on Saturday, 26 August 2023 at 11.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Paul Roberts Inclusive Evangelicals Can you be Evangelical and not agree with the CEEC?
Mark Michael The Living Church When Rights Conflict: Sex Abuse Reporting & the Confessional
Paul Roberts hasn’t heard many evangelical preachers proclaiming the six-day creation stories lately. Perhaps because they’ve stopped believing what the Bible says. But he laments some evangelicals ceasing to read the Bible because their gay friends have been condemned by God’s (toxic) Word Written. His solution? To change evangelical followers’ minds about what the Bible is. I can’t see the point of evangelicalism. It’s about God’s Word Written, but not written in the way they thought it was written. God’s Eternal Word Written is for all time. Until we change our minds about what He meant earlier, because His opinions… Read more »
Perhaps, as a priest ordained to the cure of souls, you should try a little harder to ‘see the point of evangelicalism’. That’s one of the essential pastoral skills, is it not? Being able to see the world from someone else’s point of view? Perhaps you should try a little harder to understand a theological tradition that, for all its obvious weaknesses, has nurtured the faith of millions of Anglicans (and others), and has proved itself to be remarkably flexible at accommodating changing points of view and different denominational emphases – a feature well expressed by the Puritan John Robinson’s… Read more »
I found Paul Roberts’ article helpful. I hadn’t fully understood the tensions within evangelicalism and this article shed some light on that for me. I’m very happy with the Anglican formula of Scripture, reason and tradition and all the messiness that entails. I’m always very nervous of people who are certain that they’re right. What I do find irksome is the notion that evangelicals love the Bible more than the rest of us. Some days I’m all for Matthew’s certainty, others more for Luke’s compassion. Paul’s self confidence can be funny but another day troubling. It is the ambiguities and… Read more »
Amen and well said. Regarding Mr. Roberts not hearing evangelical ministers preaching six literal 24-hour days of Creation, perhaps he isn’t listening hard enough. In my rather complex spiritual journey, I heard many many evangelical or other conservative Christian ministers preach exactly that. That was in the 1980s, but I can’t imagine that evangelical ministers have suddenly taken geological history lessons and have seen the light. As far as two people reading the same Bible verse and coming to the same agreement, good luck. I doubt we’d have had fights how Jesus of Nazareth is divine (and what that means),… Read more »
All it takes to see that many evangelicals are still firm believers in what was once termed “the pleasant poetry of Genesis” is to know there are still fights over teaching evolution in public schools in the USA (and likely elsewhere as well).
Pat, you are an American and so you see evangelicals as non-Anglicans. The evangelicals being referred to on TA – and in David’s article – are largely members of the Church of England. And I may be wrong, but i think it’s a long time since there’s been a fight in the English public schools about teaching evolution.
Yes, that’s right. While evolution v. creation may still be an issue in some evangelical circles, it generally isn’t among Church of England evangelicals, which is the group in view in Paul’s article.
Based on what I have read of their beliefs and practices, evangelicals in the CoE may be members of that Church, but are they truly “Anglican”? Since when is it “Anglican” to be sola scriptura? Since when is it “Anglican” to ignore the Book of Common Prayer and conduct your services in whatever manner you choose?
Man, I really dislike these ‘who are the true Anglicans?’ arguments. Two centuries ago, the early Anglo-Catholic movement was accused of being papist. It reintroduced into the Church of England a huge amount of content contrary to what was then understood to be Anglicanism. But today it’s an honoured and respected part of the Anglican spectrum. and by the way, for much of its history, English Anglo-Catholicism has included groups that worship on Sundays using the Roman missal. And I’m sorry, Pat, but sola scriptura within English Anglicanism goes back a very long way, at least to the 18th century… Read more »
Perhaps because their very presence on TA suggests they are not the “mainstream” of CoE evangelicalism.
And what is your evidence that the ‘mainstream’ of C of E evangelicalism doesn’t use authorized Anglican services? I’m not talking about highly publicized C of E megachurches with expensive video productions; I’m talking about ordinary evangelical Anglican churches up and down the country. I’ve never seen any sort of survey done on that subject. Is there one?
