Stephen Cottrell’s Ministry Manifesto

In the week that Stephen Cottrell is confirmed as Archbishop of York, Andrew Atherstone reviews the archbishop’s latest book, On Priesthood (Hodder & Stoughton, 2020).

There is no shortage of paperbacks about Anglican ministry, and about Christian leadership more broadly, flowing from the printing presses at a rapid rate. Several of our bishops have such a volume to their credit, almost an episcopal rite of passage, but in this succinct set of meditations Stephen Cottrell takes us back to an earlier text—the Anglican Ordinal, the authorized liturgy for ordaining new ministers. It is a brilliant strategy, because there is no better handbook for Anglican ministry than the Ordinal, full of wisdom drawn by Archbishop Cranmer from the pages of the Bible. Cottrell has served already for 16 years as bishop, in Reading and Chelmsford, so hundreds of ordinands and clergy have come under his oversight. These chapters began as addresses to priests (i.e. presbyters) on the eve of their ordinations, and still bear that flavour of personal advice and exhortation from a senior pastor to the new recruits.

Cottrell is a gifted and energetic communicator, on the platform and with his pen. His book is thoughtful, provocative, and down-to-earth. There is much here to warm our hearts. The central chapters expound the five main biblical metaphors in the Ordinal—servants, shepherds, messengers, watchmen (which Cottrell updates to ‘sentinels’), and stewards. That evocative phrase “messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord” has been announced over every person ordained in the Church of England for the last 450 years! Cottrell celebrates these “richly biblical images”, behind each of which lies “a vast and fascinating scriptural landscape” (20, 26). He rightly notes that they are “foundational and distinctive for any Anglican understanding of ordained ministry” (23).

The expositions radiate a joyful confidence, with a lyrical, poetic flourish. In a wonderful summation, Cottrell defines ordination as “a fresh anointing of the Spirit for the purposes of God that are bigger and wilder and more profligate than we could possibly imagine” (47). His gifts as an evangelist shine through, and his passion to get alongside people and serve them. He protests against the Anglican habit of turning “pastoral ministry” into something insipid, “as if to be pastoral was just about keeping people happy and being nice to them” (49-50). In contrast, Cottrell encourages a ministry which is not afraid to speak boldly, even bluntly. “There is no place for reticence when it comes to really good news”, he declares; “We need to sing of its tremendous beauty. We need to explain its veracity and its uncomfortable challenges. We need to commend its efficacy” (70-1). Echoing Paul’s charge to Timothy (1 Timothy 4), he exhorts his ordinands to prioritize evangelism: “share and tell the wonderful story of Jesus Christ … proclaim the message” (81). The minister’s duty is to call people to repentance, to “a turned-around life”:

What the Christian faith offers is a whole new way of inhabiting the world and a whole new way of relating to God and a whole new way of being human…We enter it not through our hard work or our imagined goodness, but by turning and embracing what God offers us in Christ. (62).

Cottrell laments that the neglect of catechesis in recent years has left the Church of England “biblically and theologically undernourished” (76). He warns that for clergy to be trustworthy they must faithfully pass on the gospel they have received (111). Also woven throughout are frequent calls to grow in our love for God through a disciplined pattern of personal daily prayer, and to rely always on God’s strength in our ministerial weakness, building on Cottrell’s earlier book, Hit the Ground Kneeling: Seeing Leadership Differently (2009). Ordained ministry can be “exacting and exhilarating” (4), but he speaks of it with delight. It is a manifesto which deserves a wide readership.

There are, however, some surprising lacunae and imbalances in Cottrell’s expositions which deserve fuller critique. Two, in particular, concern feeding and protecting the sheep.

Feeding the sheep

One major lacuna is the responsibility to feed the flock with the Word of God. In his description of priestly duties, Cottrell focuses very strongly and repeatedly on the liturgical functions of declaring absolution, presiding at the eucharist, and blessing God’s people. This trio, he declares, are “the most precious things of the gospel itself” (119). In his own personal experience, presiding at the eucharist has become “a bedrock and a lifeline” for his spirituality (141), but he then universalizes that experience for all Anglican clergy. Indeed, we learn that there are “just as many evangelicals as catholics” who find that when presiding at the eucharist their “vocation to ordained ministry makes the most sense. It sums up all that priests are called to be … It is the glory of the priesthood to preside at the Eucharist” (72-3). I don’t know where all these evangelicals are hiding, but I am yet to meet them! This is undiluted Anglo-Catholicism.

In Chelmsford diocese, Cottrell has recently introduced a new practice at ordination, where the priests are now symbolically given bread and wine (sometimes with chalice and paten), which they then place on the ‘altar’, in an imitation of Roman ordination rites (111-2). The point is hammered home by On Priesthood’s front cover design, which portrays a chalice and broken loaf of bread. This emphasis is out of step with classic Anglicanism, and pushes us back towards a medieval world. Chalice and paten were deliberately and decisively dropped from our Anglican ordination liturgies as long ago as 1552, replaced by the Bible, and the Bible alone, as the symbolic gift to the new clergy. Of course, gospel word and gospel sacrament belong together, but the problem as evidenced in these expositions is that priestly liturgical functions can too easily eclipse the ministry of the word.

