Comments: Opinion - 11 April 2018

Colin Coward wants priests to be better trained in psychotherapy to reduce the likelihood of them becoming priest-abusers. Colin supports Linda Woodhead's calls for a change of theology as well as significant procedural and structural change, but I think he is too deeply embedded in the system to have an helicopter view. Like so many others, I think he confuses incremental additions with true change which is both additive and subtractive. I think most ministers would love time and space to improve their self-knowledge and self-examination and to teach their congregations do the same. Give them time and it will happen naturally, I believe.

I think many of the additions that would be beneficial are reasonably self-evident. Ordination is special. If we believe that, why do we then burden ordained ministers with humdrum concerns like ensuring the church roof doesn't leak? We applaud when we hear of cuts to red-tape for police and teachers but are too scared to cut out 80% of the measures tying down ministers. So I don't disagree with Colin but I think these sorts of things would happen naturally and organically if structural and procedural change was a radical reduction in the burden and demands on priests.

Posted by Kate at Wednesday, 11 April 2018 at 8:17pm BST

Reading Rosie Harper's piece I'm sadly reminded of Machen's book "Christianity and Liberalism" (which is free online, and short, and highly recommended to anyone who wants to engage with an evangelical view). As the title suggests, the thesis is that Christianity and Liberalism are simply two different religions: different final authority, different diagnosis of the human condition, different prescription, different prognosis. And, Machen would add, different origin.

Harper wants to end by talking about peace. Some people may even need "to apologise deeply" if peace is to be an option. But to speak of sin - even in order to speak of forgiveness - is not the way; that just entangles "perfectly happy and well adjusted" people in unnecessary guilt.

"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious," said Jeremiah. "'Peace, Peace,' they say, when there is no peace." I hardly imagine a better description of Harper's gospel. The wound is not serious enough to need surgery. Jesus came and said peace - but it was more of a wish than a proclamation, because his death was more of an example than a victory.

As for whether a gospel that includes sin is practical - Kingsley Amis once said "one of the great benefits of organised religion is that you can be forgiven your sins, which must be a wonderful thing. I mean, I carry my sins around with me, there's nobody there to forgive them." There is nothing more practical, more life-changing, than alerting sinners to the heavy burden they carry around with them - and taking them to the one who lifts it off.

"Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted."

Posted by Peter Leach at Thursday, 12 April 2018 at 3:25pm BST

The Andrew Brown column is interesting. If I were a hospital in-patient I think it might be helpful to be open to all the spiritual care options i.e. a presbyter to bring me the sacraments and a chat with a humanist chaplain. The latter might be very helpful in dealing with the non-religious folks in my circle.

Brown's concluding paragraph is fairly solid. However it is preceded by contestable statements. There have long been Jewish and Christian humanists who believe in God. I suspect there are folks nurtured in the Islamic tradition in that kind of place as well.

Brown writes: "...religions are not really about belief at all. They are about identity, morality and myths." As a bald statement this is undifferentiated nonsense. It is very difficult to have any kind of identity, religious or otherwise, without some sort of doctrine. Belief exists in dynamic relationship to moral decision making and action, the appreciation of the truth of myth, and a sense of both personal and communal identity. Additionally,belief in the sense of doctrine, is necessary to science and spills over into secular humanist perspectives--even naive populists ones. 'Anti-vaxers' are a case study.

In an earlier thread I mentioned the work of Lonergan scholar Daniel Helminiak. He makes a convincing argument that 'transcendent experiences' may be accounted for without any need to bring God or the Divine into the equation. There is a boundary between psychology, for instance, and theology.Folks interested in a more profound treatment of some of the opinions raised by Brown may be interested in Helminiak's (2015) book,and rejoinders to it; Brain, Consciousness and God: A Lonergan Integration.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Friday, 13 April 2018 at 3:55pm BST

I was brought up in the tradition of convincing people of their sin before leading them to Christ, and I used to preach accordingly. Then it came to me, like a revelation, that it's the Holy Spirit's job to convince people of their sin. My job is to tell those who feel burdened by guilt where to find forgiveness and comfort. If the Spirit isn't showing them their sin, nothing I can say will do that. On the other hand, the vulnerable, damaged, and neurotic are all too easily made to feel guilty when we keep harping on sin.

So yes, I agree with Rosie that we talk too much about sin - and to the wrong people.

Posted by Janet Fife at Saturday, 14 April 2018 at 10:58am BST

Jesus begins his earthly ministry with 'repent and believe the good news' and ends it with 'repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in (my) name to all nations, beginning at Jerusaelm.' We should talk about sin as much, and as little, as Jesus does. The forgiveness of sins is part and parcel of the good news, and we don't drop it just because some Christians in our experience have communicated it in heavy handed or misguided ways.

Posted by David Keen at Saturday, 14 April 2018 at 1:08pm BST

David Keen, yes, agreed. But Jesus preached sin most strongly to religious leaders, according to the gospel accounts. With 'obvious' sinners (like prostitutes and tax gatherers) and the sick he often just said 'your sins are forgiven'.

We, on the other hand, tend to let religious people off the hook and loudly condemn people whose sexual behaviour we think is sinful. Or those who just don't go to church.

Posted by Janet Fife at Saturday, 14 April 2018 at 6:04pm BST

David Keen - very pleased to see your comment, since I have appreciated your contributions many times. Sin is clearly a key idea. Various influences, too many to mention, got me reading Stephen Pattison's "Shame" over Easter. Shame has a different dynamic from Sin (at least in one important aspect - Pattison notes the ambiguity of the term and the limited theological reflection on shame). Shame and sin can be associated, but if sin is all we know, we can misdiagnose. Shame has an aspect of wanting to hide, and the language of sin and repentance implies exposure. Rosie Harper for me invites "Peace be with you" - repeated to the disciples post-resurrection - as a language of possibility. I realised that I have been saying for some time at Baptisms that the promise the church makes is "God never gives up on anyone". The disciples who are challenged to preach the Gospel to all nations, themselves have received the post-resurrection narrative "peace be with you". It isn't that the message is wholly wrong, but that there is more to the Gospel than saying trite words - it is making relationships within which the words can be heard as truth. In a society in which shame, and being unashamed, seem to be markers of identity (or the failure to own an identity, or the myth of a self-constructed identity), it seems to me that there is theological work to be done on shame, and how to address people who feel ashamed, The Gospels are replete with this material, Jesus knows how to do it, but the western tradition has privileged Sin as a concept and will serve us poorly in this generation if Sin is all we see.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Monday, 16 April 2018 at 10:17pm BST
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