It is hard for someone not familiar with the CofE to understand its evangelical contingent, if simply measured against the US landscape and its wide denominationalism. TEC has eliminated its historical evangelical presence thanks to the creation of the REC and the shift of places like VTS, Bexley Hall, et al, after the consolidation of the seminaries in the 60s and the emergence of the 1979 BCP. Once monthly HC and MP were the entirely widespread practice in the PECUSA until the late 1970s. Only the ‘underground railroad’ of Anglo-Catholic parishes on the eastern seaboard and in the upper mid-west… Read more »
Why do so many evangelical churches in the CofE hold no Anglican services? As a sop, they might hold a 8.00am communion for a couple of old ladies, but concentrate on the main non-Anglican “meeting”, with no altar in sight and all robes banished to the vestry wardrobe. Such places display no Anglican identity whatsoever.
“Why do so many evangelical churches in the CofE hold no Anglican services?” Well I know you won’t be persuaded – but you are talking complete nonsense.
For instance, watch Soul Survivor, Watford on YouTube.
It is true that some evangelical C of E churches do not conform to what Common Worship requires, but remember that CW allows (actually encourages) liturgical flexibility. It may be that what some see as ‘non-Anglican’ liturgy is in fact just availing oneself of that flexibility. I have had curates walk lout of morning worship at a curate/ Reader conference because it was not going to be conducted exactly as in the CW ‘red book’. The red book is but one worked example of what morning prayer might look like.
Mr Runcorn says I’m talking “complete nonsense”. Thank you for admitting there are some evangelical churches which don’t conform a legal liturgy.
But he didn’t say that. Did you read what Charles Read he actually wrote? Esp. that line about “what some see as ‘non-Anglican’ liturgy is in fact just availing oneself of that flexibility” – ie that Anglican liturgy actually allows.
Ok. I accept that flexibility allows evangelicals to hold non-Anglican services. That’s what I thought I’d said originally. Which is why I don’t understand why they’re Anglicans.
If you think Soul Survivor is in any way a typical example of ‘so many evangelical churches’ you need to do some research.
The Church of England Canons refer to the “holy table” (not “Altar”) and even before the relaxation of vesture rules by revision of Canon B8, the Canon stated that no doctrinal significance was to be implied by the diversities of vesture allowed. The eucharist as a main service in many churches is a relatively recent development in the history of the Church of England. Common Worship allows a wide range of options for compliant services, and although not all use it (the Roman Missal I think is still in use in some places, for example) it is widely used (and… Read more »
What a mess.
I’m not sure why you think what I have described is a mess. It is just what the polity of the Church of England has decided to include within the bounds of what is allowed. All I have done is noted some of the rules and flexibilities under which we operate. Of course the practice of the Church of England does not exist wholly on paper, but the idea that the Church of England is (or ought to be) wholly as one person or party sees it, needs to be set against practical polity and also against what our formularies… Read more »
This refrain, ‘I can’t see the point of evangelicals’ reminds me of a character in the Alexander McCall Smith noveI who says ‘I have never understood the reason for Belgium’.
That’s a bit cruel. They produce nice chocolates.
There are only three famous Belgians. Two are fictitious and one got run over by a tram.
And Jacques Brel, one of the great artists of the 20th century. Many other artists, including our late beloved Leonard Cohen (Quebec), had aspects of style derivative from Brel.
Oh my goodness – so out of touch with culture – two of the best footballers of the present generation Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazzard, and then there is Romelu Lukaku who is hardly out of the news.
Poirot and Tintin, too.
Cesar Franck is the third.
And the greatest of these! His third Choral in A minor for organ combines a statement of belief and the spiritual life in the context of physical life: opening with the pangs of childbirth and ending with the soul’s flight to heaven. It’s one of the ultimate interpretation challenges for organists.
Jean-Claude van Damme is renowned for appearing in some of the world’s worst films.
As a martial artist, Van Damme represented Belgium, and was the real deal.
He should have stuck to that.
Well he kinda did. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger It was Van Damme’s primary athletic talent that got him the roles. Myself, I liked ‘Time Cop’. Lol. Besides, if we are talking the worst movies of all time, what could possibly be worse than religious movies, Examples: The Ten Commandments, or The Passion of The Christ, or even Jésus de Nazareth (as it was titled en Belgique) are all more ridiculous and unbelievable than the schlockiest martial arts flick.
I couldn’t agree more. Religious movies are usually appalling. In one film, I recall a disciple looking at Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane remarking “Somethin’s eatin’ Jesus”
Don’t forget Georges Simenon.
If we’re going to include Tintin, why not his creator, Herge (whose given name is George Remi).
