Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 12 November 2016

Updated Tuesday to add the last two Percy/Hilton letters

Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Talking Jesus and the natural grammar of evangelism

Linda Woodhead ABC Religion and Ethics How the Church of England Lost the English People

David Walker ViaMedia.News “Monks & Nuns of the Marrying Kind…”

Martyn Percy and Adrian Hilton have been exchanging letters, and Hilton is publishing them on his Archbishop Cranmer blog. Here are the first four; there are two more to come all six.

Martyn Percy on Justin Welby: “there is a marked absence of salient and resonant ‘God-talk’, or any persuasive public theology”
Adrian Hilton on Justin Welby: “he is challenging the ‘principalities and powers’ of institutional existence”
Adrian Hilton: “Is Justin Welby not showing the world Jesus?”
Martyn Percy: the Church of England is being “reformed by bankers.. theology is ruthlessly excluded.. populism and narcissism are in the ascendancy”
Adrian Hilton: Would the appointment of Bishop Martyn Percy offer remedy against Justin Welby’s asserted theological ignorance?
Martyn Percy: Justin Welby “is preparing the ground for a complete volte-face on human sexuality”

The Church of England has published this open letter from William Nye to Martyn Percy in response to fourth of these letters.

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Fr John E. Harris-White
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Fr John E. Harris-White

Thank God for Fr Martyn Percy, may his voice be heard loud and clear. Both in these columns, and the wider press,

Assuring church members we still have true leaders who ‘do GOD’, and are not afraid to think theologically about ourselves, and our relationship to our Creator.

Kate
Guest
Kate

Martyn Percy wishes an archbishop who engages in God talk. Intellectually that seems a meet desire; but is it theologically sound? Can we reveal God, or does God only reveal Himself working through us? Is any man’s God-talk more than a false idol if the revelation comes from man, not from God? Idols are traditionally seen as physical things, but might not a meme be an idol too? So, while intellectually everything Martyn Percy has to say seems utterly obvious, is it not at least possible that Archbishop Justin is better to remain silent on the topic of God until… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

A couple of comments on the Hilton/Percy dialogue. First, I’m always suspicious of the phrase ‘good theology’ (whether it comes out of the mouths of liberal or conservative or anywhere in between speakers). It has a rather unfortunate tendency to mean ‘theology I agree with’. Second, the reason that “‘evangelism’ is preferred to that much broader and richer term, ‘mission’” is that it’s the part of mission that usually gets neglected. Speaking for my (non-English) diocese, in which I wave the flag for evangelism, most churches are very enthusiastic about every part of mission – EXCEPT for evangelism. If we… Read more »

Adrian Judd
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Adrian Judd

I look forward to the day when the clergy Martyn trained at Cuddesdon start being consecrated as the next generation of leaders for the Church of England. I have a great deal of sympathy with his opinions every time I read them.

Pam
Guest
Pam

When someone is called to the life of a religious order, and celibacy (amongst other things) is part of the deal, then the calling takes precedence. As it should. I think there may be some difficulties for married couples in the situation of a religious order. Having said that, though, marriage teaches us to love unconditionally. A good qualification for ministry.

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

I’ve met Martyn Percy a few times. He’s an incredibly impressive guy, and I would take anything he said, in both his religious and his academic roles (if you can separate them), extremely seriously.

He has a cute dog, too.

Susannah Clark
Guest

re: Linda’s article What we urgently need is for a new paradigm to prevail. For as long as the Bible is regarded as an inerrant document by a core group in our Church – regarded as some kind of magical, elevated text from God – the divide between the nation and the Church will widen. What is needed is the primacy of a new way of reading and understanding the Bible, in line with the insights and intelligence of ordinary everyday people and their reasonable way of exploring truth and decency. We need to be able to say the Bible… Read more »

Michael Skliros
Guest
Michael Skliros

Well said, Susannah, though the new paradigm you crave has long been set out by Brian Cox — namely that everything, but everything, is date/time stamped. The bible is a brilliant time capsule of the truth that was understood (revealed, if you will) at the time. The bitter pill that we must swallow is (i) that the various sciences have shown us even deeper truths about the human condition than our devout forebears ever knew, and (ii) that they are so-called secular truths. Tough, but it’s evidently the way God works.

