I can provide you with a paper I wrote on the subject some years ago, if you like), I don't know who is. It's not based at all on a "There but for the grace off God go I," but on a reasonable assessment of his "theology" (if you can call it that). I have read little of Hauerwas, though I have his Gifford lectures, "With the Grain of the Universe," which I did not find particularly memorable. I'd have said that the people who followed closely on the heels of Lux Mundi in the last few decades were people like Wiles and Nineham, Houlden and Lampe, Macquarrie, and even people like Cupitt, Graham Shaw and Holloway, who have drawn away (in their different ways) from the Church, largely because it has so largely by-passed its best theologians. And I think Roger Scruton, though a philosopher, deserves to be taken seriously as an Anglican thinker in roughly the same tradition (see his Gifford Lectures, "The Face of God", and a companion volume, "The Soul of the World").

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 3:58pm BST

David, so far as I know, I have not insulted either Wright's or Gooder's intelligence. I don't now enough about Gooder, and was only responding to Langley's rather breathless hyperbole. In fact, I have spoken of her intelligence, unless I misremember.

Regarding Wright, anyone who can say, as he does, that the Resurrection of Jesus is unproblematically historical, simply doesn't know what history is. Nor, it seems to me, has he allowed for (i) the obvious OT symbolism of the Passion stories, (ii) the incompatible accounts of the resurrection, and (iii) the clearly eschatological nature of the resurrection appearances (which is why the transfiguration story seems so out of place, and belongs, as many biblical scholars have said, with the resurrection narratives). Indeed, I suggest, it is biblical "scholarship" like Wright's that discredits Christianity in the way suggested in my last comment. If that be insulting, so be it.

Would Gore have engaged with Wright or Gooder? I know he would have disagreed with Wright, anyway, and, I suspect, of Gooder as well, but that is only a guess based on Langley's encomium. I don't think they're in the same class, and, of course, if Gore were alive today to engage with them, his theology would have differed accordingly. So, it's not really a helpful question. The question is, would Gore's successors have engaged with them. Well, perhaps they have, as Gerd Lüdemann has engaged with Wright over the latter's belief in the historicity of the resurrection (which, no, I have not read, though I am familiar enough with Lüdemann's thought to imagine how the discussion might have gone). However, if he is put off by what you deem insults, then it would reveal an unusual timidity which Wright has not in other places shown. I suspect that the quandam Bishop of Durham and professor at St Andrew's has more fibre than that.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 4:28pm BST

I think a problem with simplistic preaching, that elevates the scriptures towards infallibility - or the commonly championed 'inerrancy' - is that while it does actually convey the Christian message and make it comprehensible, attracting people to come to church... it also has an even greater opposite effect in repelling people from church, because of intellectual credibility gaps, and the blunt theology of "the bible is right".

I know so many people who have been put off Christianity because of its perceived rigidity on gay sex, on Christianity as the only way, in some cases on teaching on hell.

When Christianity becomes enshrined in bible verses, dogmatic morality, and a one-message-for-all-peoples-for-all-times, it runs the grave risk of seeming irrelevant to ordinary, decent, truth-seeking, scientifically-minded people. And becoming a stockade against 'the world' (portrayed as evil) down a cul-de-sac reserved for the chosen and the holy remnant.

In worst case scenarios this extends almost to a longing for apocalypse and the 'end times' as perhaps the only resolution against a world that 'rejects' the message being preached.

Of course, the call of God to people can indeed be spurned. But I'm unclear that the message often being presented is, actually, the message God is wanting to send.

So as I say, while preachers who build systems upon biblical inerrancy may sometimes attract congregations, even large congregations - and God can work in that - at the same time I believe the message that then gets 'picked up' by many people actually repels and seems untrue and untenable to a lot of people with intellectual and moral integrity.

What concerns me about HTB/Alpha - where the Holy Spirit has undoubtedly touched many people including myself - is the package of dogma and view of the bible that goes with it. It's no secret that for a long time Nicky Gumbel (I thank God for his sincerity of faith) viewed gay sex as wrong from the point of view of inerrant scriptures. Maybe he has changed his mind, but I'd suspect the view on inerrancy remains the same: the bible is true because the bible says it is true.

This gives people a comforting package of a contained religion - a religion contained in a magical book, some would say.

The Holy Spirit, and her play on people's hearts and consciences, can't really be 'contained' that way. She goes where She will. And works dynamically in vocation and renewal. To be fair on HTB, I believe the Holy Spirit has worked in many people's hearts there, notwithstanding a frankly simplistic theology.

The challenge is to communicate a more authentic theology, than these ready-packaged ones. The difficulty is that while more nuanced and intelligent theology would put unbelievers off less, it seems that many more believing people want 'comforting faith' and simpler answers.

Christianity is both simple as the open door of love, and complex as the diversity of people, lives, communities, and values we try to navigate. Human conscience should not be downplayed, and replaced by the dogma of inerrancy that can set a religion in aspic and ossify its message.

Complex and contextualised theology - and open-endedness that is like an open door - needs to be courageously communicated and courageously spread. Otherwise the public (the people God loves and yearns for) think that Christians are reactionary, vilifying gay sex, questioning evolution, preaching hell for unbelievers (and yes, I know they said Jesus did that too)... and they feel rejected, and they feel disgusted, and they're really not very attracted at all to listen to the key messages. Many switch off and regard the Church with growing irrelevancy.

They think that too much of what the Church says is simply not true, so why believe the rest of it?

Whatever happens, theology should not be locked up in colleges, in academic circles, in the company of other theologians.

Jesus preached and loved and served on the open roads and fields and on the mountainsides. Obscure by birth, he made himself relevant to people, by an appeal to hearts, and the overwhelming message of God's love. 'It is written' he would reportedly say... 'But I tell you...'

Come Holy Spirit, o come.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 3 October 2015 at 7:36pm BST

Susannah, you say: "The challenge is to communicate a more authentic theology, than these ready-packaged ones. The difficulty is that while more nuanced and intelligent theology would put unbelievers off less, it seems that many more believing people want 'comforting faith' and simpler answers." What "many more"? They are declining year by year. And if some of them go away because they want simplistic answers (which are not readily available from Jesus himself), perhaps it will open up the possibility of church growth instead of steady decline.

In any case, I simply don't think that's true on the whole. People are able to think and want to think. They, if they are adults, anyway, want to be treated as adults. They don't want to be patronised. I don't know what is taught at English theological schools or seminaries, but I spent my time on theologians like Wiles and Nineham, Cupitt (a philosopher theologian), Austin Farrer, Tillich, Barth, Moltmann, Augustine and Aquinas, Origen and other early Fathers, and so many others, not to mention the biblical scholars like James Barr (whose book "Fundamentalism" is worth reading), Crossan and Raymond Brown - and even Richard Hooker (than whom it is hard to think of anyone more nuanced and difficult as a theologian, quite aside from his Elizabethan English, which has a lovely cadence all its own), as well as some Jewish theologians who merit some serious Christian reflection. While I am pleased that you feel that you have received gifts of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Nickey Gumbel, his theology is primitive, sectarian, and takes practically nothing into account from contemporary Anglican theology. His view, so clearly stated, that while those who have been baptised have received the Holy Spirit, they are not full of the Holy Spirit, is a belief which is not only arrogant and self-serving, but contrary to the basic teachings of the Church. It is not only simplistic theology, it is self-serving theology, which is why it is so avidly devoured by American and Canadian fundamentalists.

One of the main things that we should be learning - and we haven't - is that Jesus was a Jew, and the things that are said about him in the gospels can be entirely understood from within the Jewish tradition. The anti-Semitism of so much of the Christian scriptures is a serious argument against Christianity as it has been traditionally held and practiced, and until we stop talking about Pharisees as though they were a bunch of hypocrites, Christianity will never be able to speak with charity about the Jews, for the Pharisees were the radicals of their day, and Jesus belonged to their company. It is a sad comment on our Christianity if we insist on his distinction from his Jewish brothers and sisters, as is so common, and is so clearly expressed (as they are traditionally understood) in those words that you quote - "It was said of old time, but I say unto you ..." This is what a radical would say, and the charism that he possessed was one that is perfectly consistent with (to use the German word) "damaligen" Judaism (Judaism of that time), as Geza Vermes has so eloquently pointed out in a number of books.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 4 October 2015 at 2:12am BST

Hi Eric,

Thank you for your detailed response. You may be right that I underestimate the number in the Church who seek to explore and live out a nuanced theology, rather than simplistic and enclosed packages. Life experience can certainly challenge those packages and certainties.