Raised as a Roman Catholic and a practicing Episcopalian for virtually my entire adult life, I have reached the conclusion that the law (and the Church) should treat the seal of the confessional exactly the same way it treats doctor-patient confidentiality. In most jurisdictions in the United States, a doctor (including psychiatrists and psychologists) are required by law to report when they suspect a patient has committed a crime. I see no reason clergy should get a pass on this.
Many in the Church would agree, and not only for the reason you give. At a training event for curates on hearing confessions some liberals dismissed the practice as an irrelevance, ‘something for RCs’. Conservative Evangelicals were hostile towards it, seeing it as ‘priestcraft’. Legislating to bring the seal in line with doctor-patient confidentiality would be pointless for both these parties as neither is going to offer to hear a formal confession. As for those priests who do hear confessions, many would on principal ignore any legislation.
Under US law, a “formal confession” is not required for the pastor-pentitent confidentiality rule to apply….just that the penitent believed he was speaking in confidence to a member of the clergy.
By US law do you mean the Canon Law of the Episcopal Church? In the CofE, Canon 113 on the seal of the confessional does not apply to informal pastoral conversations during the course of which abuse is revealed. For this reason priests are advised to keep a clear boundary between a pastoral conversation and a formal confession.
No, by US law, I meant the secular rulings of state and federal courts, where the “clear boundary” you speak of isn’t quite so clear.
I thought part of the transaction was that the priest did not know the identity of the confessee? Either way, the Priest can impose a penance, and if what they have heard is sufficiently troubling the penance should include confessing to the civil authorities.
Anonymity is not essential; very often the penitent will be known to the confessor. But you’re right about the penance including confessing to the civil authorities.
It’s rather like same sex marriage: how far should consciences be indulged when it is third parties, and not the person with the conscience, who pay the price?
If an abuser formally confesses, the priest should do his or her utmost to persuade the offender to go to the authorities, withholding absolution until this has been done.
I don’t think anyone is dissenting from that but I was making a more general point. I think when it comes to ‘protecting conscience’ we need to differentiate between situations where the impact of that is felt mainly by the person whose conscience is being protected (so, for example, we should cater for religious dietary needs such as Halal food) and those where third parties are most affected such as making the seal absolute or allowing a male bishop not to ordain women. I think the Church of England has failed to appreciate the difference and has been talked into… Read more »
I agree with you in principle. When ‘cost of conscience’ is invoked it always should invite the question, ‘who bears that cost?’ But on this issue does the Church’s conscience impact on third parties? More experienced confessors than I say it does not.
Helen King has asked The Society to let us know ‘the professional literature that they consulted in composing their submission to the Home Office.’ Let’s see.
Isn’t the Society’s argument circular? They are arguing that abusers never confess abuse so there is no need to break the seal – but if it never happens they have no grounds to object to having to report.
I think The Society was unwise to labour this point.
The seal of the confessional does impact on other parties – most notably, the victims of those who have confessed their abuse, been absolved, and gone on to abuse again. Robert Waddington was one such. There have also been cases where the penitent has been abused within the confessional, and that too is supposed to be under the seal. I know at least two such survivors. Peter Ball is only one offender who abused the confessional in this way. The fact that many experienced confessors have never had someone confess abuse doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Abusers are devious, and… Read more »
Your posts suggest you have a problem with confession per se; ‘priestcraft’ maybe? Be careful what you wish for. As Jo B points out, abusers “won’t confess and confessors won’t have the opportunity to bring moral pressure to bear.”
I’m aware of some serious problems with the confessional; that is, I know a number or survivors who have been harmed within the confessional or because of it. But I don’t have an objection to the formal practice of confession per se. Obviously a good number of people find it very helpful. However, the problems do need to be addressed.
My experience is not of harm but of grace; one in which survivors have found release through the confessional from guilt over their failure to forgive their abusers.
But if there are ‘serious problems’ with the confessional, isn’t the answer better formation in the IME Phase 2 period and as a part of compulsory safeguarding events for all clergy?
I’m glad your experience of the confessional is of grace. I hope you have assured survivors that being unable to forgive their abusers is not a failure? This is a big subject, but the pressure to forgive (without giving a clear idea what forgiveness is or might entail) before the survivor has experienced any healing, and without meaningful repentance on the part of the abuser, is enormously damaging. If the victim is still in the abuser’s power, it’s downright dangerous. Jesus himself said that those who put a stumbling block in the way of ‘little ones’ would be better at… Read more »
Much of what is voiced in confession is pain, not sin; when the confessor’s role is to point out the difference, not least when a church or fellow Christian has burdened a vulnerable person with guilt.
