Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 17 August 2019

Stephen Parsons Surviving Church Congregational dynamics and murder
The John Smyth Review – Is it fit for purpose?

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Jesus: the Evidence; Channel 4, April 1984

Helen King sharedconversations Fight the good fight(s): the ordination of women and the human sexuality debate

Church Times Spiritual abuse: this way to the exit
Hattie Williams speaks to the authors of a new book that tracks a path through the maze of spiritual abuse

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Fr. Dean Henley
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Fr. Dean Henley

There is no doubt that the conviction of Ben Fields brings into the light a wicked man who had designs upon vulnerable elderly people (apparently he had a list of around 100 names) and who had succeeded in murdering one gentleman. My concern is around the confidentiality of his counselling and spiritual direction relationships. Whilst the ethical codes of the UKCP and BACP would in almost all circumstances allow for a breach of confidence where the disclosure was to protect, in safeguarding terms, an identifiable individual or an identifiable group of individuals; it does not provide for the kinds of… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

I think Stephen Parsons is right. Central to every Lessons Learned review should be one question: why did it take so long for the relevant authorities to act? That obviously includes asking why there were any delays in reporting.

FrDavidH
Guest
FrDavidH

Fr Colin Coward mentions a distinguished group of scholars who, as far as today’s Church is concerned. may well have not existed. Their understanding of scripture is more likely to commend itself to thinking people than the trite religion which passes for the christian faith these days. By trying to find “fresh expressions” of belief, the CofE seems not to realise that most folks find the religious ‘product’ it is selling unbelievable, naive and totally irrelevant.. You can’t have a “fresh expression” of nonsense. Planting churches to preach fundamentalism is a recipe for further decline. Would that we had a… Read more »

Wm. Bill Paul
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Wm. Bill Paul

Wow, and Sigh, at the same time. Colin Coward is the one who comes across as dated. Has he no acquaintance with all the work that’s been done post-Bultmann? No acquaintance with…where to begin?…Kasemann, Stuhlmacher, Jungel; and for that matter Barth and Bonhoeffer; first rate Anglican minds in his own communion who have treated the NT-and-Christology (D.Ford, J.Webster, R.Williams, too); James Dunn; the ‘implicit Christology’ in Christ’s claims, actions, resurrection; the weaknesses of historical reconstructions….the challenges that face making an absolute division between Jesus of history and Christ of faith, or making that distinction at all? So, when he shakes… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Colin Coward’s point (fourth paragraph from the bottom) is well taken. He points out the chronic chasm between scholarship and pulpit piety together with the intellectual perils of setting aside historical consciousness. Re: ” the ‘implicit Christology ‘ in Christ’s claims, actions, resurrection”, there is a two way street. Christology may be grounded in NT texts, but NT texts may be grounded in, and shaped by, latter speculative Christology. Ben F. Meyer ( The Aims of Jesus) writes: “Until we are better instructed on the Easter experience, the appeal to it as to a certainly adequate or certainly inadequate ‘connecting… Read more »

Colin Coward
Guest

It was a blog I wrote, Wm. Bill Paul, not an essay, let alone the book that I am actually writing – and often torn between whether I want to post my ideas now as a blog or develop them for the book. I am well acquainted with Barth and Bonhoeffer as well as Teilhard de Chardin and others both pre-Bultmann as well as others more contemporary than those you refer to. I’ve worked my way through a great deal of the mountain over the past fifteen years. Part of my exploration is in response to my sense that for… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

“Since then, energy has been drained by the Communion-wide war about sexuality and gender.”

The alternative view is that debates about whether Jesus believed himself to be divine are far less urgent than pushing to make the church inclusive. Had you lived in other times, you might have been called to academic theology, but in this generation you have been called to fight for inclusivity. Is that happenstance or design and, if design, how many others have received the same call?

