Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 6 December 2023

Colin Coward Unadulterated Love God is a revisionist

Martin Sewell Surviving Church Waiting for Wilkinson

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John Davies
John Davies
2 months ago

I’m sorry to learn of Colin’s undiagnosed illness – that itself is more than enough to cope with at present. In all sincerity, Colin, I wish you a speedy recovery and a peaceful Christmas. Take good care, and look after yourself.

Rod Gillis
Rod Gillis
2 months ago

Another interesting article by Colin Coward. Thanks so much. There is an old saying: new knowledge brings with it new responsibility. There is an exigency from the world to the church to act responsibly in the light of new and evolving information. After reading Coward, John 1:46 came to mind: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”. Apparently sometimes it does.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
2 months ago

Bravo to Colin Coward–this is the essence of combining Christian faith with biological science, which too many fundamentalists continue to see as heretical:

Revising things is what God is doing all the time, since the ‘beginning of creation’ and in the unfolding drama of evolution. Evolution is God’s process of developing more and more complex matter and forms of life by a slow, constant process of revision. All of life is about an evolutionary process of revision.

Rev Colin C Coward
2 months ago

John, I had a heart attack but only discovered that when I turned up at A&E at Salisbury Hospital on Tuesday afternoon last week. I was diagnosed and admitted within two hours, had an angiogram the following afternoon, two stents fitted, and was discharged the following afternoon. Fantastic treatment on the NHS by wonderful staff. Rod and Pat – thank you so much in return for your affirmative comments. The idea for the blog came, I’m tempted to say, from nowhere. Actually, a book review in last weekend’s Guardian or Observer sparked thoughts. Why are’t they obvious to other people?… Read more »

Realist
Realist
Reply to  Rev Colin C Coward
2 months ago

Many prayers and good wishes for your recovery, Colin. Take good care of yourself.

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Rev Colin C Coward
2 months ago

Colin – firstly, I’m glad to hear you’re doing well, and getting over your problem. That’s good news. I’m afraid I’ve reached the age where various parts of me are wearing out, and the NHS have been a great help and blessing to me as well. All praise to them. Sadly I think everybody puts labels on people one way or another; its our fallen human nature. And sadly, sometimes we end by putting real labels on people, and what follows can be pretty evil. (An aunt of mine saw it first hand – she took a medical team into… Read more »

Nigel Jones
Nigel Jones
2 months ago

We hear a lot about ‘populism’ these days and its pernicious effect, especially in politics, and I’ve been asking myself what is it exactly? I suppose it’s the ‘popular’ reaching for simplistic answers to complex questions (“We’ve had enough of experts.”) -popular, because many of us are too lazy to do the hard work of seeking truth wholeheartedly. And so we have people who deny climate change, or who deny that the world has changed and therefore think that the solution to today’s problem is to go back to how things used to be. While reading your article it occurs… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
2 months ago

Colin, I am pleased that you are safely back home. I don’t, however, quite agree with your idea of revisionism, although maybe it’s a disagreement based on your wording rather than the underlying idea. There has to be some concept of a change in understanding because John 14:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach us. Learning inevitably means a change in understanding. Where you reach for evolutionary biology, we could instead reach for quantum physics. We know that an atom of hydrogen has one electron and that it is in the lowest orbit. We don’t know, however, where… Read more »

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Kate Keates
2 months ago

I can understand how our knowledge develops through human endeavour and ingenuity. I’m not clear why religion has to be attached to scientific discovery to enable us to understand it. The invention of the atomic bomb, for instance, is probably not through illumination by the Holy Spirit. And exploding one is not advisable through common sense, not some biblical stricture.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

The invention of the atomic bomb was made possible by the discovery of nuclear fission and later nuclear fusion…both of which have made energy cheaper, more efficient and less pollutant. That man took this “illumination” and used it for evil purposes is no more surprising than that he took the “illumination” of the wheel and eventually used it for war chariots.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Pat ONeill
2 months ago