For example, if a survivor confesses that she cannot bring herself to pray for – still less, forgive – her former abuser, the confessor might first assure her that God in Christ knows her pain even (especially!) when others do not. The priest might then offer to pray, later and in private, for her abuser in her stead.
Thank you, that’s interesting – and reassuring.
I ought to add that the problem with the practice and theology around forgiveness is not limited to the confessional or Anglo-catholicism. Gordon Rideout (my own former vicar) is said to have told his archdeacon that because he had been forgiven for abusing children, it was as if he’d never sinned. This is a classic evangelical interpretation of justification, but it’s misleading to say the least. The consequences of our sins remain, and we and others have to live with them. And atone for them, if necessary. There the catholic practice of penance can be better than the evangelical get… Read more »
Janet, I wonder if part of the problem might be (a) the evangelical obsession with Paul, and (b) the neglect of the Old Testament on the part of most of Christianity. Even a cursory reading of the story of David makes it crystal clear that forgiveness doesn’t remove the consequences of our sins. David was such a sh__ at personal relationships, and for most of the second part of his life he was dealing with the consequences of his tendency to use people as playthings or tools – despite the fact that God forgave him. I read his deathbed scene… Read more »
As usual, you are spot on, Tim.
Evangelicals tend to assume that the observation, ‘David was a man after God’s own heart,’ signifies that David was the kind of man God likes. It took me a long time to realise it probably means, ‘David wanted to be close to God.’ Which tells us, if we needed telling, that people who love God can still do a hell of a lot of damage.
“The catholic practice of penance can be better than the evangelical get out of jail free card.” Would that all was well with Catholic practice! Some churches – rather than saying when a priest will be in church to hear confessions – state their Catholic credentials with “Confessions heard by appointment” on noticeboards. But does anyone pick up the phone to make the appointment?
I hear Janet Deitrich Bonhoeffer ringing in my mind in his warning about the dangers of “Cheap Grace”, which can be the danger if the Confessional is abused in either an Anglo-Catholic, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Setting or in a Theology of Evangelical Justification. As I understand it whether it is Evangelical Justification or the Confessional, the Key to both has to be sincere Repentance and Conversion, if these are absent, it can lead to a mechanical view of Forgiveness, and here I think Bonhoeffer was right to remind us Christians of the dangers of cheap Grace, which he… Read more »
Why doctor-patient as the model rather than attorney-client?
Perhaps confession stresses healing and reconciliation rather trying to prove legal guilt or innocence .
Amid all the proper concern over child abuse it can be easy to forget that hearing a confession is a huge privilege, not least because it reminds the priest of people’s holiness.
Quite right. Hearing confessions can be an enormously humbling experience often reminding the priest how wonderful some people are.
But how often does confession actually take place within Anglicanism? Hardly ever I suspect.
Not as often as it did. But it’s the same in the RC Church.
Because the attorney-client privilege has a very strict set of rules determined by the bar associations of each state. My understanding is that even if the attorney absolutely knows that his client is guilty, he cannot reveal anything the client has said. The only exceptions are that the attorney cannot then permit his client to take the stand and claim innocence (that would be suborning perjury) nor can the attorney in any way actively participate in covering up the crime (such as hiding stolen money or destroying evidence). That would make him part of a criminal conspiracy.
That’s rather my point – secular law accepts that there are certain categories of conversation exempted from being revealed in public. Confession, like legal advice, relies on the “client” being honest. The reality is that breaking the seal of the confessional doesn’t mean that confessors will be able to aid in getting convictions but that perpetrators simply won’t confess and confessors won’t have the opportunity to bring moral pressure to bear.
I doubt that anyone who would avoid confession for fear of being revealed would be affected by any moral pressure anyway.
But then why would they even be considering confession at all?
My point exactly–they wouldn’t be.
Then there is no need to discuss breaking the seal if someone confesses to abuse, is there? Actually I can imagine that someone might abuse, be remorseful enough to confess but not remorseful enough to face the consequences. A confessor might be in a position to push them from the former to the latter, but if the confessor is compelled to share that confession the abuser will know that and keep quiet out of fear of the repercussions.