In Cottrell’s addresses, the spiritual power and authority of Scripture is muted. Clergy in their private devotions must spend time “brooding upon the Scriptures” (40). We must test all our assumptions and conclusions “against the yardstick of Scripture and the accumulated wisdom of tradition” (103). We must dress up the gospel of Jesus Christ “in nothing but the simple truths and daunting challenges of the Scriptures” (138). These are heartening affirmations, but we missed any sense of the beauty and wonder and glory of the Bible as the words of eternal life, its supreme authority for the Church today, and its central place as the heartbeat of ordained ministry. We hear nothing of the Bible as the Holy Spirit’s instrument to convert people to faith in Christ, to bring assurance of salvation, to transform our characters, to create mature congregations.

Cottrell’s purple passages are reserved for speaking of the sacraments not the Scriptures. In one place, he argues that the eucharist was fixed in the Church “a couple of centuries before the canon of Scripture … had even been thought about” (111). In another place, he teaches that because the Word of God has been made flesh in Jesus Christ, ministers of the gospel “must not turn it back into a word” (69). But the gospel, by definition, is good news announced with words and written in words, revealed to us in the God-breathed Scriptures which are powerfully used by the Holy Spirit to make us “wise unto salvation” through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-17). The Bible is “God’s Word written”, as our Anglican formularies remind us (Article 20). Every time we hear Scripture read, we proclaim, “This is the Word of the Lord”. The Scriptures are therefore the minister’s vade mecum, the tool of our trade, often to be open, not only in the pulpit but in all our pastoral care. This is God’s method for growing the church, and the way that the sheep are fed and properly nourished.

Throughout the New Testament, the apostles’ primary emphasis is word ministry. It is particularly striking that the Pastoral Epistles—Paul’s instructions to two novice bishops, Timothy and Titus—are silent about the eucharist and instead provide detailed apostolic criteria for ordinands to be people of godly character who are able to teach the Scriptures. The Anglican Ordinal gets that balance right, but it is skewed in these expositions. Perhaps Hodder & Stoughton would commission a sequel from Archbishop Cottrell containing a future set of ordination addresses in York diocese on the Pastoral Epistles. It would make a stimulating companion volume.

Protecting the sheep

Another major lacuna is the responsibility to protect the flock. Cottrell suggests that because every congregation comes under the oversight of a bishop, this gives us assurance that the local expression of church is part of the universal Church of Jesus Christ, “built on the apostles” (19). Unfortunately, this gives us no assurance at all. As the Anglican formularies again remind us, many historic churches have erred from the Christian faith (Article 19). They may have had serried ranks of bishops, all canonically ordained, but that was not enough to protect them from shipwreck. Apostolic succession in Anglican terms does not mean a tactile line of bishops laying hands on heads, but rather those who continue to preach the apostolic gospel of the New Testament. It is a sad fact that almost all the heresies which have eroded the Church of England over the centuries have been introduced by its ordained leaders.

We missed, therefore, the call of the Ordinal for clergy and bishops to protect their flocks. In his exposition of the shepherd, Cottrell rightly reminds us that David rescued lambs from the mouths of lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-35). But what are those lions and bears in the contemporary church? His chapter is headed with Paul’s glorious parting words to the Ephesian elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and over the flock” (Acts 20:28). But in the very next verse, Paul explains that “after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert …” (Acts 20:29-31). We would love to hear how these words apply to us today and how, in practice, Anglican clergy should take them to heart.

Likewise, in Cottrell’s exposition of the sentinel, we hear a good amount about joyfully proclaiming the arrival of good news, but not the watchman’s obligation to warn when the citadel is in danger from advancing armies or destructive fires. The Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel took these protective duties seriously, and Anglican sentinels must do likewise. Indeed, it is laid out explicitly in our ordination promises. In the classic words of the Book of Common Prayer, priests and bishops guarantee that they are “ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word”. In the Common Worship Ordinal, priests promise to “defend the people against error” that they might “flourish in the faith”, and bishops promise “to refute error and hand on entire the faith that is entrusted” to them. Proclaiming the gospel and banishing error are both essential aspects of pastoral care. We cannot have one without the other if the flock is to thrive.

The joyful Archbishop

Stephen Cottrell understands the need “to speak winningly” (77), something he models throughout this book. His infectious love for people is evident, speaking from the heart. His best writing is autobiographical. In a deeply moving closing chapter—the standout highlight of the collection—Cottrell reflects with vulnerability on his sense of desolation and fruitlessness in his early ministry. He is realistic that all clergy will experience periods of deep despair and darkness, but knows personally that sense of compulsion to carry the cross of Christ, not as a willing volunteer but more often, like Simon of Cyrene, as a pressed recruit. Nevertheless, the keynote of these addresses is not despair but joy. Cottrell is one of the Church of England’s great optimists. “Joy”, “joyful”, “joyfully” are his favourite words and they come bubbling through page after page. He delights in engaging with ordinary people in the rough and tumble of parish life and pastoral encounter, and speaks confidently and compassionately of the ability of Jesus to bring “life to the full” (John 10:10).

