Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Opinion - 13 June 2018

Michael Sadgrove Woolgathering in North East England Seascapes: a retreat for those being ordained.

Jonathan Clatworthy St Bride’s blog Food with dignity - The origins of the Eucharist
[first of a series]

Jonathan Clatworthy Château Clâteau New directions for the Church 5: open membership

Emma Percy Women and the Church Install Updates

Sam Wells preached this sermon at the Service of Hope for LGBTI equality in the Church of England held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Clapham, on 7 June: Not until you give me your blessing

Simon Cross After evangelicalism: tipping over the certainty curve

Stephen Parsons Surviving Church Are Abuse Survivors Prophets to the Church?

Posted by Peter Owen on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 11:00am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Thank you to Simon Cross for his informative observations regarding people who 'tip' out of evangelicalism and its arrogant certainties. It would surely benefit the Church of England if every evangelical tipped over into healthy doubt and left this judgemental tradition, making it disappear altogether.

Posted by: FrDavidH on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 12:52pm BST

Thanks FrDavidH for expressing the inclusivity all of us on TA are working towards.

Posted by: Charles Read on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 4:31pm BST

FrDavidH - it may, in fact, surely benefit the CofE if you were to leave and take your judgmental and sel-centred attitude with you. Not very nice put like that, is it?

Posted by: Physician heal thyself on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 5:10pm BST

How can 'inclusivity' possibly work when it includes people who wish others weren't included? It would be better if they left.

Posted by: FrDavidH on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 6:16pm BST

While vigorous debate is encouraged on TA, we have always expected people to refrain from ad hominem attacks on identifiable individuals. I am surprised that the moderators permitted the contribution timed at 1710 today.

Posted by: RPNewark on Wednesday, 13 June 2018 at 9:23pm BST

FrDavidH - I am a little shocked by your generalisation about Evangelicalism and your desire for its extinction.
I am not an Evangelical. My early contact with Evangelicalism as a teenager and again at university were largely negative. Certain strains within Evangelicalism I find profoundly questionable.
Nonetheless I am Rector of a team parish in which we have benefitted hugely from clergy colleagues from that tradition, lay people from that tradition and, currently, placement ordinands from that tradition; none of whom have exhibited judgementalism or arrogant certainty. Indeed, their passion for the gospel and kingdom, their belief in discipleship and their faith in the life-changing power of the Spirit have been inspiring and transformative.
We must not generalise about what is a very diverse tradition, not a monolith. I am an Anglo-Catholic. I am painfully aware of some of the faults of my own tradition: clericalism, misogyny, obsession with liturgical trivia, the sexual closet..... But do I wish we'd take our reverent sacramental worship, passion for two millennia of Christian theology and prayer and the lives and prayers of the saints, sense of holy places, a Lent and Holy Week that draw us closer to Christ crucified, hanging in in deprived places etc....and just disappear? Certainly not. I hope and pray that we two, in fruitful dialogue with other traditions, will be one to the Spirit, transforming us in Christ, to live as beloved children of our Father and brothers and sisters of one another.
Sin - pride, arrogance, greed for status, judgementalism, lack of loving care etc - afflicts all traditions, all people. Let's not lapse into a judgemental generalisation about any particular one. Please.

Posted by: Fr Rob Hall on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 7:55am BST

As a moderator, I apologise for not taking a stronger line against some odd the earlier comments on this thread. Not only I suggest the one to which RP refers. Let us all resolve to do better.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 8:39am BST

I have at various times called myself a 'recovering evangelical', or more often an 'apophatic evangelical'. I relate to much of what Simon Cross writes about a tradition I continue to be deeply grateful for. I also note he acknowledges what he says can apply to 'any social structure that relies upon certainty as a founding dogma' (but why 'social' when his focus is on a church tradition?). He could have written this article about any wing of the church actually. I would also rather see the interplay of faith and certainty and doubt as a dynamic cycle. The image of a piece of string rising and falling is very negative. I wonder where St Paul would be placed on that curve? But I looked forward to him developing this reflection further. Thank you too to Fr Ron for his graciousness.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 9:48am BST

Simon Cross’s article reminds me of the sermon preached by Archbishop Stuart Blanch at the funeral of David Watson, a fellow evangelical and hugely inspirational leader and preacher in his day but who privately struggled with doubts and depression most of his life. He said, ‘There is a sense in which every minister of the gospel is diminished by their ministry. If they have any self-knowledge at all, their ministry makes them less confident in themselves, less assured, less doctrinaire and therefore less secure. They become more aware of the dark places in their own lives and in the lives of others. Anyone who has been long in the ministry will know the time when they have to say “I stumble, where once I firmly trod”.’