At the same time, I personally still feel that many people, in churches where numbers hold up, get attracted to the preaching of simplistic theology. I think for many people, liberal christianity is too complex... and they would prefer to be 'fools for Christ' as they would see it. Indeed, dwelling within a watertight theological system can be extremely comforting. People find it easier to understand.

With regard to Holy Trinity Brompton, and the quite wide network that has spread from that church... I can only speak for myself. I shared in the experience of the summer house parties that were a part of the HTB experience among its rather privileged congregation of upper-middle class and upper class people.

I have to be honest. Those were times of blessing for me, and I felt touched by encounter with the Holy Spirit. I felt God at work. It was the path God gave me in my own spiritual journey. There was faith. There was idealism.

I fundamentally believe in the supernatural dimensions of existence, and in an age of materialism and rationalism among many peers, the HTB / Fountain Trust / charismatic renewal movements were, I truly believe, touched by God and of spiritual significance.

I personally believe in one baptism, not more. I believe our baptism is achieved for us in the baptism Jesus first undertook for us. And our baptism as infants is an acknowledgment of that. It is the whole of what we essentially need.

However, I do also believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit - not as separate, but sometimes separately experienced in the opening up of hearts to God. It is one expression not the only expression. What counts above all is love.

I believe that followers of Christ at HTB 'dared to believe' in the supernatural dimension of Christian experience, and I think they were right to.

I disagree with the theology that seems popular in churches like these... my own theology has changed, as life has gone on... but I do believe in what was going on there. I believe the hand of God was at work there.

I also believe times have changed. There is more to explore, and open up to, than speaking in tongues and the sometimes sitting room Christianity that it could become.

The world, and science, and life experience calls us, and challenges us to go forward into the unknown future of Christianity. Personally, I believe that things like Darwinism are demonstrations of God's challenge to us to handle scripture in a different, more contextual way.

Your reminder of Jesus's Jewishness is one of those contexts. Thank you.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 4 October 2015 at 10:36am BST

I hesitate to join in after 72 comments but feel some alternative must be offered to some of Eric's dismissals. First, Eric will be delighted to hear that during my studies at Oak Hill 10 years ago, we had to read almost all of the names he has most recently mentioned, including the best part of a term just on Lux Mundi. You won't be surprised that my conclusions were not as positive as yours. When I compare my first degree (ancient history at Oxford) with my Oak Hill degree, I can honestly say that the academic rigour at Oak Hill far surpassed what I had previously experienced. In terms of logical reasoning, breadth of research, strictness in observing academic conventions and quality of output expected, Oxford seemed like child's play in comparison. Second, it was during my history degree that I became a Christian, precisely through being convinced of the historicity of the resurrection (without NTW's help though). My tutor responded as you have, though it didn't stop him giving me a scholarship and encouraging me to go for the All Souls' prize fellowship. I see no need to switch off my brain to be a Reformed Calvinist evangelical. Finally, we need to recognise that presuppositions make all of us biased (I include myself). You say that anyone who rejects critical scholarship cannot be a theologian. I disagree. Critical scholarship itself is illiberal. By disallowing the possibility of miracles, a divine Jesus and inspired revelation, titanic liberal scholars like Bultmann and Sanders force themselves into tortuous readings of texts. I glean what I can from liberal scholars' perceptive observations, but just as they would not take my major conclusions seriously, so I cannot take theirs seriously, because of our fundamentally different starting points.

Posted by NJ at Monday, 5 October 2015 at 3:47pm BST

@NJ "I glean what I can from liberal scholars' perceptive observations I glean what I can from liberal scholars' perceptive observations, but just as they would not take my major conclusions seriously, so I cannot take theirs seriously, because of our fundamentally different starting points"

Scholarship starts with the text and the questions raised by a critical reading of the same, not with unverifiable assumptions that miracles really happen(ed). Example, a feeding of the multitude is found in each of the four gospels, with two additional variant versions of the story found in two of those gospels. It is an important story that gives rise to a number of important exegetical questions. Notwithstanding, any claim that we can accept therefore that this "miracle" must have "really happened" is a claim that lies beyond scholarship.

Your point simply re-states the problem at hand i.e. that "observations" as you call them have different starting points, in the one case scholarship and in your case piety. Basically, you are comparing apples to oranges, methodologically speaking.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 6 October 2015 at 6:30pm BST

Rod,

Consider the analogy of scholarship in theoretical physics.

It would be regarded as acceptable academic technique to commence with a hypothesis, and explore that hypothesis in the context of known evidence and data.

One might not get 'proof' that way, but it could lead accumulatively to alternative ways of looking at things and understanding them.

The working hypothesis then becomes one exploration among others, but it may in the end turn out to be a productive one.

Sometimes what is unknown can be more revealing than what is already known.

Similarly, I see no reason why scholarly theology could not posit a reality where miracles can happen (resurrection of Jesus, anybody?) and explore evidence, text, and date in that context.

It may not 'prove' miracles - people looking for proof of God may be missing the way God wants us to journey - but it may still be a hypothesis that is worth developing, that may 'inform' our understanding of text, rather than be informed by it.

As I said, with regard to theoretical physics, sometimes what is unknown can be more revealing than what is already known. The gaps in the ledger may signal that stuff is going on that can't be seen from simple observation of that stuff.

In contemplative terms, the cloud of unknowing, that may precede the reception of deeper awareness.

I heartily believe in deeper reality and a supernatural dimension to our existence. And I believe it is reasonable, and acceptable scholarship, to pre-suppose that deeper reality... as a reasonable working hypothesis or premiss... and to explore text, tradition, and living experience in that context.

Of course, it would be equally unreasonable to rule out other theologians working from different starting points.

It does seem strange to me, in a faith that champions the resurrection of Jesus, that the miraculous should be ruled out as a possible 'working reality'.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 7 October 2015 at 3:22pm BST

@ Susanah Clark, here, "I see no reason why scholarly theology could not posit a reality where miracles can happen (resurrection of Jesus, anybody?)" and here "It does seem strange to me, in a faith that champions the resurrection of Jesus, that the miraculous should be ruled out as a possible 'working reality'."

There are several problems with these two statements, which are saying the same thing, and limited space to reply. First, one distinguishes between assumptions. I've addressed that above. A second problem, and we see this with NT Wright, is the rush to conclusion based on preconceived notions, and in that rush a collapsing of theological disciplines. The age of omni-competent theologians is over. One speaks for example of exegetes, historians, systematic theologians and so on.

Bernard Lonergan's Epilogue in Insight makes interesting reading on this issue. There he points out that today's thinker does not "live in the medieval period in which a thinker could presuppose his faith and proceed to the development of theology, nor in the sixteenth century, in which he could suppose the validity of human reason and proceed to develop a philosophy...". He also writes that the legacy of modern scholarship, for example, has created " ... a climate of opinion that has made it increasing difficult to substitute rhetoric for history, fancy for fact, abstract argument for textual evidence." One must be careful about "positing" the faith based notion of resurrection at the wrong point in the theological task.

The term theologian is ambiguous, and assertions made using the term are equivocal, as we see on this thread. A scripture scholar may or may not be a person of faith. Yet even if s/he is not, their work can be of use to the community of faith in terms of hermeneutics. It certainly cannot be dismissed by piety alone.


Posted by Rod Gillis at Wednesday, 7 October 2015 at 7:02pm BST

Golly, I thought that this thread would have gone the way of all flesh by now! I have been wrestling with Windows 10 for the last couple days and have had little chance to comment. However, I note this in particular, from Susannah:

"It does seem strange to me, in a faith that champions the resurrection of Jesus, that the miraculous should be ruled out as a possible 'working reality'."

'Working reality' seems to be the wrong expression here. We should, even in textual criticism or hermeneutics refer to working 'hypotheses', and then see on what basis it makes sense to say that the hypothesis is confirmed or disconfirmed. If you begin with the assumption of a miracle as a working reality, then you are actually bringing your own presuppositions to the text, and that is seldom warranted, as Rod Gillis has pointed out.

In response to NJ, if in fact Oakhill was strenuous going compared to Oxford, it is surprising (to me, at least) that you should speak of academic rigour in the same comment that your refer N.T. Wright, whose historical rigour is greatly in question. When interpreting the resurrection it is not obvious that he had on his intellectual hat, but approached the whole issue by determining beforehand what had to be proved, come what may. You say that critical scholarship is illiberal. I'm not sure what you mean here by 'illiberal,' but from any reasonably rigorous point of view (as to historical reality, for example), critical scholarship sets out, not to prove something already assumed, but to confirm or disconfirm hypotheses. Such hypotheses, however, cannot include assumptions that we know, on the basis of the most rigorous science, to be impossible. Therefore, Hollywood being the exception, there are few people I know today who would really give credence to the claim that the Red Sea was parted in the dramatic way often depicted in film, and described in Exodus. This goes for the resurrection as well. It cannot (with a stress on that word) be interpreted realistically, and the stories do not suggest that it should be. So we need to seek another way of reading those stories that are so central to Christian faith.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 8 October 2015 at 3:13pm BST

Eric and Rod In the light of your concerns can I ask what writers or books you would point me or others for use, say, in confirmation classes or home groups that makes the challenge and understanding of Christian faith accessible whilst avoiding what you would see as the pitfalls of the 'popularising' approaches lamented on this thread? This is genuine question.

