Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 20 January 2024

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Healthy contemporary evolutionary Christian vision, theology and practice

Neil Elliot NumbersMatters Data: Less is more?

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Peter
Peter
6 months ago

Colin Coward, to his credit, addresses “head on” the description of his position as a contemporary form of Gnosticism.

He says “I am committed to a church that is aware and focussed on identifying with the seamless unity of creator and created”. He continues.. “in overcoming the dualistic projection of God as other”.

I have no wish to personally offend him. However, “overcoming the dualistic projection of God as other” is about as good a summary of Gnostic enlightenment as you could get !

Last edited 6 months ago by Peter
John N Wall
John N Wall
Reply to  Peter
6 months ago

Odd — my dictionary says that “Gnosticism” is about the claim “that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.”

I didn’t see any of that idea in Coward’s essay. I see instead an expansion of our claim, to use words from the Exsultet, that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ “earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

Peter
Peter
Reply to  John N Wall
6 months ago

That is one definition of Gnosticism and, a somewhat limited definition at that.

Coward himself accepts he may be a gnostic so I think you are in error in inferring there is nothing of that kind to his teaching.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Peter
6 months ago

Gnosticism is the belief that a select few have the true vision to see and commune with the divine.
Hey, wait a minute …

Last edited 6 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Peter
6 months ago

Peter, you throw Gnosticism at Colin Coward the way some politicians throw “liberal” or “woke” at their opponents, as a way to condemn without having to explain, as a way to condemn arguments you disagree with, possibly without even understanding the argument Mr. Coward is trying to make. There is nothing wrong with arguing against dualism. I believe an ancient Greek philosopher once stated that everything either is or it is not. As good a description of the foundational logic of computers as there is. But life is more ambiguous than that. God is far more complex than that. Nature… Read more »

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
5 months ago

To be clear, “Well, maybe I am a Gnostic” is the comment of the author.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Anglican Priest
5 months ago

First, Mr. Coward does use the word “maybe”. Second, Mr. Coward is just throwing the term right back at his accusers, basically saying “So what?” Peter uses “You’re a Gnostic!” as an argument that defies criticism, the way some use “You’re a socialist!” to counter anyone’s argument about the economy or anthropogenic climate change or whatever without the need for a proper counter-argument. It’s an ad hominem attack. It’s not a critique of Mr. Coward’s arguments. If a belief that God is not dualistic or that we need to treat God’s Creation with much greater respect than we have been… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
Peter
Peter
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
5 months ago

Peter,

If I might interject ! You misrepresent me.

The distinction between knowledge and revelation is perfectly valid. I am not deflecting debate – quite the opposite.

Nor am I in any sense criticising Coward as a person. I could not be clearer than it is his teaching that I deplore.

Your final paragraph on dualism and the care of creation has no connection whatsoever to anything I have written.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
5 months ago

I think it is best to let Mr Coward speak for himself. “Well, maybe I am a Gnostic.”

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
6 months ago

“The passages in the synoptics that speak of a last judgement with eternal consequences are largely the products of Matthew’s re-writing of texts, Matthew’s failure to understand the truth of Jesus’ teaching that God’s loving is unconditional.”   “Jesus hardly ever cites the Hebrew Scriptures to support his message.” This is a page right out of 19th century higher criticism in its milder and more lethal, evolving forms (the ‘positive Christianity’ Paul LaGarde and the Reich). I suspect the author quoted here by Coward knows this very well and receives is with approbation. Matthew and Paul are outside the circle… Read more »

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Anglican Priest
6 months ago

My observation is that heresies always have the same basic themes but each generation comes up with its own new tunes.

If I was a Jungian – which I am not ! – I would say heresies are always derived from the same set of archetypes.

Gnostics and Coward do not see God as understood through revelation from outside creation. They assert he can be understood through knowledge of creation.

John N Wall
John N Wall
Reply to  Peter
6 months ago

They assert he can be understood through knowledge of creation.” — A position also taken by Richard Hooker in his Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Polity, also by Aquinas, neither of whom have, to my knowledge, been accused of being Gnostics.

Peter
Peter
Reply to  John N Wall
5 months ago

Gnosticism is a category term which describes an approach which seeks knowledge rather than the rejoicing in Revelation. It is, in other words, salvation by works. In response to your complaint – you are using the term “knowledge” in a quite different way to me (or at least attributing its meaning to Hooker and Aquinas). I happen to have some limited knowledge of biochemistry which means I can see in that regard how the created order speaks of its Creator. I am not therefore a Gnostic. Christianity asserts that we see God in his Creation, but to understand Him we… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Peter
Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  John N Wall
5 months ago

That’s because both of them had a robust view of scriptural adequacy and clarity, and from within those presuppositions, the creation spoken of in the Psalms and throughout scripture was a guided lens given by God for us. ‘The LORD sits enthroned above the flood.” ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.” Hooker and Aquinas would read the account given of Jesus here and not recognize it, or view it as a species of Marcionism — trim away the canon until you have the Bible and the Jesus you want.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Peter
6 months ago

“They assert [God] can be understood through knowledge of creation.”