Judith Maltby has a letter in Friday’s Church Times in which she challenges the Society’s defense of the Seal, in particular their claim that it ‘is “an unproven concern, that perpetrators will abuse the Seal. . . we are unaware . . . of the existence of any types of such evidence.” Some familiarity with the key professional literature in this area would include Dr Marie Keenan’s study of abusing priests in the Irish Roman Catholic Church, Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church (Oxford, 2012).’ She goes on, ‘The majority of abusing priests whom [Keenan] interviewed for her study reported that… Read more »
Here’s a link to the full text of Judith Maltby’s letter.
If confessors fail to tell abusers to stop and turn themselves in what makes you think they’re any more likely to report the abuser themselves? Breaking the seal doesn’t solve the problem of bad confessors.
I’ve not read of people defending a six day creation as such but I have heard fairly literal defences of Genesis 1 by saying we don’t know the length of the days. And I have been surprised reading on several sites esp in relation to the sexuality debates people defending the historicity of Adam and Eve as real people and a datable Fall. And I’ve certainly encountered young people saying you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution. This is rather different to what was being taught in RE in a grammar school in the early 60s. I think… Read more »
Surely it goes much beyond this. Challenging people who rely on the historicity of the Eden narrative is a fairly easy target. But there is now strong archaeological evidence that the entire Hebrew Scripture historical narrative from Abraham through to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem is also, in large part, a created narrative with a very hazy correlation with actual history. Many scholars argue that it is a semi-fictional narrative designed to create a foundation story of the Jewish people. The non-Canaanite origins with Abraham, the Exodus, the invasion of Canaan, the Davidic combined kingdoms, simply did not happen. So… Read more »
Part of me cries out aloud, “Oh, yeah? I’m from Missouri, so prove it, Mac!” while another part, seriously, would like to ‘hear more on this matter.’ The Eden narrative I happily take as a parable after much thought – no problems there. But please, where can I find the actual written evidence that much of the OT chronology ‘simply did not happen?’ (Answers, please, on the back of a ten pound note….) Remember, I’m just an ordinary, reasonably educated layman, dependent on the books I can easily obtain from a library – and just as importantly – with a… Read more »
I don’t know about books from a library, but for books for a reasonably educated layman you can buy online see the Thinking Anglicans discussion dated 17 June 2023 where there was a similar conversation, and in a response to a request from Peter Gross (about 60% of the way down) I listed some reading resources on this subject. https://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/opinion-17-june-2023/ You are right that most church based publishing is simply blind to this sort of information, for whatever reason, and those of us who find it interesting and relevant to our Christian lives need to do a lot of the… Read more »
Thanks, Simon. G K Chesteron (via Father Brown) once said it isn’t enough to read your Bible; you ned to read other people’s as well. The same goes for theology books. How can you know why you may (or may not) disagree with a particular person if you’ve never actually read what they really said?
I have just started reading “God: an anatomy” by Francesca Stavrakopoulou, who is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter. Lots of academic ideas are very clearly expressed and referenced in the book, but the ideas are very challenging to anyone who expects the Old Testament to be read as literal truth.
Thanks for that. I was unaware of that book but I will obtain it. Professor Stavrrakopoulou is an amazing academic who has a knack for exploring this area of knowledge in a very exciting and accessible way.
Thank you, David. I must confess (which would not make me too popular with some people I’ve known) that I don’t read the OT literally. Even if it is clearly factual history – Kings and Chronicals for example – it pays to be careful. As a very amateur military historian I know just how far the two opposing sides accounts of the same campaign can differ…… quite significantly. (How the British could call Passchendael a ‘victory’ is a good example.)
Thomas L Thompson, “The Mythic Past”, and “The Messiah Myth”
The late Philip Davies, “In Search of Ancient Israel”, and, “Who owns the Bible?” (the latter has a great essay about the Life of Brian)
But of course these writers are only one set of voices in OT scholarship. There who many others who see the OT (especially from David on) as more historically reliable than e.g. T L Thompson does.
There are indeed but their works are listed in all the standard reading lists and bibliographies and are easy to stumble across in the bookshop. I would just question what “historical reliability” really means in this context. A narrative explaining when, how and why God deals with humans can never follow normal historiographic standards for the selection and presentation of material, that is not its purpose.