There are many prayers for our bishops written in the Ordinal. Here is an excellent one, in the old language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which reminds us both of “glad tidings” and of “everlasting joy”. It deserves to be prayed on many occasions for all our bishops, and especially for Stephen Cottrell as he takes up his new responsibilities at York:

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, who of thine infinite goodness hast given thine only and dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ, to be our redeemer, and the author of everlasting life; who, after that he had made perfect our redemption by his death, and was ascended into heaven, poured down his gifts abundantly upon men, making some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and doctors, to the edifying and making perfect his Church; grant, we beseech thee, to this thy servant such grace, that he may evermore be ready to spread abroad thy gospel, the glad tidings of reconciliation with thee; and use the authority given him, not to destruction, but to salvation; not to hurt, but to help: so that as a wise and faithful servant, giving to thy family their portion in due season, he may at last be received into everlasting joy; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen

Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone is Latimer research fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and author of The Anglican Ordinal: Gospel Priorities for Church of England Ministry (Latimer Trust, 2020)

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253 thoughts on “Stephen Cottrell’s Ministry Manifesto”

  1. If a distinct Anglo-Catholic leaning in relation to the Eucharist is the price to pay for an Archbishop who otherwise sincerely cares about the Word and it’s proper teaching, is optimistic about the task and challenge of evangelism and is sober about the responsibility of clergy to effectively promulgate the gospel, then it is a price worth paying in my mind.

    • Except that his interview in the Sunday Times yesterday rather contradicts the idea that he believe in the ‘Word and its proper teaching’, at least on the dispute of the moment.

      • I haven’t read the article in the Times (and wont, because it is sadly behind a paywall) but I was aware that the honourable Bishop wasn’t quite the great ally of tradition I’m disingenuously claiming he might be. Wink.

        I think my point is pretty obvious though, which is that for all these generally fair (yes, I agree with Atherstone’s assessment) questions it is right to be optimistic about this appointment.

        To answer your other question (below), no. I am not at all acquainted with the situation in Chelmsford, though if what a cursory search of google reveals is anything like the truth I have to accept it somewhat takes the edge off my optimism.

        • David’s analysis is good, and the difficulty in comparing is that there are so many other variables. Only London diocese is definitely not clearly declining.

          But in Chelmsford, rather than addressing issues of cost primarily in terms of giving, stewardship and discipleship, they are planning a drastic cut in clergy—nearly a quarter in the space of a year or so.

          All the research shows that cutting clergy will lead to further decline in attendance, lower giving, and another drastic round of cuts in a few years’ time. I explore the issues and questions here:

          • It appears from your link that Cottrell did address stewardship – by making clear that clergy would only go to parishes who can pay for them.
            It isn’t the job of a bishop to teach stewardship and discipleship to local congregations, that is for the clergy themselves to do.

            I think it is the quality rather than the quantity of clergy that will drive church growth. A smaller number of clergy in focused churches with appropriate lay support is much more likely to produce growth.

  2. Wait till “Living in Love and Faith” is out. The lineaments of Justin Welby’s agenda are fairly clear now. Cottrell’s support for sexual revisionism is well known to evangelicals in Chelmsford diocese. Watch for stipendiary posts to go and dioceses in the northern province to be merged. Two dioceses have already folded in recent years, others must follow.

    • If people want one or more archbishops who are strong on the role of scripture as described by classic Anglicanism and conservative on sexuality then now is the time for succession planning. Who amongst the current bishops holds those positions (or could be in the college of bishops)? And are they at least willing to consider going to Canterbury or York? Oh yes, then there’s the small matter of the appointment process. But if having the right kind of archbishop is important then it’s worth joining up the dots over the next 5-15 years.

  3. “Cottrell suggests that because every congregation comes under the oversight of a bishop, this gives us assurance that the local expression of church is part of the universal Church of Jesus Christ, “built on the apostles””

    This seems remarkably out of touch with Anglican life over recent decades in particular. Some Bishops have not/do not “toe the line” over either agreed approaches or traditional (in the best sense) doctrine.

    A more Catholic approach to Communion is fine… but I’m not convinced that his foundation actually does give weight to scripture enough.

    I’ve seen in other dioceses the rollback to ministry highlighting chalis and patten but taking the scripture out of the main frame. It’s weeds sown.

  4. The irony is that there haven’t been any Anglican communion services for congregations for months, so I guess they can’t be real churches.
    Of course, the idea that the eucharist is the deepest and “truest” expression of the Church is a familiar catholic trope, but I can’t say that having more communion services has done much to grow the church numerically or evangelistic ally since the heyday of the Parish Communion movement. I would like to be proved wrong on this, but I just don’t see the evidence.

  5. I have worked in York Diocese under licence to Archbishop Sentamu. His first years were very good, outdoor baptisms as Easter, courses and retreats at Bishopthorpe Palace, camping in the Minster as a protest over worldly events and personally writing cards at Christmas and Easter to clergy and licensed workers (and their spouses). However, in recent times he has remained silent on so many issues, just waiting for retirement.

    If I was still in York Diocese I would be heartbroken that Stephen Cottrell had been given this role. Clergy in Chelmsford Diocese who tried to protect Church of England schools from organisations like Educate and Celebrate, which seeks to embed sexuality issues into all subjects, were given no support, in fact they received hostility. The trajectory of the C of E is now obvious and it will be for many of us, a decision of when to leave and not whether to leave.

    • Yes! We too thought Abp Sentamu was marvellous in the first years. I know energy decreases.

      The 2017 Synod capitulation (concept of ‘common good’ ought to be gospel-focused; giving the ok to changing one’s entire sex yet not to changing one’s mere desires – each time in opposition to Andrea Williams) was a real disappointment to many.

  6. I wonder what this means for new NW theological college plans and its ethos. How much will it be turned towards the new Archbishop’s theology and ecclesiology?

