On bishops, creation and the environment

Last week, the Diocese of Oxford posted a video, the first in a planned series of four, in which Olivia Graham, the recently-appointed bishop of Reading, gave a short theological introduction to the reasons why Christians should be concerned about the environment. In it, I think she said some unusual and (it turned out controversial) things:

2.48 The incarnation isn’t a single birth, but it began 14 billion years ago with an event we call the Big Bang. At that moment, God poured Godself into the emerging universe…every particle of it charged with the incarnate presence of God. The whole earth, then, is God’s body, the whole cosmos is incarnational…

3.22 Creation and incarnation are not two separate events, but one process of God’s self-giving and self communication.

4.22 All that happens is sustained and sanctified; every act of evolving nature is an act of God, because every act of nature’s growth is the energy of divine love. Evolution is not only of God, but is God incarnate.

5.00 Can there be any separation between the sacred and the profane?

5.16 Father, we praise you with all your creatures…they are filled with your presence and your tender love.

5.41 Today you [Jesus] are alive in every creature in your risen glory.

I wasn’t really surprised that there was a reaction to this, since anyone who knows a bit of biblical theology will have spluttered into their tea cups. Simply put, it is a central affirmation of Scripture, and of all orthodox theology in the Judeo-Christian tradition, that God is distinct from God’s creation, and should not be confused with it—in striking contrast to a whole range of other religious traditions. The term ‘incarnation’ does indeed mean ‘taking on flesh’, and by implication means that that which is incarnated was not previously embodied. This both means that the incarnation, the coming of the Word of God in human form, was a unique event, is theologically surprising (since God does not have a body), and that it is also something we bodily humans cannot do; our mission can never be ‘incarnational’, since (unlike God) we are have never been unbodied—even if our mission engagement is contextual and takes the form of concrete actions (which are much more helpful terms).

The idea that every act of creation is an act of God is bizarre—are the slaughter of one creature by another, and the previous mass extinctions, all acts of God? I think Stephen Fry’s position, that these are a source of offence to the idea of a loving God, is much more persuasive! Yes, there can be a separation of the sacred and profane; the only time when this separation is finally ended is when heaven comes down to earth in the New Jerusalem at the end of this age. No, all God’s creatures are not filled with God’s presence; if so, then there is no need for redemption. And Jesus is not yet alive in every creature—if so, then we would have nothing to proclaim.

(I also would want to take issue with other, more minor points. Environmental disaster is less a catastrophe for the earth (0.28), which will surely recover if humanity becomes extinct; it is primarily a catastrophe for us. Environmental concern might be important, but it is not ‘absolutely central to our Christian discipleship’ (1.20). I don’t think, amongst commentators, there is any serious claim that ‘dominion’ in creation permits us to exploit the earth (1.47). Stepping outside orthodox belief doesn’t merit the epithet ‘to go more broadly and deeper’ (2.05). No, we do not know the story of the incarnation too well (2.40); most in our culture now don’t know it at all. And Mary is not our mother (5.35). Though it sounds clumsy, I don’t actually have a problem with avoiding the male personal pronoun for God, for these reasons.)

Many of the reactions on social media took the form of rather personal attacks on Olivia, and some talked about her comments as ‘heresy’, neither of which I think are particularly helpful, and probably illustrate the way in which social media amplifies our emotional responses and reactions to things. It is sobering to note that, in a previous era, most of would probably never have heard about what a suffragan bishop said within his diocese, since there would have been no way of knowing. But now episcopal comment, even if whispered in the corner of a diocese, gets proclaimed from the rooftops of social media.

(It is worth adding that, following the reaction, the diocese issued a ‘helpful clarification‘ with an additional comment from Olivia. It opens with the comment:

Pantheism is defined as a doctrine which identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God

which does suggest that the idea that ‘the creation is God’s body’ is indeed pantheistic. Olivia adds an important clarification:

The event of the Incarnation of Christ, at a moment in time and in a place on Earth was unique, unrepeatable and salvic [she means salvific]. Through this event, as Colossians 1 puts it, we see in Christ, not only the image of the invisible God, but the fulness of God, and the whole of the created world has access to ultimate reconciliation with God… I can see that the words I used had a pantheistic ring to them, which I did not intend (God and creation are not the same thing). But I think that it is helpful, in considering our relationship to our world to think about the notion that the Divine pervades every part of the universe, while clearly being above, beyond and greater than the universe.

This is helpful as far as it goes, but the problems in the original video remain, and if she didn’t mean to sound pantheistic, then the video really needs to be withdrawn.)

I am also aware that Olivia has been well received by many in the diocese, who have been encouraged that she has wanted to promote the question of the environment as a theological issue. If you look further down the resources page, you will find links to excellent material, including a number of works by Richard Bauckham, books by Ruth Valerio, and works by Martin and Margot Hodson—including some Grove booklets! All good stuff.

But there are two issues that need some reflection: first, the theological issue, and second, the question of what we want our bishops to do.

On the question of theology, I do think there are some serious issues here, and that the key things Olivia said that I highlighted are clearly outside orthodox Christian belief, and in particular outside the doctrine of the Church of England. Roger Olson, in his broad and accessible text The Mosaic of Christian Belief, uses the language of the ‘Great Tradition’ and talks of the issues around each theological issue, the boundaries of the Great Tradition and diversity within it, but also identifies beliefs that are outside the boundaries of that tradition—and the idea of creation being the ‘body’ of God into which God has poured Godself is clearly outside it.

In his shorter and more recent The Essentials of Christian Thought, Olson explains, in two different sections in the book, the problem with this view. In chapter 6, ‘The Biblical-Christian Perspective on the World’, he notes two major alternatives to a Christian understanding as dualism and monism.

Alternative Metaphysical Visions of the World: Monisms 

Monism’s idea of the world deifies it confusing the world—creation—with God or the absolute. Tresmontant rightly asserted that for both Judaism and Christianity, based on the Bible’s story of God and creation, the “absolute,” ultimate reality, is not the world; it is not creation but the one who created. And creation is the free act of a personal creator who acted out of his own goodness. And the free, good creator created the world, the universe, out of nothing (“ex nihilo”). The metaphysical structure of the Bible is duality without dualism. The world is not God; God is not the world. And yet they are intimately related as creator to creation by God’s grace, power, and self-limiting vulnerability—allowing the world to affect him.

Monism of all varieties, whether Indian (Advaita Vedanta) or Western (Spinoza’s speculative pantheism), opens the door to completely unbiblical and anti-Christian idolatry of creation. The apostle Paul identified this as near the source of all sin and evil in Romans 1: worshiping the creation rather than the Creator… (p 182)

Alternative Metaphysical Visions of the World: Absolute Idealism 

German idealism viewed God as the “Mind” of the universe and emphasized God’s immanence in the world as its Absolute Spirit marching toward total harmony through the resolutions of history’s conflicts (Hegel). Its trajectory was panentheism if not pantheism. Hegel, the ultimate German idealist philosopher of religion, declared that “without a world God is not God.” In other words, the world is necessary for God’s self-actualization; God depends on the world as much as the world depends on God. Whitehead, the formulator of process thought, agreed, even though he was not a German idealist. For him, as for Hegel, the world and God exist always interdependently. “It is as true to say that God creates the world as that the world creates God.” Panentheism, whether of the Hegelian or Whiteheadian variety, falls into conflict with the biblical-Christian metaphysic because it turns God’s relationality into dependence on the world and elevates the world to an undeserved status as more than God’s creation. In panentheism, God does not create the world ex nihilo, out of nothing, but strives fashion the world, his counterpart, into his ideal of harmony. 