FrDavidH
Guest
FrDavidH

In answer to Tim Chesterton, the late Bishop David Jenkins was a Professor of Theology before consecration, and his views were widely discussed in Churches, pubs and clubs, on TV and in the press when he was Bishop of Durham. His thought-provoking ministry was deeply appreciated by clergy and laity alike, but unfortunately we haven’t had anyone since who has been like him. He made theology accessible. Today, the simplistic guitar-playing ministers in the Church of England have reduced the Glory of God to a nice tune read from a Power Point screen.

Kate
Guest
Kate

It seems to me that the number of worshippers is seen by many as the key validation of the Church. Falling numbers mean that the Church is doing X wrong; if numbers grew we could see ourselves as successful, validated. Wrong notions of evangelism then gestate from this need for validation: we are successful and validated as a church and as individuals if we grow the number of regular worshippers. Validation by force of numbers.

Savi Hensman
Guest
Savi Hensman

While there are many problems with the Green Report and managerialism, which is often far removed from good managerial practice let alone theological depth, I think there is a risk of those for and against Renewal and Reform over-simplifying one another’s positions. For instance Justin Welby does tend to use media opportunities to talk about God, as indeed was the case with regard to the Bataclan massacre. Despite Matthew Parris’ attack on Welby, which seemed to bear little resemblance to what he actually said, he made the point that God was ‘in the middle of it’ and drew attention to… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Kate, I’d suggest the validation of the Church may be seen in its impact on people’s lives. Unfortunately, it has a diminishing impact on people’s lives.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

” is it not at least possible that Archbishop Justin is better to remain silent on the topic of God until God Himself gives Justin something to say, rather than filling the silence with Justin’s own ramblings? ” – Kate – If this were truly the case, Kate; why do you bother to blog – with your own (varied) opinions about God and what God might require of us? There is a phrase known as “Gossipping the Gospel” – Telling the Good News of God Incarnate in Christ Jesus. Is that not worth talking about – for Archbishops and all… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

@ Michael: well exactly – it’s the way God has worked through these previous centuries. The Enlightenment and development of science has revealed actual, real truths that are not only not dependent on Biblical revelation or mandate, but starkly challenge them. It’s possible to see divine purpose and promptings in the process. The repudiation of the creation events as events, or of Noah’s Ark, are not disasters: they are opportunities… ways in which God is prompting and encouraging us to read the Bible in a different way. A way which, in fact, gives greater dignity and credibility to the Bible.… Read more »

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

Not a considered response to Linda Woodhead’s piece (I need to re-read it), but this struck me: ‘The failure of nerve was apparent as early as 1968 when John Robinson’s Honest to God provoked national debate. It was a perfect opportunity for the Church to make the Christian case afresh. Archbishop Ramsay ducked the challenge on the grounds that it would disturb the simple faithful.’ First, Honest to God was published in 1963 not 1968. There was no Archbishop Ramsay; she means Michael Ramsey. And though he initially seemed to panic over H to God, he soon in his wisdom… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘Today, the simplistic guitar-playing ministers in the Church of England have reduced the Glory of God to a nice tune read from a Power Point screen.’

I’m a guitar player myself and actually a rather good one, so I’m told. I don’t quite see why this dismissive slur against guitarists was necessary.

Father David
Guest
Father David

A fire at Christ Church Oxford! Heaven forefend! I recall some decades ago when there was a mighty conflagration at York Minster following the consecration of the great and godly David Jenkins – some suggested divine disapproval and intervention. Now that Dean Percy is regarded by some as “The Leader of the Opposition” mercifully, no similar connection has been suggested. Hopefully we have out grown such superstitious nonsense now that we live in the sophisticated 21st century. All power to the Dean’s elbow as he points out the theological deficiencies in the managerial “Renewal and Reform” programme.

JCF
Guest
JCF

Is “ArchbishopCranmer” like YouTube—where you avoid the comment section as a matter of sanity? Personally, I found myself giving up on the site when (in the comments on the first letter), I found a poster repeatedly saying that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks “worships a false god”. A blog is known by the company it keeps…

I’m thinking I might want to read Linda Woodhead’s book though.