  7. Goodness me! Give the guy a chance! You are all arguing such pedantic minutiae. I have known the new Archbishop for 25 years. I have been inspired, challenged and humbled by his teaching, and refreshed by his capacity to grasp issues in a way which gathers people around him to generate change, rather than just make vacuous statements about church, society and faith. In my experience – he is as passionate about scripture as he is about the sacraments, as passionate about caring for the flock as he is about growing the flock. He has never hidden away in academic institutions like some, but has always grown in knowledge and understanding and grappled with how this knowledge and understanding plays out in the clay and mess of contemporary church life and society.

    Perhaps the issue here is that – whilst the new Archbishop is far from omni-competent, his abilities and charisms as a priest, Christian and human being expose the neglected areas or “lacunas” in our own lives and ministries.

    Pray for him – as the person chosen and called by God and the church for this role – not to bring his own theology and ecclesiology, but to bring the real presence of Christ into the Northern Province afresh.

    • Thanks for this response ‘Charles’.

      I don’t know which comments you are referring to here. The review is of the book, not an evaluation of leadership overall. But Stephen has been around a lot time, 15 years as a bishop, so I hope no-one is making any comments on the spur of the moment.

  8. Scripture is replete with those who start well but finish poorly, compromised.
    This may seem to be a diversion, but it’s not in the overall context of scripture:
    Yesterday, we met up with some friends. We were shown a video of there baby granddaughter, taken by her Dad. She was having a bath, splashing about herself, when for the first time, she discovered her belly button. As her dad kept asking what it was, she kept looking at it with a quizzical amazement, and then look up at her dad, with marvellous beatific smile.
    We are fearfully and wonderfully made!
    How hideous it is that we deny and denigrate.
    Little wonder, it is “very good”, male and female, without human intervention, without feeding on what we deem and deign to design as good and evil.
    What a treasure, the apple of Father’s eye, the Father’s song.

  9. In our two archbishops we now have an evangelical liberal and an anglo-catholic liberal. Let’s not kid ourselves: by any reckoning that is a liberal coup. So what is on offer in terms of leadership from these two liberals? After all, our nation is in near turmoil and desperately needs to hear its national church trumpet the Christian gospel with confidence and clarity. It’s a glorious, life-changing message; as powerful as ever it was: it meets the current situation perfectly. It tells us we’re lost without God; broken, hopeless and destined for death. Yet everything is his, he is sovereign, and he alone is willing and able to offer us a future we could never have dreamed of – at his own cost. That’s a humdinger of a message; it’s going to take real leadership to galvanise the whole church to get out there and deliver it. There’s not a moment to lose.

    Well the church leadership is certainly exercised. It busies itself with all sorts of issues over safeguarding, not least the high farce at Christchurch College. It continues to enforce all manner of petty restrictions regarding use of church buildings – despite the rumour that its clergy are all adults. It is diving excitedly into the urgent necessity of examining, and possibly discarding, anything about our historical artefacts which tell an uncomfortable story. And of course the cherry on the top, as has been mentioned above, is LLF which will be graciously foisted onto an already deeply divided church – there was never any chance that vital project might thankfully be kicked into the long grass for the sake of a genuine misional imperative was there!

    So there’s not really a lot of time remaining for the leadership to organise a massive effort of speaking to our broken, hopeless, frightened nation is there? It seems to me the extremities are still warm, excitedly so in some places. Praise God! But at the centre of our church organisation, there’s cold managerial determination to make a better world through sexual psychobabble and mindless signalling of virtue. Good luck with that.

  10. Though not an Anglican, I love the Anglican church and value what it has done over the centuries. I very much appreciate this article and concur that without an emphasis onn teaching the word of God we are lost. There is a terrible temptation to “backpedal” on scripture because we think it will offend when Paul describes the “Gospel” (and surely scripture must be at the heart of its proclamation) as “the power of God for Salvation.” Scripture must remain the yardstick and not the views or attitudes of society. The Eucharist is beautful, a means of Gods blessing and strengthening His people and a witness to His love. It is explained to us by scripture.

  11. Evangelicals agree on a lot of things but not on everything. Among other disagreements (e.g. Infant Baptism, Theonomy, Supernatural gifts, the fall of Jerusalem, the Second Coming) they also disagree on three vital interconnected doctrines: They don’t agree on the atonement. They don’t agree on the Calvinistic/Arminian controversy. They don’t agree on eternal retribution on the unsaved after the Day of Judgment. (Alternatives are annihilation after some retribution, immediate annihilation, exclusion from relationship to God (as in “Christ and the Judgement of God” by Stephen Travis)).

    The main disagreements on the atonement are on the doctrine of penal substitution and on the doctrine that God is angry with sinners and the death of Christ propitiates that anger. One difficulty some have is that penal substitution is sometimes expressed in a way that “Breaks up the Trinity”. There has been an interesting, possibly controversial, line of thought that has a bearing on this difficulty. Stephen Wellum’s book “Christ Alone” (The Five Solas Series) was reviewed in Churchman (Spring 2019). The review was largely favourable but the reviewer (Ed Loane) was uneasy with Wellum speaking of “the Father’s wrath being poured out on Christ” rather than the wrath of God. But the reviewer acknowledges that Wellum does state explicitly that “Jesus is not a third party dragged reluctantly to represent us, He, along with the Father and the Spirit, is the offended party”. And in the Calvinist International website an article by Stephen Wedgeworth “Pastorally Speaking the Deep Things of the Cross…………” includes, among other statements, the following statement: “Both natures of Christ were active in His mediation and atonement, each working according to their respective attributes. On the cross, both of Christ’s natures must be addressed, and while they worked together, their acts were distinct. Whatever is said about Christ’s human nature is unique to the Second Person of the Godhead. Whatever is said about Christ’s divine nature is common to the Godhead. Thus as unfamiliar as it may sound, it is correct to say that Christ’s deity was acting in unity with the Father in the act of judging the sin which Christ Himself bore. Jesus is not only making atonement to the Father. He is making atonement to God, the Holy Trinity”. I am inclined to agree with this.

