on Saturday, 10 March 2018 at 11.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Andrew Lightbown Theore0 Talking of being progressive and liberal
Sarah Mullally Contemplation in the shadow of a carpark God is Faithful
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.
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… Read more »
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!
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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.
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… Read more »
“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… Read more »
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.
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’.
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… Read more »
‘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… Read more »
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.
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… Read more »
“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… Read more »
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… Read more »
“The fact that Jesus was raised from the dead” is an article of faith. If it were a “fact” more people might believe it.
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… Read more »
“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… Read more »
“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.… Read more »
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.
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… Read more »
“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.
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.
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’).
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… Read more »