Wm. Bill Paul
Guest
Wm. Bill Paul

In the “how many still believe” paragraph you clearly show your convictions and do so, it sure seems to me, in a way (your vexation showing itself with the astonished “still”) that rules out the alternative/more traditional views as now surpassed or untutored. I do get the general frustration that comes with the failure of the daily talk, let’s call it, of the church not measuring up to the more thoughtful, more thorough way a trained theologian might want to speak about the matters entrusted to us. That’s a frustration that many thoughtful people, of all theological stripes, share. So,… Read more »

Tobias Stanislas Haller
Guest

Helen King reminds me of the Hillelite maxim, “If I am not for myself, who will be; but if I am only for myself, what am I? and if not now, when.” Self-interest plays it’s part in human relationships, but it literally cannot stand on its own; allies are needed all round, and common work for what is just and good. In the long run this benefits everyone, even those who did not at the time see the aims as either just or good.

Charles Clapham
Guest
Charles Clapham

I am not unsympathetic to Colin Coward’s frustration (or despair) at current levels of theological understanding amongst Anglican clergy. But I wonder if there is also something positive to be said for the shift in recent years away from an overconfidence in the findings of “objective” historical scholarship, with the impact of various forms of liberation theology (including black, gay and feminist theologies) and an appreciation of literary approaches to the bible. So the more interesting questions for many might be about how biblical texts work and what they do, rather than about their disputed historicity. I do realise this… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

The problem is that the ‘workings ‘ and ‘doings ‘ of biblical texts (whatever that means) are often directly related to issues of historicity. A distinction between Knowledge based readings and readings grounded in degrees of ignorance matters. Colin Coward asks, “How many clergy and lay people preach and teach that the birth and resurrection narratives are reliable records of actual historical events?” The question points to matters of importance on several fronts. Did a resurrection appearance actually ‘happen ‘ as described in the Gospels? Or, are we reading there about a complex amalgam of accounts of innate personal experiences… Read more »

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

If the resurrection didn’t happen though, do we still have Christianity? I am very much in favour of trying to read scripture in context, and believing the authors sometimes write with social and cultural filters and limitations – and clearly, something like the resurrection event is so profound that it must be hard to find words to define the whole of it – but the narratives do pin down sufficient to assert the event: they encountered Jesus after he had died; he was tangible, could be touched, and in that sense there seems to have been a physicality aspect to… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Demythologizing the Gospel accounts needn’t reduce Jesus of Nazareth to a teacher and no more. It’d be a straw man to say that liberals reduce Jesus to his teaching, which wasn’t unique: as a teacher, he taught mainstream Jewish throught. What’s distinctive is that God was manifested powerfully in the events of his life, including how his followers responded to his death with joy and proclamation of his resurrection. Whatever happened to his body, that response changed the world.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Hi James, I always value your clear thinking and writing. In the end – in the face of profound truth, our ability to use language to try to make sense… well it may trail off. As I wrote in another place this morning (though we were discussing the Virgin Mary there): “Aren’t we talking about mysteries we cannot hope to fully define? People will probably have different beliefs… I think we can live with that… Fundamentally, I think we have mysteries at work, that can neither be fully explained and defined by scriptural text, nor fully understood by theologians. On… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

My questions are different from yours. What were the resurrection experiences of the original witnesses? I suggest these were innate experiences in the philosophical sense of the term. They had an ineffable quality that could only be mediated by drawing upon their Jewish religio-cultural context. These original community constituting disclosure experiences germinate the later more elaborate textual amalgams in the Gospels. NT Scholar Raymond Brown notes stark characteristics common to the narrated appearances i.e. the disciples are in a situation devoid of Jesus, Christ is enigmatic and must be disclosed, there is a message or command as a result. Keep… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Xavier Léon-Dufour’s point was echoed by Bart Ehrman when he cleaned William Lane Craig’s clock in debate: historiography’s simply not equipped to assess miracle claims. This point’s sadly gone into hiding until the academy’s sure that N.T. “Tom” Wright’s not gonna leap out from behind his advance and savage anyone with the temerity to dare question his doorstop on the Resurrection, but it remains. I too like to focus on the mystery of the resurrection (while being happy to avoid charges of obfuscation by stating plainly that no, I don’t personally believe that Jesus of Nazarene was physically reanimated). Anytime,… Read more »

Colin Coward
Guest

Thank you, Rod Gillis, for your comment. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to know that one person at least understands the essence of what I am trying to say and articulates my thoughts with greater clarity. I feel as if I’m trying to explode what Trump would describe as ‘fake news’, Christian theology and narratives that were clearly identified as myth and deconstructed in my teenage years. Sixty years later, I have great difficulty identifying anyone in the Church of England who is publicly clear about whether their faith resides in a fantasy about Jesus and God.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Thanks for doing it! We need far more people to stand up and vigorously defend liberal theology in plain language. So often, liberals appear ashamed of their creed, and treat it as a shameful secret to be whispered in dark corners among the initiated. Handshakes to follow? Enough! We should be proud of our beliefs, proclaim them as boldly as evangelicals do theirs, and demand for them the same level of respect that evangelicals take for granted.