I’m still not sure what the Holy Spirit has to do with the invention of wheels and bombs.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

IMO, all human knowledge is guided by the Holy Spirit.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Pat ONeill
2 months ago

The Spirit is very slow in enabling us develop our knowledge. Hastening discovery of incurable disease would be helpful. Telling some cancer sufferers the Spirit hasn’t yet guided medical scientists sufficiently isn’t very pastorally sensitive.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

The Spirit can only guide human knowledge to what is knowable, understandable and doable. Perhaps a cancer cure is simply not on the cards without a huge leap in other fields like chemistry or physics? Couples suffered from infertility for millennia, but the human ability to do in-vitro was only possible by the mid-20th century.

And perhaps that was when humanity had “evolved” enough not to use it for the wrong purposes.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Pat ONeill
2 months ago

I still can’t understand why it is necessary to add a divine being’s guidance to discern and discover what is knowable. Presumably God knows everything. He seems very arbitrary in what He chooses to disclose to people who are seeking to relieve suffering.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

As I have often said here when discussing the changes in the ways society and culture accept “non-traditional” sexuality and gender, the Spirit guides us to new knowledge of God’s plan when our human knowledge of science and psychology is ready to accept it.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Pat ONeill
2 months ago

Morality differs within different societies and nations. It’s a bit dangerous to assert one country’s laws and customs are divinely ordained. For instance, Putin has just reasserted that “Christian” Family values are God’s plan in his Orthodox state. In other countries, many LGBTQ people have discovered a new “human knowledge of science and psychology” after they have thrown off the traditional shackles of religion after “God’s plan” was too suffocating. It’s a bit confusing when His plan keeps changing.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

FrDavidH, I’m curious to know what you think it is that the Holy Spirit does.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
2 months ago

I fear the Holy Spirit does what we say it does.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

Do you believe in God’s existence at all?

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Janet Fife
2 months ago

Yes

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

I’m sorry, but that’s not a reply to my question.

I’m asking because the biblical authors seem to think that the Spirit is the power of God at work in the world. You seem to believe (forgive me if I’m misinterpreting) that that’s all ancient pre-scientific nonsense. So I’m genuinely curious about what you think the Holy Spirit does. If the Holy Spirit in fact exists.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
2 months ago

When Archimedes invented the pulley and Pasteur pioneered vaccines, I don’t see how it adds anything to claim it was really the Holy Spirit, rather than human ingenuity , which produced these advancements. I wouldn’t presume to tell an atheist inventor that it is really God who is responsible for his actions. “The Spirit blows where it wills”. It’s not up to us to point to exactly where He moves. Again, if there’s another pandemic I wouldn’t put my faith in the Holy Spirit. My hope is in epidemiologists.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

When would you put your faith in the Holy Spirit?

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
2 months ago

My faith is in God. I don’t have a particular allegiance to the third person of the Trinity so it is somewhat academic which part of the Triune God I’d invoke.

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

God’s plan doesn’t change; the parts of it humans choose to follow does.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Pat ONeill
2 months ago

Where is it unambiguously set out?

Pat ONeill
Pat ONeill
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

Ah! That’s why humans have to choose–it is not unambiguously set out.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Pat ONeill
2 months ago

So we have to follow God’s plan. But don’t know what it is. It sounds a bit meaningless to me.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

I think Jesus made it fairly clear, didn’t he? The announcement of the kingdom. The call to faith and discipleship. The way of love as set out in the two great commandments (and spelled out in greater detail in the sermon on the mount). The call to be salt and light in the world and to spread the message to others. Agreed, he’s not always clear (and sometimes purposely so), but with the stuff that is clear, there’s more than enough for me to spend the rest of my life working on it.