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 9:54am BST

David Runcorn: without in any way trying to diminish David Watson, he was just “a good chap” when at Ridley – a cheerful, outgoing Old Rugbeian, one of many conservative evangelicals. Keith Sutton, later +Lichfield and a liberal evangelical, was the go-to person if we needed a more thoughtful analysis of why ‘godtalk’, as traditionally presented, didn’t chime with today’s understanding of the human condition (aka religion). I sensed that David was a bit overwhelmed by the ecstatic reception he got when he cheerily (not arrogantly) talked about God (or ‘Gudd’ as he pronounced it). There’s more to it than this – in particular the demise of the liberal evangelical voice today, who would say that in the light of modern research into Palestine 2000 years ago, simply repeating the words of the N.T. is not enough. This genuinely puzzles the conservatives. They’re not arrogant.

Posted by: Michael Skliros on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 1:51pm BST

Michael Skliros 'without in any way trying to diminish David Watson'. But you do - 'just a good chap'. His impact over a number of years at St Michael's York and as a leader, speaker and writer as the charismatic movement was becoming more of an influence in the CofE, was immense. But that was simply the original context of the quote itself. Stuart Blanch was speaking more generally of the experience of ministry - and not just of evangelicals. You do not comment on that. I do resonate with your concerns about the evangelical voice you call 'liberal'. Though the recent piece by David Ison carried on another TA thread seriously critiquing the Bishop of Maidstone's letter suggests this voice is not lost - and my sense is it is strengthening.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 2:58pm BST

I think David Watson went to Wellington. Apologies.

To give him more due credit, though, I did the Lent week at Haileybury one year and created a bit of interest. He did the same the following year, and cleaned up.

Posted by: Michael Skliros on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 3:03pm BST

You misread me, David Runcorn. At Ridley, David W was indeed just a team player amongst us – literally: cricket, hockey, rugby, football, you name it. It was at York, later, that he sprang to fame, whereas we thought it would be only Michael Green and the other prominent conservatives who we would be hearing about later.

David’s appeal was sincerity, plus simplicity. But that’s where one has to wheel in a remark of Einstein’s, even though he was referring to physics: “everything should be made as simple as possible . . . but no simpler”. This seems to be the main misgiving about conservative evangelicals’ “simple message of Jesus” – that of oversimplifying both a complex character and the environment in which he lived.

Unfortunately, “the people” crave simplicity!

Posted by: Michael Skliros on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 4:03pm BST

I did indeed Michael - thank you for clarifying, This is all off the topic but I just note that David Watson was not actually among the conservative evangelicals of his day. His focus on renewal, charismatic gifts, healing and ecumenism made him suspect to them.
Meanwhile - the topic in hand?

Posted by: David Runcorn on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 5:18pm BST

David R, your thread averred: “I would also rather see the interplay of faith and certainty and doubt as a dynamic cycle.”

I prefer Woodbine Willie’s comment: “there’s more faith in honest doubt than in half yer creeds”, namely that faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin – glass-half-full and glass-half-empty. Their opposite is certainty, the bane of all religion and indeed of science. It was Bernard Lovell who said “there was a time when we really thought we were onto something. Now we know that we know nothing.”

Posted by: Michael Skliros on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 6:38pm BST

I have been evangelical my entire Christian life, despite the fact that I find it very difficult to be 100% certain of anything!

I'd like to point out that conservative evangelicals don't have a corner on arrogance and certainty. In the 1980s the bishop who was the chair of the Canadian Doctrine and Worship Committee that produced the 'Book of Alternative Services' told me quite categorically that if a wafer was not on the corporal when the prayer of consecration was said, that wafer was not consecrated. I respected and liked Bishop Short very much, but his certainty about that idea floored me...

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 6:50pm BST

Really enjoyed the two articles by Emma Percy and Sam Wells, which seem to me to read the world accurately, and offer genuine hope.

Posted by: Irene on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 7:11pm BST

David Watson may have sprung to fame at York ...but his curacy at St Marks Gillingham under John Collins was probably where the foundations were laid.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 8:38pm BST

Mr Chesterton, perhaps the bishop was worried that if wafers not on the corporal could be consecrated, the bread in the supermarket next door could be too. This is a real problem for me, as it happens.

Posted by: Stanley Monkhouse on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 9:34pm BST

Tim, what did he mean / do you mean ?

I am genuinely not sure where else the bread would be if not on the corporal / holy table. I'm not being difficult.

Posted by: Laurie Roberts on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 10:11pm BST

Laurie, I understood him to mean that if it was not on the square cloth the vessels were sitting on, it wasn't consecrated.

Since I see no evidence that the corporal was in common use in the New Testament period, well...

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Thursday, 14 June 2018 at 11:48pm BST

Excellent clear and comprehensive piece by Emma Percy, on the urgent need for updates.

