Comments: Wycliffe Hall responds

"I believe 95% of people will "burn in hell" is a misrepresentation when the rest of my sentence, "unless the message of the gospel is brought to them", is excluded."

So that's all right then....

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 2:33pm BST

"It would appear that Satanists worship a being that seemingly rejected this. Thus satan clearly represents love whereas god is unspeakably wicked."

I posted here a while ago a link to a piece called The River of Fire, a talk by an Orthodox(the real ones) theologian in which he was pretty damning of PSA. One of his points is that PSA makes God into the enemy, since it is Him and His wrath from whom we must be saved. This, he argues, has turned the West against God, since PSA does not portray God as the "lover of mankind" which is a common epithet for God in the Orthodox Church. It was pooh-poohed by Evangelicals here, who even cast doubt on the scholarship since they didn't know who the auther was. Yet here we find, in the comments, a statement by someone who obviously hates what one person of my acquaintance refers to as the Sky Bully (ie God), and which clearly confirms exactly what was said in ROF. Now, how many Evos will take it to heart and try to change the way they are slandering a God they purport to love, and how many will sit back smugly observing how God has abandoned people to their sin?

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 2:56pm BST

Good, positive response from Dr Turnbull.
His tone is not that of a defeated or worried man.

Looks like those who may have hoped to see him hounded out by anonymous letters etc may be disappointed.

Posted by NP at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 3:55pm BST

What are "contemporary forms of management"? and how do they relate to a College which rather would be a Seminar?

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 4:47pm BST

The letter in the Church Times from the Wycliffe Presidents past & present would be more compelling in its claim to be diverse, had they been able to 'scrape up' a woman student to sign alongside!

Posted by Wendy Carey at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 4:59pm BST

Personally, as evangelical theology is academically unacceptable,m given that it starts from a view of the Bible as inerrant and directly inspired, this above criticism, I do not believe any public funding should be available for such Mickey Mouse fantasy beliefs masquerading as academic learning.

Turnbull is a very good example.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 5:11pm BST

WOuld you care to comment on my post? I know it tends to contradict your belief that Evangelicalism is growing by leaps and bounds and therefor The One True Faith, but still, sticking your fingers in your ears singing "La, La, La" as loud as you can will not make such things go away.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 5:24pm BST

Why did it take so long to come up with so little?

The trio of presidents say "It is certainly regrettable that some staff felt they have had to move on and, although their reasons for leaving vary, we recognise that the implementation of change has not been handled as successfully as it might have been."

So where's the beef? What were the reasons for the staff leaving? Were they well founded? If not, why not? How has "the implementation of change" been mishandled? What changes are referred to?

"Nonetheless many members of staff remain..." That's hardly setting the bar very high, is it?

Posted by badman at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 5:33pm BST

“His tone is not that of a defeated or worried man.”—NP

No, indeed. It’s more like that of a whacky fanatic.

Posted by Kurt at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 6:11pm BST

Wendy, slightly harsh I think, not one of the three of us who signed the letter comes from the same Conservative stable as Richard. The future President has a more Catholic expression of the Christian faith, the past and present Presidents are both Charismatic. That seems to me to represent a reasonably broad spectrum of views. All of us would love to see a female student elected as the next President Elect of the Common Room. There are women on the ballot paper so you never know!

Posted by Rod Green at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 6:41pm BST

Was the 95% really the main issue? The reason I wrote the transcript was because he was out to "capture" the theological colleges, as part of a "strategic" plan and influence ministers for "generations" - and then having said why he had wanted this appointment as Principal, and said it was strategic, blamed the above lot on the liberals - a nice bit of deflective footwork and completley unconvincing when he was talking about himself. We know that conservative evangelicals think we are all off to imaginary land when we decompose, but the main point was the entryism of the Puritans.

Posted by Pluralist at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 7:22pm BST

all Turnbull does is refer to the great achievements of early evangelicalism, and the history of Wycliffe, and try and use those to say that his current system is okay. This is idiotic. Just because something used to be good, doesn't mean that it still is: and he provides no evidence from the present.

Posted by ash at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 7:49pm BST

"... the main point was the entryism of the Puritans."

Or "contemporary forms of management" as they seem to prefer it ;=)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 8:35pm BST

I'm getting into this one a bit late, but it seems that some have taken issue with a basic bit of Christian belief--or, at least, a belief that has been held by the vast majority of Christians in all times and places--i.e., that people who die without Christ die without hope of heaven. This is, and always has been, part of the scandal of Christianity--its exclusivity.