All of those extrabiblical views of the world exist in the twenty-first century and through various media seep into Christians’ thinking about reality. One way to resist them is to know and understand the biblical view of the world which is, again, that the world is God’s good but corrupted creation, dependent on God not only for its beginning but also for its fulfillment.

In his earlier chapter, ‘Non-Biblical, Non-Christian Views of Reality’, Olson has offered an overview of different forms of monism. One arises from Eastern religious, which a different form comes from German idealism, but they have something in common:

All deny the fixed gulf evident in biblical revelation between God and creation. All over-emphasize the biblical idea of God as immanent—present with his creation—to the point of letting go of God’s holy transcendence. They also all implicitly if not explicitly deny the biblical idea of creation—especially creation out of nothing—an idea implicit in the Bible and drawn out explicitly by the early church fathers in contrast to Greek metaphysics. All monisms have the tendency to deify humanity by asserting an underlying oneness between ultimate reality and the human soul or mind. 

And yet, in spite of the stark contrast between monism of all kinds and the biblical-Christian metaphysic, various monistic philosophies have worked their way into Christian thought—both popular and scholarly. But this is syncretism at its worst and to be avoided and corrected wherever it rears its ugly head in churches and church-related institutions (p 117).

This serves to highlight the issues at stake here. Not only does the kind of monistic approach to the world which describes the world as God’s body distort our understanding of creation, and fails to see it as both good and fallen, it also distorts our understanding of atonement, and ends up with a thinly veiled universalism. If God is already in everything, and if ‘Jesus is alive in all of your creatures’, then people do not need saving, they merely need enlightening, so that they might realise what has always been true in them.

I would like to think that Olivia picked up these erroneous ideas from reading too much Spinoza, Hegel or Whitehead; alas, I fear the explanation is rather simpler. Richard Rohr, in one of his daily devotions (which seem very popular in the C of E just now) comments:

The first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5  We aim to see as God sees.  Light is not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else. This is why in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ makes the almost boastful statement, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).

I believe God loves things by becoming themGod loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?  God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.

As I have highlighted previously, Rohr’s thought is marked by three things: a careless quoting of Scripture, making it mean whatever he appears to want it to mean within his argument; the blithe assumption that the texts obviously support his view, and how could anyone be so foolish as to not see this; a complete ignorance of alternative views, questions, and the very well developed history of thought in this area. It is striking to me that, as we have let go of core, historic, theological disciplines in our training for both lay and ordained ministry, the ideas of people like Rohr have spread far and wide within the C of E.

This then leads on to my second question: what do we think our bishops are for, and therefore how do we train and select them? For some commentators, this might be the moment when they noted that Olivia trained part-time on a course, and has a Certificate in Theology, and might then ask a question about whether that is adequate ordination training. Were I to do that, all those who have trained on courses would leap stoutly to her defence; a golden rule of all discussions about ordination training is that we are all convinced that the way we were trained is the best way!

I had the privilege of full-time training over three years, and my ordination training did have some useful and unusual content that might not appear in other syllabuses. As part of a collaboration between my college and the University of Nottingham, my first two years were spent in the university department, cramming the undergraduate degree into two years, with seminars and supplementary teaching in the college. That meant I was able to do courses in Modern Theology, looking at developments over the last 200 years, as well as a dedicated module on Philosophy and Phenomenology, which was, intellectually, one of the most useful things I studied. I am not sure I would argue that this is essential for every ordinand—but it provided the kind of foundation that is needed to understand some of the large intellectual movements in our culture, and quickly spot problems with the kind of monism that pops up thanks to Rohr. (Alternatively, we could just ask everyone to read Roger Olson!) If we now cannot afford this kind of training, or need people to part-fund it themselves, then at least we ought to be honest about that.

However, initial, pre-ordination training is not the only issue here. Olivia Graham trained in the 1990s; she has been ordained more than 20 years, has been in parish ministry for 15 of those, and has been an archdeacon. There has been plenty of time for further study! So this raises a question about the nature of continuing ministerial education, and the theological literacy of the Church as a whole.

And then comes the question of what we expect our bishops to do. I have previously spoken up in defence of our bishops, in response to criticism by Matthew Parris and Sarah Coakley. But on the way noted what impossible demands we now make on them:

The one thing I would agree on with Coakley (and possibly Parris) is the desire to bishops who model good preaching and teaching. The problem here is putting that alongside all the other demands that we make of them. They need to be good administrators (who wouldn’t want a quick reply to a request?); financial managers (how else will the diocese balance its budgets?); competent strategic thinkers (else who will lead us into growth?); concerned pastors (who else is looking out for the clergy?); effective in discipline (someone has got to keep everyone in line, even if that contradicts the previous concern); they must offer an effective voice in national debates (to raise the quality, as Parris argues)…and so on. As a recruitment consultant once commented, it is the multi-coloured unicorn brief! 

Perhaps the question is not so much ‘What do we look for in a bishop?’ but ‘What can we do without?’ or, better, ‘What can be delegated to other people?’ 

I suspect Olivia Graham might well bring organisational skills, and experience of change management, from her time working with Oxfam. But are managerial skills really what we are primarily looking for in a bishop? Don’t we want them, first and foremost, to be able to teach the faith—both to believers and outsiders? Here are some extracts from the Ordination or Consecration of bishops, from Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer:

CW: Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission.

Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies that will deepen your faith and fit you to bear witness to the truth of the gospel?

Will you lead your people in proclaiming the glorious gospel of Christ, so that the good news of salvation may be heard in every place?

Will you teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and will you hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?

BCP: ARE you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the same holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach or maintain nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the same?

I am so persuaded and determined, by God’s grace.

WILL you then faithfully exercise yourself in the same holy Scriptures, and call upon God by prayer, for the true understanding of the same; so as ye may be able by them to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and to withstand and convince the gainsayers?

I will so do, by the help of God.

BE you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same?

I am ready, the Lord being my helper.

The question then is whether we really believe this. Do we really think that Scripture is sufficient, and we don’t need to ‘go more broadly and deeper’ to other, non-Christian philosophies, in order to address contemporary challenges like the environmental crisis? Do we really look to our bishops to teach this biblical faith, and do the selection processes reflect this? Do diocesan education and CME departments also think this, so that all clergy can deepen their understanding of biblical theology as an essential part of their growth in maturity in ministry? (I wonder how many people in the diocese saw the script or watched the video, and had no comment to make on it.)

The Church of England is currently facing some serious challenges, and these will need careful thinking, courageous action, and good communication. But if the bedrock of all this isn’t a deepening of our understanding of our faith, rooted in Scripture, then we will be lost.

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113 thoughts on “On bishops, creation and the environment”

  1. I find I’m in almost 100% agreement with you! Like you I have questions about Rohr but his ideas go back to Sally McFague in 1993 and seem to permeate so much of Green Theology, which has become quite an industry. I’d also add that “green Christians” have become somewhat exclusivist and assume that all must follow their views and actions. eg support of divestment, Extinction rebellion etc. I think this is probably related to the odd theology. I’ll reblog this to go against my quickie response of last week https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/10/08/is-creation-god-can-god-be-incarnate-in-creation/

  2. Hi Ian,
    Thank you for this, there’s so much here (indeed, in so much of your site in general) that’s very helpful indeed. I wonder if you can help me on a couple of points…
    I agree that God is distinct from God’s works, and that means the incarnation of Christ was a unique event. To add to your reflections on where this comes from though, I would offer Job 34 as a key text, where Elihu says:

    ‘If [God] should determine to do so,
    If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,
    All flesh would perish together’

    For many, this affirms the idea that God’s spirit indwells creation, not merely as an initiating power (or a sustaining one, as in Colossians 1:17), but its very ‘life force’ so to speak. I’ve met many in parish ministry who believe creation *is* God, and that belief has occasionally found its roots in this passage. I think this goes beyond Rohr’s reflections, and reveals something lacking in the common understanding of the doctrine of God and creation. I would recommend something along the lines of Katherine Sondereggers’ ideas around divine ‘compatibilism’, but it is difficult for people to grasp, strangely. Do you have any thoughts on how to develop this?

