Comments: Opinion - 10 February 2018

I'm not sure that many liberal Christians would share Andrew Lightbown's belief in the Creeds in a literal sense. Nor his support for John Stott's assertion that changed people change the world. To me, a true liberal is someone like Richard Holloway whose radical, liberal theology leads to a compassionate and inclusive version of faith more likely to appeal to rational people.

Posted by FrDavidH at Saturday, 10 March 2018 at 2:31pm GMT

Andrew Lightbown gets better and better. I am sure that the standard of his penmanship is improving:he is really quite accomplished. His remarks in defence of liberalism are also very well presented.

It is perhaps unfortunate, then, that TA chose to pair the piece by Sarah Mullally with one by Andrew Lightbown. It is a comparison which does her no favours. If Lightbown's prose flows well and is a pleasure to read, for me Mullally's seems halting with clumsy sentences. Where Lightbown presents reasoned arguments for liberalism, Sarah's piece seems to be egotistical - she make herself the focus of the piece. If bishops should show humbleness and humility, for me she falls far short.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 10 March 2018 at 7:01pm GMT

I disagree with Kate. As I read Bishop Sarah, I hear her writing from a personal perspective. That's different to an egotistical piece. I would also opine that she is writing from the perspective of all women, not just her own. As the first female bishop of London, she will be criticized by many simply because she is a woman. Unlike male bishops, she will no doubt be criticized for her hair style and the color of her lipstick. Others will say that, as a woman, grooming is the only area where she is competent. God bless her!

Posted by Richard at Saturday, 10 March 2018 at 7:52pm GMT

Note Andrew Lightbrown on scripture:
"...Scriptural engagement isn’t new or faddy, and neither does it represent a capitulation to culture. ... Progressive and liberal methods of exegesis are both traditional and sophisticated."

I wonder what a Lightbrown wrestling with texts that preachers will grapple with come Easter would look like?

Virtually none of what is crafted in biblical resurrection narratives could have happened empirically or historically as described. Does not reading them in such a manner "represent a capitulation to culture" rather than a critical cross cultural engagement?


Texts are cultural artifacts. Whatever religious experience texts mediate has its genesis in the human mind.

Sacred texts (especially) are a two edged sword. They have the potential to bridge but also the potential to divide. It is mind which holds the most promise in terms of transcending the human experience and as the ground of the mysteries of faith--in terms of both history and culture.

I'm wondering what cognitional theory may be behind Lightbrown's use of the word "sophisticated" ?

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 10 March 2018 at 10:20pm GMT

I like Andrew Lightbown's formulation of "orthodox-progressive" - too many people seem to associate the term "liberal" with not actually believing what Christianity teaches. While I have a lot of respect for Richard Holloway; the journey he has been on and the work he has done the impression I have from watching and reading interviews with him is that he has never believed in the God revealed in the Bible, much less the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus (though looking at different interviews it seems that he has interpreted his own past views differently at different times, and there is nothing untoward about that). To me that seems to place him outside the spectrum of Christian belief so if that's what people mean by liberal Christianity then that's not the right descriptor for me.

Posted by Jo at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 7:59am GMT

I too like the orthodox-progressive term. My father used to describe himself as 'theologically conservative, socially liberal' but 'orthodox-progressive' better sums up where I stand. 'Liberal' means many different things in different contexts. Tim Farron, for example is politically liberal to the core, but theologically very conservative. That was his downfall, people couldn't understand it.

I don't like the implication that those who believe in the tenets of the creed as describing actualities are irrational. It's absurd to label the likes of C.S. Lewis, Arthur Peacock, Tolkien, Mother Theresa, Charles Williams, Alister McGrath, Elaine Storkey, F.F. Bruce, John Stott, Rowan Williams, irrational.

It's unkind, too. I'm sure those who believe the creeds represent spiritual rather than physical realities don't want to be labelled 'nonChristians' or 'heretics'. Let's not call each other names.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 12:01pm GMT

Jo,
have you read any of Richard Holloway's early books? He was very much a traditional believer. Tracing his development through his books is fascinating.

I don't think he identifies as a Christian any longer. His current work is no less spiritually challenging for that.

Posted by Erika Baker at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 1:20pm GMT

Re Jo, "I like Andrew Lightbrown's formulation of "orthodox-progressive" - too many people seem to associate the term 'liberal' with not actually believing what Christianity teaches."