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
2 months ago

I agree with everything you say. I was simply doubting, as Pat O’Neill, suggests above that all human knowledge is guided by the Holy Spirit”. This fails to recognise human agency in the quest for scientific advancement. I can’t believe, for example, the Holy Spirit guided mankind to burn fossil fuels resulting in possible human extinction. The Sprit’s guidance seems somewhat lacking at COP23 in Dubai where oil-producing countries are reluctant to lose their wealth.

Tim Chesterton
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

I think I agree with most of what you say also, FrDavidH. But I also think I get what Pat is trying to say, although perhaps I would phrase it as ‘all truth is God’s truth’ – scientific truth as well as ‘religious’ truth. I think originally this phrase was a protest against those who feared that scientific knowledge would lead them away from the love of God. Those who coined the phrase were arguing that the same God who inspired the Bible also created the world, so truths about creation were to be welcomed rather than feared. As for… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  FrDavid H
2 months ago

When someone presents an idea using a science analogy the helpful – indeed polite – response if disagreeing is to use a different science analogy. Jesus taught in parables. He frequently used farming or fishing analogues because that was the sort of terms of reference much of his audience understood. As a priest I would have thought you understood about tailoring what you say to your audience.

Rev Colin C Coward
Reply to  Kate Keates
2 months ago

Kate, a change in understanding is revisionism, in my book. I don’t believe there has to be a concept of a change of understanding because of a verse in John’s Gospel. Quoting the Bible is one of the ways in which human understanding of change has been repeatedly inhibited and blocked. That’s biblical texts and verses are used today in all sorts of ways to prove something about God and what God says and thinks is a manifestation of the naïve, dangerous addiction to using the Bible to prove and uphold prejudice and abuse. I’m not reaching exclusively for evolutionary… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  Rev Colin C Coward
2 months ago

As you are the article author, I will give you the last word. There is one thing I do want to add, however. While something might be OK for an individual who has weighed up the pros and cons in the particular circumstances, that doesn’t mean it is right to teach in favour of it, or indeed that it isn’t wrong to teach against it. That’s the problem with conservatives saying it is a salvation issue. It isn’t, but importantly they are confusing correct teaching (even if they are right about that and I don’t think they are) and the… Read more »

John S
John S
Reply to  Kate Keates
2 months ago

When you say of an electron “We don’t know, however, where exactly it is and, even if we did, we wouldn’t know it’s momentum”, you are referring of course to the quantum-mechanical Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. When two quantities are linked as a conjugate pair, obtaining more precise knowledge about one of them inevitably means less certainty about the other. This contrasts with classical physics, where we can expect to get more and more precise knowledge of all aspects of a system simultaneously. If we are in the business of creating scientific analogies to promote our religious beliefs, it seems to… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  John S
2 months ago

I really like that comparison, John. It feels helpful. I like the sense of needing to move from certainty because that’s something I see very strongly in Jesus’s teaching – and indeed the Apostles after His death (but less so in Paul’s teaching, perhaps because he didn’t spend time with Jesus).

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Kate Keates
2 months ago

Now I only did physics to a very poor O level – most of what I learnt subsequently comes via Brian Cox, but I can see what you’re all driving at. I also did sufficient geology (to A level) to make it very difficult to accept a literal six day creation dogma. Similarly, having read Charles Darwin’s Origins of Species evolution makes far more sense to me than the fundamentalist view does. Like Darwin, at a much lower level, I can observe, think and come to conclusions, and do. Understanding, of whatever discipline we’re working in, grows with experience and… Read more »

Kate Keates
Kate Keates
Reply to  John Davies
2 months ago

I can understand why people struggle with Genesis but personally I don’t find the modern creation myth (the Big Bang) particularly convincing either.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Kate Keates
2 months ago

Definition of a “myth”, from the OED: “A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon.” The scientific account of the Big Bang does not count as a myth. It is a scientific theory, backed by scientific evidence. It might be wrong, but only scientific evidence can disprove it. As for not liking it or not finding it convincing — you are entitled to an opinion, but without scientific evidence it is,… Read more »

David Rowett
Reply to  John S
2 months ago

Sounds like an appeal to embrace John of the Cross and apophatic theology to me – bravo!