So, what's the problem with this in terms of the president of a theological hall? As far as I know, this belief has also been held by all of the great theologians of the Catholic Church (including its Anglican branch), while universalism in all of its various permutations has always been a fringe belief (at best).

This doesn't mean that I don't have some sympathy for universalism. At an emotional level, I wish it were true. However, I'm having trouble understanding what's so scandalous about a theologian repeating a basic tenet of the Faith that has been held to be true by the vast majority of theologians and ordinary Christians since our Savior died.


PS-Ford, I tend to agree with some of what you have said, but even the Eastern Orthodox, like the Roman Catholics and the vast majority of Protestants, believe in Hell. I do, however, like their approach to the subject, particularly the fact that they see both the saved and the damned as being immersed in the energies of God, but experiencing them in different ways. I found this to be an interesting article on the subject:

Posted by Steven at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 9:29pm BST

I feel very sorry for the staff at Wycliffe Hall when they are quite obviously gagged and have to sit by whilst only the Principal can speak. Now it seems they can't even rely on the (male) student presidents to show any sense of justice or spiritual discernment Charismatics? Forget it! Just yes-boys!

Posted by bertie. g. at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 10:08pm BST

Ford, just out of interest, how do you think that the Orthodox would respond to your theology, and the theology of others who post on thinkinganglicans? Do you, for instance, think that they would be pleased with the apparent (and I acknowledge that this is my interpretation of comments made here) disassociation of the love of God from the bodily resurrection of Christ?

I ask this simply out of interest, and am aware that not all here do disassociate these things. I am also aware that as Anglicans our job is not to simply accept what the Eastern churches teach (although personally I do think that theologically we would be a lot better off, and agree with the point of your reference.)

Posted by James Crocker at Friday, 1 June 2007 at 10:55pm BST

I read about two-thirds of the comments and then had to stop. The open mockery and unapologetic disdain for all forms of Christianity shown by most of the commenters was finally too painful. Of course the commenters are much too simply identifying Christianity with the views of such as Richard Turnbull, which is grotesque, but then Turnbull and his fellow Evangelicals encourage them to do so. I fear Turnbull and his mockers between them might do in belief in the Christian religion altogether, if such a thing were possible.

Similar things have happened in the US. American Evangelicals identified themselves strongly with the Bush Administration, giving their full support to the Iraq War, denying that human actions were contributing to global warming, and helping to pass constitutional amendments in many states that deny gay people civil unions as well as marriage. I can remember thinking around four years ago: "All of this will be productive of a new generation of atheists." In fact, there is already a strong turn against Christianity among young people in the United States, and I don't doubt that it will get much stronger in future years.

Perhaps Richard Turnbull might congratulate himself on giving a similar assist to the production of young atheists in Great Britain. I deplore it, but when the public face of Christianity is a Jerry Falwell or a Richard Turnbull, what other results can we expect?

Posted by Charlotte at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 1:21am BST

"what's so scandalous about a theologian repeating a basic tenet of the Faith" is that it is becoming uncommunicative. It attracts few, convinces few, is intellectually narrow, is futureless... Theology without ethics is pointless, and the ethical person is the one who is of interest today. I have no interest in a life to come, and rather think we all decompose thank you, but my interest is in what sort of sympathy and empathy did I or he or she have for the other person, what sort of compassion was or was not developed, and how can there be service to the other. It makes a better world, not just for me, or for them, but for the next too. How to nurture the good, and how to resist the ease to go off the rails as is too easy. Not for a reward, not for some sort of eternity - I wish you all bye bye - but for the next person.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 2:01am BST

Rod Green said: ""not one of the three of us who signed the letter comes from the same Conservative stable as Richard"

So you cover a range of opinion - all the way from quite conservative to very conservative?

(That may not be fair, but I thought of the line and I wanted to use it.)

Posted by Malcolm French+ at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 4:48am BST

Appealing to "authority" (of late the Byzantine State church tradition) NP, Steven and James Crocker simply repeat the ever-present claim, that the "xcandal" of 16th to 17th to 20th century Calvinism in its varying aspects is Christianity tout court and identical to the Gospel.

It isn't.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 7:26am BST

James Crocker wrote: "... the apparent (and I acknowledge that this is my interpretation of comments made here) disassociation of the love of God from the bodily resurrection of Christ?"