Thanks, William. Much appreciated – I’d never heard of any of those titles, so will try and find them. There is a good reason why I mentioned public libraries. My own private library has clearly been blessed by the Lord – it is pressed down, full and overflowing …. onto the bedroom floor! (You can never have too many books – just too few bookcases……)
It swings both ways though. Christians who don’t accept the Genesis story have a severe problem too. Who was the first human with a soul and therefore born with the potential to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? How did this spread – is it inherited? And why isn’t such an important question addressed in the Bible – even Jesus didn’t address it. The biggest advantage of the Adam and Eve story is that it addresses this point: they were the first humans, the first earthly beings with souls. In any alternative you necessarily have a person who has a soul… Read more »
Thank you Kate for illustrating how evangelicals can have a problem reconciling their fundamentalism with scientific truth.
Where do you get the idea that you need a soul to enter the kingdom of heaven? Or the idea of a soul at all? I believe that the soul is an imaginary concept to be able to imagine what a person would be without their body, but that of course there is no such literal thing as a bodyless person.
Whether there is a soul or not, is academic because the question can be expressed in various ways. Who was the first person to whom the Law applies? No mention of soul there but the same issue is inherent.
This sad loss of Dr Stanley Monkhouse is keenly felt in this debate. His contributions from an anatomist’s point of view were always helpful. Our close relationship with lizards, which he once described, suggested we shouldn’t get above ourselves. Using the Bible to determine our origins is utterly futile.
Here is one of Stanley’s homilies on the subject – it’s not long, in his usual challenging thought-provoking style – addressed to the local congregation where he ministered in retirement, and worth reading by everyone who has commented on this topic:
The soul is the principle of life. In this sense plants, animals and human beings all have souls. But only human beings have rational souls. This is what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.
No problem for me, I don’t accept the old body and soul dichotomy. It’s not really a Hebrew idea, btw.
Really? Lots of Jews now as then believed in the conscious and personal survival of the self after death, awaiting the resurrection. That’s what we mean by ‘soul’ – a Hebrew idea even if the terminology is inexact. We must be careful of imagining that because there wasn’t one precise word for a concept, the idea didn’t exist.
Yes, really. You may find this of interest.
“Rahner consistently rejected the picture of the soul held by the commonly catechized Christian. Rahner refuses to think of the soul as one part of the Greek dichotomy of body and soul, “which (to put it simply) is repugnant to modern scientific anthropology”.1 I think there are two additional reasons for this. It’s not Hebraic, and it’s not Heidegger. Hebrew thought posits no such divide.”
There is no such thing as “Hebrew thought”. There were only Hebrews who thought various things. The Hebrew/Greek dichotomy was exploded many years ago. Rahner was wrong on many things.
Have you seen the old Monty Python ‘argument clinic’ sketch?
Several times. Have you read James Barr’s demolition job on T. Boman on ‘Hebrew Thought and Greek Thought compared’? Here’s a quick intro. (Full disclosure: my doctorate was in Old Testament theology.)
Why do some of the more interesting interventions always seem to surface when a TA thread is dying and people are moving on to the next tempestuous teapot? At this stage, I’ll provide a longer comment, since you are likely one of the few people left in the chat who may read it. Interesting article. Full disclosure: I read the whole damn thing. However, I needed a tea break between readings and opted to read some parts of it more closely than others. As a preacher and pastor, I’m a general practitioner, in the same sense that a social worker… Read more »
I’ll have to go to housegroup now, but will devote more time to reading the rest of this thread later! A very quick skim suggests it should be very worthwhile doing so. Goodnight, and God bless.
Thanks for the post Kate, is an interesting question. For me personally the soul is one of those interesting ideas that slipped into Christianity from Greek philosophy, and was hanging around the culture at the time. It did not originate in Judaism.
I can remember being puzzled by the difference between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ as a convert, together with the rejection of Greek influence in the 1970’s. Haven’t thought about it much since then until Kate brought it up. So it seems the ‘soul’ is the conscious part of our being; the understanding, the thought processes which make us human? And animals and other living beings can, to some extent, therefore also have a soul? OK. That differs from the ‘spirit’, then? Taking Paul’s arguments in Romans, and the classic Reformed views of people like Calvin and others, we are physically born… Read more »
At some point in pre-history a Homo sapiens (or Neanderthalensis) made the imaginative leap of seeing that there was a someone or something out there far greater than himself. The first crude awareness of deity is where we should locate ‘Adam’.
It could just as easily have been a ‘herself’. Maybe ‘Eve’ got there first!
And when he started writing down his thoughts, he called it God’s Word Written.
To me, having a soul and being self-aware are simultaneous and synchronous. To be self-aware is to recognize yourself as a being separate from others and capable of making decisions.
Exactly, self-awareness comes with having a rational soul and it’s what distinguishes human beings from the rest of the created order.