This seems a legitimate spin off from Lightbrown's opener, " ...orthodox-progressive ...meaning that I am fully signed up to the truths expressed though the creeds in a fundamentally literal sense whilst being progressive in issues relating to both gender and sexuality..."

There are several problems with this attempt to weld two different metals i.e. on one hand soft orthodoxy when it comes to method and sources regarding Christology; but on the other hand a different method in order to be durably contemporary culturally adaptive on issues of sexuality.

Eventually one has to face the implications of one's position on a set of issues A with one's one position on a set of issues B. One cannot serve two masters, and especially one cannot do so within the same conceptual framework.

The creeds are not true in a "fundamentally literal sense". Rather,they express symbolically, as period pieces, as a half way house between mythology and systematic thinking, what one grasps on the way to the truth. I look for congruence with regard to all issues grounded in sources, including, for example, same sex marriage which I support completely--even though this challenges what the church has 'taught' and in most places still 'teaches' as 'orthodox'.

Once the Gordian knot of biblicism is broken, one is un-tethered from it in all fields.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 2:29pm GMT

"Virtually none of what is crafted in biblical resurrection narratives could have happened empirically or historically as described. Does not reading them in such a manner "represent a capitulation to culture" rather than a critical cross cultural engagement?"

That, of course is a statement of belief rather than fact. You are assuming all sorts of physical laws: I doubt you could even list the assumptions you are making.

But if one has encountered God, one knows that he is capable of anything. Just one assumption: God can do it. And that's an assumption based on divine revelation.

Both are positions of belief ; neither can be proved.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 2:54pm GMT

I've not, Erika, but in interviews he has said he never believed but went through the motions out of a sense of duty. This is what I mean about his view of his past self changing with time. Whether he had faith and lost it or never had it but tried to will it into being is unanswerable as far as I can see.

Posted by Jo at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 5:28pm GMT

Richard Holloway's early books are inspiring and, like all his writings, are often beautifully poetic. He has latterly arrived at a liberal position which may not be entirely 'orthodox'. As a doubting priest, he displays the kind of humility and spiritual profundity not often displayed in a Church obsessed with management-speak, gay sex and hateful divisions. Doubt is an essential part of faith. I totally prefer the profoundly spiritual searchings of Bishop Holloway to the arrogant certainties of much vacuous evangelicalism. In that sense, he is more 'christian'.

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 7:05pm GMT

Re Kate, "That, of course is a statement of belief rather than fact."

It is indeed a statement of belief, a theory, and one which takes into account facts where facts are relevant.

As for assumptions, I can certainly provide you with an outline,and can can no better than quoting Bernard Lonergan: " ...theology is the product not simply of a religion but of a religion within a given cultural context, theological revisions may have their origin, not primarily in theological, but rather in cultural developments. So at the present time theological development is fundamentally a long delayed response to the development of modern science, modern scholarship, modern philosophy" (Method in Theology p.353).

Now Lonergan wrote that close to half a century ago. He described himself conservative on doctrinal issues, for example. Yet one can follow the implications of his views forward into our own setting. Just as one can point out that Lightbrown's use of the term "sophisticated" has implications beyond what he perhaps intends.

What I think is this:If one wants to advance a culturally progressive view on human sexuality one has to advance it on other doctrinal issues as well. Arguing for 'progress' on issues of sexuality while maintaining adherence to the creeds in the manner he does, is to fall into a romantic dichotomy that ultimately undermines both positions, as far as I can see anyway.



Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 7:46pm GMT

'The creeds are not true in a "fundamentally literal sense". Rather,they express symbolically, as period pieces, as a half way house between mythology and systematic thinking, what one grasps on the way to truth.'

That's a dogmatic an assertion as any conservative evangelical would make. You don't believe the creeds to be literally true, but cannot prove that they are not. Millions of reasonable and rational people, including scientists, believe them.

Nor is the orthodox-progressive position as inconsistent as you claim. It's perfectly possible to believe in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and also to understand that Jesus said nothing against homosexuality. We need to apply our minds - an our understanding of literary genre, and socio-cultural and historical settings - to reading the Bible. That doesn't mean we need to throw all of it out as unhistorical.

If Jesus had not risen from the dead and was still in the tomb, why were the authorities totally unable to quash the stories of his resurrection? They had only to produce his body. But it wasn't there.

Posted by Janet Fife at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 8:12pm GMT

Does Janet Fife honestly believe that God has hands? Apparently Our Lord Sits next to the right one. I haven't heard any scientist claiming that God has limbs. Perhaps Ms Fife might tell us if God has a nose.