Susannah Clark
Guest

The good thing about ‘Power Point’ projections onto an overhead screen is it frees up your hands. You don’t have to hold a book, so you can raise your hands to God. I love the shuddering thunder and processional feel of great organ music. Having said that, worship with guitars and other instruments can feel more intimate, which when expressing intimacy to God is a plus. Good worship leaders, responding to the Spirit in a service, not just following a ‘menu’ from a service sheet, can draw people into heart-touching worship and so I’m all for guitars, though I also… Read more »

Michael Skliros
Guest
Michael Skliros

David Emmott is right about dates, as I ‘did’ Honest to God with the Lower VI at Denstone College in 1964 (having had John Robinson as my tutor at Clare 10 years earlier). Two things I remember about it all, rightly or wrongly: (i) JATR was very hurt by the abuse he received from fundamentalists and even more by the lack of support from fellow liberals who knew perfectly well he had struck a timely chord (John Spong’s supporters likewise remained in the shadows); (ii) the other was that the Denstone boys were interested but largely unmoved: received opinion was… Read more »

S Cooper
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S Cooper

Welby is from a certain background ….he’s used to guitars and lots of young people in church …..no surprise that he wants more churches with guitars and lots of young people …..

David Marshall
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David Marshall

Somewhere in this thread, as in the exchanges between Martyn Percy and Adrian Hilton, there may well be a solution to the problem Percy and Hilton are trying to address. Yet whenever it rises close enough to the surface to be almost identifiable, some undercurrent of personal interest shifts the focus with a minor distraction that avoids connecting the problem with a solution. I suspect an agreed meaning for God is one of the keys to finding a way round this. Without it, any reference to theology is pointless. Another is the nature and scope of authority. Who decides what… Read more »

John Bunyan
Guest
John Bunyan

Some own goals scored too often : 1.Obstacles deterring infant baptisms (1662 links it with Jesus welcoming and blessing children – surely the pattern to follow – Jesus trumps St Paul), and even weddings and funerals – e.g refusing the simple Masonic ceremony at funerals (I am not a Mason). 2. Providing no alternatives to very Conservative Evangelical or very Anglo-Catholic churches – most who identify as C.of E./Anglican (such as my non-churchgoing family or the many, many thousands I have encountered as a hospital chaplain) will never go to those churches. 3. Providing only Holy Communion on Sundays –… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Susannah, being a lover of traditional folk music, I am delighted to return the compliment by rooting for your folksy Scottish ballads played on an accordion! Way to go! The world needs more trad folk!

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

John Bunyan: I don’t know which parts of the C of E you are implying as having nothing (or little) other than ‘very’ Con Evo or ‘very’ anglo-catholic churches.(which begs the question of what do you mean by ‘very’?) In my experience the vast majority of churches are somewhere in between. Even in this historically protestant diocese (Liverpool) there are very few really conservative evangelical parishes. As for the disappearance of Morning Prayer, surely one major reason for the Eucharist displacing it as the central act of worship (which indeed it should) is that it was so boring. It might… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Susannah, I think you are articulating the very reason why the Church is struggling because you are not alone in your views: the Genesis creation cannot be true because it unscientific; Noah’s Flood cannot be true because it contradicts history as science has revealed it. So why should anyone believe in the empty tomb because that is clearly unscientific? Why should people believe in that miracle if we are teaching that the Bible is not reliable when it talks about the miraculous? On Judgement Day, how can God redeem and transform earth if He didn’t create it? If God didn’t… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

Linda Woodhead’s article: I find the comparison with the Church of Denmark unconvincing (not least because she herself admits that attendance in Denmark is very low). The reason why the Danish church has retained a higher level of residual participation may be attributable in large measure to the tax paid by church members (the quantum of which varies from local authority to local authority), that gives Danes a sense of proprietorship often lacking amongst those outside the shrinking body of regular attendees in England who sustain their churches via more voluntary contributions. In addition, Denmark remains relatively more collectivist and… Read more »