Posted by David Runcorn at Friday, 9 October 2015 at 8:22am BST

@ David Runcorn, good question, difficult to answer. It isn't easy to find good readable generalist introductory books for confirmation type things. The problem is compounded by the fact that one needs material that covers a wide range of topics such as scripture, tradition, sacraments, discipleship, polity and the like.

With regard to preaching and teaching in the parish I tended to use an adult education model which requires a lot of opportunity for folks to talk, ask questions, reflect on their experience and so forth. Reading material tends to be of secondary importance, but directly tied to the individual's questions, concerns, and education level. I have found, in some instances, that the Catechism in the American BCP is an overall good framework in terms of jumping off point for a group, but conversation about it is crucial.

In preaching, bible study, and inquirer groups I have always prepared myself, in terms of exegesis, by looking at articles in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Brevard Childs work is interesting in terms of the canonical sweep of things. For more general systematic issues, I like Ian Macquarrie, e.g. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought. I have sometimes referred folks to Macquarrie or Hans Kung if they have the ability to engage the same. I have found Rahner and Lonergan useful in terms of personal preparation around the big questions.

This probably doesn't answer your question about what to use as a text book type thing; but I prefer, whether in groups or with individuals, to get people talking about their questions and their concerns, and resource them with reading material as may be appropriate.

It is interesting to discover how many "seekers" have been negatively impacted, some profoundly so, by fundamentalist or socially conservative based religious teaching. It is interesting to see that critical perspectives, far from "destroying faith", are often welcomed as refreshing and helpful.

In short, let people talk, and think about reading material depending on what the conversation brings up.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 9 October 2015 at 6:03pm BST

David Runcorn, since your question was addressed to both Rod and me, let me put down a few thoughts of my own. First off, I find myself in agreement with Rod more often than not. In particular this: "It is interesting to see that critical perspectives, far from "destroying faith", are often welcomed as refreshing and helpful." That has been my experience.

I don't know about specific books to use for this purpose, though I have used books by Richard Holloway for this purpose. His books "Godless Morality" and "Anger, Sex, Doubt and Death" were helpful, though I used excerpts, rather than entire books. I think the same author's "Leaving Alexandria" would be very helpful in showing how a person could move from a very devout Anglo-Catholicism to expressing deep questions about his former devotion, and how his faith passed through several modulations (including speaking in tongues) to the "post-Christian" (his words) standpoint he has reached now. Don Cupitt's "Reforming Christianity" was useful as a benchmark for some discussions. I often moved from biblical texts to critical discussions of the texts to show how many changes have taken place in the critical approach to a once sacrosanct and untouchable literary tradition (since the Bible is at least as much the tradition of its interpretation as it is a useful starting point as it stands for discussions of faith). One biblical scholar that I found unhelpful (contrary to Rod) was Childs’ canonical approach, which it seems to me short-circuited this historical tradition.

Don’t upset the comfortable faith of the elderly, I used to be told, but they were the keenest to think seriously about their faith in contemporary terms. Most people like to think, and are chuffed to be thought able to think seriously and critically about those things that had troubled them for years, and welcomed the opportunity to learn things that are often hidden from them.

A lot of discussions hinged on my homilies (which were always printed), which in general raised issues that my study had raised for me. In the last years this focused very much on Christian anti-Semitism, and what we should like very much to think of as un-Christian attitudes towards the religion of Jesus, but simply cannot, based on the Christian scriptures and the way Christianity has hijacked the Jewish Bible.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Saturday, 10 October 2015 at 2:10pm BST

Rod and Eric. Thank you for both responding to my question. But when Eric commends what he himself calls ‘post Christian’ writers for the task of teaching Christian faith and discipleship I am struggling.
You both agree that, ‘It is interesting to discover how many "seekers" have been negatively impacted, some profoundly so, by fundamentalist or socially conservative based religious teaching.’
Well given your theological standpoint (and undoubted pastoral gifts) I would expect such people to seek you out. And when they do I am glad you are there. But I think you generalize. There can be a negative fundamentalism within liberal and critical traditions too. No tradition has a monopoly on bad faith. We just think we see it more clearly, and tend to regard it is a more serious problem, in groups other than our own.
I have journeyed with seekers like those you describe. But I have also journeyed with people left confused and paralysed by predominantly ‘critical’ approaches to the faith. It left them feeling intellectually intimidated and robbed of confident and trusting faith. In my time I have encouraged some with such intellectual exhaustion or theological/critical constipation to try out the uncomplicated, joyful directness of the Pentecostal church down the road for a season – and for some it was quite liberating.

Posted by David Runcorn at Sunday, 11 October 2015 at 8:51am BST

Gentlemen,

How do you 'place', and how do you 'rationalise', supernatural phenomena in your theological concept?

Because, for one, the raising of Jesus Christ from death appears to be a pretty pivotal supernatural phenomenon.

And if one supernatural phenomenon, then doesn't that open up the possibility of whole realms of the supernatural?

I'm just asking, because I'm still uncomfortable about the reluctance, expressed earlier in this fascinating thread, to take a deeper and supernatural dimension to reality... as the starting point for theology and the way we open up to the bible.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 11 October 2015 at 9:10pm BST

@ David Runcorn, "But I think you generalize. There can be a negative fundamentalism within liberal and critical traditions too. No tradition has a monopoly on bad faith. We just think we see it more clearly, and tend to regard it is a more serious problem, in groups other than our own.'

Agreed! You make a good and valid point. There is, or ought to be, a kind of dialectical tension between the point you are making here and the point I have been laboring over here, that hopefully, serves a bigger synthetic horizon. Besides, one must remember Pascal, both his wager and his reasons of the heart.

I keep coming back to an observation by Lonergan i.e. that there is no new revelation from on high to replace revelation [in the person of] Jesus Christ. Eventually I do get to a Trinitarian theology as defended by Lonergan, for example, but the road requires choices, like the road imagined by Robert Frost. And remember, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at about the time of his visit to America, wrote about those who are scornful of fundamentalists but who are not a match for them. In the end we all behold as in a glass darkly, no exceptions.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 11 October 2015 at 9:42pm BST

Rod: "Eventually I do get to a Trinitarian theology as defended by Lonergan, for example, but the road requires choices, like the road imagined by Robert Frost."

Except that perhaps individual choices do not "make all the difference" in a collective sense?

Perhaps there are just many paths, and perhaps the destination is found on the journey, where the road to nowhere can get transformed into roads to 'now here', and simply lived?

I use question marks, rather than framing these comments as questions. Sometimes Borges 'Garden of Forking Paths' resonates in my experience, leading us - as humans - to a multiplicity of multiplicities... so that diverse lives and diverse journeys may each be filled with the shining glory.

In the old tribal concepts of religion, as espoused in bronze age texts, if your path was different to mine, then we couldn't both please God.

But what if there are simply multiple paths, multiple ways of having belief, and what if diversity and diverging pathways are actually hardwired into the physics of the universe, and into a kind of theological and Borgian encounter with realities in the labyrinth?

At the moment when perfection suddenly comes, in the practice of perfection, definitions and theological dogma seem to slip away... and there seems to be simply this vast sea or plain of consciousness and awareness, and it is a shared awareness, an awareness that is God's, that God seems to share with us.

Perhaps that is the nature of reality. The coming of 'God now here' in our lives, whatever religious path we have chosen?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 12 October 2015 at 10:02am BST

@ Susannah Clark, "...individual choices do not 'make all the difference' in a collective sense?" The individual and the "collective sense" can go together. As Lonergan notes, "The question of authenticity is two fold: there is the minor authenticity of the subject with respect to the tradition that nourishes him; there is the major authenticity that justifies or condemns the tradition itself. The first passes a human judgement on subjects; the second is the judgement of history and ultimately the judgement of divine providence upon traditions." (Existenz And Aggiornamento).