    On a separate point, I’m curious as to why you do not believe the environmental concern is not central to our Christian discipleship?

    I understand that there are some prerequisite matters of faith concerning salvation in Christ, but when discipleship is concerned with how we live out our faith, then we live that out in the light of a Creator God in the world that he so loved that he sent his only son, through whom *all things* are reconciled. Given the creation mandate in Genesis, and the basic foundation that all moral judgements cannot ignore the place in which they occur, or the resources that are needed to achieve them, or the bodies that are dependent upon the health of soil, air, land and water, then surely the question of how we live in this world has its foundations in our relationship with the world, and that consequentially environmental concern should pervade almost every aspect of Christian discipleship? I think this would be true with or without an ecological crisis.

    Thanks again,

    • Hi there Joe. Olson addresses this specifically in his shorter book:

      ‘Identifying God with the world without clear distinction of the former as superior and the latter dependent leads inevitably to idolatry of the self, where the soul itself becomes one with God, as in the New Age Movement—a popular form of monism/pantheism. Again, many Christians become confused because they do not pay careful attention to another distinction in Scripture itself—that between the created spirit of the human person and the Holy Spirit of God himself. The Bible uses the Hebrew word ruach for both; it can also mean “wind” and “breath.” The New Testament uses the Greek word pneuma for both. Again, it can also mean “wind” or “breath.” Only a close reading of spirit in Scripture reveals when it is being used of the human person’s immaterial soul and when it is being used of the eternal Spirit of God, the breath and wind of God that creates and sustains the world and life in it. The two are separated by that interval, gulf, spoken of before, and yet the Holy Spirit of God, by grace, comes across that gulf to indwell and even “deify” the person who yields his or her created spirit to God in faith.’

      The thing that is central to our discipleship is acknowledging that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and living that out day by day. Issues like care for the environment might flow from that and be an important consequence of it, but can never be central. That is to confuse what discipleship is with what it then implies.

  3. ++Justin: “Listen Bishops, we’ve had a bad year. We’ve pissed off the clergy by illegally locking them out of their churches, we’ve been deemed unfit to oversee child protection, the ban on individual communion cups might be unlawful, the numbers attending church last year were down again and we’re running out of money. So can we please PLEASE just get through the rest of the year without any further self-inflicted injuries?”

    +Reading: “Umm, yeah, about that. . . .”

  4. In defence of the Bishop, she’s not always as wide of the mark as you think.

    Re these two statements:

    “Father, we praise you with all your creatures…they are filled with your presence and your tender love.” (5.16) and “Today you [Jesus] are alive in every creature in your risen glory.” (5.41)

    See Ephesians 4:10 (” He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.”)

    But don’t Oxford Diocese just retract the video and re-do it properly? Surely that’s better than any “clarification”?

  5. I think you are far too fair in your criticism, even if I think you are asking exactly the right questions about how this came to be.

    So while I agree that the personal attacks on her are petty, harmful and unnecessary*, there is no escaping the obvious: this IS heresy and you should be more forthright in saying so, however uncomfortable it makes you.

    Would you care to comment about the ‘clarification’ provided by the diocese? Was this a sufficiently robust and clear corrective, or would you like to see something more substantial?


    • See my comment here for why Bishop Graham should not be harshly treated. Ian thankfully in his heart knows this – it is surely better that his theology lags behind his heart than his heart behind his theology.

      • I am not advocating for harsh treatment, or some sort of disciplinary action, although I can see that my comment implies it.

        No, what i would like to see is the rest of the series of videos completed by Bishop Graham. I want them to be well-made and engaging on a subject that has received mixed attention from a formal teaching perspective. BUT, I would also like said videos to be more reflective of what the church actually teaches and articulated with a lot more precision and clarity that we have here.

        • …And if that means some form of private rebuke or correction from a fellow Bishop or the ABC, then so be it.

          I don’t think she belongs in the digital stocks.

  6. If the issue being discussed is the merging of the creator and the creation then instead of a single message by the Bishop of Oxford receiving focus I suggest that the entire public output of Justin Welby be examined.

    Any preacher who is focused more upon the need to identify the greatness of God in people than seeking to ensure that people identify the greatness of God in God – is merging the creator with the creation. This is what Justin Welby has been doing throughout his time as Archbishop.

    Bishop Graham’s only fault therefore is to be sensitive to the expectations of those around her – as women thank God are gifted to do for all our good more than men – a brilliant strength when not placed into a context in which it will be a sure cause for failure. Since her being placed in this circumstance is as a result of the failure of the leadership of men – their refusal to create an environment of justice in which women’s orientation towards mercy would be able to flourish – leading to women wishing to empower themselves – I suggest that her actions should not be given focus ahead of where the real failure lies. Which is more important – a single release by a bishop – or the entire focus of the ministry of her boss?

    Could a future article analyse the public output of Justin Welby – listing the number of releases which attempt to reconcile the church with people and the number that seek to reconcile people with God? (This shouldn’t be considered to be an indication that criticising the C of E from within is the right way to act).

      • I’m not sure you even could.

        The job description has “A strong commitment to professional neutrality” as an essential characteristic. I think you are a consummate professional, but the existence of this blog and your presence on the archbishop’s council would surely undermine any claim of neutrality.. 😉

    • ‘Neutrality’ is a completely bogus concept, as it is framed in terms of existing positions, but existing positions are partly research-based and partly ideological. The agenda ought to be the earch for truth. Truth is not intrinsically liable to fall in the middle ground (though it often may) – because ‘the middle ground’ itself, as a concept, is merely conceived according to a preconceived framing of the issues which is determined by what views/positions (however uninformed) are frequently found, not by likelihoods or balance of evidence.

      ‘Professional’ can often also be a bogus concept, because it often means playing the game and not speaking the truth in a public context. Plenty of ‘no comment’ and diplomacy, in other words.

      • I would have a more nuanced view on this. There was an article I read recently (on ‘the new Calvanism’ if recollection serves) which helpfully divided issues into three:

        1) Fundamental issues. Disagreement on these prevents communion.

        2) Serious issues. Disagreement on these impairs communion.

        3) Issues which should present no impairment to communion.

        In these terms, I would suggest that “Professional neutrality” applies certainly to (3), and perhaps to (2) but not to (1). For category (1), there can be no accommodation to differing views.

        The issues raised by the video are in category (1).

  7. God resting on the seventh day seems to me to refer to the moment when The Father took up residence in His creation. A type of incarnational moment because there was no going back. Like a man makes a boat and launches himself onto the water is how God is in creation. He is in control but committed to a course of action. God resting means that he is here to stay, with us, in a broad sense. Laying the Foundation as the sevenfold Spirit sang for joy.

    Jesus becoming man and still remaining God is the central incarnation. The Cornerstone. The Foundation.

    The Holy Spirit entering the believing soul is the Spirit’s incarnation moment when He takes up the work of transforming the individual. Again no going back, here to stay.

    The New Jerusalem will be where all three fuse into one.

    I think it is worth exploring in detail how each person within the trinity works and has at some point given up all to save us.

    • I may be thick this morning…

      “A type of incarnational moment because there was no going back. Like a man makes a boat and launches himself onto the water is how God is in creation.”

      But surely this simply isn’t incarnation even in metaphor? The man doesn’t become the boat or the water. It isn’t even a “type”.

      I’m not sure either about “No going back”. What do mean please?