Froghole
Guest
Froghole

One good result of the Hilton-Percy exchange has been the admission by Mr Nye that the adjustments to the Darlow Formula should not prejudice rural dioceses with large concentrations of thinly attended churches. We shall see. I am not hugely reassured by Mr Nye’s soothing remarks; the sort of ad hoc funding to which he refers (for Exeter) presumably cannot act as a suitable substitute for consistent and guaranteed funding of the kind provided under the Darlow arrangements, and many dioceses will need financial certainty. Mr Nye does refer to Southwell and Nottingham (where attendance is mostly very low outside… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Susannah and Tim. ALL music that helps us to come into God’s Presence is a vital accessory to good and meaningful worship. The adage: ‘Prayer sung is prayed twice’ is a reality for those of us who rejoice in – for instance – a good Folk Mass. As a retired but practising liturgist, I believe that both organ and other soulful instrumental accompaniment, used prayerfully, can provide the perfect incentive for encountering God’s Presence. I was at a Funeral today that was uplifted by a recording of the late Leonard Cohen’s ‘Alleluia’ – sheer bliss anbd a help to the… Read more »

Jo
Guest
Jo

@John Bunyan: I have seen the model you suggest in action, though strictly speaking it was CW communion with a break after the peace. It did allow for some to leave at the break, but it also encouraged the communicants to talk to each other, rather than rushing off straight after the service. It was made very clear that it was one service (and that if you were there for the second you ought to be there for the first part) but it was also clear you could leave if you wanted. The church did experience growth in that period,… Read more »

Peter S
Guest
Peter S

I agree with Froghole: “I am struggling to understand the point of the Hilton-Percy correspondence.” But I find much sustenance for what we should be doing in Kate’s words: “Paul tells us that three things matter: faith, hope and love. If we abandon faith in the miraculous we will soon lose hope in the miraculous.” And I only wish to add, let us recognise that love is miraculous. Increasingly I find Evensong appealing, not only for the music, but for the disciplined reading of scripture – while scripture is at the heart of the eucharistic liturgy, the preparation for and… Read more »

Peter Owen
Guest

The last two Hilton/Percy letters are now online and I have added links to them.

John Bunyan
Guest
John Bunyan

David Emmott : Though I have visited churches in the UK and US churches many times (recently both countries) I was writing about my Diocese of Sydney, very large in size and despite great losses in the financial crisis, still large in wealth, often disdainful of Anglican liturgy, and in so many ways out of touch with the world around it. In 1950, perhaps one third of its many parishes were moderate, and a few Anglo-Catholic. The great majority of its parishes today are fundamentalist and sectarian. Now only a few Anglo-Catholic and moderate churches remain, none within 30 miles… Read more »

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

+Michael Ramsey noted that one disadvantage of the Parish Communion movement was trivialisation: people casually ‘tripping to the altar.’ That is indeed a danger, and one that I suspect has also affected the Roman Catholic church in recent years. The problem is not regular celebration of the Eucharist, but rather than Anglicans have never taken to the idea of non-communicating attendance. There is still an awareness of this in the RCC, and possibly among some Anglo-catholics; maybe it is something that ought to be rediscovered. But I’m ambivalent, because we also want to be an inclusive church and teach that… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Dear Kate, I have encountered similar arguments over the years: “How do we know ANY of the bible is true, if we concede that some of it isn’t?” In the end faith, which you cite, is the reason that we can accept anything at all. If we have encountered the grace of God, THAT is the reason we start to believe. With regard to the question you pose: “If you think science disproves the Creation narrative and Noah’s Ark, well, doesn’t it also disprove the empty tomb in that case?” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a supernatural event. So… Read more »

Philip Almond
Guest

Susannah
‘Some parts may be true, others mistaken, or culturally influenced, and some parts utter hogwash’.
The Bible asserts that God and Christ said many things. In your view, which of these statements that the Bible asserts they said – did they say? all, some, none? And if some, on what grounds do you decide which they did say and which they did not say?
Phil Almond

Kate
Guest
Kate

Susannah, I suggest you watch the first 5 or 6 minutes of Rupert Sheldrake’s banned TED talk on YouTube. He presents ten dogmas of science. The ones he picks relate to consciousness, which is his area of interest. There’s more inherent dogma relating to time and I suspect much more I have not encountered.