Choices matter, Again I find helpful Lonergan's notion of faith as knowledge born of religious love leading to the apprehension of transcendent value. Questions arise,but, "Only secondarily do there arise the questions of God's existence and nature, and they are the questions of either the lover seeking to know [God] or of the unbeliever seeking to escape [God]. Such is the basic option of the existential subject once called by God." (Method in Theology p.116)

A quick postscript about Richard Holloway, (mentioned by Eric), whom I read sometime ago, and from whom not much has stayed with me. Unlike Holloway, I continue to find nourishment in an Anglo-catholic tradition, the critical legacy of the same being one of the reasons.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 12 October 2015 at 2:55pm BST

@Susannah: "How do you 'place', and how do you 'rationalise', supernatural phenomena in your theological concept?" I'd prefer to think in terms of theology, not "a" theological concept, though as a working parish priest my theology was more syncretistic than systematic.

As for the resurrection and its relation to the 'supernatural'. (I put it in scarequotes because I'm not quite sure what people intend by the supernatural.) After all, if the supernatural makes its appearance in the natural, then is it supernatural after all? Most references to the resurrection as supernatural are, to my mind, superstitious. The resurrection was, in the first place, experiential (or existential, if you like). The men on the road to Emmaus, for example, met a stranger, and then, when they sat down to eat, they recognised the Lord. But was it the Lord in the stranger that they recognised, or was it the Lord in the flesh? I think the former.

The stories are so conflicting and puzzling because Jesus' followers were trying to understand their varied experiences, not because there was a single experience to understand. In other words, it was, as one scholarly study of the resurrection puts it, an eschatological event; not one that happened in time, as a distinct historical event, but a proleptic one, just as baptism is a prolepsis of the (general) resurrection (which is much clearer in the Eastern rite than in the Western one).

If we see resurrection in NT Wright's sense as an historical event, provable by the historian's art, then it loses most of its relevance for faith. It is then more like a magic trick (which is what the supernatural becomes when you naturalise it). It's also important to see it as an interpretation, because 'the resurrection' can be interpreted in a Jewish way as well (even though Christianity has done its best to de-Judaise Jesus), as a living illustration of what it is for the chosen people to be a light to the nations. Jesus may have been saying: "There is no magic way out. It is our destiny as a people to suffer." And Christians, sadly, were not slow to oblige. But that is because Christians came to think of resurrection in magical terms, and failed to see that Isaiah 53 was about Israel, not about Jesus.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 12 October 2015 at 3:30pm BST

@ Eric, "Christians ... failed to see that Isaiah 53 was about Israel, not about Jesus." Perhaps it is about both? After all, Jesus was a Jew. Very likely he applied the title "son of man" to himself. The application of the servant poems to Jesus, given the manner of his death and the claims made about him afterwards by his followers, make it a reasonable application. An artistic piece can have more than one application, can transcend its original context. Picasso's Guernica, for example, is it only about the Spanish civil war?

Re the Emmaus Road narrative, " was it the Lord in the stranger that they recognized, or was it the Lord in the flesh?" The story seems to want to focus the matter differently than does your question. The focus seems to be an appearance narrative within a meal framework. It is in the breaking of the bread that Jesus is "recognized". The recognition reflects on what is opened up with a reading of The Law, the prophets, and the psalms.

Despite the awful problems of Christian antisemitism, the Old Testament remains an important part of a legitimate Christian view. Abandoning it actually militates against the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewishness of the post Resurrection community. Without the Old Testament the New Testament is completely unintelligible.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 12 October 2015 at 5:10pm BST

Thank you for both of your responses. I am about to head off to night duty (I'm a nurse) so I won't respond right now. But this thread is fascinating.

A couple of typos in my previous post:

"I use question marks, rather than framing these comments as questions."

I intended, of course, 'framing these comments as statements' not 'questions'.

"...in the practice of perfection..."

I intended to type 'practice of contemplation' not 'practice of perfection'.

Demonstrably I do not practise perfection.

Eric: 'if the supernatural makes its appearance in the natural, then is it supernatural after all?'

I actually quite like the term 'supranatural' to indicate something that may simply be a higher dimensional level of 'natural' - just appearing above and beyond what we view as natural.

The miraculous simply from our lower dimensional point of view.

Deeper reality breaking through into our lower-dimensional natural world.

I believe a purely 'lower dimensional natural world' makes too many events inexplicable in terms of what people experience.

Of course, there may be different opinions on that!

Posted by Susannah Clark at Monday, 12 October 2015 at 5:17pm BST

Rod, of course it is true that the NT is unintelligible without the OT. That goes without saying. The question, however, is whether this use of the OT did not lead to anti-Semitism within the NT, and galvanised very early Christian anti-Semitism, in works by Justin Martyr, Chrysostom, etc, and that it was this that in fact separated Jesus from his Jewish brothers and sisters.

I am not sure that the Christian use of the OT is an entirely legitimate one, because it in fact led Christians to pervert their understanding of Jews and Judaism, and still does, despite the Holocaust and its undoubted relationship to the way that Christians hijacked Jewish prophetic texts, and used those texts to condemn them.

Think of this, if you will, in terms of the way Islam has misinterpreted Christian texts and beliefs, and has hijacked both Christianity and Judaism in order to bolster its self-serving beliefs about both, in which all the prophets, including Jesus, are seen as forerunners of Muhammad. Jewish criticisms of their own lack of faithfulness have been used (by both Christians and Muslims) against them, to make it seem as though they were truly blind, and therefore could not recognise the Messiah when he came (the stone that the builders rejected, which became the keystone of the arch - I know, I know, 'the head of the corner', but that makes no sense), or the final word to Muhammad, a refusal which brought calamity on the Jewish tribes of the Arabian peninsula. Christians too, like the Jews, are likewise blind to this final revelation.

A good book to read here is David Nirenberg's "Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition," (Norton, 2013) which argues that anti-Semitism is in fact an epistemological key to an understanding of much of Western thought.

Certainly, you are right that a text may have many interpretations, but when that text is the sacred text of another people, its interpretation to negate that people's understanding of it seems to me ethically problematic, at the very least, if not a deliberate attempt to vilify that people's faith, which seems to have been the case. The people who should have recognised Jesus as the Messiah, killed him instead. (Though killed by the Romans, Christian scripture goes to great lengths to convict the Jews of the crime, making them thereby totally faithless.)

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Monday, 12 October 2015 at 9:38pm BST

@ Eric. It needs to be said that Christian antisemitism is a serious issue with horrific historical outcomes. One finds it in the use of scripture, in theologians like Chrysostom, in the Prayer Book tradition, e.g. the third collect for Good Friday. I grew up in a neighborhood with a large number of small shops operated by Jewish proprietors. I recall very well the antisemitic slurs of "good Christians".

However, the treatment of NT texts requires careful study and nuance. Here, on a thread about scholarship, I point to Raymond Brown's treatment of the textual issues in, The Death of The Messiah, Vol. 1, 18: F1.

Your position seems to be a kind of argument against "cultural appropriation", which is to say an argument in which hermeneutics are subordinated to a political argument. This tends to collapse together in an undifferentiated way several strata of the problem.

The Pentateuch, for example, belonged not just to second temple Judaism but to the Samaritans as well, in reference to which one may speak of historical ethical questions. Jesus himself belonged to the prophetic tradition. The cleansing of the temple narrative depicts a prophetic act, much in the mold of Jeremiah's yoke of iron or Nathan's indictment of David. Hardly a hijacking. Second Temple Judaism gives rise to both primitive Christianity and post-second temple Judaism. That the two traditions share a body of literature, if not its interpretation or language, is not, in and of itself, enmity as destiny. In fact, contemporary Jewish -Christian dialogue demonstrates the opposite. I would say the same with regard to Islam ( see H. Kung or W. Cantwell Smith). The notion of the three Abrahamic faiths is laudable and viable.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 2:15am BST

Susannah, I really do appreciate your attempt to understand things in ways that you may not have thought of before. However (you knew there was a 'but' or a 'however' coming!), when you say this:

"I actually quite like the term 'supranatural' to indicate something that may simply be a higher dimensional level of 'natural' - just appearing above and beyond what we view as natural.

The miraculous simply from our lower dimensional point of view."

- you seem really to be saying that, whilst it is (from our point of view) seen from a 'lower point of view', it is at the same time being seen as from a higher point of view. In other words, if you claim to be 'hearing the voice of God', for example, then you are, from your lower point of view, already somehow looking at things from a higher dimensional point of view (if you catch my drift); thus in fact either 'raising' your own point of view, or somehow 'lowering' the higher dimension of what you claim to be speaking about. Which is precisely what I mean by speaking of the supernatural in time as in some sense naturalising the supernatural, and I can’t see how the word 'supranatural' really changes things. What would show the "supranatural" as a higher dimension of the natural?