    On the Calvinistic/Arminian controversy the main issues, as I see it, are whether or not the gospel invitations are genuine and sincere invitations to all, both elect and non-elect and whether God wishes all to be saved. John Calvin wrote a lot about this of course. It is interesting that in his Ezekiel commentary Calvin writes ‘….Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction, and wishes them to perish. While we look now through a glass darkly, we should be content with the measure of our own intelligence. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) When we shall be like God, and see him face to face, then what is now obscure will then become plain…’. Whatever else he said I think that he got it right in this statement. Similarly on page 40 of Kuiper’s book ‘God-Centred Evangelism’ in the subsection ‘Preterition and the Gospel Offer’ Kuiper writes, ‘The all-important fact is that the Word of God teaches unmistakably both divine reprobation and the universality as well as the sincerity of the gospel offer’ and goes on to say, ‘We may as well admit – in fact it must be admitted- that these teachings cannot be reconciled with each other by human reason. As far as human logic is concerned, they rule one another out. However, the acceptance of either to the exclusion of the other stands condemned as rationalism. Not human reason, but God’s infallible Word, is the norm of truth’. I agree with this view.

    On eternal retribution it is interesting to note how Professor Packer ends his article “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review”: “It is distasteful to argue in print against honored fellow-evangelicals, some of whom are good friends and others of whom (I mention Atkinson, Wenham, and Hughes particularly) are now with Christ, so I stop right here. My purpose was only to review the debate and assess the strength of the arguments used, and that I have done. I am not sure that I agree with Peter Toon that “discussion as to whether hell means everlasting punishment or annihilation after judgment . . . is both a waste of time and an attempt to know what we cannot know,” but I am sure he is right to say that hell “is part of the whole gospel” and that “to warn people to avoid hell means that hell is a reality.” All who settle for warning people to avoid hell can walk in fellowship in their ministry, and legitimately claim to be evangelicals. When John Stott urges that “the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment,” he asks too much, for the biblical foundations of this view prove on inspection, as we have seen, to be inadequate. But it would be wrong for differences of opinion on this matter to lead to breaches of fellowship, though it would be a very happy thing for the Christian world if the differences could be resolved.”

    If all Evangelicals could be persuaded to prayerfully and regularly preach the warnings in the words that the Bible uses, the outcome would be left to the consciences of the hearers and, in the mercy and grace of God, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

    This applies not only to Evangelicals but to all Ministers and Bishops.

    I can’t prove it, and would be humbled and put in my place, but glad, to be proved wrong, but I surmise that the terrible warnings, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, including the warnings from Christ’s own lips, are regularly proclaimed and taught by only a minority of Anglican ministers, including Archbishops and Bishops. But if I am right the Church as a whole cannot say with Paul, ‘Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God’. And the Church as a whole is not trembling before God’s solemn warning to Ezekiel: ‘But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’

    My hope and prayer is that all who agree that these warnings are essential will be persuaded that the time has come to challenge the whole Church to proclaim and teach the terrible warnings alongside the wonderful invitations and promises. How should that challenge be made? I suggest three ways:

    1 God revealed himself to Jacob who said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not; how dreadful is this place. This is none other than the House of God and this is the gate of Heaven”. Christ revealed himself to Peter who said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man O Lord”. God revealed himself to Isaiah who cried, “…for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”. Christ revealed himself to John on Patmos and John fell at his feet as one dead.
    Above all let us pray that God and Christ, in mercy and grace, will reveal themselves in the same way to all of us as both terrible and wonderful, especially to Bishops and Ministers, who have a particular responsibility to proclaim a gospel which is both terrible and wonderful.

    2 Send an open letter to all Bishops and Ministers challenging them about this.

    3 Work through the Synodical process to get a motion to General Synod.

    Phil Almond

    • The wonderful invitations and promises are not especially wonderful if there is nothing to be saved from.

        • Andrew
          The Church should teach and preach the warnings to be found in both Testaments using the words in the Bible which state those warnings. Do you do that?

          Phil Almond

          • We’ve had this conversation so many times Phil. All I can do is refer you to my many previous answers.

          • I don’t understand your question I’m afraid Geoff. I’d need a bit more of a sentence to work with.
            There is only one God that I’m aware of.

        • Anrew,
          They are questions relation to your statement that we are being saved from separation from God.
          1 When does that take place?
          2 Where does that separation take place?
          3 How does it take [lace?
          4 Why does it take place?
          Your statement also presupposes a non-separation, and the same questions would apply to that pre-supposition as well.

          Interestingly, while there is an emphasis on being saved “from”… there doesn’t seem to have been a great deal of emphasis on what, or who we are saved “for” or, indeed, what you have have implied. that is, a joining or union or relationship with God. Again the what, why, where, when and how questions would apply to that relationship or union with Christ.

          • Geoff: I suspect you don’t so much want to know the answers to these questions but are setting out to test me. No wonder lawyers got such a reputation in Jesus’ time.