Just don't "interpret"! (you might even be let into heaven if you cease ;=)

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 7:30am BST

Charlotte - this has already been seen, anecdotally, by myself amongst the gay community who are leaving the church in droves are are contemptuous of its homophobia.

And if its a choice between evangelicalism and atheism , then its atheism every time. Better no God at all than the legalistic, premodern tyrant of the conservatives.

When will liberals learn that the one thin g the conservatives have got right is that there really are two religions and that conservative evangelicalism in all its forms, as described by the current Wycliffe students, simply isn't worth believing in or being in 'communion' with?

Posted by Merseymike at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 10:02am BST

As I pointed out in another thread, fleeing Church and Religion altogether was the oh! so very "effective" effect last time "planting" was the cry of the day, also...

To wit, I had one - repeat one - visitor in church this Ascension in one such place ;=)

But then, perhaps not only ++Abuja, but also Dr Turnbull are "liberal" plants to give the self-proclaimed "orthodox" a bad name...

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 10:24am BST

"the legalistic, premodern tyrant of the conservatives"

Anti-Modern, Mersymike. One cannot be pre-modern after the fact, only anti.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 10:26am BST

On Tuesday MerseyMike wrote:
`There are many other evangelical colleges which nevertheless have avoided the Taliban mentality, such as St John's , Bristol, and Ridley`
- which seems to suggest that these are basically ok, but in a comment yesterday he seems to tar it all as 'Micky Mouse fantasy' - I'm confused - or is expecting consistency too much?

Posted by robert marshall at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 1:36pm BST

Charlotte. Read the comments on any piece by Giles Fraser (and other equally 'inclusive' guys) and you'll feel the same pain, so don't pin the problems of Christianity's image on the evan's.

The attitude contained in this particular thread, that all things evangelical is the root of all evil, is no fun to read either. Reminds me of Professor Henry Higgins ("My Fair Lady" for those who don't know their musicals) singing "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

Posted by ChrisM at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 3:26pm BST

What a shamefully limp response from the student presidents: "the implementation of change has not been handled as successfully as it might have been".
It's impossible to make a distinction between "the implementation of change" and the substance of the reforms themselves. What is being introduced is a totally unconsultative executive management style, one that would not even be tolerated in a secular business environment. The threat of disciplinary action (absolute fact) is bordering on the illegal.
The Hall Council has badly let down staff members who have served the college faithfully and accepted change graciously for years, by ignoring their repeated concerns. As a result, the college is left with very few staff of any academic stature or with any real experience of teaching. No right-minded DDO would now send a student to Wycliffe. If the student presidents seriously think the college will continue to be a 'loving, diverse and dynamic community', let alone a serious player in the University in the years to come, they are wildly deluded.
They should have stood up for their staff, and because they haven't, generations of future ordinands will pay the price.

Posted by Alumna at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 3:54pm BST

Alumna expresses what I felt. I hope the student presidents go to the staff and apologise for making their situation even more painful than it need have been.
I have another two issues.
1. When these students say: 'this is a situation that is reflected across the University of Oxford. Traditional forms of collegiate government are giving way to more contemporary forms of management and this transition has not been easy' don't they realize that the university of Oxford actually threw out the attempt at 'more contemporary forms of management'? This was not because they were contemporary but because they were very old and worn out: autocratic management style is finished, and consultative leadership is what it is now about.

2. They also 'publicly affirm that change has been necessary' - how do they know? Who told them? Were they there under the earlier (and most excellent) leadership of Alister McGrath? A lot to learn- try some discernment rather than jumping on a bandwagon.

Posted by bertie g at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 7:58pm BST

You can have a premodern position inside a postmodern bubble. The Radical Orthodoxy of John Milbank is premodern in his postmodern bubble. It might at times be anti-modern (he has a go at Sociology as "secular theology" - ignoring its research basis and therefore the limits it places on itself) but when it carries on in its sweet way with no interest in the modern then it becomes premodern and not antimodern.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 2 June 2007 at 8:26pm BST

"I have no interest in a life to come, and rather think we all decompose thank you" - then whatever you are, you are simply not a Christian, cf. 1 Corinthians 15. There is much of the ethical in the bible and in Christianity, but there is also much of the supernatural, indeed, in Christian terms you can not have one without the other.

Goran - Surely someone as well read as you knows that you cannot read or think without interpreting, but I rather think (there's that word) that you would be much happier if people just accepted what you said unthinkingly, as if bowing before a much learned authority.