This is precisely the problem with speaking of the resurrection as historical. There is an interesting correspondence between Don Cupitt and C.F.D. Moule about this very thing in a collection of papers by Don Cupitt: "Explorations in Theology 6". He puts the issue nicely in this way:

"... the birth of Easter faith was, whatever else it was, a religious experience. And in religious experiences concepts are prior to the experience. You can't have an experience until you have the concepts through which it is to be apprehended and understood. So I say the Easter belief is prior to the Easter experiences, which express it." (29)

In other words, you can't have the 'higher dimension of the natural' until you have the 'lower dimension' concepts to express and understand it. Notice your word 'appearing' which does all the work in the quote that I take from you, and cannot do this work unless you already have concepts in lower dimensional terms in which to express what is higher. In other words, the miraculous is always a matter of interpretation.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 2:16am BST

Rod, this comment will have to extend into a second one. However, it seems a bit of a stretch to suggest that Second Temple Judaism gave rise to both Christianity and post-Second Temple Judaism. It is clear that, long before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, what you call Second Temple Judaism was in the process of development. It used to be said that there were no synagogues in the Galilee in the first century until one was discovered there. Rabbinic (or Pharisaic) Judaism, and other hermeneutical variations on Judaism, such as the Qumran community, were linear descendents of OT traditions. This cannot, I think, be said regarding Christianity, although it is clear that early attempts were made to convince Jews that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, and that what became Christianity was clearly prophesied by the OT prophets. Judaism was never a religion of salvation in the way that Christianity is, and so far as I can make out there is no clear prophetic transition from Judaism to Christianity, though there are clear signs that Jesus was more closely associated with rabbinic Judaism than he was to the priestly Judaism of the Temple.

I have not read Brown on the death of the Messiah, but I do think Crossan is right when he speaks of the passion narratives as prophecy historicised rather than history remembered. In this light, the idea of different legitimate developments of Second-Temple Judaism seems to me to be a desperate attempt to legitimate Christian interpretations of OT prophecy, and to claim authentic Jewish credentials for Christianity which it does not in fact possess. It is also a way of disinheriting the Jews, because if Jesus was the awaited Messiah, then in fact post-Second Temple Judaism is spiritually empty. It simply misunderstood its own scriptures.

As for the notion of three Abrahamic faiths being laudable and viable, I see no basis for this claim. There may be some peripheral conversations amongst the three traditions, but this is unlikely to achieve anything substantial, and the fact that it seems to have led (chiefly Western) Christians to overlook the increasing persecution of Christians by Muslims, it is doing more harm than good. Considering that Anglicans and Roman Catholics cannot achieve any significant rapprochement, the idea that Christianity, Judaism and Islam will ever do so seems to me to be hallucinatory.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 2:04pm BST

To continue. There is no reason to think of Islam as Abrahamic, or that Muhammad in fact stands in the prophetic tradition which Islam claims as its only true expression. Quite aside from the horror of the Qur’an, Muhammad is shown in the sunnah as just too vicious a man to think that this is true. His murder of the men of a Jewish tribe, and his taking to his bed that very night the widow of a man whom he had slain, is disgusting yet characteristic of the man. According to Islamic tradition the marriage of a woman captured in war is immediately annulled by virtue of her captivity. This too is vile.

You speak of the fact that "Christian antisemitism is a serious issue with horrific historical outcomes." In the event, however, Christian anti-Semitism is largely due to the Christian misappropriation of the OT. There is absolutely no reason to think that "a young woman will be with child" or "He was despised and rejected by others" are genuinely prophetic references to Jesus’ birth or passion. Written during the exile Isaiah 53 expresses, if read in relation to the surrounding text, a Jewish insight as to their historical vocation. I do not say that Jesus is not rooted in Jewish tradition, but I do wonder whether Christianity is.

I think what Marc Ellis writes in his book "Unholy Alliance: Religion and Atrocity in our Time" is pertinent:

"Do [Christians] mistake [Jesus'] person as central when the message is of one person among others who demonstrated a courage and tenacity in confronting the culture, religion, and leadership of his time and calling for a deeper reckoning? Can anyone say without flinching or without horror that Christian activity in history has been in continuity with Jesus? Can one affirm in fact that the destiny of his followers has or will unfold from his witness in the history of his time? If not, it is difficult to see the possibility of continuing Christianity at all." (175-76)

He has equally pertinent things to say about Jewish continuity as well, and its failure in respect of the Palestinians, for example. However, my point is that Christian OT hermeneutic is a misuse and misappropriation, a source of such calamity that Christians must seriously rethink the sources of their faith. This is not a political argument, but a criticism of Christian hermeneutic tradition.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 2:48pm BST

@ Eric, "This is not a political argument, but a criticism of Christian hermeneutic tradition." Actually it is a political argument. It fits the critique of "cultural misappropriation" perfectly. As such, it tends to flatten out several issues in the service of an ideological perspective. "Christian anti-Semitism is largely due to the Christian misappropriation of the OT." As a bald statement this is not a tenable position. In fact, it imperils the idea you appear to attempting to advance by underestimating the complex nature and history of antisemitism. See, for example, Jewish writer Abraham Yehoshua. Besides, a lot of scholars, both Jewish and Christian, have worked very hard over the past century to turn enmity to amity. Their contributions are to be valued,and ought not become a causality of anti-religious argumentation.

"There is no reason to think of Islam as Abrahamic, or that Muhammad in fact stands in the prophetic tradition which Islam claims as its only true expression." Actually, I prefer to allow Muslims the first word about themselves in this regard and then enter to dialogue accordingly. The habit of outsiders, whether the outsiders be religious or not, presuming to tell others, Jews or Christians or Muslims who they 'really are' is fraught with tragic consequences.

The prophet Isaiah is my favorite scriptural writer. I rejoice in reading him at Christmas or Easter. The servant poems are especially meaningful during the celebration of Christ's passion. They give voice to Jesus as an Israelite who ran afoul of both empire and second temple religious leadership. The servant poems provide a corrective universality to the tensions in John's Passion. Beyond that, Isaiah, for example, like the Dialogues of Plato, or the Beatitudes, or Ibn 'Ata" Illah's Sufi mysticism, or The Declaration of Independence, are not just "owned" by their originators, they belong to whole civilized world.

Again, you might review Raymond Brown and Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Careful nuanced scholarship, though not easily dismissed, works both ways. It is at once both iconoclastic and edifying.


Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 5:48pm BST

I'm sorry, Rod, but we are not going to agree. I do think that careful scholarship can be both iconoclastic and edifying. But I also think it can be too protective of one's own "truths". Justin Martyr (100-165) is a perfect example of how Christianity, very early, laid claim to the Jewish scriptures. Justin says to Trypho: “They are contained in your Scriptures, or rather, not yours, but ours.” This is representative Christian hermeneutics, evident even in Paul. The tradition was cemented by the fourth century, as Chrysostom's Adversus Judaeos homilies testify, of which this is a small taster:

"But do not be surprised that I called the Jews pitiable. They really are pitiable and miserable. When so many blessings from heaven came into their hands, they thrust them aside and were at great pains to reject them. The morning Sun of Justice arose for them, but they thrust aside its rays and still sit in darkness. We, who were nurtured by darkness, drew the light to ourselves and were freed from the gloom of their error."

Further along Chrysostom says, clearly referring to Romans:

"They were the branches of that holy root, but those branches were broken. We had no share in the root, but we did reap the fruit of godliness. From their childhood they read the prophets, but they crucified him whom the prophets had foretold.

Gregory Baum writes, in his Introduction to Ruether’s “Faith and Fratricide”:

“What the encounter of Auschwitz demands of Christian theologians ... is that they submit Christian teaching to a radical ideological critique. Their task is to discern the trends in the Church’s teaching that legitimate Christian power over others and have destructive effects on Jews (and other groups of men and women). Is such a radical reinterpretation of the gospel possible? Is it possible to purify the Christian message of its anti-Jewish ideology without invalidating the Christian claims altogether? This is the frightening question.”

This remains to be done. And, as Ruether says: “In actuality, the adversos Judaeos tradition represents the overall method of Christian exegesis of the Old Testament. ... It was virtually impossible for the Christian preacher or exegete to teach scripturally at all without alluding to the anti-Judaic theses.”

It seems to me impossible not to raise questions as to the legitimacy of this hermeneutical tradition - the fountainhead of so much horror and hatred.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 8:22pm BST

@ Eric, "I'm sorry, Rod, but we are not going to agree." Agreed. I will close with this. The Chrysostom example is well known to anyone who has looked at this issue. No disagreement there. Gregory Baum, on the other hand, I have some passing familiarity with. Baum's presentation is much more attentive to the complexities of the issue than your argument presents.

If you wish to argue that a particular type of Christian hermeneutic has been used in the service of Christian anti-Semitism I don't think any reasonable person would deny that. However, Reuther, whom I have also read, goes too far.