            Your question isn’t very specific. Does it relate to salvation or separation? Either way I hope this will help.

            Scripture and tradition teach us that: we were made in the image of God. Through our own poor choices and selfishness we became separated from that image in us. Rather than becoming more like God we became less. We were really separated.

            God’s attempts to restore us through the law and prophets were unsuccessful. So God chose to become one of us in Jesus Christ. In the manner of his life, death and resurrection, Jesus enabled the separation to end. God became like us so that we might become like God and, finally, become one with God. The separation could cease.

            As to when: as Archbishop Ramsay put it to a student who asked him if he was saved – I have been, I am being, and I hope to be.

            I do hope this helps. Obviously it’s the abridged version. But very good news nonetheless.

        • What does that mean, Andrew? Why is “separation from God” a danger to us and in what sense is it a danger? I ask this because the New Testament, in fact, Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel says the danger we are saved from is hell (gehenna) and in John’s Gospel we are told the danger is divine judgment on sin. The same message runs through the Pauline corpus. I hear nothing of this in the statements of Anglican leaders, but this salvation is central to the New Testament message. If Anglican prelates don’t believe in this, what is the point in believing?

          • Andrew’s comment makes no sense to me as I have been an Anglican for most of my life and ordained for nearly half of it. I was referring to certain pusillanimous English bishops when I said prelates; I am perfectly aware that globally there are many faithful, biblical Anglican leaders who teach the full message of the New Testament. I note that Andrew has avoided explaining what “separation from God” means and why it would be a danger to humans, but I would be grateful if he could explain succinctly what he means. In my work I encounter a great many people who never give any thought to this (as far as I can tell). What danger do they actually face according to your understanding of Christianity, Andrew? I know what my Anglican faith teaches on this.

          • Explained succinctly above in my reply to Geoff, James.

            And forgive me for my comment but you seemed very clear in what you said:

            “I hear nothing of this in the statements of Anglican leaders, but this salvation is central to the New Testament message. If Anglican prelates don’t believe in this, what is the point in believing? ”

            If you hear nothing from Anglican leaders that you care for, why are you an Anglican, I suppose was my question.
            Anglicans come in a great variety, and not all will take the descriptions of hell that you are so keen on literally. For others, as for me, hell is separation from God.

          • Well, I still don’t know from Andrew’s terse reply whether he believes 1. There is life after death for humans; 2. Whether there is punishment for rejecting Christ and his Cross in this life. Only Andrew can clarify what he thinks. Most people (rightly, I think) believe that equivocation really means rejection of the Biblical and catholic faith. As for the assertion that “Anglicans come in a great variety”, that tells us nothing about the truthfulness or otherwise of their beliefs. Those who reject what Jesus tells us about hell and judgment in the Synoptic Gospels and John are not honouring him as Lord and Teacher of the Church. I hope Andrew would not do that.

          • James: apologies for any terseness of reply. I was in a hurry, but also confused by what you had said.
            I have answered these questions several times before on this website but perhaps you have missed that.
            I do indeed believe in life beyond death. What form that would take is not clear – and the bible gives us ideas but not, I think, absolute clarity about form.

            I think the idea of hell is derived from a variety of places and I’m not one who takes those ideas literally. Hell is separation from God, and I’m certainly more of an annihilationist than an eternal torment believer.

            The variety of Anglican belief is an annoyance to some, I know. But it is a grace for many others. Above all it is just a fact of our life together. If you wish to write other Anglicans off as unbelievers I think that is regrettable, but is hardly a novelty in Christian history.

          • What is so be-all-and-end-all about being ‘Anglican’? I have heard this stock answer (‘not very Anglican, is it?’) many times, but what is the strength or otherwise of the point being made? It doesn’t sound a strong one. It is not equivalent to ‘not very in line with scholarship, is it?’ or ‘falling short of proof, isn’t it?’. One could equally say, ‘If XYZ is not Anglican, so much the worse for Anglicans, then.’. If Anglican is the best choice it must be so because it is better in some way than the others: so put your cards on the table and demonstrate just how and wherein it is better. Simply saying that XYZ is not Anglican is of no import unless Anglican had been shown to be the best option in the first place. Rather than an option convenient to some people’s psychology and/or lifestyle.

          • It was of course James who was implying things were not Anglican Christopher. I share your concern.

        • But there was never a danger of that, according to much such theology. Would it involve anguish of any kind?

          • So Andrew has avoided my questions, 1. whether the words of Christ in the Synoptics and John’s Gospel, on hell and divine judgment, are true and binding on all who claim to teach in his name; 2. whether knowingly rejecting Christ and his work on the Cross in this life brings a person into judgment by God.
            One can understand the attractions of universalism (the default position of liberals), but it isn’t there in the teaching of our Lord and his apostles.

          • James: I think I have answered your question.
            I am not saying anything is untrue. I am saying that the pictoral elements should not be taken literally. And I interpret visions of hell and judgment as visions of being separated from God.

            There have been many conversations on this site about hell. And I repeat that I do not believe in eternal damnation and lasting punishment, and I don’t believe that is the primary message of the Gospels.

            I don’t claim to know whether universalism is the reality. What I believe, and what I understand from the Gospels, is that the grace of God is irresistible at the last.

          • James let me add a little more on your questions about judgement and hell.