Posted by James Crocker at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 1:14am BST

Pluralist writes of Milbank, "he has a go at Sociology as 'secular theology' "

Isn't that odd ? (but perhaps not unexpected ;) So many of the radically "conservative" religious are *so* unfamiliar with science that they feel free to dismiss it as just another sort of theological viewpoint. Rather explains their stubborn adherence to views about gays & lesbians that the rest of the civilized world gave up years ago...

Come on, folks! The world's not flat, demons don't cause mental illness, and gay people aren't "broken heterosexuals."

Posted by David H. at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 2:17am BST

David H. - have you read any Milbank? Or is your comment purely based on what you have read in this thread?

Posted by Thomas Renz at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 8:51am BST

If Alumna and bertie g. are right when they claim that the troubles at Wycliffe are about "a totally unconsultative executive management style", have not Wycliffe staff members been let down also by those who clouded the issue with spurious claims of a theological sea change? A climate in which every defence or criticism of Richard Turnbull is seen to be making a theological point is hardly conducive to addressing the matter at hand - if management style is the matter at hand.

Maybe here is the answer to badman's question "Why did it take so long to come up with so little?"

Posted by Thomas Renz at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 9:16am BST

James, you are, of course, welcome to your opinion; however, there is an honourable Christian tradition which rather concentrates on 'by their fruits' passages. Too much nonsense has been spoken, and too much evil done, in the name of the delights of heaven for many people to feel entirely comfortable with it.

Faith is held in common in the Catholic tradition, I would add, and the individual gifts and insights we bring are held mystically together in the one body. Pluralist is a valued fellow-pilgrim Christian here, and his contribution to the household of faith is, at the very least, a counterbalance to those who try and excuse all sorts of injustice and abomination by only seeing things 'sub specie aeternitatis'.

You may, James, have been appointed auditor of souls in your congregation, but it's a post which doesn't exist here.

Posted by Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 11:57am BST

Thomas, "contemproary forms of management" a r e the theological sea-change.

Or will it be more intelligible if I say the other way around: The theological sea-change is about "contemporary forms of management".


Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 12:30pm BST

Yes, I think there's an extent to which you're right Thomas, the theological focus has become a bit of a red herring. I suspect that Turnbull has wanted to make it easier for conservatives to find a home at Wycliffe, but that this policy hasn't been the real problem for departing tutors.
Then again, his address to the Reform conference (references to '2 out of the 4' theological colleges etc.) does indicate that there's a strong link between his strategy for Wycliffe and a theologically conservative agenda. Perhaps the most urgent concern is his maverick leadership style and shabby treatment of staff; but there is also a deeper agenda at work here which shouldn't be ignored.

Posted by Alumna at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 2:27pm BST

Alumna - I agree the use of the phrase "two plus four of the evangelical theological colleges" could indicate a theological agenda at work, and especially so if it is meant to correct a (previous, perceived) status quo of "one plus five". But Richard Turnbull uses the phrase in a way which suggests that his audience is already familiar with it and I am not sure he means to imply that he has changed the situation from "one plus five" to "two plus four". I had not come across this phrase before and I confess that I do not know how precisely it is mean to differentiate between the six colleges in question.

Posted by Thomas Renz at Sunday, 3 June 2007 at 5:40pm BST

I'd give thanks to Mynsterpreost, but at present he is not under the big Anglican tent but under a small canvas tent.

Pity for the supernatural. If Christianity depends on the supernatural, then it has had it. It must then be a small sect in another world. How's that for some dogma? And I'm not sure John Milbank believes in the supernatural either, stuck in his self-defeating premodern content postmodern structure bubble. I've read him, sections, read about him, and I have a slavish book by James K. A. Smith who tries to do the same from a Protestant angle.

We do all inhabit language constructions and forms of speech, and so postmodernism and the power of narrative is related to subject method. The scientific has falsifiability, which keeps it in check to what works. The social scientific cannot have falsifiability, but it has research that stops it becoming equivalent to the novel, either quantitiative patterns or qualitative depth. However, theology is much more like art. It takes from culture: some have tried anti-cultural theologies or rejectionist approaches - whether Karl Barth or John Milbank, the first by revelation and the second a deposit of intellectual tradition. Actually they connect - Milbank is an extreme version of postliberalism, and postliberalism is a direct link with Karl Barth, as indicated by Hans Frei.

Karl Barth's God is so high and dry it pretty much vanishes, thus Harvey Cox's The Secular City, and is a way to postmodernism (as above). Milbank has done the same, directly. Odd that none of these are supernatural, not really (or nonreally).