My take on it runs in the opposite direction–a soul comes with having a rational mind.
Are we sure, then, that orangutans are not ensouled beings? Conversely if ensoulment is synonymous with self-awareness does that mean that humans whose mental capacity falls short of that are without souls?
IMO, when it comes to spiritual things, I don’t think we can be “sure” of anything. We can only know what we each personally feel and believe.
As to your two questions here: Orangutans? For me, no…but chimps and bonobos (with whom we share some 98% of our genetic heritage), quite possibly. As for “mental capacity,” I am unaware of any study that suggests that even the most severely mentally disabled people are not “self-aware”–that is, knowing that they are separate beings from all other living things.
There is some evidence that a level of self-awareness exists not just in a few great apes, not just in mammals and birds, but in other vertebrates and even to a degree in some invertebrates. Octopuses anyone? Shrimps? I’ve just finished reading Metazoa: Animal Minds and the Birth of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. “Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, octopus and fish, then moving onto land and the world of insects, birds and primates like ourselves, Metazoa gathers these stories together to bridge the gap between matter and mind and address one of the… Read more »
It may go further still – the recent discoveries about fungii and trees, with their ability to communicate with one another through their root systems, suggests it isn’t just the animal kingdom which can display a level of conscious self awareness.
I’ve just read a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, which concluded by saying that, at the end of a life devoted to research, he realised it was impossible to understand everything about the world, let alone the infinite. And the more we discover, the more we realise how true that is.
PS With regard to this particular topic, Leonardo said he couldn’t find any evidence of a ‘soul’ during his work in the dissecting rooms, and therefore concluded that we don’t have one.
There are clearly certain problems inherent in working with corpses.
Quite. No doubt he didn’t find any evidence of being alive either. No cell metabolism, for example, though he would not have known what to look for of course.
The difference is that cell metabolism was/is a reality awaiting discovery with empirical evidence and bio-chemical description of the mechanisms. In the development of philosophy ‘soul’ was an heuristic one adjusted as theory evolved. It could be abandoned when no longer useful theoretically. There has not been nor is there now any evidence for the existence of the soul–well except for soul music of course. Coolness! Some contemporary theologians prefer to talk about a spiritual or transcendent orientation in humans which is also a kind of heuristic and one which is more helpful, in my view, than the old notion… Read more »
Thank you Kate – this sort of input is precisely why I read this thread! So was ‘Lucy’ truly human – ie homo sapiens in embryo, or were our none-homo sapiens predecessors somehow ‘un’ or ‘less than’ human? Re your last point, personally speaking I think I’d agree with you. Quite possibly both are indeed true, not either / or. Scientific and spiritual are actually different disciplines, one if you like mechanical (or factual) and the other more intangible. It is perfectly possible they can interact with one another; rather like Isambard K Brunel, John Smeaton and other engineers of… Read more »
Fascinating subject. Let me quote the following by Raymond Brown in reply to Bostock: : “...this argument that if Jesus had no human father, he would not be truly human leaves me with a problem about human beginnings. Whether by direct creation or evolution, logically the first human(s) had no human parent(s)–were the first humans not human? ” This is what happens when a highly gifted exegete like Brown, one of the best, whose commentaries are based on a warehouse of well organized filing cabinets drift out of their lane from the hypothetical religious world of the bible and into… Read more »
I quite agree with you – I cannot believe that the various species of life simply appeared as if by magic. Evolution seems to be a process of gradual refinement, development through improvements which give their possessors certain advantages over their fellows who don’t.
Presumably, therefore, homo sapiens species developed out of earlier hominoids which hadn’t their particular advantages. It wasn’t quite as black and white as primary school textbooks can make it appear.
Paul Roberts is entirely right to point out the historical diversity of Anglican evangelicalism; it has always been a spectrum in its own right and not merely a fixed point on the Anglican spectrum. So it is all the more regrettable that the CEEC, instead of representing the breadth of evangelical opinion, has chosen to show partiality to one sub-group, and has amended its statement of faith apparently in order to exclude others. There is more than one legitimate interpretation of Scripture on the subject of same-sex attraction. To close down debate by, in effect, expelling those who disagree with a… Read more »
Your comment shows the pointlessness of quoting ancient clobber texts to make decisions about people in contemporary England. Argument about how evangelicals use ancient religious scriptures is fine. But let it not overspill into affecting people’s deepest personal identity.