            My reading of the gospels is that the questions about who is saved and who is not are very complex and don’t lend themselves to short soundbite answers. Jesus himself was asked the question in various different ways – who is saved and who isn’t. Each time he says that things aren’t what they appear. The sinners – tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves and so on are people who find themselves welcomed into God’s kingdom BEFORE those who are expecting they will go there. Keeping all the commandments isn’t enough. You have to sell all that you have and give everything to those in need. You have to stop being self righteous and simply be aware that you can’t do anything to ‘earn’ a place in the kingdom. What you need to ask for and know is simply God’s mercy.

            Jesus also indicates that we should not judge, lest we be judged ourselves.

            It is for those reasons that I’m entirely reluctant to provide a simple stock answer about hell and judgement. And I am wary of any apparent certainty about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of God’s kingdom. Because I don’t at all read that kind of certainty from the biblical texts. What I read there is the unexpected grace of God.

    • ‘When John Stott urges that “the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment,” he asks too much, for the biblical foundations of this view prove on inspection, as we have seen, to be inadequate. ‘

      I think not. The Rethinking Hell website has rebutted Packer’s main arguments, in my view rather strongly. I would suggest you read it:


      • Peter
        I am not going to have that discussion here.

        As I said in my long post above, I am hoping and praying that all Christians, whatever their view on Hell, especially Presbyters and Bishops, will be persuaded to prayerfully and regularly preach the terrible warnings in the words that the Bible uses, alongside the wonderful invitations and promises, leaving the outcome to the consciences of the hearers and, in the mercy and grace of God, the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

        That is what Packer was urging.

        Do you do that?

        Phil Almond

        • Oh my goodness. I cannot believe this dialogue. How on earth did I think that I was a Christian, when at the age of 15 I gave my life to Christ. I didn’t know anything about the things you guys have been throwing at each other.
          It was so simple then, but I must have got it all wrong???

          • Exactly, it is simple. And once you are with Christ that is the main thing. If the idea is that other questions do not exist, are not important or cannot be researched or thought about, that idea is not true, nor is there any good reason why it would be. Let all be in proportion, and always remember that there are questions to which we do not precisely know the answer (but thought helps us edge towards it) but we do not know in advance which these questions are. Any question may potentially be either easy or difficult and we will never know till we investigate it.

  12. Christopher
    I agree. The terrible warnings in both Testaments make clear what we all need to be saved from. The Church is commanded to preach and teach those warnings alongside the wonderful invitations and promises. Is the Church in general obeying that command?

    Phil Almond

    • Hi Phil,

      please forgive my ignorance. I’m struggling to recall a specific command to the Church to preach and teach ‘those warnings’. Can you help me?

      By ‘preach’, do you mean proclaim to non-believers, and by ‘teach’ do you mean teach to Christians?



      • David
        I assume that we are agreed (tell me if not) that there are warnings in the Bible about what happens to the unsaved on the Day of Judgment.

        If we are agreed then in answer to your question:

        “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”. (2 Timothy 4:1-5). ‘Preach the word’ includes preaching the warnings.

        “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’”. ‘Go and make disciples’ includes preaching the warnings.

        “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” From “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near”. ‘Blessed are those who hear it’.

        As I have already said Paul, in his farewell address to the elders at Ephesus, witnessed that he was clean from the blood of all men, for he did not shun to declare all the counsel of God to them. Calvin agrees with me that Paul had God’s charge to Ezekiel in mind. (Ezekiel 33:1-9). This makes the Church’s Ministers accountable for proclaiming the warnings.

        Phil Almond

  13. Stephen Cottrell has declared in an interview the other day that “Jesus was a black man who was persecuted and lived in an occupied country.” I am a bit bewildered by this statement, as are a number of British Jews. I know that Palestine was ruled by the Roman Empire in the first century, but I have always understood that Jesus was a Jew biologically descended from David and Abraham, and Jews were not black (Nubian, Bantu etc) unless they were proselites and converts ( as presumably was the Ethiopian in Acts 8). Furthermore, Jews were not persecuted in their homeland or really anywhere in the Roman Empire. I am very worried if Archbishop Cottrell makes such basic errors in historical and biblical knowledge. Does anybody know how he made these howlers?

    • Seems pretty clear to me, unless you read it as a propositional, scientific, comment. All he’s saying is that Jesus wasn’t a flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, surfer dude, as beloved by much of the western church. Persecution depends on your definition. I think that a country that was most definitely occupied, and with roads lined with crosses at the slightest rebellion, might just qualify.

      • No, it isn’t clear to me. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Amerindians, Malays etc are not “flaxen- haired, blue-eyed surfer dudes either’ but they are never called “black”. It is an utterly stupid binary way of speaking to divide the world into Scandinavians and “blacks”. “Black” has always meant as a racial denominator a sub-Saharan African – as I hope you know. Jews were not “black” unless they were converted sub-Saharans. Jesus’s ancestry is given in the New Testament. And the Jews were NOT persecuted in their own land or elsewhere in the Roman Empire, it is just historical ignorance to claim otherwise. I trust you understand this basic point. I didn’t deny that Palestine was occupied, manifestly it was, as was the entire Mediterranean world. It seems that Cotrell was trying to get on a current bandwagon, hoping that his readers might be as ill-informed as he. That British Jews have ridiculed his comments shows this isn’t so.

        • James

          I think Bishop Stephen was using the term ‘black’ in a metaphorical sense. So that Jesus’ persecution and death came about largely because of his perceived ethnicity and threat. It is surely wrong to say that Romans did not discriminate against Jews, since they crucified so many of them.