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Your article asks poignant questions while making astute observations about institutional culture. The free exchange of ideas is vital for a viable contemporary Christianity. It is vital in terms of both internal integrity and inter-disciplinary dialogue with people of good will. In that regard, I find the reflexive cry of ‘orthodoxy ‘ unhelpful. It is as much a political notion as it is a theological one–an attempt to control the conversation. In the first instance, one needs to come to terms how one makes sense of one’s faith. At the end of the day, I’m a person who does indeed… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Couldn’t agree more, Rod.

Theological liberalism’s been slaughtered because its adherents refuse to stand their ground. I know that liberalism tends to attract nuanced thinkers who detest conflict, but if you don’t stand up for its most basic tenets, you’ll be forced to dance to the tune of authoritarian religion, which is surely the greater evil.

Buckle up, guys: defending what you believe ain’t that hard!

John Peet
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John Peet

It is, of course, quite possible to use a liberal methodology with regard to the Bible and come to relatively conservative conclusions! Liberalism does not necessarily lead in one direction.

James Byron
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James Byron

Indeed, theologians liberalism’s simply a method of judging the Bible and wider doctrine by the same standards by which we judge everything else. Must confess, I’ve never seen it lead anyone to conservative Christianity, but anything’s possible!

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Personally I feel that Christians with socially progressive views sometimes look weak because they attempt to fight their case on conservative Christian’s own ground: the near (or complete) inerrancy of the Bible. Rather than just saying ‘The Bible seems wrong about man-man sex, and I think Paul was just reflecting his culture’ the defence is often, ‘Oh the Bible is right – of course it’s right – it’s just that the translation of certain words is mistaken etc’. This is trying to defend liberal theological views, using an old and frankly outmoded paradigm. What I believe we need is a… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

Couldn’t agree more (why I make this point every chance I get, often to the horror of “liberal” Christians). As you so rightly say, we need a new paradigm that rejects authoritarianism and embraces an approach to theology that’s liberal in both method and outlook. I’ve zero interest in arguing my case in authoritarian terms, whatever the issue.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

“an approach to theology that’s liberal in both method and outlook”

Exactly so.

Charles Clapham
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Charles Clapham

Well, I’m certainly not uninterested in questions of historicity. But having trained initially as a historian I’m probably just a bit sceptical when it comes to the bible about confident assertions made one way or the other at such a historical distance, with often such little corroborating evidence. Conclusions seem to me often much less about “historical fact’, and much more about the intellectual and ideological presuppositions of those producing the study – and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this (wasn’t this more or less the implication of Schweitzer’s quest?). More generally, I was really just making the… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

It’s surely a false choice to set “did this happen” up in opposition to studying the authors’ perspectives. One of course informs the other. (If this didn’t happen, why did they invent it?)

The quality of evidence is excellent for its time (not only sources a few decades after events, but in Josephus and Paul, independent corroboration of some parts of the gospels). Schweitzer indeed hangs over the field, so it’s unsurprising that his apocalyptic prophet model of Jesus has, with modifications, chased off all challengers for over a century.