And your problem with that is …?

Peter
Peter
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
5 months ago

Christianity is revelation from outside creation

Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
Reply to  Peter
5 months ago

Thank you for saying this. Suggesting we can both know and please God without being shown the way makes a nonsense of the incarnation.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Peter
5 months ago

That’s a nice-sounding human concept from inside creation.

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Peter
5 months ago

And here I thought the Christian concept of the Incarnation was God inserting God’s self into God’s Creation.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
5 months ago

And? If it is a ‘Christian concept’ (sic) it can’t be ‘read off nature.’ People didn’t wander around saying ‘there goes God in the flesh.’ In fact, decidedly not. The NT makes it clear that any such claim was received with varying degrees of puzzlement, antagonism, blasphemy, and indeed a sentence of death. And when Peter makes this confession, Jesus says ‘flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.’

Rev Colin C Coward
Reply to  Anglican Priest
6 months ago

Anglican Priest, how did you know that I am deeply versed in 19th century higher criticism and its milder and more lethal evolving forms? How wonderful to know that I am addicted to a sort of whimsical gnosticism. Yes, I distinguish the first two chapters Luke and Matthew and the post-crucifixion chapters as their addictions to a briefer and earlier Marcan original. Are Luke’s and Mark’s genealogies fundamentals? They don’t exactly agree between themselves do they? I find that significant. You are trivialising me and the work of thousands of biblical scholars and theologians. You and I clearly disagree on… Read more »

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Rev Colin C Coward
5 months ago

Colin,

May I firstly say that whilst I reject your teachings as a dangerous heresy, I acknowledge your courage and clarity of speech. It would be a blessing to us all if those running the Church of England would follow your example in that one regard.

Do you think you are proclaiming a new Gospel ?

Peter

Rev Colin C Coward
Reply to  Peter
5 months ago

Peter, Thank you for your affirmation of my courage and clarity of speech. We would all benefit from more courage, clarity and transparency from the hierarchy and the levers of the Church of England. The lack of this I might describe as sinful were I so inclined. I don’t think I’m proclaiming a new gospel, no. I’m living and describing the gospel of Jesus as I have come to understand it over the era of my life. I am intuitive, I have learnt to become more conscious and trusting of my contemplative wisdom. I might find an ally in Jesus… Read more »

Peter
Peter
Reply to  Rev Colin C Coward
5 months ago

To answer the direct question you have put to me; my conviction is that God has revealed Himself through His Son and the authoritative explanation of that Revelation is the Bible.

There is no other means to know God and not knowing God is a terrible outcome.

I think your ideas are pointing people away from the God of the Bible and that is extraordinarily dangerous.

They are dangerous to people who need to know God, which is everybody.

Francis James
Francis James
Reply to  Peter
5 months ago

In the 21st century the phrase “dangerous heresy” should have no place.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Rev Colin C Coward
5 months ago

The idea of a whimsical gnosticism is what I took to be your self-description. “Well, maybe I am a Gnostic.” Marcion eliminated the infancy narratives and resurrection accounts in Luke not for reasons of ‘higher criticism’ (unknown at the time) but because he had decided that Jesus had nothing to do with the scriptures of Israel. That 19th century higher criticism reached a conclusion similiar to that, on allegedly ‘objective grounds’ also produced a Jesus who was not Jewish or marginally so; who was hostile to all things Jewish; whose ideas of a last judgment or a willed march to… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
6 months ago

Religious reflection on one’s experience seems central to Colin Coward’s blogs. I’ve attached two links which address religious reflection and experience. One is a personal perspective from Reformed Judaism by Elana Moscovitch. This is not just a Christian issue. The other links a 2019 article from Church Times written by The Rev. Dr. Christina Beardsley( excerpt below link). Some here will no doubt know it; but it came to mind for me after noting that Beardsley is a resource person for the upcoming March event Coward tags at the end of his current piece. Here she explains why she left… Read more »

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Rod Gillis
6 months ago

“First, it is assumed that the Church’s difficulties with sexuality and marriage can be resolved intellectually, symbolised by the many papers produced by the working groups. ” I could not agree more. Typical churchly moving around of chairs. We have lots of guides, in concrete historical examples in generations past, on these new iterations of old ‘ideas and patterns’ purporting to be ‘the way forward.’ No working group, listening and earnestly polling people’s feelings, on either side in this, is anything more than that. It just give rise to polar opposite-ism as well. ‘Othering’ is a tag team sport, each side… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Anglican Priest
Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
5 months ago

I find it fascinating that some people seem to think we need an entirely new theology to produce the ethical result of a welcoming, affirming, compassionate Church. Personally, I’d suggest that if people read the NT more carefully — particularly the epistles– and actually behaved as it sets out we’d have exactly what Coward et al are after. ‘Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
5 months ago