Posted by FrDavidH at Sunday, 11 March 2018 at 11:04pm GMT

Re: Janet Fife, "You don't believe the creeds to be literally true, but cannot prove that they are not."

The burden of proof with regard to a "fundamentally literal sense " falls to those arguing for it. "He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father." In what sense do you understand this to be true in the sense of Lightbown’s "fundamentally literal sense"? In what sense are "Father" and "Son" to be taken literally?

I did not say that I do not "believe in" the resurrection. See my post of March 10th where I wrote: "Virtually none of what is crafted in biblical resurrection narratives could have happened empirically or historically as described." My saying so can be supported by scores of catholic minded theologians every bit as persuasive as your "millions of rational people" ( :

What I am probing is the viability of Lightbown’s distinction. Traditionally a revealed christology is paired with a revealed morality. Lightbrown appears to want to keep the former textually while setting aside the latter textually,as do you apparently. Your third paragraph in your post is simply illustrative of the dilemma which you resolve by cleaving one off from the other.

But I'm not carrying that burden. I understand the initial phenomena of the resurrection as a religious experience grounded in the mind of what we refer to as the original witnesses with their understanding and expression of the same culturally conditioned and contextualized.

The texts themselves are not the raw data of the experience. They go beyond it, and in a problematic way if taken in a fundamentally literal sense.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 12:50am GMT

"If one wants to advance a culturally progressive view on human sexuality one has to advance it on other doctrinal issues as well. "

I think the progressive orthodox position could be characterised as a belief that God intervenes, and that, being made in His image, He asks us to interve within the constraints He has imposed upon us. From that it is entirely possible to see the creeds as literal truth - God as interventionist - while feeling called to intervene ourselves with a progressive view of sexuality, based on Jesus's own championing of the vulnerable. I absolutely don't see the contradiction you claim.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 7:37am GMT

Rod, I see no contradiction in believing in the historical truth of the resurrection, while understanding that 'at the right hand of God' is an expression denoting the place of highest honour. That is the kind of judgement we make every day when interpreting all kinds of texts and statements. As I said, the Bible contains many kinds of literature and often communicates in metaphor and simile - as we all do. We each interpret it accordingly. If a friend tells me she 'ran like hell' for the bus, I understand she actually ran for the bus without having to believe she in any way resembled hell while doing so.

That doesn't mean we can dismiss it all as unhistorical. As my atheist philosophy lecturer said, there is more contemporary evidence for the life of Christ than there is for the life of Plato, and no one seriously doubts the existence of Plato. The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead transformed the disciples, and turned the Roman world of the time upside down. There is evidence for this in extra-biblical sources.

If there is a God at all, there is no reason why he could not do miracles if he wants to. Kate is right, there is no contradiction in believing the creeds represent literal truths, while also believing God leaves us to make informed moral judgements.

Posted by Janet Fife at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 9:21am GMT

"The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead" is an article of faith. If it were a "fact" more people might believe it.

Posted by FrDavidH at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 1:01pm GMT

Re: Janet Fife, "Kate is right, there is no contradiction in believing the creeds represent literal truths, while also believing God leaves us to make informed moral jugements."

But your first paragraph taken as a whole indicates you don't believe the creeds represent literal truths. You seem to be saying that the creeds are literal except when they are not.

Example: "'...at the right hand of God' is an expression denoting the place of highest honour." This easily could be a footnote adverting to Aquinas. See Summa Theologica III, Q.58. You appear to want to be near the analogia entis ballpark when convenient. But let's run with that for a moment. The metaphor in play there comes from a particular culture and cosmology where one speaks of 'heaven', kings, right hand seats of honor and co-regency, and the like. We simply cannot be at ease as were Augustine and Aquinas with this particular figurative manner of speaking. There are now new difficulties applying this metaphor multiculturally, eschatalogically, or even socially in terms of patriarchy, just to name a few.

Finally,if you want to posit that it is an interventionist God who leaves us as moral agents then you are leading yourself right back into the revealed morality box canyon where there is very little room for progressive views on sexuality.

This leaves little probability of successfully countering conservative arguments because you accept their premises.

At a practical level this represents one of my concerns with Lightbrown's dichotomy--not that his view and your view coincide.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 1:52pm GMT

"Finally,if you want to posit that it is an interventionist God who leaves us as moral agents then you are leading yourself right back into the revealed morality box canyon where there is very little room for progressive views on sexuality."