Kate
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Kate

Had Jesus lived today there might be a few newspaper articles covering his ministry and execution. Obviously loads of blog posts. Probably very little coverage of his resurrection, though. And most of that wouldn’t survive more than a decade or two. There would be books, of course. Mostly written after the event. The best would eventually be adopted into some sort of canon and the rest would become more and more obscure as the years passed. And yet, the historicity of Jesus two thousand years ago is suspected because there is no corroborating evidence. Expectations of corroboration are impossibly high.… Read more »

Fr Frank Nichols
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Fr Frank Nichols

Given that the most important issue facing Christians in this United Kingdom is NOT Sexual Abuse of all kinds, NOT spiritual abuse of all kinds, NOT congregational dynamics, NOT the ordination of women, but the impact of the stupidity of Brexit on the lives of the poor and vulnerable, I am depressed that “Thinking Anglicans” just grinds on replaying the irrelevant Church of England obsessions. Has no one on here noticed that while we obsess on our sad fixations, the real agenda for followers of Jesus is ignored. What is God saying to us as His Spirit moves in this… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Given that the CoE’s leading Christian socialist’s a devout Brexiteer who enthusiastically supports a no-deal crash-out, we should be thankful for small mercies!

Malcolm Dixon
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Malcolm Dixon

Sorry James, but I have been struggling to think to whom you are referring. Who is this misguided person? Do tell!

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

I assumed JB referred tp Dr Fraser, Rector of Newington S Mary.

James Byron
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James Byron

For it is he. (And credit where it’s due, he’s a terrifyingly good debater, capable of reducing Queens Counsel to spluttering howls of anguish.)

This ties into the debate about the value of facts above. Fraser scorns experts and attacks the very concept of science. He’s the endzone of a theological culture that’s fled from objectivity and settled into the comforting embrace of po-mo “Radical Orthodoxy.”

This isn’t a conservative: he’s the frontman of left-wing Christianity. Say facts don’t matter, this is what you get.

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

Ah yes! Dr Fraser’s name did cross my mind but, although he certainly has espoused the view James reports, my personal impression is that, since ceasing to be a Canon of St Paul’s, writing Guardian leaders and a weekly column in the CT, he has become much less visible and hence perhaps no longer ‘leading’.

David Emmott
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David Emmott

At last some common sense! Well said Fr Frank.

Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

I agree that it would be good if we could have more articles/links about community building, and poverty, and social care – and how, in practical terms, Anglicans could or do get involved, as individuals and Christian communities, as they seek to expand their consciousness of God and open up to God’s compassion. That said, issues of sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, gender, sexual orientation are front-line points of concern and contention in the Church today – and the Church’s response to these issues has an impact on the public’s receptivity to the gospel, which yes, should also be proclaimed through… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

In the abstract, seceding from the E.U.’s a perfectly sensible position, just as embracing protectionism to safeguard American workers from foreign competition’s a sensible position. Key’s how it’s gonna be implemented, and by whom. With both Trump and Brexit (they’re inextricably linked), it was screamingly obvious that protectionism and secession were proxies in a brutal culture war, a war which scapegoats foreigners and minorities for the avarice of robber barons. That being so, theoretical arguments can’t be used to escape the ugly consequences of supporting these particular movements. It’s notable that many of the leading “liberal leavers” have, belatedly, seen… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Amen. We can only comment on the topics put up by the Editors, and no criticism of them. They are generously broad-minded in publishing our responses. It might make the site unwieldy (for the Editors), but I recall Richard Symonds saying that debate on TA might be more effective if single topics could each be segregated to its own individual thread.

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

I would hardly call a passion for justice for the abused and marginalised irrelevant. Those are gospel issues.

Brexit is complicated. I voted Remain but have lived many years in Leave voting areas. One of the ironies of Remainer campaigns is that they often sound as if they’re saying to the ‘poor and vulnerable’ who voted Leave – ‘we know what’s best for you.’ That attitude is only going to deepen the divisions between north and south, urban and post-industrial, have and have not.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

This is, I fear, why Brexit and Trumpism (its transatlantic buddy) have got so far. Do the leading Brexiteers, or the Don’s fanclub, concern themselves with the feelings of their opponents? Framing Brexit and Trump as a revolt by the poor is buying into their framing. Most Brexiteers and Trump voters weren’t poor, and I give those who are the dignity of being challenged, not patronized. As with liberals who waste years arguing about what the Bible says instead of whether it’s wrong, why let your opponents set the terms? People are already divided. Not gonna change. All that matters… Read more »