If this comment had a title it would be something like: Of Colin Coward and Neil Elliot, two very engaging guys. In the back and forth comment on Coward’s series something occurred to me, and it occurred to me in conjunction with a comment on a thread shortly after Christmas, about the sometimes tetchiness of comment here ( the phrase was “vigourous hostilities”). What occurred to me is that such is a tandem ride. The only variable I can effect is myself. So I’m going to aim for a new approach to TA. I will try and limit my comments… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
5 months ago

First, although it’s absent awaiting moderation, can I please say thank you to Evan for his post reminding us of the NT principles for the church’s life together, and asking that we live more closely to them? That is one of the best, most relevant comments I think I’ve seen during this long debate. I have read Colin’s latest post – thanks, Colin. Before this thread gets any longer, can we all please remember that we are not first and foremost dealing with intellectual dogmas or interpretations of written words – we are dealing with the feelings and lives of… Read more »

Peter
Peter
Reply to  John Davies
5 months ago

I see no evidence that anybody is dealing in intellectual dogmas and abstractions.

If you disagree with what is being said please set out your reasons.

There is no justification for your inference that the lives of individuals are being treated as of insufficient significance.

Last edited 5 months ago by Peter
peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  John Davies
5 months ago

“I know several people who are either gay or transexual – is that the right word? – who began as men and are now women.” If I may humbly offer feedback, IMO, “transsexual” (with two “s”s) is acceptable, although most people in the population you describe would probably prefer “transgender”. And “transsexual” or “transgender”, refer to what some people call “gender variance”, as in differing from the gender assigned at birth or their sex chromosomes. “Gay, “lesbian”, “bisexual” refers to sexual orientation, and gender variance and sexual orientation are two distinct categories. ##### “Life is vastly more untidy in reality… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by peterpi - Peter Gross
John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  peterpi - Peter Gross
5 months ago

Thank you, Peter, for your explanation and support. You’ll have gathered, I’m neither medically or sociologically trained and find the constantly changing plethora of terms and acronymns for sexual matters very, very confusing. Hopefully everybody else understood, like you, and didn’t get upset by it (aeriated, as we say around here). Your parents were fortunate. The aunt I mentioned led the first British medical relief team into Belsen after we liberated it. She never talked about it, and I only knew it from her son, after her death. Just once, many years ago, she made a particular remark which, with… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  John Davies
5 months ago

John, I don’t often disagree with your normally very sensible posts, but I must disagree with your first paragraph. I would argue that it is not sufficient simply to exhort people to live more closely to NT principles. Bishops and priests have been exhorting in that way for almost the last two millennia. Yet church led abuse and harm has been continuous through all that time (alongside the good work that the church also did). We need to be more ambitious. Simply asking people to do better implies it is purely down to personal failure, the bad apple theory. Instead… Read more »

Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
Reply to  Simon Dawson
5 months ago

I wonder how much of what we expect to be able to achieve depends on our view of human perfectibility or continual human progress. The last century is a graveyard of various idealisms and it’s clear from our own social struggles at the present time that lessons we thought had been learned have to be learned again. I’m not convinced that tinkering with ideologies is actually a way forward because, ultimately, there can be no way forward through the intractable problem of sin. There can only be continual individual faith and repentance and the impact of this on the systems… Read more »

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
5 months ago

I hope you are active in Christian ministry.

Evan McWilliams
Evan McWilliams
Reply to  Anglican Priest
5 months ago

For at least another 30 years, should God grant me strength. Much will have changed by then but we rest on His eternal changelessness.

Anglican Priest
Anglican Priest
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
5 months ago

Bon courage chez le bon Seigneur.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Evan McWilliams
5 months ago

Spot on, Evan – but we still have to try and make things better around us. There’s no discharge in this war.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Simon Dawson
5 months ago

Good morning, Simon, and thank you for your feedback. All grist to my mental mill, and its appreciated. I think you’ve appreciated I’m a very lowly puddle jumping foot soldier in this army, and certainly not a professional theologian. (The Tommies in the trenches often see things differently to the ‘brass’.) I can only speak for myself, therefore, and how I feel. And, as I said, I’m also in broad agreement with Colin’s aims – I detest bigotry, intolerance and hatred in any form. And, as you’ve probably realised, I’m not an expert in sociology or any other professional disciplines.… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Simon Dawson
5 months ago

PS Colin mentions the book ‘Vile Bodies’ – lt’s rather expensive, can I wait for the IVP cheap paperback edition? Regarding mysogyny and homophobia, which was pretty rampant in some of the evangelical ethical books I read over the years, I wonder if this stems no so much from celibacy (although that helps) as from a dark theology which encourages us to depise or hate our bodies as an ever running sore, a constant source of potential sin, and hence a threat to our salvation? And an awful lot also depends on our upbringing, and when that was. I’ve said… Read more »

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