      • Um, I’ll try again,
        Jesus was once just a part of the trinity but now he is both God and man. He can’t go back to being just God again. I think, in the same way, The Father was once ‘just’ one person in the trinity but after he made the universe he can not go back because time itself is part of the creation. He is therefore committed to go with it, direct it and control it, like the captain of a boat. Just as Jesus life on earth was a risk adventure so too is the Father’s. The Father has constrained himself ‘in time’ He is the Lord of creation. I don’t see him as outside of time but in it, by an act of will, committed, in a risky adventure. Now that the Father has launched the coracle of the world upon the deep; the Son has taken his place beside him. Now the Spirit has brought us to new life we become new beings incarnated by the Spirit. There is no going back.
        I’m saying this because I think the best way to confront heresy is to use imaginative ways to show how personal God is. That there is a plan, a road map. Jesus said I am working and so is my Father. and so is the holy spirit.

        • Thanks… Maybe it’s not because I’m thick (LOL… at self)

          “Jesus was once just a part of the Trinity”. Doesn’t quite fit with clear orthodoxy, does it? Isn’t this why the Trinity was turned over more times in discussion than the managers of some football teams and a formulation arrived at? It didn’t fully explain it but rather gave it boundaries.

          I’m uncomfortable (though acknowledge your aim) with adding illustrations that risk, if not actually, depart from established definitions of the Trinity. (I wonder if you’ve seen the cartoon monks knocking variants common heresies down).

          Language thought worth exploring is also rather dangerous… “just part of the Trinity”. “There is no going back”… Can God ever be constrained? He could if he wanted to surely?

          Maybe a proper theologian (ie not me) call elucidate. Thanks again…

          • He could surely go back. Stop time. Get off the bus. Yes he could. But he doesn’t because he loves us. I think that at any time Jesus could have thrown in the towel during His mission but he didn’t. We miss the point about God being all powerful and knowing everything. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to press on towards Jerusalem but he did because of the prize. I think the Father should get more credit for sticking with the creation he made and the Spirit should be given more credit for sticking with us despite the grief we give him.
            The Father is forever working to keep this earth habitable long enough for the mission to be finished.
            Jesus holds the stars in his right hand. The same Morning Stars that sang together. The same which hovered over the deep. No need to get too precise with definitions theologically. That is only necessary when legal problems with bishops arise. I think there should be more space for poetry. It is possible to know God without theology.

          • Hi Steve,

            all talk about God is theology. So, you cannot talk about God without tlaking theology. However, as the man said, there is good theology and bad theology. It is the job of a bishop to know the difference and promote the former. Part of this is knowing deep talk of various kinds which has taken place in God’s people over the centuries. Semper reformanda, but this mostly means going back where the Church has wandered too far, or expressing the same old truths in ways better suited to a new context.

        • I wouldnt agree that God is constrained in time. By definition time, as we tentatively understand it, only exists due to space. Time, at least how we experience it, is affected by space. We can only talk about time in this physical universe. God existed ‘before’ this universe came into existence, therefore God is not and cannot be ‘constrained’ by or in time. In the incarnation, the Son chose to be constrained by both space and time, though it is obvious He sometimes ignored such limitations whilst on earth. He is no longer constrained. Aslan is free.

          God is not required to do anything, but if you mean His actions and His continuing them are in keeping with His character, then i would agree.


          • Yes, that’s what I mean. God’s character constrains him. I was triggered to write because I’m rereading Orthodoxy by Chesterton at the moment. I love it.
            Yep, time is a function of space. I’m just thinking out of the box. Perhaps the Father first allowed himself to be constrained in spacetime to enable Jesus to step into it and to thus enable the Spirit to be given. I’m trying to create an idea where the incarnation it part of the trinity not just Jesus. I’m trying to counter the idea of God incarnate in nature by exploring the possibility of each person in the trinity having an incarnation role.
            … don’t shoot!
            All three in the society of the trinity must share the same pains and joys that we see in Jesus. Jesus stepped down from heaven. The Father rested after creation. The spirit dwells within.
            I ramble on…

  8. “Salvic”. They can’t even get the clarification right.

    This is becoming a pattern with the Bishops: issue a statement that is wrong and then instead of apologising and/or retracting just issue a “clarification” (the best/worst example of this was the ad clerum of March 24th).

    Re salvic: maybe she meant Slavic and is going full Orthodox? Not that there was much orthodoxy there, more pantheism than Pantokrator. But what do I know? I’m just a parish priest.

  9. Thank you for this – I think the topic (of leadership being unconsciously heretical) is tremendously important. However, one particular thing you might not be aware of – RC priests have to do three years of philosophy before they are let loose on four years of theology. I’ve often thought that much of the problem with CofE culture is that we are philosophically inept (with some major exceptions, eg Rowan). We really need to do some remedial work – not least because, as you point out, once you’ve been given a philosophical grounding you can then build on it throughout the rest of your ministry. This is something of a passion project for me as I am a trained philosopher!

    • I would just ask the question, from the pov of a non-clergy person, do ministers/priests really need training in philosophy to be able to do their jobs well? I would suggest not.


      • If orthodoxy is pastoral (ie ‘you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’) and it is impossible to represent orthodoxy creatively – as opposed to by rote – without some philosophical grounding, which is what I believe – then yes, I do think that clergy need philosophical training in order to do their jobs *well*.

      • do ministers/priests really need training in philosophy to be able to do their jobs well?

        Yes obviously they do, in the same way a car mechanic has to understand physics or a doctor needs training in chemistry.

  10. “It is striking to me that, as we have let go of core, historic, theological disciplines in our training for both lay and ordained ministry,….”

    This is of wide importance. Properly, *lay* people, are encouraged (particularly in charismatic /evangelical churches?) to preach but without any serious theological or biblical training to help them.

    It’s not that everything is then rubbish (sadly, occasionally it is…) but there is little salvific (;-)) landscape in which place their thinking or exposition and too little attention to what the text actually says. Congregations are, however unwittingly, being dummed down.

    • I’m not sure that the Bishop is an exemplar product of theological training in the CoE. Tragically, she may be.
      What is worse is the clarification: an acknowledgement that is knowingly heresy, yet it remains as a monument to false teaching in the CoE.
      I do not see it is much comfort that books by Grove (G), and Bauckham (B) are signposted, as they could by association, be tarred with the same brush by those who recognise the heresy, but not (G) and(B) and would see them as also further promoting heresy, as a source, references.

  11. There are at least four own goals scored in the video and the response.
    1) substandard Christian teaching has been offered, and only vaguely corrected.
    2) an opportunity to promote a biblically based care of creation has been missed.
    3) the Bishop could have used a respected teacher/organisation to introduce the topic.
    4) confidence in the teaching ministry of Bishops has once again been diminished.
    Everyone in pastoral ministry has been in this kind of position at one time or another. Having the humility to say ‘I got it wrong, the bible actually says…’ can be deeply helpful for both the shepherd and the flock.

  12. I am reminded of the remark by a conservative Jewish colleague in the 1970s which Thomas Oden recalled as setting him off on his new path: “You will never be a theologian until you dig deep into the classical Christian tradition.”

    In some sense, we are all theologians, and especially those of us who are ordained to teach and preach. But to become a theologian who can speak afresh, creatively and faithfully, into our contemporary situation requires a deep grounding in the tradition.

    Perhaps not every clergyman and clergywoman needs to be a theologian in this fuller sense, perhaps not even every bishop, but there is danger in improvising in areas where we lack this deep grounding. I accept that the Bishop may not have been exactly improvising herself but instead riffing on Richard Rohr in which case it just goes to show what mess pop theology can get you into if you’re not anchored in classical theological writings.