Posted by: Flora Alexander on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 12:01am BST

Re: Michael Skliros, " and doubt are two sides of the same coin..." Somewhat Tillich,in a populist kind of sense,no? See: Paul Tillich Systematic Theology Vol. II (III) (II) (6). Although, I'm not advocating his total view.

"Bernard Lovell ...said 'there was a time when we really thought we were onto something. Now we know that we know nothing.' ” Reminiscent of the classical Greek paradox but in a flattened out hyperbolic kind of way. Context, in the instance provided, is likely everything.

Speaking of which, "...our analysis forces us to recognize the paradoxical category of the 'known unknown'." (Bernard Lonergan, Insight).

"Not even positivists preface their lectures and their books with the frank avowal that never in their lives did they have the experience of understanding anything whatever" (Lonergan, Cognitional Structure). ( :

Notwithstanding, with regard to religious faith and belief ( the two may be distinguished) it must be admitted that the use of the term "certainty" is presently problematic given its relationship to statistical probability.

A person of faith can articulate what they judge to be so and act accordingly. This does not obviate the fact that what we judged in a particular instance to be known, we latter judge to be unknown. As with human development and maturity, as with developments in technical understanding, so it is with the integration that comes with faith development. See: St. Paul I Cor. 13.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 2:47am BST

Tim Chesterton seems to suggest that Christians can only believe what was prevalent in the NT period. Thus there can be be no theological development, no new insights or doctrines.

Posted by: FrDavidH on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 7:13am BST

I sense that you and I are in a time warp, Rod Gillis. I did have a classical education, before reading Nat Sci and then Theology, and am fluent in academe, but choose not to use it, as the lingua franca today is what one might describe as ‘coal face’, or ‘small s science’. A perfect example is the topic dear to the heart of this blog, namely acceptance of LGTB+ people. Traditionally, the view was “can’t have these shirtlifters around, can we, eh, what?”, with only a passing glance at Romans and Leviticus. Then Kinsey, and Masters & Johnson, showed by dispassionate surveys of a large sample of people (both adjectives crucial) that for a small proportion of the population, attraction to one’s own gender was perfectly normal and therefore “instincts and affections implanted by God”. End of discussion, as far as I was concerned, even if we had a lot to learn about psychosexual behaviour and also discovered that we are all far more bisexual than we realised – another ‘coal face’ discovery reaffirmed a fortnight ago.
What concerns people today is how the world came to be the way it is and why we behave the way we do. It’s the Templeton Prize winners who I read, not Greek metaphysicians, in spite of my surname.

There is no such thing as objective reality either; even the coldest equation in physics stems ultimately from the human senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

Posted by: Michael Skliros on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 9:53am BST

'Tim Chesterton seems to suggest that Christians can only believe what was prevalent in the NT period. Thus there can be be no theological development, no new insights or doctrines.'

Not at all. I was simply nonplussed by the bishop's certainty on this subject. And apparently people who find evangelical certainties offensive don't seem to be able to see the 2x4 in their own eyes...

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 3:32pm BST

"There is no such thing as objective reality either"
Oh dear. Seriously? Metaphysical objectivity is not an intelligible phrase? There are not things, realities, that exist independent of the knowing mind? Yes, we may not be able to describe anything in all its relationality. Yes, our seeing is shaped by our 'cognitive interests'. But such an incautious claim beggars believe. Maybe you mean no pure *epistemological* objectivity.

Posted by: Wm "Bill'Paul on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 3:44pm BST

Re: Michael Skliros. You make two conjoined statements. "There is no such thing as objective reality either" and " even the coldest equation in physics stems ultimately from the human senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch." The two statements are an erroneous mutually reinforcing pair contrary to fact.

Taking the second statement first, senses supply raw data. The data has to be understood, and a judgement made about what one has understood. With regard to the first statement, reality is, in fact, both intelligible and verifiable.

Your assertion is more philosophical than scientific.

One of the big problems in contemporary theology has been framed very nicely by Miroslav Volf ( 'Enter into Joy' in, The End of the World and the Ends of God: Science and Theology on Eschatology. John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker, eds.)

Volf notes the distinction between the theological coherence of an argument and its actual plausibility given what we know from both the humanities and science. He has an extensive footnote on the issue. Unfortunately, he dodges his own question.

Notwithstanding, the divide is bridgeable with the correct epistemology. The situation is complicated (ironically) by a shift away from the legacy of Aristotle and a regression back to Plato. Read them or not, your paired statements are illustrative.

Instance the problem fundamentalists and quasi-fundamentalist have with same sex marriage. Their arguments may have theological coherence; they are no longer plausible. But it is not simply about empirical data. Not everything that is natural is without harm. The problem with religious taboos against same sex relationships is an inability to both demonstrate harm and recognize the potential for good. Pace sex researchers, your observation above is only partially correct.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Friday, 15 June 2018 at 4:15pm BST
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