I’m an evangelical and I knew Paul Roberts years many ago when he was first teaching at Trinity Theological College in Bristol and David Gillett was Principal. Trinity was swinging in a more ‘open’ or liberal direction then, partly the legacy of George Carey and furthered by David Gillett. More ‘catholic’ practices were appearing then – students crossing themselves, icons appeared in the chapel, Catholic speakers gave talks etc – than you would have ever seen in the days of Jim Packer, and there was a growing number of women students, and other students who were certainly not evangelicals. But… Read more »
I was teaching at Trinity in that era too. The growing mix James describes, is true – but I see it as positive and James’s assessment as rather one-sided. I would also welcome his clarifying what he is meaning to imply, if at all, when he writes ‘there was a growing number of women students, and other students who were certainly not evangelicals’. Actually, in all theological colleges, a significant number of students had to choose their college for geographical reasons – family and work. +Michael Nazir-Ali proudly said, to the College Council, that Trinity students could be placed anywhere… Read more »
Not sure what I was ‘meaning to imply’, beyond what you have said, that the composition of students was changing from the mid-80s (one or two students came from the defunct Bristol School of Ministry, there was a number of independent women students, some from Anglo-Catholic backgrounds, others more into feminist ideas), and George Carey and David Gillett promoted ‘Catholic’ elements in worship and spirituality. I think some of the more Reformed teaching staff looked on this interest of the principals as akin to pick ‘n’ mix dressing up because while there was Catholic-lite worship (crossing oneself, candles, icons, vestments… Read more »
Thanks James. Briefly. Not least as we have exchanged on this stuff before on another blog. I think your comments about Trinity need setting in a wider context. It has a significantly conflicted history involving conservative groups who fell out with each other and split. The merger that became Trinity in early 1960’s nearly did not happen at all. But the mix on the college council still includes representatives from those historic groups including Crosslinks – formerly Bible Church Mission Society. You make it all sound as if the college has just been steadily drifting from its evangelical foundations due to a… Read more »
Well, David, I know that US Presidents have to swear to uphold the US Constitution, so annual subscription to a doctrinal basis may not mean that much if one can choose to interpret it with, shall we say, generous latitude. Elsewhere I have argued that your interpretation of the NT passages on homosexuality (and I have read your writings on this) is just wrong and disagrees with actual Neutestamentler like John Nolland of Trinity, as well as leading conservative scholars like Robert Gagnon and leading liberal scholars like Luke T. Johnson, Bill Loader, Ed Sanders and many others, who are… Read more »
Oh no!! Evangelicals lighting candles. Wearing vestments instead of T-shirts? The End is Nigh!
You didn’t read very carefully, did you, David? Most people at Trinity saw these things as a PR exercise of fitting in with the aesthetics of ‘central’ Anglican churches, without any doctrinal significance. The Nine O’Clock Service – a subject of great interest then to Paul Roberts and others – was also in to candles and haberdashery, along with son et lumiere. But Catholics, I think, understand these things a bit differently, as ‘sacramentals’ betokening grace and reflecting the priesthood. Trinity was restrained: there were no statues of Mary or auricular confession or expositions of the Blessed Sacrament. A different… Read more »
Removal of “about all liturgy or awareness of the Church’s calendar” from evangelical churches is similar to what I stated earlier. Mr Runcorn said I was “talking nonsense”.
James Your argument is a familiar one. Ian Paul and others use it a lot. The sweeping claim that ALL conservative and liberal scholars – a long list follows – agree that the theological and biblical views of people like me are simply wrong. Well Luke Timothy Johnson and Ed Saunders, to name but two on your list, say nothing of the sort, as I clarify here – https://www.inclusiveevangelicals.com/post/all-bible-scholars-agree-that-marriage-is-between-a-man-and-woman-it-is-true . You misrepresent both them and me at this point. Overall Mark Vasey-Saunders offers an important and careful analysis of evangelicals, scripture and sexuality in his new book Defusing the Sexuality… Read more »
David, you have made precisely my point by misquoting me. You write: “The sweeping claim that ALL conservative and liberal scholars – a long list follows – agree that the theological and biblical views of people like me are simply wrong. Well Luke Timothy Johnson and Ed Saunders [you mean ‘Sanders’], to name but two on your list, say nothing of the sort, as I clarify here…” First, whether an argument is familiar or not isn’t the issue’ the question is whether it is true. Aristotle’s three axioms of logic have been known for at least 2,300 years and they… Read more »