    What I found most sad about the Diocesan “helpful clarification” is its defensiveness, especially in the line “Of course, this isn’t the intended message of the film” following a definition of pantheism. The “of course” may be speaking to Bishop Olivia’s intention but if people cannot see how difficult it is to read her video message as a well-phrased, orthodox contribution, even when it is pointed out to them, the problem is running deep.

  13. I write as an academic engineer who has worked for many years in the environmental field, and also as a non-stipendiary priest for the last 30+ years. The issues of climate change / environmental degradation are real and serious ones that the church should be addressing as part of its ministry, and there are sound biblical reasons why it should do so (stewardship of creation, love for neighbour, the building of God’s kingdom in the present and the eschatological future and so on). But from experience it is really hard to get many in the church to accept this, particularly I fear those from the evangelical end of things. What irritates me most is that the intellectually fuzzy musings of the bishop are really just a distraction and only give ammunition to those who don’t wish to address the issues.

    In touching on the issue of part time versus full time courses, you have very much hit the nail on the head for those of my generation. The theological education on the part time course that I attended for my ordination training in the 1980s was absolutely woeful. I would like to think things have changed since then, but I fear I may be disappointed.

    • Thanks for these observations, Chris. Very helpful. I agree with you that some of my fellow evangelicals have been slow to the part in the past—but worth noting that most of the main resources on the ‘further study’ page on the Oxford diocesan website are by evangelicals!

    • Unfortunately I get the impression that many evangelicals still do not view climate change etc as important, with some still refusing to believe the scientific facts or else they view that God is in charge and it is all His will anyway. Perhaps Covid will make some realise when we continue to abuse the natural world, dont be surprised if it comes back to bite us on our bums!


  14. Thank you for this considered reflection Ian – this debacle has left me deeply saddened and worried. We have become used to Bishops sitting loose to Scripture & bending to prevailing cultural moods over ethical questions – but in a sense, that can be seen as a second order matter. The reason this video is so worrying is that it is heresy about the nature of God and thus blasphemy. The Bishop equates and conflates God with creation – it is not Panentheism – which may have a modicum of Biblical support – it is paganism, pantheism, monism. I dont see anyway around that conclusion,

    Now, does the Bishop believe it? No, I doubt it and she affirms the Trinity. However, with good intention, she attempts to build a creation theology & encourage a creation care, by channelling the sort of Rohr’s Cosmic Christ or Teilhard’s Evolutionary pantheism. The place to build a proper theology is Genesis 1&2 which she rapidly skimmed over before offering up a “In the beginning Gaia”

    Presumably, someone in the Diocese with some theologically orthodox antennae spotted the heresy and had enough clout to have a qualification issued and a more orthodox statement laid. And yet Bp Graham’s video remains. How can a public statement which essentially admits the video contained heresy be offered and yet the video remain?

    As you rightly point it, it raises serious questions about what we are looking for in our Bishops.
    A Bishop is ordained among other things, to teach the faith and guard it from error – so what happens when the error that challenges the faith comes from the Bishop? And how can someone be a bishop who believes ‘the whole earth is God’s body’ ?!

    • But Simon, “The whole world is, like, God’s body.”

      Any coincidence that this came out during the peak season for magic mushrooms?

      “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” (Hendrix, Purple Shirt. I mean Haze, Purple Haze.)

  15. (I must admit that I find it confusing that people refer to the bishop in question as ‘Bishop Graham’. My bishop is ‘Bishop Graham’, but Graham is his Christian name. Should not the bishop of Reading be referred to as Bishop Olivia, or in writing as +Olivia?)

    • Dunno – never thought much about it – if we were on speaking terms and if she was my Diocesan I may call her Bishop Olivia – though more likely just: Bishop.

      It’s clear in context I am not referring to your bishop Graham.

      But I do think it is appropriate to call God according to the names and titles and pronouns he has given us to speak of him, godself not being one of them

  16. The other main thing that bugs me about this video, that I have not noticed being addressed in any of the critique is her use of the phrase “Godself”

    This is not a Biblical phrase. God has made it clear through his word how he would like to be preferred and it is using the pronoun he/him.

    It is particularly ironic in these days when self identity is king that the Bishop should decide that she knows better than God which pronoun to use.

          • You’re great Penelope
            I love how you fight your corner

            I guess my view of Scripture leans more heavily on divine inspiration than yours and indeed infallibility given Scripture’s divine impetus;
            and so whilst the authors God chose and breathed through may have their own time-bound preferences or prejudices, it is God who employs and infuses their choices from their semantic range to speak of him. They in themselves will be limited and even prejudiced in their understanding about God, but God speaking through them scribing Scripture can’t be. He’s hardly likely to tell us an untruth about himself.

          • More importantly Jesus (who has a rather intimate knowledge of the things of God) referred to the Father using male pronouns. Occasionally females ones yes (see Jesus prayer over Jerusalem) but 9 out of 10 times he uses the male. Are you suggesting you or Bishop Olivia know the mind of God better?

          • Take that up with the One who called God Father/ABBA and always used masculine pronouns to refer to God. I suspect his usage is dispositive for his disciples.

          • Of course it would influence them. But are you also forgetting that we have access to the words of one who knew God intimately being in very nature God himself.

            Jesus in the main the male pronouns. While he occasionally uses female imagery (such as a Mother Hen and her chicks) he largely uses the masculine to refer to God the Father.

            If Christianity was about following the words of a human teacher, I would be more convinced by the argument that the writers are influenced by the culture of their day. But we follow the teachings of one who was himself God. If he chooses to use masculine pronouns who are we to decide that we know better?

          • Israel was surrounded by, and indeed occupied by, various nations all of which had female deities & some had gods in nature. Israel/Judah had at various times devoted themselves to their own Semitic female deities and nature gods the Asherahs. The Scriptural writers, had they wished, could easily have drawn from the prevalent pagan religions around them, indeed occupying them, and in their own history, and written this into their new Scriptures. But they didn’t. Because they were writing under inspiration of the God who is revealed as Father by Jesus the Son of God and Son of Man. It is with the God of revelation, the God of inspiration in Scripture that we have to do – not the gods of culture.

          • Hello Simon

            Yes, I believe in divine inspiration, but not in infallibility. When people say that they don’t believe in a God with a long white beard, I think that’s probably exactly how the followers of ancient Judahite religion saw their God. And, as their religion became monotheistic and they lost Yahweh’s wife, Asherah, they also lost the divine feminine. Which is a pity in a way.
            I pray to God as father, remembering that he is also mother (as a hen fathers her chicks). But God is not male, He is genderless, which is why I sometimes use ‘She’, justcto remind us that we anthropomorphise Godesld at our peril. To frame God as male is, I believe, as heretical as the Bishop of Reading’s pantheism 😉

          • Hi Penelope –

            I am happy, indeed, obliged, to conceive of God & talk of God and address God directly in whatever forms he gives me to do so – being as a mother hen being one such form. But an analogia fidei is never an analogie entis.
            God is not a hen. But he is eternally & ontologically Father in the triune godhead – though, as you say, NOT a male.

            I must challenge your comment that the religion of Israel ‘became monotheistic’ how so??? It began monotheistic with Abraham – who left pagan Ur of the Chaldees called out by the one God – and it devolved occasionally to polytheism when it disobeyed God and adopted the gods of the surrounding cultures.

          • typed in haste
            I meant ‘analogia entis’ not analogie entis’

            I totally agree that to anthropomorphise God is to create a God in man’s image which is to subvert the order and to create an idol.
            I dont think we can call God she cos he doesnt allow that – although I do, as you know, find the argument somewhat attractive when speaking of the Spirit as she and as an apologetic or balance against anthropomorphizing God, or gendering God. I’m still thinking that through

          • David – Yep, that’s what I think David

            God is not a Hen – God is not a Male – God is Father. Father is not ascribed to God analogously to our fatherhood, as if ours came first and we describe God in our terms. Father is who he is in the Godhead eternally not merely in his economy – don’t you believe that or do you believe at some point in time, millennia ago, Jesus chose to name him and describe him as father pragmatically to help us conceive of him in our terms? Our understanding of God as Father is revealed by him, not projected onto him.