Some of us would like to see a Christianity that is entirely compatible with openness and the non-supernatural. It may not exclude transcendence, definitely does not exclude signals of transcendence (sociology with theology here). But it does mean this world in each construction.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 1:29am BST

Why am I not interested in continued life? Because I view it in a Buddhist manner. It would be an attachment, and being attached to the transient is to be let down. Faith should be done for its own sake. Yes this is from Buddhism; and I take this because it seems to be right. That it does not conform to some label does not bother me.

Posted by Pluralist at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 1:41am BST

"Ford, just out of interest, how do you think that the Orthodox would respond to your theology"

James, I am a theologically uneducated layman who reads. I do not have theology, I have opinions and beliefs, based on my limited knowledge, of the theology put out by theologians. As to what the Orthodox would think of my beliefs, they would have issues with my acceptance of Anglican orders and the filioque, though I would prefer if we got rid of the latter, since I think the Orthodox are ight on that one. Pretty much everything else, I doubt there'd be too much they'd disagree over. I'm dying to know what you think "my theology" is, since I don't think I've said all that much that was theologically controversial, except my difficulties with PSA, and that'd only be controversial to a small group within the whole Christian family.

"disassociation of the love of God from the bodily resurrection of Christ?"
I'm not sure what this means. Are you claiming I deny the Resurrection, or that I think it unimportant to our redemption? Neither is true, what evidence do you have for claiming otherwise?

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 12:57pm BST

"When will liberals learn that the one thin g the conservatives have got right is that there really are two religions and that conservative evangelicalism in all its forms, as described by the current Wycliffe students, simply isn't worth believing in or being in 'communion' with?"

As a gay man with no interest in leaving the Church at present, and who would likely join the Orthodox (not exactly the most liberal group) if it came to it, as someone repulsed by most of what I see presented as Evangelical Christianity, and as someone who values diversity, I have great issues with this. We are the community of the baptised, we are called to witness to the redeemed life of the Kingdom. This means that we have to try to understand the 'other', to see Christ in the other. To say "I have no need of you" is, in essence, to say we have no need of Christ, and to say that we are not willing to practice the love Christ came to teach us. It is to make our every Communion a lie, since to receive is, among many other things, to state we want to share in the life of the Kingdom. The bad behaviour of others should not make us behave badly. You would seem to want to force God to accept you on your terms. God is God, if you think you have the right to storm the gates of Heaven demanding your rights from the One who made us, that is an odd attitude towards the Divine.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 1:31pm BST

"Some of us would like to see a Christianity that is entirely compatible with openness and the non-supernatural."

How totally uninspiring! I'm not sure how "openness" is exclusive of the supernatural either. Frankly, I don't see how one can be non-supernatural and still posit the existence of a god of any form. If one is to consider the existence of a being that created all that is, one must allocate such a being to a supernatural existence, since the 'natural' is the created realm to which the Creator does not belong. Why the mistrust of the suernatural? I am actually on the exact opposite of this spectrum, since, for me, an important part of what informs my faith has to do with the intangibility of the human experience. It is, I grant you, a reaction against the "everything must be measurable" ideas of modern medicine, me having practiced Emergency Medicine for 11 years and realized that there was always more to the people who came in, regardless of the reasons WHY they had come in, than I was ever going to be able to measure. I find any attempt to take the supernatural out of religion to be very strange, actually, and I don't understand either the drive or the need for it. This, for me, is the key drawback to Buddhism, a philosphy for which I otherwise have a great deal of attraction.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 3:05pm BST

Bravo Ford!

I would add that Pluralist is most obviously not a "pluralist", to the extent that term indicates someone who values diversity. (This is not unusual--I find that most of those who crow about inclusiveness and diversity are only interested in their particular flavor of inclusiveness and diversity).

Moreover, religion stripped of the supernatural is merely dry bones to most of us--and without any more attraction than a variety of other competing secular philosophies.

Overall, Pluralist takes some strange positions for someone who, at least in part, says that he does not like the positions expounded by Turnbull because he thinks they will alienate potential people of faith.


Posted by Steven at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 4:39pm BST

"Moreover, religion stripped of the supernatural is merely dry bones to most of us--and without any more attraction than a variety of other competing secular philosophies."