"It seems to me impossible not to raise questions as to the legitimacy of this hermeneutical tradition - the fountainhead of so much horror and hatred." This is an example of ideological overstatement.

No, we share with Judaism a sacred literature.

And I would add, that the New Testament itself in many ways examples a kind of Jewish literature. The main protagonist is Jewish, the conflict he was involved in was an internal Jewish conflict, the sub-strata of the issues are first century Jewish issues, many of them, as Jewish scholars point out, are developed against the religious controversy of first century Palestine at the edge of the second temple epoch. The main metaphor of the kingdom of God, the midrash like infancy narratives, the rabbinical argument style of Paul, some of the exegetical techniques used by NT writers with regard to the Hebrew scriptures, the so called letter of James, the parables and similitudes, the style of the so called Lord's Prayer, all very Jewish.

No, Christians will continue to treat the Old Testament as sacred literature. We could no more set it aside than we could set aside the New Testament. All of which makes Gregory Baum's question truly poignant.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 13 October 2015 at 11:34pm BST

Rod, I agree, it is time to put this to bed. I do not think, however, that you (and this goes for most Christians) face Baum's question with the openness that it deserves, however scary it may be. As Ruether says (and I do not think that she goes too far), had followers of Jesus remained a Jewish sect, its interpretation of the OT could have been a harmless disagreement amongst Jews. But, as Paul makes clear, despite his claim that they are, Gentile and Jew are not equal in the Church, for of this duality Paul has already condemned the Jews, of whom he speaks in Romans as having been condemned by God so that in the end they may be saved – still a favourite trope of evangelical Christians in the US. Moreover, as Ruether points out, Christianity in the end condemned the wrong Judaism, for Pharisaic (or Rabbinic) Judaism was the Judaism of the future, clearly illustrated in their move from besieged Jerusalem to Yavne, and it is this Judaism that has become, in Christian terms, the archetype of hypocrisy. Jews abandoned the apocalyptic of the Temple, and became very literary, rooted in the biblical narrative. Their vocation became, very much in Isaiah’s sense, to sanctify the Divine Name, despite suffering and catastrophe. This was, so far as I can tell, also Jesus’ intention, and we have misread this most Jewish of deeds as uniquely expressive of his significance (alone).

To say, as you do, that "we share with Judaism a sacred literature," is, I suspect, not something that most Jews would accept. Nor need they. There is simply no basis for the Christian prophetic interpretation of the OT, however redolent of meaning for Christians at Easter or Christmas. It is, as Crossan says, prophecy historicised, wrenched from its Jewish context and plunked down into the middle of the first century. If we do actually "share" this literature, then there must be some agreement as to its meaning, and there isn't. "Nostra Aetate" declares that the Jews are not cursed by God. How noble! No, we must be able to say that Christianity made a dreadful mistake which, in the outcome, had lethal consequences. We need to acknowledge this. Of course, this is doubtless a frightening proposition for Christians, but it is one that we must put to ourselves in all honesty, and this remains to be done.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Wednesday, 14 October 2015 at 4:07pm BST

I don't see so much dichotomy between the Old and New Testament texts. I don't necessarily think that the early church simply 'invented' prophetic links, back-dating them to OT texts, to support their own new theological claims. Admittedly, I suspect that writers like the Pauline authors do try to develop systematic structures which 'force' things into their own theology. But I also believe that God is involved in the revelation of God's nature and relationship with human beings, and that just because the Isaiah authors were writing primarily with knowledge of Israel and its contemporary situation, does not exclude the revelatory and the work of God in opening the author' hearts and minds to 'things unknown' and beyond their immediate comprehension.

Therefore, I tend to see the hand of God in collaboration with successive religious communities. Concepts that touch on fundamental and archetypical spiritual concepts, get inherited by later Christian communities, and find profound significance in the revelatory nature of Jesus's life and death.

The 'burial' of the small community on the Ark, held safe by God, only to be restored to a new world... the 'burial' of Joseph in a pit, only to be brought back out to become an agent of restoration... the 'burial' of the Israelites (according to tradition) in the maws of the sea, kept safe by God, and delivered to the other side... the 'burial' of the community of Israel in the wilderness, only to find restoration in a promised land... the 'burial' of Daniel in a den of lions, supposedly lost to life, only to be kept safe and restored... the 'burial' of the 3 men in the fiery furnace, beyond all hope, yet kept safe - not a hair singed or burned - and brought back up alive... the 'burial' of Jonah in the whale, and his restoration to the land of the living... the symbolic 'burial' of Jesus in the Jordan, and rising back up with the sign of the Spirit... the 'burial' of Lazarus, and his restoration from the tomb...

All these point to a continuing symbolism, felt if not always understood, by successive religious communities, both Jewish and Christian: to the archetype of burial and spiritual restoration... to the deepest nature of *baptism* - not only as a sacramental event, but as the very heart of how the God of love dies to self, buries self for love, and yet - like the Burning Bush - is not consumed.

Jesus may be a legitimate fulfilment and epitome of a continuing revelation, without having to argue that the links were contrived. It is a living and evolving tradition. It is about seeking profound spiritual truth and reality, expressed and re-expressed in successive generations and religious communities.

Or (to take only this baptismal example - their are a host of other archetypes) as Isaiah wrote: "When you pass through the deep waters... when you pass through the fires... you will not perish... for I am with you... because I have loved you, therefore I will deliver you."

It is hard not to see one and the same essential message, whether read as a Jewish text, or as part of Christian text.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 12:04am BST

@ Eric, a post script, to this thread, which comes down to a politcal difference of opinion.

Leo G Perdue has written, Reconstructing Old Testament Theology (Fortress, 2005). In a chapter titled, From Jewish Tradition to Biblical Theology: The Tanakh as a Source of Jewish Theology and Practice, Perdue surveys a variety of Jewish scholars regarding the possibility of OT theology. (Perdue confirms the reality of some anti-Semitic interpretations of the Old Testament). Perdue notes Matitahu Tsevat's openness to the notion of a Jewish OT theology if the texts are read within their sociocultural contexts. "The only caveat is that Jews should not Judaize the Old Testament even as Christians should not Christianize it." (p. 197).

In that same work Perdue gives a detailed consideration of the complex task at hand, including a consideration of apolitical v. political objectives. "I suggest the politicization of the biblical text has always been part of an interpreter's agenda, but now it is often no longer hidden beneath the layers of the protestation of objectivity." (p. 20). So much for your facile notion that a shared text requires a shared meaning.

By Comparison Perdue presents ideas from Tikva Frymer-Kensky such as readings of scripture by marginalized peoples, the multivocality of the text, and how the reader, perhaps even more than the text itself, is the determiner of meaning and authority. Perdue quotes Frymer-Kensky from The Emergence of Jewish Biblical Theologies, where she writes, " By presenting alternative voices in the central iconic text in Judaism, the study of the Bible helps undermine the authority of any single Biblical voice and one particular Biblical reading."
(p.201)


Looking to the future of OT theology, Perdue writes, "It then becomes our responsibility as believers and practitioners in the present to articulate our views of the faith in conversation with others past and present, Christian and non-Christian in ways that become guides to faith and moral discernment." (p.349)


Whatever answers may be proposed, ultimate questions transcend both testaments, with the Old Testament giving those questions added weight and an archetypal ground. Scholarship will be of some use in preventing the shrill certainty of political agendas from drowning out the questions.



Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 12:19am BST

Rod, (with apologies that I am riding pillion with your conversation with Eric)

I agree that political exploitation of biblical text and tradition was very probably an influence both on the original texts and the development of successor texts and traditions.

That is one layer of the influences in action in the generation of sacred text by successive religious communities.

However, if one posits a divine participation and influence in the revelatory process and development of text, then there may be different influences at work, capable of embedding 'messages', archetypes, and the imparting of profound truths and insights - arguably or probably in interaction with the readers of successor generations.

Therefore, when you write "Perdue gives a detailed consideration of... apolitical v. political objectives... So much for your facile notion that a shared text requires a shared meaning"...

...it seems entirely reasonable that certain common archetypes and profound concepts mat indeed be embedded in the texts by divine influence and interaction with the authors, such that there are indeed shared truths, insights and meanings to be discerned and applied... over multiple generations and multiple religious communities and traditions.

This is not to discount the extraordinary and dynamic way God may interact - with huge diversity and individual specificity - in drawing revelation and understanding from text in a multiplicity of societies, contexts, and moral discernments.

Yet there may (and I'd argue probably are) some essential truths (or revelatory insights) that are implicit in the text and shared and accessible across dogmatic and faith divides.