          • Simon

            I’ll have to think about God as Father in the Godhead eternally. I do believe that Jesus calling God father – ours as well as his – says something about our new with God. But I may stray into Trinitarian heresies.

            There is much evidence in scripture and other sources that Judahite religion didn’t become monotheistic until Isaiah (I don’t know which one). Henotheism – a contested term – seems to have replaced polytheism at some point.

          • On:

            “David Runcorn
            October 17, 2020 at 6:09 pm
            Simon. If God can only be ‘he’ are women created in his image? Genuine question.”

            See Genesis 1:27

            So God created man in his own image,
            in the image of God he created him;
            male and female he created them. (ESV)

            So God created mankind in his own image,
            in the image of God he created them;
            male and female he created them. (NIV)

            (Which of these is the correct translation)

            And 1 Corinthians 11:7

            For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. (AV)

            Phil Almond

          • Quote [‘Simon – Why doesn’t God ‘allow’ us to call Godself She?’]

            He doesn’t not allow – I am aware of no proscription here – but he doesn’t decree such whilst he does reveal to us his name – and that is a sacred gift. Why would we chose to invent titles he never gifts us like ‘Godself’ and pronouns he doesn’t inspire for us in Scripture, like ‘she’? He has given us numerous names, why would we want to invent out own. And how would we know he is not offended by such? Help me here Penelope – why would you/one want to address him in a way he has not prescribed or revealed? ? Is it because of a feeling of rejection or exclusion, that somehow a God described as He carries with it a perceived value judgment against those who are she? Are too many connotations for you of male hegemony or patriarchy or abuse or?

            I am a bloke but when I call God ‘he’, I in no way think God is a bloke and so more for me and I more in his image than you as a she. The shared semantic male pronouns dont compromise any ontological divide between he and me. You as a she and me as a he remain equally loved by him and equally distinct as his creatures. God being he is no less inclusive. Calling him he does not make me more like him or more loved by him than you. His fierce love is the same for you as for me.

          • Simon. “You as a she and me as a he remain equally loved by him and equally distinct as his creatures. God being he is no less inclusive. Calling him he does not make me more like him or more loved by him than you.”
            Simon, only a man could assume this to be true.

          • Simon

            David has put it perfectly.

            But just to add a few thoughts of my own:

            Patriarchy, which is part of the fallen nature of this world, will always have a tendency to produce idols and to marr our understanding. God gives us only one name – which is not really a name – though pious Jews call God HaShem, and which is too sacred to pronounce. All other names for God, tend to be the generic names of gods, El Shaddai and so forth. We do, after Jesus, call God father, but that doesn’t make him male. I listened to someone leading the intercessions this morning who kept repeating the words mankind and man, and I winced.
            I believe that the term Godself safeguards orthodoxy and reminds us that the unassumed is the unhealed.

          • Oh, well – guess we are at an impasse – once again.

            I’m gonna stick with with the Bible on this one – and call God by his proper name: Father, as revealed by Jesus – rather than some vacuous construct ‘godself’ which I regard as worse unbiblical beige misnomer than the philosopher’s ‘prime mover’ and the 1960’s ‘ground of our being’.

            Pannenberg, seems on point here in his Asbury Journal article on who ‘Feminine language about God” Fall 1993: “… our contemporary feminists [are] bothered by the contingency of language about God as father. It is a new form of the old scandal of historical particularity that is the burden of the Christian faith in God’s incarnation in history. As we have to accept other contingencies of that historical incarnation, we have to realise that the word father in Jesus’ own language functioned not as an exchangeable image, but as the name he used in addressing the God he proclaimed. Therefore, in the Christian church the name father, and its use as Jesus used it, belongs to the identity of the Christian faith. It cannot be changed without abandoning that identity, because it is by entering into Jesus’ relationship to God as father that we share in his sonship and -because of our communion with him-obtain the hope of eternal life. ‘

          • This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;

            Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.

            And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and after his image; and called his name Seth (AV)

            I don’t know Hebrew, but in


            the words translated as ‘Adam’ and ‘man’ look identical.
            I think that is significant.

            Phil Almond

          • Sorry, Simon, ‘share in his sonship’ is the giveaway here.
            Share in his humanity?
            Share in his adoption as a child of God?
            It’s so very convenient for male theologians to argue that biblical language is inclusive.
            I suggest that we lift up the skirts of God.
            Lots of love and blessings x

          • Penelope

            In Christ, we all, male & female, become sons of God and corporately the Bride of Christ – I’m cool with that

            Sincere question – if you could change one thing in the church in this whole area/issue, what would it be?

            shine on

          • Simon. ‘I’m cool with that’. Well of course you are! It is entirely natural to you. You are a man. To require women to identify as ‘sons of God’ is to require of them a faith identity that somehow bypasses womanhood and must be expressed only in terms of male language, experience and identity – in addition to only being able to address God in solely male terms too. No amount of pleading they are just as loved and equal as men is terribly convincing. On this view being a woman is actually lesser, a distraction, or actually irrelevant, in terms of salvation, or in creation. And that, for a great deal of church history, is exactly what has been believed and taught. The consequences have been dreadful. It really is time we moved on.

          • Paul writes ‘For Adam first was formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived…..’. In this quote the second occurrence of ‘Adam’ is male gender because we are in Genesis 3. So the first occurrence of ‘Adam’ must also be male gender. There is no problem, whether Genesis 2 is poetic or literal, in the idea of God forming a human person of male gender, putting him to sleep, taking a part of his side, closing up the flesh, building that part into a human person of female gender.

            The word translated ‘man’ or ‘Adam’ in Genesis 2:7, 2:8, 2:15, 2:16, 2:18, 2:19, 2:20, 2:21, 2:22, 2:23 (And Adam said…), 2:25, 3:8, 3:9, 3:12, 3:20, 3:22, 3:24 is the same word e.adm. The person this word refers to from 2:23 onwards is clearly of male gender.

            Phil Almond

          • Simon

            I’m not a son of God though am I?
            I can be adopted as a child of God, redeemed by Christ’s humanity. But never a son. Such language always implies ‘as if’ for women. And the verses which Phil has cited have othered women as lesser, derivative, inferior for millennia. This still carries on, across different church traditions.

            And don’t get me started on the Bride of Christ……

          • Sorry, Simon,

            To answer your question, I think smashing patriarchy would be a good idea!
            I wish the church could recognise that the coming of Christ hasn’t erased sex/gender – our sexed bodies are created and loved – but that the fallen hierarchies of worth, intelligence, virtue, have been vanquished. Women and men are in some ways different, in more ways equally human; they can have different gifts and the same gifts; they can both be priests and laity; leaders and servants.
            I would like all church traditions to recognise this; and, further, to recognise that, for some, sex/gender, while important, is not immutable.

          • David

            you shock me –

            So, let me get this right

            You want to say to the Apostles, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, recorded in sacred Holy scripture, that “its time we moved on” from calling believers “sons of God”

            So, do you wish to excise these verses from your Bible?
            Romans 8:14 ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’
            Galatians 3:26 ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ’
            Ephesians 1v5 ‘he predestined us to adoption as sons’
            Revelation 21:7 ‘He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son’

            You move on if you want to David, I’m not for moving- I’m sticking with the Word of God.