What you see as scientific “truth” regarding creation, the flood etc is just a different belief system and when you start probing that belief system rests on some uncertain foundations.

Susannah Clark
Guest

Epistle to Phil Almond: Part the First Phil, you’re basically asking me a sweeping question: “Is the Bible true?” And then, supposing that I’d answer “No, not all true,” you want me to justify a ‘pick-and-mix’ approach to it, and the criteria I choose. But as Pontius Pilate allegedly asked: “What is truth?” My answer in fact is “God is true in the Bible.” But I don’t mean that all the words attributed to God are necessarily true. I mean that truth needs to be approached, not through text, but through encounter in the heart. So… turning to the bible…… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Epistle to Phil Almond: Part the Second Dear Phil, “Then” you may ask, “how do you discern which parts are literally true and which parts are not?” Well, as I’ve explained, we are now talking about secondary truth… passed on truth… filtered through cultural lens… and fallible. Is it for me to have decisive insight into which snippet is literally valid, and which snippet isn’t? No. But the Church as a whole, and in groupings, can listen, reflect, use conscience, and critical methods (like any scientist or literary critic might) to hazard some guesses. We don’t have to know for… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Kate, My belief that no worldwide flood and accompanying mass extinction (except for pairs of animals on a boat) ever took place in human times… can be reasonably demonstrated by the evidence of the world around us that we live in. It’s demonstrable. Rupert Sheldrake’s ‘theories’ in no way imply or suggest that such a flood and animal rescue DID take place – the idea is palpably ludicrous – so I hardly see the point in citing him (except as the assertion of a principle… that science holds mysteries we don’t yet know). In your anxiety (?) and eagerness to… Read more »

Philip Almond
Guest

Susannah Thanks for your replies and thanks to Thinking Anglicans for putting up my post. Let me state in another way my question about what God and Christ are reported as having said and your view of those reports. Let me do this by taking a specific example. Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 5:44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Do… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Phil, Well… they sound like good advice in various circumstances, though evil does sometimes need to be confronted, don’t you think? So loving your enemies may not mean always conceding to their evil, and may sometimes mean opposing them. If I try to follow those ideals, it is for the same reason one should do anything good. Because goodness is worth doing simply as an end in itself, because it’s decent and kind and right. And we have consciences that speak to us about that. Teachings attributed to Jesus may also help and inspire us, and certainly the example of… Read more »

Philip Almond
Guest

Susannah Yes. I was trying to take our disagreement a step at a time. But perhaps I will try to cut to the chase. You posted, ‘Faith is encountering the loving God in our hearts and responding by opening our hearts to that love. So look to the love. It fulfils everything else (as Jesus allegedly said).’ I agree that Christianity includes at its heart an encounter with God through Christ. We long to know God in Christ experientially, more and more. But don’t facts come into it as well? When you encounter God and Christ in your heart and… Read more »

Pam
Guest
Pam

Susannah, our conscience is a gift from God, a wonderful gift. But very obviously Christians differ in what their conscience tells them. The way I interpret Matthew 5:44 is that Jesus physically died for his enemies. He loved his enemies enough to die for them. And that’s why Christians love and follow him. When I read those words I realise how much I need God’s love.

Susannah Clark
Guest

“Surely the facts are important as we seek to persuade those we know who are not Christians to take Christianity seriously.” Thank you for your reply, Phil. You talk about “the facts” as if they are incontestable. That is what fundamentalist Muslims do too. They take an ancient religious text, and idealise it into something incontestable. Well does that make non-Christians take Christianity seriously? If we take the condemnations of man-man sex as if they are FACT for all societies: does that make non-Christians take our faith seriously (or does it repel them)? If we take the Bible’s claim that… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Treating the Bible as tentative and exploratory – without it all having to be infallible – I’d argue, can be better understood, and taken more seriously, by non-Christians. I think it dignifies the Bible, which is diminished by fundamentalism and pinning everything down to fact. Why are we afraid of some of the Bible being wrong, or provisional, or culturally influenced, or limited in scientific knowledge? Why does it have to be elevated into some kind of magic, infallible book? Isn’t it more realistic and credible – worth taking seriously – if we recognise it as fallible (just as we… Read more »