The OT texts may contain 'sleeper' theology bombs, if you like... embedded revelations from God... with God at the heart of the process, not individual authors or communities. These may get coloured at surface level by political, social, and external factors... but I tend to see a continuum or purpose, initiated by God, of interaction with human individuals and communities, wrestling meaning and understanding of profound spiritual encounters with a living and proactive God.

Yes, the texts may include the temporal and political - and in a way that humanises and authenticates them - but the political may not be the primary dynamic, such that in the end no one community at any one time can claim 'ownership' of the text. God's ongoing purpose may work, challenge and incite response, across vast ranges of experience and situations.

It may not be 'facile' to speak of a shared text.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 8:00am BST

@ Susannah Clark, hardly a pillion. I thought I should conclude my comments because it appeared it was just Eric and on shelling each other out in the tall weeds. I attempted to answer the question of God earlier with reference to Lonergan and transcendent value. My emphasis here as been primarily on the role of scholarship in relation to the use of text; but I'm a Christian who understands Jesus the Jew as Jesus the Christ although not because I read the OT as crystal ball that predicted Jesus' future. I agree with Crossan, and Eric, on the prophecy historized issue; but that does negate my ability to continue to read Isaiah or the psalms as a Christian.

I did not say the notion of a shared text is facile; I said the that the notion that a shared text must by consequence produce a shared meaning or interpretation is facile.

The value of Perdue is his treatment of the issues, which are easily contorted into over-simplistic and extreme positions that actually threaten to undermine to good results of inter-faith dialogue.

Christian anti-Semitism is a minefield. We need to tread carefully, lest having pointed a finger you find yourself cast out. For example, Eric's comment, "Ruether points out, Christianity in the end condemned the wrong Judaism..." So, is the point that anti-Semitism is ok as a long as it is the right kind of anti-Semitism condemning the "wrong" kind of Judaism?

One must be careful, as well, not to presume to disenfranchise Jews or Jewish literature in the NT. Paul was a Jew. His arguments in the NT are about Jewish concerns. An abundance of scholars from Krister Stendahl to Calvin Roetzel ( Paul A Jew on the Margins, Westminster 2003) offer insights into this complex Jewish thinker. Much of what any of us have to say, is a footnote to Paul's liminal (in the good sense) position.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 1:34pm BST

Rod, this will only scratch the surface of your comments. The most salient thing about your post-modernist use of Perdue, to affirm the multivocality of texts, is that Perdue himself seems to dispute it. From what I can tell, Perdue himself regrets these post-mondernist consequences, suggesting that without historical foundation, all we are left with are diverse interpretations not in conversation with each other. So much for the superficiality of my comment about shared meaning. On the other hand, to suppose, as Perdue apparently does, that Jews should not "Judaise" the OT is really quite a priceless piece of anti-Judaism! I am surprised that anyone would even make such an egregious suggestion, with no clear indication of considering the consequences of doing so.

I agree, of course, that Christians should not Christianise the OT, as they have done. And I do not think that speaking about the "two" testaments (the two covenants), using the text as an archetypal ground for its historicising of many aspects of the figure of Jesus, is helpful. It is both anti-Jewish and procrustean in its effect, forcing it to say things which it does not say. The Tanakh is shot through with history, sometimes at some remove from the events described, but the prophetic texts refer fairly directly to contemporary historical contexts. I cannot see the justification for removing the prophetic writings from their historical context, as is common in the NT, since it is clear that prophecy was not intended as prediction but as spiritual commentary on the present. This is now widely assumed in biblical interpretation.

In other words, I think you are almost unbelievably facile in supposing that, "[w]hatever answers may be proposed, ultimate questions transcend both testaments, with the Old Testament giving those questions added weight and an archetypal ground." The basis for your claim to the Tanakh as a shared text is particularly facile, for it calls into question generations of work on the Tanakh (or what Christians tendentiously call the OT). Whether we should think of God as speaking in the way you propose, through texts originating in another context for another purpose, seems to me especially dubious, but undoubtedly comforting. But you must provide some kind of philosophical justification for reading historical texts in this way, especially when supersessionism is clearly expressed in the titles of the two parts of the Christian canon.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 3:56pm BST

To be honest, Rod, I've never really understood anti-Semitism, although I realise it exists and is execrable in every case. But I've just never really understood the grounds for the hostility. It's like, I may as well be anti-Latvian or anti-Norwegian etc.

I mean, Hitler's anti-Semitism wasn't really rooted in Christianity, because Hitler had little time for Christianity. To the extent that Jews took the rap for Jesus's death in Christian tradition, I can see how that could colour some people's views, but they'd have to be pretty stupid, given that Jesus was a Jew himself.

To me, the Jewish nature of the texts embraced by Christianity makes Jewishness something positive. (Even though I don't believe Jewish people are any more precious or important than my aforementioned Latvians and Norwegians.)

What I think is problematic is the way Judaism is presented as somehow supplementary to the 'new improved religion called Christianity'. As I suggested above, I prefer to see a continuum of religious communities, each interacting in faith with God, and trying to make sense of divine encounters.

Isaiah is not all about Jesus (the supplementary view of Judaism). The authors of Isaiah were superbly responsive, in their own way and in their own time, to the God who was 'with them' in their faith journeys.

I see God's dealings with successive religious communities (and our own) as a continuum. Isaiah may not have had any reasonable idea who Jesus would be, hundreds of years later, but it's reasonable to suggest that God did. The contemporary context of the Isaiah prophecies needs to be respected: but in the divine conversations over the millennia, it's not unreasonable to suppose that actual prophetic insights actually occurred - especially in the way symbol and archetype can speak of profound truth beyond our simple cerebral controls.

In this sense, perhaps, there are limits to scholarship... because not all text can simply be controlled (or defined or contained). Some parts of Isaiah are more like portals. Portals between people and God, which may open up in the interaction of the human heart with the divine - bringing sudden, not-worked-out-in-advance understanding or insight.

I believe that the Bible is a revelatory text. A text (or texts), written in faith, through the opening up of faith portals in the past, and capable of being opened up again and again. So in that sense (and not in the fundamentalist's sense of a literal and inerrant bible) the texts may be embued with powerful insight, some of it locked up for Xairos moments in time, that can operate dynamically in the human heart.

More than scholarship (though I'm not trying to disparage scholarship) I believe the bible can be read and received and 'understood with the heart' through opening up to God in faith. I believe that the Holy Spirit is the primary influence in this process, not theologians, not scholars. As such, I believe the bible can be dynamically received and engaged by 'unread people' as well as scholars.

If Judaism and Christianity may have divergent doctrines, yet I do believe that there is a shared continuum of profound disclosure of God's nature. There are shared significances. Just as there are not two separate Gods.

There may be multiple pathways of faith... but I believe in One God, in engagement with successive religious communities and individuals. The process - in my opinion - is profoundly supernatural.

At the point where we make it 'either...or' and tribalise religion, we open the doors to sectarianism, racism, discrimination and some of the darkest sides of human nature.

And then, surely, God weeps.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 4:26pm BST

@ Eric, "The most salient thing about your post-modernist use of Perdue ... is that Perdue himself seems to dispute it." Have you read his book? I gather not. Perdue surveys a wide variety of approaches; but the full title of his book, Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History, indicates the task as he sees it.

" ...to suppose, as Perdue apparently does, that Jews should not 'Judaise' the OT is really quite a priceless piece of anti-Judaism!" Eric, before you get yourself all riled up, its apparently not. Perdue is referring, as I said, to the views of Matitiahu Tsevat, who was Jewish. Perdue begins by footnoting Tsevat's book, Theology of the Old Testament.

http://huc.edu/news/article/2010/dr-matitiahu-tsevat-z%E2%80%9Dl-passes-away-96

Perdue also footnotes a rejoinder to Tsevat by Bernard Anderson in which Perdue states quite clearly that Anderson misunderstands Jewish (biblical) theology. This is all from Perdue's survey of a very long list of Jewish scholars who have engaged in doing biblical theology, with resulting criticism form Jewish colleagues. Whether Perdue, in such a necessarily concise survey, does complete justice to Tsevat, I have no idea. Perdue is very clear and honest about the past anti-Semitic nature of Christian biblical theology, naming some of the giants of the 20th century as offenders. I think you might enjoy, though perhaps not agree with, this book.