Well, thanks for the affirmation, Steven, but this line is pretty much what I think of Evangelicalism. There is lip service paid to things supernatural, but there is profound discomfort with anything that actually claims that the supernatural and the natural blend in Christianity. I have had Evangelicals tell me that labyrinths are satanic, that contemplative prayer is satanic, and that when I venerate the Sacrament, I am guilty of idolatry. Ditto icons. Baptism as public statement of faith, communion as memorial meal, these speak to me of a profound mistrust of the supernatural and the mystical.

Posted by FordELms at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 8:13pm BST


You're certainly right about the approach of many Evangicals to certain spiritual practices. However, you will never find one who denies the resurrection, denies that Christ actually performed real miracles, etc. I.e., they do not deny the Supernatural in general, they merely have a profound mistrust of a variety of practices and beliefs that they associate with Papism (even though they may not know the word).

For some, anything that doesn't stay very close to things they can actually point to in the Word of God (as explained by Brother Bob each Sunday) is anathema. Still, while I may not agree with them on a variety of matters--I can tell you from personal experience that they definitely believe in the Supernatural.


Posted by Steven at Monday, 4 June 2007 at 11:05pm BST

I thik there is a misunderstanding here. Being "pluralist" does not mean lacking a position, but means taking truths from various directions without present boundaries, and secondly mixing with people and ideas different from oneself in order to have a conversation and change.

My position is one that develops particularly through the symbolism of Anglican spirituality, and sees in it valid themes of service and self sacrifice, means to withdraw and engage with the world, and some very fundamental comings together of food, the natural, the spiritual gift, the community. Social anthropologists recognise how communities bind and how purposes develop through systems of engaging and exchanging.

Ford Elms may not see the problem with the supernatural, but with no subject or discipline taking any notice of it except some theology, and this theology having some strange things to say, I do see a huge difficulty. There is the major cultural shift that has left so much theology singing to itself. It has become of no interest to anyone outside except occasional curiosity - even funerals now are moving more and more to people just celebrating the life of someone who has now reached the end. That's it and it was meaningful, chuck the ashes around the place they most enjoyed.

The number of people I mix with in the religious world is increasing again, but most of my long-standing friends, and indeed my own wife, find the whole religion thing like believing in unicorns. Some of us - and it turns out I am not alone even in a small town church - who find the ethical extraction of Jesus so positive, and who find spirituality part of human development (a long standing church member compared the Paganism she visited as a small m of meaning and this Christianity as a big M - I understand this), wish to communicate these to those who simply see Christianity as peculiar, backward and surplus to anything in an active life.

And as a pluralist I mix with them too, and listen.

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 2:58am BST

Maybe the difficulty lies in "listening".

For those who cannot listen, listening must seem a strange thing.

It seems logical that for those who's identity is that they are "right" through their "beliefs", listening must seem like being devoid of beliefs altogether.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 8:59am BST

I don't know what to call myself on this website, but I do want to register a comment. By some I might be termed an evangelical, by some on the evangelical spectrum I might be thought of as a liberal . . . I love Jesus. I am sad to see the Church pulling itself apart like this and such a mistrust. Perfect love casts out fear, but I guess I must be loving imperfectly as I am worried about what is going on!

I was thinking about unity with a catholic friend and we searched for some common ground together. In the light of the above conversation about natural and supernatural it seemed relevant. We came up with two things we are both FOR as aposed to what we might be AGAINST.

Contemplation and Transformation. There are many evangelicals discovering the importance and value of meditation and contemplation (never mind that they should be meditating on God's word anyway), and I would say there are a VAST number who would value labyrinth stuff and contemplative prayer, including myself. How ironic, that many Fresh Expressions are exploring this and, from an Evangelical in America we have the "in Vogue" yout ministry book called, "Contemplative Youth Ministry"!

Secondly, Transformation . . whether you value the word or the sacrament (or, please God, both) the important thing is transformation. Are we being transformed? When the Bible is preached is it alive with presence of the Spirit, leading us into all truth, transforming us? When the sacrament of holy communion is celebrated, do we feast on Christ and allow Him to transform us - both of these are supernatural, both of these are mysteries . . .

There are some nutters out there, and, unfortunately, some evangelicals appear to value Paul's words in the letters of the New Testament more than the words of Christ in the gospels which gives a skewed perspective.