Fun to read folk like Feynman and Rovelli on QM and what – if anything – its ‘weirdness’ has to say to religious interpretations of the universe

David G
David G
2 months ago

From the BBC; a Memo to the NST, all DSA’s, and Archbishops’ Council. An Ofsted inspection “contributed” to the death of head teacher Ruth Perry, an inquest has ruled. Caversham Primary School, in Reading, was downgraded from outstanding to “inadequate” due to “safeguarding concerns” after the Ofsted visit in November 2022. The school has since been re-graded as “good”. The inspection “lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity” and was at times “rude and intimidating”, senior coroner Heidi Connor said. Mrs Perry, 53, took her own life in January while waiting for an Ofsted report to be published.Ms Connor expressed concern about… Read more »

Trevor
Trevor
Reply to  David G
2 months ago

I take it you are thinking of the sad case of Fr Griffin in London Diocese. Are there any more suicides down to Church of England safeguarding?

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  David G
2 months ago

David, can you explain what you think are the parallels with C of E safeguarding?

David G
David G
Reply to  Janet Fife
2 months ago

NST, DSA and CofE safeguarding have no real terms of reference, and one cannot appeal against decisions. Hence the suicide of Fr. Alan Griffin. Or take the bogus ‘Risk Assessments’- patent forgeries – against Dr. Percy, osensibly signed off by people who then denied ever seeing them. Yet the Bishop of Oxford defended the documents, knowing them to be forgeries. The parallel is that with no kind of transparency, acocuntability, proper process or mechanism for appeal, OFSTED could condemn and destroy Mrs. Perry. The CofE are doing this every day with their cack-handed approach to safeguarding, taking trivial matters “very… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  David G
2 months ago

I agree completely. And they don’t change or improve, they just double down.

Susan Hunt
Susan Hunt
Reply to  David G
2 months ago

David, I entirely agree with you. I have been supporting ‘Kenneth’ my friend in a wrongful safeguarding allegation for more than three years because he has serious health and emotional problems. On November 4th this year the Bishop sent an email saying that no one wants ‘Kenneth’ to be unduly distressed ‘certainly not the Cathedral Team nor, indeed the Safeguarding Team’. Since both these organisations have caused such distress that Kenneth’s health issues have worsened, that statement rings rather hollow. Anyway, the Bishop suggested the only way to resolve the problem was for Kenneth to engage with the Safeguarding Team… Read more »

Francis James
Francis James
Reply to  Susan Hunt
2 months ago

Couple of years ago was at a conference & in discussion with a new young priest mentioned how valuable I had found it as a seafarer to be a Union member. He said that it had never come up in his training, but after my advice I hope he joined a relevant Union, as CofE hierarchy hates/fears Union reps even more than shipping companies.

Realist
Realist
2 months ago

Reading Martin’s perceptive article last night, I was drawn back to a seminal piece of cinema from 1976 – Network – a film that is something of a definitive critique of how the television can, and does, manipulate and distort the truth, destroying people in the process. Like the central character in the film, Howard Beale, I long to shout ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more’, and encourage those in Church of England churches nationwide to do the same until this nightmare of manipulation Martin writes of ends. It is prevalent at every… Read more »

Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Susanna ( no ‘h’)
Reply to  Realist
2 months ago

I think we must acknowledge the ongoing graft of diligent clergy , many of whom are also survivors of abuse themselves , who are struggling on to meet the needs of their congregations while feeling that they are neither valued or supported by those further up the greasy pole. As a retired safeguarding professional I too am as ‘mad as hell’ over the hijacking of safeguarding and it being used in organisationally organised bullying , whether it is within OFSTED or the CofE. The question of what our church leaders individually and personally believe is not one I had ever… Read more »

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