          • S & Penny

            No – heirs is certainly implied, but is illegitimate translation – Huios/oi does not translate ever as heir/s – it means Son/s is the Greek.
            However, I do think heir is theologically legitimate and one intended consequence of our adoptions as sons so I would be happy with a translation/interpretation of ‘sons of inheritance’

            I think I understand why you Penelope et al may read the word ‘son’ as a red-rag, and it becomes a flash point – perceived as patriarchalism. I think that is a projection. The irony here is that its whole use in these scriptures is Inclusive. In a primogenitur culture, only the eldest son was heir, but in Christ, not just the ‘eldest/Eternal Son’ but all of us male and female are made sons and thus legal recipients of inheritance. That was a scandal when these were written, when most hearers were not included in any natural inheritance, being women, or younger brothers, or slaves. The scandal of the term in context here was its very inclusivity.

            I am grieved Penelope that it is more red rag than red rose to you

          • Why are you shocked? As you yourself affirm, our gospel inheritance is not just through the male line – the sons of God – but to male and female. I am with those who believe that this needs to be made much clearer in the public witness of the church, as it has manifestly missed this for most of its history in its treatment of women and its privileging of men. So I am not excising any verses but I am insisting they are interpreted clearly lest the meaning of scripture be obscured and their reading mislead. I wonder if you object to bible versions that add ‘and women’ everyone time the original only refers to ‘men’ (and clarifies this in footnote)?
            As to ‘moving on’ I claim to have the great (conservative) theologian I Howard Marshall on my side here, among others. As the title of his book makes clear we are on a journey with scripture – one that takes us beyond the immediate text to reveal the greater fulfilling that the text points forward too. In ‘Beyond the Bible – moving from scripture to theology’, he carefully argues how living, obedient faith always requires the willingness to go beyond the Bible text. He admits there are risks involved in this. But he is clear which risk he thinks is the greater. It is that of being misled by only reading the Bible in a first century time warp (and earlier) and refusing to go beyond the letter of Scripture. ‘We must be aware of the danger of failing to understand what God is saying to his people today and muzzling his voice. Scripture itself constrains us to the task of on-going theological development’ (2004:78).

        • Penlope
          [ “I’m not a son of God though am I?]

          YES – male and female are sons of God – where sons = heirs

          Romans 8:14 ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’
          Galatians 3:26 ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ’
          Ephesians 1v5 ‘he predestined us to adoption as sons’
          Revelation 21:7 ‘He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son’

          • YES – male and female are sons of God – where sons = heirs

            Is this not then a case of mistranslation, where the Greek word in those verses would be more accurately translated into English as ‘heris’ than ‘sons’?


            Romans 8:14 ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God are heirs of God’
            Galatians 3:26 ‘You are all heirs of God through faith in Christ’
            Ephesians 1v5 ‘he predestined us to adoption as heirs’
            Revelation 21:7 ‘He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My heir’

          • Simon

            For once S is right. Yes, heirs. But the language still doesn’t work for women – i will be ‘his’ God and ‘he’ will be my ‘son’.

            Revelation still doesn’t work though.

          • And Simon, I’m sticking with the Word of God and the Spirit who would surely inspire inclusive translations which indicate that humanity is saved, not maleness.
            Interestingly, when the one Apostle who wrote scripture wrote his letters, the word adelphoi meant siblings not brothers (not perfectly inclusive, but the male gendered plural was the default and included sisters).

          • Interestingly, when the one Apostle who wrote scripture wrote his letters, the word adelphoi meant siblings not brothers (not perfectly inclusive, but the male gendered plural was the default and included sisters).

            Ah, you mean a bit how like in English the male gendered pronoun ‘he’ is the default and includes females?

          • Simon

            I’m answering your point above here.
            I think that’s what I was trying to articulate, that S’s translation of heirs works because we know that in the original it was most likely that only sons, and elder sons at that, were heirs, the promise that we are all heirs is truly biblical. I think this is where language fails. And that is what you are saying.
            Which is why, I believe, we should jettison the patriarchal language along with the fallenness of patriarchy. Judicious translation illuminates and does not distort, the Word and the word of God.

  17. Circa 1990 I read James Sire’s excellent “The Universe Next Door” – a catalogue of worldviews. Recently I found out there was a more recent and updated edition available (well, 2009), which I have now read. What struck me forceably was how long ago we in the West set on the downward slope. It all started with Deism and Cartesianism in the 17th Century. Admittedly, the Deist view of creation is distinct from +Olivia’s. However, a key idea which emerged then is that:

    The cosmos, this world, is understood to be in its normal state; it is not fallen or abnormal. (p54)

    Having taken on such ideas, along with that of the adequacy, even the supremacy of human reason, leads Western thought down the inevitable slope to Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism and Postmodernism. Perhaps the Monism or Pantheism displayed is an attempt to bring back a transcendence into the Worldview, but it is far from the Theism which is the sure foundation.

    A wise man once told me: “all heresy starts from an inadequate view of human sin.” QED.

    • As a follow on to this, Sire has 8 (increased from 7) questions which tease out the differences between worldviews. Perhaps candidates for the episcopy should be asked these questions:

      1. What is prime reality – the really real?

      2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

      3. What is a human being?

      4. What happens to a person at death?

      5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?

      6. How do we know right or wrong?

      7. What is the meaning of human history?

      8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview? (pp22,23)

    • David
      You are right that “The cosmos, this world, is understood to be in its normal state; it is not fallen or abnormal. (p54)” is the fatal, tragic departure from the vital truth which gives the essential true vantage point from which to get a true understanding of the whole of human existence and experience – the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin – as stated in Article 9.

      Phil Almond

  18. The Bishop puts scientific theory (Big Bang is a theory or a guess at what happened ”14 billion years ago”).

    For most Christians who put Scripture as the sole arbiter of human life and behaviour the Bishop is far wide of the mark. I for one believe the earth to be much younger than conventional science theorises. I also believe God created the heavens and earth and human beings are made in ‘the image of God’. Genesis is not a science book, nevertheless, it shows how a loving God created the earth and it points towards the ”second Adam” too.

    These are the things this woman ought to be conveying. Pantheism? Well, whatever it is, it is a pale shadow of Holy Spirit filled Christianity. Not really good enough and this is why in many areas (not all) Anglicanism is on the wane – we need good, strong, true leaders filled with the Holy Spirit.

  19. Back in the late 60’s when Living in a tepee in the wilderness of the north coast of British Columbia I talked to the trees and the wildlife around me believing all was God. That did nothing about the hole inside me that longed for love and meaning. I came to know Jesus Christ as my redeemer and best friend as I do today. His love and His life has filled me with hope. However today I am seeing many of my friends in the church embracing that pantheism of Rohr and like. It makes me wonder who is behind it. Must be the same one that said to Eve you shall be as God. When I point out they are being influenced by another spirit and another gospel (as Paul put it) I get a very strong reaction (as in who are you to judge). I think one of the Greek meanings of judgement is “putting things in their proper place”. Like when I clean up my workshop and put the tools in their proper place. Thank you Ian for calling out this Bishop and her interpretation of God’s presence in His creation. We must never confuse the two. The watchmaker is not the watch.

  20. The video is described as a ‘short theological introduction’ so I am inclined to receive it as an attempt at a short inspirational riff to launch the series. I agree that the result is very muddled and misleading. I welcome Ian Paul’s respectful commendation of Bishop Olivia’s ministry in the diocese. He also commends the quality of the wider reading list she posts, which also suggests more careful thought than the talk reveals. He cautions against the language of ‘heresy’.
    I agree her words need challenging. But the scriptures also tell us to honour those called to lead us in the church.
    I also know the intense demands of leadership at this time and how sheer pressure of time makes more precise preparation almost impossible at times. The result can be that even the speaker knows they have not found the words and phrases they are looking for – possibly the opposite. I have been there myself.
    I think the New Testament offers a model for this kind of situation. ‘When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.’ (Acts 18). Now we do not know what exactly the issue was. But rather than denouncing this leader, they engaged with Apollos theologically and led him to a more informed understanding. There is no public criticism. He is taken aside for this. This is respectful. I also note that Priscilla, a woman, is the first named in this process of theological engagement. In my own ministry I am very grateful to those who at times have done just that – have challenged me, corrected my confusions, tempered my enthusiasms – but thus built me up and helped me, I trust, to a more faithful ministry. In the lonely and costly ministry of leadership in the church I pray Bishop Olivia has the same.