Christian theology in a post Shoa period has made significant efforts to contend with anti-Semitism. Critical biblical scholarship has made it impossible to read the OT like Chrysostom or Justin Martyr did. I'm arguing for theological reconstruction, pedagogical reform and inter-faith dialogue as the most effective ways for Christians to contend with this. As far as I can tell from your comments, you appear to have no hope for any positive way forward other than a critique which attempts to invalidate the entire Christian meta-narrative.
You tend to dramatic overstatement in a way that risks your passion on this subject being read as a radical tangent.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 7:27pm BST

@ Susannah Clark, thanks for your observations. I was first introduced in a critical way to the problem of Christian anti-Semitism at Divinity School. The introduction came from a German-Canadian protestant theologian who articulated profoundly the need for Christians, in the wake of the Shoa, to come to terms with this. To this day, I still have a sense of underlying tension when participating in Good Friday services. The Canadian Good Friday liturgy, in the reproaches, includes this verse, " I grafted you into the tree of my chosen Israel, and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder." ( Taken from Ashes to Fire, Abingdon worship resources, 1979). Thankfully John's Passion is paired with a reading of the suffering servant poem from Is. 52-53.

Small things help. The Revised Common Lectionary now provides a reading from The Book of Esther. It is outside the canon of course, but Rabbi Hillel Millgram describes Esther as the first portrayal and exploration of anti-Semitism. See, Four Biblical Heroines and the Case for Female Authorship (McFarland & Co., 2008). As a bonus the book cover has a photo, used with permission, of the Naomi And Ruth window in St. James Anglican Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 7:47pm BST

Susannah, I won't comment on most of your remarks in your last comment, but I think you can only understand Hitler's anti-Semitism from within the Christian context in which he grew up. There was, in those years, a particularly virulent form of anti-Semitism in Austrian Catholicism (many SS camp guards were communicating members of the Catholic Church.) Bear in mind also Martin Luther's writings about the Jews. At first, Luther reached out with apparent generosity to the Jews. He thought the only obstacle to their becoming Christian were the many distortions of the faith by the Catholic Church. When the Jews did not convert, Luther condemned them in particularly harsh and vicious terms, saying that they should be killed, their Torah scrolls burnt, their houses destroyed, and the land restored so that no one should know that such a foul people had ever lived in that land. All this Hitler absorbed from his Christian culture, and it came home to roost when he had achieved power in Germany. Apparently Hitler used to say in his Table Talk (with some justice), that he had never done anything to the Jews that had not already been proposed by Luther. So, there is very little distance between Hitler and Christian anti-Semitism.

It is important to know, since you seem unable to understand anti-Semitism (anti-Judaism), that the German captain of the German passenger liner MS St. Louis, with over 900 Jewish refugees aboard, sought refuge for them (in 1939) in Cuba, the US, Canada, and Britain, from which they were turned away (though Britain did accept 288 after they had landed on the continent). The remainder were accepted by Holland, Belgium and France, and it is estimated that around a quarter of them died in the KLs. Apparently, a Canadian cabinet minister of the time said of the Jews that "none are too many." See the Wikipedia article on this ship.

You may not understand anti-Semitism, but it is still a hugely powerful force in Christianity, and the contrast between old and new covenants is largely responsible. The idea that the Jews are people of the first covenant (old testament), and did not recognise the offer of the second covenant (new testament), was, almost from the very birth of Christianity, a source of anti-Semitic polemic and horrible deeds. This distinction can only be made by reading the "OT" in Christian terms.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Thursday, 15 October 2015 at 10:47pm BST

Re Eric, Elucidation Perdue on Tsevat.

I replied previously to your comment re: Perdue on Tsevat, where you write " that Jews should not 'Judaise' the OT is really quite a priceless piece of anti-Judaism!" I pointed out that you appear to have misunderstood that Perdue was offering, not his opinion, but his understanding of Jewish scholar Matitiahu Tsevat. I did some digging and discovered a good article that examines Tsevat's position, affirming Purdue's assessment, but more clearly and at more length.

A. Graeme Auld writes, " Tsevat pleads for objective rather than Judaizing theology of the Old Testament. The subsequent classical literature of Judaism, Midrash and Talmud, absorb the bible--but leave it unrecognizable."
Graeme is careful to point out (1) that Tsevat is writing as an individual not a representative Jew and (2) That Tsevat holds that Christian OT theology begins with Paul with what Tsevat regards as a rather forced hermeneutic. (See: Can a Biblical Theology be Academic or Ecumenical? in, Text As Pretext: Essays in Honor of Robertson Davies. p. 21).

I could have included any number of citations from Perdue, as I have his book; but that particular one jumped out at me because I thought it remarkable,and a reminder of the wide range of opinions with regard to the use of the text. A survey is just that, as you know. Eventually one has to make some decisions from a variety of conflicting views. I find Tsevat's view useful and meritorious; but I also think that Tikva Frymer-Kensky, also Jewish, with the notion of the multivocality of the text, with the readers from marginalized groups, Jews and Christians included, determining meaning and authority of the text, has merit as well. In fact, these two views set up a kind of dialectical tension.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 16 October 2015 at 12:34am BST

errata, the correct book title in my last post should be, Text As Pretext: Essays in Honor of Robert Davidson . A quiet night and a peaceful rest to all. ( : -Rod

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 16 October 2015 at 1:11pm BST

Rod. You're right, I only know Perdue through reviews of his book. It is hard to have read everything. The burgeoning publication of books on practically every subject has made a general view of the field almost inaccessible. This certainly holds true of the field of biblical studies, whether historical-critical, apologetic or hermeneutic. I am intrigued by your description of Perdue, and will get to him in due course.

Of course, it is probably true that this problem of inaccessible diversity happened in Judaism long before it affected Christianity. It is true that the Talmud, or even the Mishnah (as the heart of the Talmud), tends, through midrash and the sheer multivocality of its approaches to scripture, to make scripture unrecognisable as the substratum of the numerous superstructures constructed upon it.

I am surprised that you place Esther outside the canon, since it is as canonical as Isaiah (coming right after Nehemiah). What is distinct about Esther, as I recall, is that it never mentions God once. Of Jewish celebrations, Purim refers explicitly to the victory of Esther over Haman.

One distinctive characteristic of the Jews having become very literary is the sharp disagreement between different schools and points of view, whether from Tsevat or other Jewish commentators, and all this is comprehended within a single literary tradition. I'm not sure what he meant by the Jews not Judaising the Tanakh, but in any other context it would be properly addressed as antisemitic. I do agree with his view that the Christian hermeneutic probably originates with Paul, and that it is a forced interpretation (which was eventually in part retrojected onto the gospels). At least one Jewish scholar has suggested that it shows signs of pharisaic influence (which stands to reason if what Paul says about himself is true). As a Jewish sect, the Jesus people, or people of the Way, would no doubt have been in some dialectical tension with other Jewish interpretations. But then Jesus could not plausibly have been interpreted as a messianic figure, especially since his projected return never occurred. The imagined second coming has all the features of Jewish messianic expectation.

As to a radical tangent, this is in fact what I believe to be necessary after so many centuries of Jewish misery at the hands of Christians, so I am not particularly alarmed.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Friday, 16 October 2015 at 2:23pm BST

@ Eric, "I am surprised that you place Esther outside the canon .." So am I. Don't know how I could have made that rookie mistake, thinking of the "Rest of the Rest of the Chapters of Esther" maybe (see for example, Apocrypha, Revised English Bible).

But it is the canonical Esther I was thinking of, that is what Millgram is writing about, and I had it in mind because we heard it in the liturgy several weeks ago. Thanks for picking that up, and correcting it. My bad!

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 16 October 2015 at 9:07pm BST

For those with long memories Paula Gooder has just led an outstanding teaching/retreat week at Lee Abbey with typically thorough and stretching theological reflections from the letter to Colossians. Theological discourse and debate happens at so many levels and contexts in the church (and beyond) and within that mix Paula Gooder continues to seriously engage with groups who are often left outside the discourse altogether. Thank God for her.

Posted by David Runcorn at Saturday, 17 October 2015 at 7:32pm BST

Well, David, I can only echo your thoughts. This discussion was not about the value of Paula Gooder or the contribution that she has and can make. If she is capable of bringing into the theological discourse of the church those who are usually left outside, well, good on her. The discussion itself was to specifically to question Langley's account of her as a theologian would (inevitably) would influence our theology. And then, of course, as you know (if you have read the continuing dialogue), it ranged widely over completely different topics.

Posted by Eric MacDonald at Sunday, 18 October 2015 at 2:51pm BST

@ David Runcorn, "Theological discourse and debate happens at so many levels and contexts in the church (and beyond) and within that mix Paula Gooder continues to seriously engage with groups who are often left outside the discourse altogether."

And that's a good thing! I gather from several comments here that Dr. Gooder makes a contribution that is highly valued. As someone who is not a scholar, but a preacher who wanted to take scholarship seriously, I have empathy anyone trying to hold scholarship and proclamation together. The reader/hearer of the text is as important as the text, especially in a proclamation context.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 18 October 2015 at 4:56pm BST
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