Posted by Ali Campbell at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 12:47pm BST

If I have sounded disrespectful, I apologize. It's just that for me, returning to faith involved a realization that there is an abstract side to the human experience, one that is approached through silence, meditation, ritual, prayer, and simple contemplation of the total otherness of the Divine. There is more to us than what we can measure. I thus don't understand why anyone would want to reduce religion back down to the measurable and the defined. If it is merely a set of ethical rules, then why bother, there are lots of those. I don't go to God for ethics and morals, I go to God for spiritual sustenance.(I can't wait to see what the Evos make of that).
As to our culture, I don't see an abandonment of the supernatural and the mystical. It is our Western Christianity that has abandoned it, with the result the people are searching desparately for anything that can actually touch and communicate with that side of their humanity.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 12:57pm BST

"a variety of practices and beliefs that they associate with Papism"

I have gotten my face eaten off using the word "Papist" in a joking fashion, beware!:-) That said, this shows the divide between us. I suspect that much of what I find meaningful for my faith would fall under this category, and the absence of those things in Evangelicalism is what I am referring to when I say Evos have a mistrust of mysticism and spirituality and that I find it legalistic and soulless. But then, they would find my beliefs idolatrous and superstitious, I suppose. Different people come to God in different ways, which is why we ought not to be all of one mind, IMNSHO.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 1:05pm BST


I understand what you are saying about the sources of strength you find in certain spiritual practices. This is one of the places where it is good to be an Anglican, for we are also part of the ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church, and can freely draw on the best of its spiritual heritage--East and West. I have always been particularly interested in Hesychasm and the Desert Fathers, which is not to say I'm any scholar on the subject. But, like many, I got started by reading "The Way of a Pilgrim" and try to make the Jesus Prayer a regular part of my devotional life.


As I suspected and noted, your "pluralism" is merely a name for your particular set of intellectual (and dare I say religious?) preferences. Hence, "Pluralist" is, at least arguably, a misnomer. Actually, "Syncretist" might be a better name, but since there are many types of syncretism it would be just as imprecise as a label. Hmmm--on second thought, "Pluralist" is probably just as good as any other name. And, I'm not really out to criticize you for the name or the stand--the more the merrier at TA. I was just interested in pinning you down a bit. Now that I know that you are interesting in some sort of combination of (my best guess) atheistic humanism with the forms and ethics of the Faith, I will have a better understanding of how to interpret your posts. (BTW-They are generally pretty interesting).


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 4:32pm BST

It is not merely a set of ethical rules. Spirituality is something human, and something that can be developed and nurtured. It is not anti-mystical either. It simply understands the religious mechanisms as entirely locatable in the world as we have it, a problem-solving here world, and more than just a secularisation of all academic subjects but the simple way that we assume things to be.

No one says God will change the weather, as once rural folk thought, or that God alters the harvest. Few in the West would have thought that God sent a tsunami. We all know what the more superstitious Hindus and Muslim preachers thought of God sending the tsunami, and some Christians too, and it was usually against enemies or as a warning to their own for weakening the faith. Good tribal stuff. There are those who still ask about how could a God allow a tsunami, as they did more about a God who allowed the holocaust, if God was supposed to have characteristics of a God.

Having seen these things happen, the God belief declines that bit further: this really is a world where explanations are part of human work.

As far as I am concerned, the Dawkins argument about evolution is entirely sufficient, and there is nor needs to be no other agency involved. It is local and particular. When things or people go missing, or car park spaces are available, there is no divine intervention, nor does luck have a capital L. It is a painful world.

I'm asking for consistency, starting inside my own head.

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 5:55pm BST

"I have always been particularly interested in Hesychasm and the Desert Fathers, which is not to say I'm any scholar on the subject. But, like many, I got started by reading "The Way of a Pilgrim" and try to make the Jesus Prayer a regular part of my devotional life."

Same here! We are of like mind and experience in this! I think we both of us started out with an assumption of where the other stood, and are now finding out that reality is quite different. At least I am.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 6:05pm BST

"the religious mechanisms as entirely locatable in the world"

I'm not sure what this means.

"There are those who still ask about how could a God allow a tsunami, as they did more about a God who allowed the holocaust, if God was supposed to have characteristics of a God."