    • I agree her words need challenging. But the scriptures also tell us to honour those called to lead us in the church.

      Do you not think that this then indicates there is something seriously wrong with whatever procedures in the Church of England ‘discerned’ — obviously totally incorrectly — that this person was called to lead in the church?

      Of course such should have been obvious for a long time as this is not even nearly the first bishop to spout heresy, nor anywhere near the worst — I gather that’s been going on since the 1980s, with bishops who don’t believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection.

      Perhaps the problem goes back to 1662 and the failure to get rid of bishops altogether…

  21. I wondered reading all the comments (not just the last one), whether too much deference is shown to CofE Bishops and whether or not this is a good balance in leadership ministry relationships. I realise this point was made recently in the much more serious abuse context.
    If this video is considered dodgy doctrine then I can well imagine that many ‘ordinary’ Christian leaders would be castigated for publishing it. I suppose also that if we compare the kind of vitriol accorded to leaders like Boris Johnson or Trump (whom apparently we are meant to show respect to) in comments by Christians it does appear that Bishops are accorded deference by comparison.

    • Peter. I find it a bit strange to suggest there is too much deference around to Bishops when one is being very publicly and challenged and even denounced for her theological views! If by deference you mean an unwillingness to challenge or question – well there is very little deference of such reluctance in these discussion threads.
      I was noting the biblical obligation to ‘honour’ leaders. What night it mean in our present context? In the NT honouring clearly did not mean uncritical, unquestioning following. I suggested that Priscilla and Aquila offer a model of this honouring in action. When a leader and public preacher in the church was clearly confused or plain wrong over an area of belief (unspecified) they take him to one side and do theology with him. We do not know how it then played out in his ministry. But the implication is all positive. Might this to inform and shape our response to a leader today who comes out with stuff that needs questioning or correcting (as this does)? I note that Bishop Olivia has clearly been revisiting what she said in the light of comments made and am in no doubt discussions continue – not least on more thorough preparation and editing of diocesan policy and teaching material.

      • David

        I commend your charitable and gracious approach which is always to find the good and pursue that for which makes peace. And we must always give honour where honour is due. However, when does honouring God and the truth take precedence over honouring the holder of the office of Bishop?

        I think +Olivia was merely ill thought through and spoke a load of nonsense. But if hypothetically a Bishop did actually ‘believe’ the heretical pantheist doctrine she was heard to offer, after clear consideration – then what???

  22. David,
    This is public, and was put out as teaching, for comsumption, and what is more, it remains a known (by reason of the attempted clarification) monument to false teaching in the CoE. And the Bishop is a product of the training and teaching, giving out what she has taken in.
    And if it is a primer for theology, it is woeful and abhorrent.
    It dishonours our Triune God.
    As Christians, how about starting with Jesus.

      • David,
        Is that to set alight to effigies of Latimer and Ridley in Oxford? Just to show how far the church has progressed from their martyrdom.

      • A cheap comment, David. Why do you want to bring up the practice of medieval Catholicism and Mary Tudor?
        Roman Catholics today are hurt by those comments.

        • Mark. I did nothing of the sought. You misunderstand me. Please see my comment to Geoff. But when we spray the language of heresy around too easily it is no bad thing to be reminded the word has very violent roots in our history – on all sides.

          • Heresy remains heresy, even if you try to snuff the very word out.
            And I don’t appreciate your invitation to murder or the very least arson.
            And in the mood of the cultural moment, maybe the monument, the video could be taken down with a full Christian theological explanation for the reasons.
            What I find week and poor leadership is when there is error, it is glossed over, excused or ignored rather than corrected and renounced. Apologies are in order.
            What is more, David you in effect are compounding the heresy in the way you respond, seeking to brush it off, make light of it.
            Happy LORD’S Day,
            I’m off to praise, worship our Triune God incarnate, crucified, bodily risen and ascended Lord Jesus.

          • Geoff. I take heresy seriously. I just don’t think that is what has happened here. And nor does Simon – ‘I think +Olivia was merely ill thought through and spoke a load of nonsense.’

          • I take heresy seriously. I just don’t think that is what has happened here. And nor does Simon – ‘I think +Olivia was merely ill thought through and spoke a load of nonsense.’

            Surely that’s still heresy? Heresy doesn’t require mens rea, does it? You can accidentally teach heresy due to being ‘ill thought through’, can’t you?

            Isn’t the primary important thing here that the bishop spouted heresy, not whether the source of that heresy was a fully-thought-through heterodox theology, or a simple confusion of thoughts and words?

          • To be clear, as I’m being referenced, think what was said in the early part of the video was rank Heresy. No doubt, no question. The Bishop equated and conflated God with his universe – God collapsed into his creation is un Biblical, un orthodox, and therefore heresy.

            I do not think the Bishop is a heretic – she said she didnt believe what she said and what people heard her to say. She is a trinitarian believer as she made clear in the video & believes in the uniqueness of the incarnation of the Son as later stated. I think she was rightly trying to encourage creation action – but she framed an argument, by marshalling material not from Scripture but from some flaky book or two.

            Hopefully we can see her quote Karl Barth’s ‘Nein’ as a corrective.
            So, the video contained what I believe is heresy – the Bishop is not a heretic – the video should be removed.

          • So, the video contained what I believe is heresy – the Bishop is not a heretic – the video should be removed.

            And the bishop in question should also probably be forbidden from releasing anything else in future without having it vetted first, to prevent any similar accidental heresies from making it out to a wide audience.

  23. Many thanks Stojan. It gave me laugh as one from a similar era, though not from the same neck of the woods!
    It is only when we are brought out by Jesus that we realise what we were in, with new eyes understanding, new creation.
    Thanks again.

  24. Simon,
    Above, Well said.
    Who Jesus is reveals who God is, in eternal trinity. He is Father before he is Creator. We can not go past, beyond Jesus revelation of and address as Father, Abba, as James emphasises above by Jesus, God the Son. The rest is heresy. Jehovah’s Witnesses and all mother godesses.
    In our union with Christ, our adoption as sons, he becomes our ABBA.
    Simple but deep theology, Christianity, that can’t be traduced, by form critics and documentary hypothesis, Bultman et al and all those of the radical “Higher liberal criticism” persuasion with the dominant anti-supernatural presuppositions and unacknowledged claim on absolute truth.
    Neither is there to be “light” shone on it by modern culture, by literary deconstruction, criticism of Foucault, Rorty, Derrida, that brooks no objective, transcendent reality, with no scriptural authorial intent, but is purely or largely reader determined and meaning changes with time. Only by subscribing to this philosophy can there be new light on scripture, that result in moral relativity and the stuff of the Bishop’s video.
    First there has to be the light of the Gospel, otherwise there is no light at all, we are in all in darkness.

    Christ is key.
    John 17, can not be gainsaid. I make no apologies for citing the ESV in full.

    17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

    6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.[a] 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them[b] in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,[c] that they also may be sanctified[d] in truth.

    20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

    Amen and Amen

  25. A crop of white mushrooms are all connected to the same mycelium so if a purple mushroom should pop up among them you know it is not a mushroom, and if it calls its root by a different name then it is proof postitive that it is connected to some other structure.


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