Hardly. I am commanded to love my neighbours. If they are oppressed, downtrodden or subject to discrimination, then I have an absolute obligation to do something about it. Save for the overriding commandment to love God, love thy neighbour is the highest obligation placed upon us and, as Jesus demonstrated several times, is superior to the Law if there is a contradiction. (Actually,, I don't think there ever is a contradiction, just our failure to understand the Law correctly.) It is no moral box canyon.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 3:11pm GMT

"The texts themselves are not the raw data of the experience. They go beyond it, and in a problematic way if taken in a fundamentally literal sense."

Which perhaps is why the early Church had the sense to formulate the creeds to differentiate between core aspects of the story and peripheral details.

You are also, I think, asking the wrong question. You seem to be saying, "Does the narrative contradict science?" I don't believe I does, but, because most people have quite a limited understanding of science, it is easy to conclude that the resurrection narrative does conflict with science. But quite a substantial number of theoretical physicists, whose understanding of science is better than yours or mine, do believe in God.

I ask a different question, though. Is the resurrection narrative compatible with the rest of the Bible? I conclude it is. Therein lies my belief in the creeds.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 5:11pm GMT

Kate seems to think that the resurrection is an act which can be scientifically verified and cites theoretical physicist believers as some kind of proof. No one on this thread has mentioned science except Kate. Many scientists (and others) reject the faith precisely because dead people don't come back to life. An experience of the Risen Christ cannot be verified in a laboratory, nor is it dependent on a literal creed or quoting biblical texts.

Posted by FrDavidH at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 6:47pm GMT

Re: "You seem to be saying, 'Does the narrative contradict science?'"

Actually, I'm not asking that question at all, certainly not about biblical texts and creeds. I suppose if I am asking a question at all it is the historical question, about horizons, that of the ancient writer and that of the modern reader.

"...the overriding commandment to love God, love thy neighbour ...the highest obligation placed upon us..." Actually, with regard to love, the text allows one to read 'love' as not a commandment at all, more of an 'anti-commandment'. Better to describe love as a transcendent value rather than as a commandment in the literal sense.

In either case your rejoinder doesn't really address my concern about an interventionist god and revealed morality as a pair.

I think the problem with regard to literal text and progressive morality is that you are understanding them existentially, as they each relate to you; but are not analyzing them in terms of the problem of how they are related to each other.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 7:47pm GMT

"Kate seems to think that the resurrection is an act which can be scientifically verified"

I haven't said that, nor do I believe it. I really don't know why you are ascribing that view to me.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 9:12pm GMT

FrDavidH I suspect Kate is thinking of Polkinghorne, the theoretical physicist turned theologian and priest, who said 'Once again the theistic conclusion is not logically coercive, but it can claim serious consideration as an intellectually satisfying understanding of what would be unintelligible good fortune' when talking about the anthropic principle or the just right "Goldilocks Universe" in Belief in God in an Age of Science. I find Polkinghorne's arguments very compelling and enlightening.

Posted by not flourishing high church woman at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 9:34pm GMT

Surely, in these arguments about faith versus science; we can only understand faith as the 'substance of things unseen' and yet, in context, believed in.

I am able to say the historic Creeds, but with an inner eye more broadly experienced than that of my physical sight. Otherwise, I could not say that I believe in the 'resurrection of the body'. Saint Paul is able to describe this better than I can in 1 Cor.15:42 - "It is the same with the resurrection of the dead, the thing that is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable" (therefore 'different').

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 12 March 2018 at 10:54pm GMT

The issue of science and religion has come up here as something of a side bar. However, because it has I'd like to refer people to the work of American scholar Dr. Daniel Helminiak. I came across his work as part of ongoing efforts to keep up with the continuing explosion in Lonergan studies.

Two of Daniel Helminiak's books may be of interest to folks who have posted here or who are otherwise interested in the views expressed in Andrew Lightbown’s article.

These are: (1) Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth. (2) Brain, Consciousness and God: A Lonergan Integration (2015).

Helminiak has two doctorates, one in systematics, the other in human development. He is a former teaching assistant to Bernard Lonergan.

I would not presume to comment on his technical work; but more info about it is available here:


http://www.visionsofdaniel.net/book010BC&G.htm

Posted by Rod Gillis at Tuesday, 13 March 2018 at 5:40pm GMT
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