So there are those who demand God behave as they think He ought if they are to consider Him a God. So what? If God is God, then surely our human response is to acknowledge that, at some point, our finite understanding cannot comprehend Him, instead of demanding He behave the way we think He ought to. My partner is fond of Job 38, he is especially fond of verse 35, as am I. I can't read that chapter without a chuckle.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 7:48pm BST


Thanks for the feedback. I understand the need to try and make it all fit together. As humans we seek to contextualize the information we receive, and this can be a difficult task when, as is so often the case, we are receiving contradictory inputs from various sources. I also understand quite well the problem of trying to fit together science and religion. My earliest ambitions were scientific and I took an undergraduate degree in Physics before going to law school. So, as you might imagine, logic, proof, evidence and science are all high on my agenda. Still, as C.S. Lewis found, Christian Faith has a way of bubbling up and undermining whatever rigid edifices we may build on the sands of secularism. It sometimes seems to be like a spring of water that insists on spoiling all of my nice, neat un-Christian constructs. You may not have found that this is true for you, but I more than half suspect that you are already dealing with an "upwelling" or you would not be trying so hard to fit such disparate elements together. Look at the friends you mentioned. Are they driven to try to find some way to fit Christianity together with a basically secular approach? Well, I'm only guessing here, and I may well be dead wrong, but I still found your post interesting.

BTW-I'm constantly "rebuilding" myself. First one section washes away and I rebuild, and then another and another. After a while I'm back having to shore up the first again, or tear it down and start over. I like to think that each time I sink my pilings a bit deeper down towards bedrock. And, the main portions definitely seem to be standing the test of time. Still, I am sure that I'll be trying to shore up a bit here and bit there 'til the day I breath my last.


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 9:40pm BST


I guessed you were interested in the contemplative side of the Faith from your prior posts. And, given some other things you've said, I wasn't too surprised. But, to continue, I think my two favorite books from this standpoint are "The Way of a Pilgrim" and "The Cloud of Unknowing" The "Imitation of Christ" and "The Practice of the Presence of God" are also very good. Which is not to say I'm very good at what any of these books teach. But, there really is something very exciting and uplifting about reading the thoughts and experiences of the great mystics, those who have sought experiential knowledge of the truths of the Faith--especially of God--and recieved it!


Posted by Steven at Tuesday, 5 June 2007 at 9:41pm BST

Thanks for your comments, Steven. No, my friends of whom I speak do not try to do anything with Christianity. It is a complete nothing - not considered, so surplus that it is not considered. As for me, I'm an on the edge person with so many matters.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 12:45am BST


I don't think you will be on the edge forever. Sooner or later definitive choices generally have to be made. I say this only because, in my experience, it is not possible to square the circle here. Christianity will not fit into a secular here-and-now-only box very well and will continually burst the boundaries. (You're not the first that's tried). Alternatively, you can maim the Faith in an attempt to fit it to the Procrustean bed of secularism, but I think you will find the results of this to be equally unsatisfactory.

So, one way or another I think you will eventually have to step to one side of the line or the other--i.e., go the way of Dawkins et al. and reject religion definitively and altogether, or go the way of C. S. Lewis et al. and reject irreligion definitively and altogether.

Either way you will find it difficult to hold on to at least one group of friends. However, if the decision is for the Faith, I'm not too worried about your wife--at least not in the long run. The Holy Spirit may start with one partner, but always seems to have the whole couple in mind in the end.

Anyhow, I'm obviously rambling here, so please don't take offense. And, good luck with your efforts. The harder you pursue them, the sooner you are going to reach a decision about whether what you are attempting is possible and if not, which way to go next.


Posted by Steven at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 4:36pm BST

"The Holy Spirit may start with one partner, but always seems to have the whole couple in mind in the end."

I also firmly believe that the Spirit is constantly knocking at everyone's door. But there is free will and not all follow.

My own marriage might have lasted had not my husband eventually turned from agnostic to the most sarcastically hostile atheist, not only losing any interest in faith, but also every scrap of tolerance for it.

As for definite choices - yes, if you see the world in black and white and Christianity as a strict set of doctrines to be believed and never questioned, then a choice will have to be made.

I think what many of us here are finding is that faith is a journey towards God, infinitely varied, infinitely exciting and something that can be lived out surrounded by people of many other beliefs.

Posted by Erika Baker at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 7:22pm BST


I'm sorry about your husband, and your post is proof of the fact that there is no absolute rule here and never has been. God calls us, and I do believe that the call is very seldom and perhaps never made to only one member of a couple, but I also believe that grace often can be and often is resisted. I think that hostility of the type you mention is sometimes symptomatic of this.


Posted by Steven at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 10:23pm BST

I don't agree Steven. The edge is a creative place. It is no use institutionally and pays nothing, but it is a mind-happy place.

Posted by Pluralist at Wednesday, 6 June 2007 at 11:55pm BST


Well, time will tell. Still, I'm sure your postings "from the edge" will continue to be interesting.


Posted by Steven at Thursday, 7 June 2007 at 5:05pm BST
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