David Emmott
Guest
David Emmott

What you say about Brexit is right, Janet. The inequality that has been endemic, and increasing, in our society has clearly been a factor in the movement to leave the EU, however illogical that might seem (and is). But at least the Church of England attempted to address that over 30 years ago with Faith in the City. Where is that voice now? Also, it is a gross oversimplification to imply that the majority of those who voted Leave were poor and marginalised, since outside the big cities (which themselves contain many of the former) the wealthy rural south largely… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

While the secessionist case is a strong one (an institution designed in the mid-20th century to stop Germany and France from going to war has expanded way beyond the ability of its structures to cope) the forces behind the current push to Brexit were always using it as a vehicle for a Bannonist putsch. That being so, anyone opposed to his brand of nativism should’ve opposed *this particular* attempt to secede from the start. That the CoE either doesn’t see what’s happening, or does but refuses to oppose the current Brexit movement with every fiber of its being, is a… Read more »

Jo B
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Jo B

@Janet: the flaw in that thesis is that a typical Brexit voter is a relatively well-off and from the home counties, not poor and northern.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Same with Trump voters, whose income’s above average. Framing Brexit/Trumpery as a revolt by the neglected poor is a deliberate propaganda tactic to shame the progressive bourgeoisie into silence. That so many buy into this guilt-trip just shows how effective reactionaries are at pushing buttons. It needs to be victoriously challenged every time it appears.

Rowland Wateridge
Guest
Rowland Wateridge

Whilst I have much sympathy with what Fr Frank Nichols says, the subject of John Smyth is a matter of concern, as is fairness and accuracy of reporting about it. Rather belatedly I have come across updated statements from the Titus Trust and the Scripture Union setting out their respective stances in greater detail. I have added these on the Smyth Review thread dated 13th August.

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

There are so many issues that are worth exploring on this website, impossible to say which is more important than any other. But of them all, the topic that eats away at me the most is that of abuse in any form. I have no idea why this should be so, for I don’t recall ever having been on the receiving end, except as I relate below. Every fibre of my being goes out to those who have suffered. I am ashamed to be a public representative of the Church of England. I was ordained at the age of 56… Read more »

FrDavid H
Guest
FrDavid H

Hear! HEAR!

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

Stanley, I am genuinely sorry to read that you feel that your sacrificial giving, particularly in your later years as a priest. may have been wasted. Although not ordained myself, I can only sympathise with your views.

Although a bit of ‘gallows humour’ may not be deemed appropriate in the circumstances, since you are but 4 years younger than me and we have the same alma mater, I wonder if you recall the slogan that was around in my time there ‘Christians with acumen should not be CICCUmen’? Truer than ever now, more than 50 years later!

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

“…ordained at the age of 56 (now 69)…I wonder if I’ve wasted the last 13 years of my life… Am I alone in feeling this?” It is difficult, perhaps perilous, to lay one’s life alongside that of another. I was ordained at 23 and retired at 58 (now 65) after 35 years service. Stanley, focus on the lives you have touched in 13 years of ordained ministry, those you helped in conversations and via sacramental ministry. As for bishops, I think about a line from a lecture given by Malcolm Boyd decades ago, “[The bishop] is not my leader, he… Read more »

Stanley Monkhouse
Guest

To Malcolm and Rod. Maybe I should have said I touched more people, more young people, as a teacher, mentor and provoker of learning (pastoral ministry of another kind) for 30 years than as a priest, in which role I have often felt little more that the administrator of an arm of the Evergreen club. Bishops and Oz – I like that, though bishops are worse than the wizard, for at least when the curtain was pulled back he had the humanity and humility to be embarrassed. With CoE bishops, they pretend the curtain is still there and bash on.… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Re: Jesus’ placenta, the answer is not difficult. Part of the interplay between theology and biology is the nature of distinctions–here the distinction between Jesus’ physical/historical presence and the sacramental presence of Christ. Your placenta comment brought to mind something written by Henri Nouwen who reflected on the compassion of Jesus in terms of ‘splangchnizoma’ (splangcha, entrails/guts), and the Hebrew word ‘rachamim’ (rechem, womb). “Compassion is such a deep, central, and powerful emotion in Jesus that it can only be described as a movement of the womb of God” (Nouwen, Eternal Seasons). The truly difficult questions you ask are about… Read more »