          Secondly, not all people who call themselves black come from sub Saharan Africa, and it is not up to us whites to decide what is black. Likewise, many Asian and first nations people would describe themselves as POC.

          • If it is not up to the loikes of us poor ”whites” to decide what is black, then people can be black by fiat. Can they also be king by fiat? Sounds like they are onto a good thing.

            Charles Boon (in Lodge, Trading Places) and Ali G thought so too.

          • No, I don’t follow this at all. If ‘black’ is metaphorical, what is it a metaphor for? Presumably it means any skin colour is ‘black’? Then the word becomes meaningless. Jews never called themselves “black”, in any case. Jews distinguished themselves from Ethiopians. It’s there in the Bible’s own words: ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?’ (Jeremiah 13.23)
            Your other comment is not historically correct. It is NOT wrong to say the Romans did not discriminate against Jews – they crucified all sorts of people, both Jews and Gentiles. Thousands of Italian and other slaves were crucified in the Spartacus rebellion. Jews were amongst the most difficult in the Empire because they were rebellious, but in fact Jews had a special protected status in the Empire, not being required to sacrifice to the genius of Caesar. This was the very opposite of (negative) discrimination.
            Thirdly, ‘black’ is in fact a vernacular designation of dark-skinned Nubians and Bantu. North Africans and Middle Easterners have never called themselves ‘black’. That is a simple fact of history – and Europeans should not be contradicting North Africans’ own practice. Cottrell is either ignorant of ethnography or is playing a political game. Not commendable in either case.
            Strangest of all – Cottrell complains that the C of E doesn’t have enough black leaders – as he replaces a black man! The remedy lies in his own hands.

          • James

            It’s a metaphor for being the ‘other’. The minority, the oppressed, the non-white, the Jew, the gay, the trans, the crip.

            In the diaspora, there are many black Jews as there are whites Jews.

            I do not that Jews were, relatively, fortunate in the Empire, but that didn’t prevent Pilate from executing Jesus or crucifying lots of Jews. Why was he recalled? Having a special status means little if you’re crucified at the whim of a violent procurator.

            Some North Africans call themselves black. Middle Easterners don’t (hence my comment about metaphor). But others, who are not sub Saharan, describe themselves as black. Is it up to me, or you, to say they are not?

          • “It’s a metaphor for being the ‘other’. The minority, the oppressed, the non-white, the Jew, the gay, the trans, the crip.”
            – The “other” than what in the first century? I am not interested in Marxist critical theory and other atheist obsessions of modernity (with its simple-minded binary obsessions), except as an error to refute. And this isn’t what Cottrell meant.
            “In the diaspora, there are many black Jews as there are whites Jews.”
            – Jesus didn’t live in the diaspora. And that statement wasn’t actually true in the first century. The Nubian (‘Ethiopian’) in Acts 8 was probably a God-fearer. I don’t recall when the Falasha community began in Ethiopia but it would have been a lot later.
            “Some North Africans call themselves black. Middle Easterners don’t (hence my comment about metaphor). But others, who are not sub Saharan, describe themselves as black. Is it up to me, or you, to say they are not?”
            Not as a rule, they don’t. Arabs and Berbers have always distinguished themselves from sub-Saharan black Africans whom they traditionally enslaved and sold in the markets of Tripoli and elsewhere. ‘black’ or ‘negro’ and the associated terms in Arabic were synonymous with ‘slave’ in that culture. Muammar Gadaffi once made an apology to sub-Saharan Africa for the legacy of Arab slaving, in his pitch to lead Africa. Most Europeans are remarkably ignorant of the North African or Barbary slave trade (which also involved slave raids on Cornwall and Ireland), although it used to be better known, and was the occasion of the United States’ first foreign war. No, as a rule Arabs and Berbers do not call themselves ‘black’, and this fact can be easily verified. It would be helpful if more people in Britain and America knew a bit more about the complex (and often tragic) relationship between the Maghreb and Black Africa.

          • James

            A metaphor for the ‘other’ in any century.
            Being a metaphor, it’s not about Jesus being literally, black, gay, a crip etc.

            Though, to answer your comment about black Jews in the diaspora, how do you know? There were black people in the Empire and synagogues in Egypt. Arabs and Berbers may not regarded themselves as black, historically, but they weren’t and aren’t the only peoples in north Africa. And nowadays, people from Africa and Asia and people of mixed race often describe themselves as black, as a political move.

            It’s a pity you aren’t interested in critical race theory; it has potentially interesting interactions with theology.

          • One can’t have a theory about what does not exist (race). Pigmentation and location exist.

  14. I appreciated this review by Andrew Atherstone – not least the refreshingly open, respectful and gracious way he engages with Cottrell, openly enjoying and inspired by it, while still posing important critically questions. He models creative, undefended discussion across traditions and difference. Thank you.
    Just two comments. I think Atherstone asks important questions about Cottrell’s view of scripture – and I would love to hear his response. But I am cautious when engaging with fellow Christians on issues that for me feel central. There can be a tendency to assume that when we do not hear our priorities stated in our own ‘language’ and within our preferred ordering we are tempted to assume they are therefore not there or shared (that happens on these discussion threads at times). Secondly, whilst Cottrell certainly overstates his case when he claims the eucharist is central to “just as many evangelicals as catholics” clergy, I am puzzled that Andrew Atherstone does not think such sacramental theology even exists among evangelicals. ‘I don’t know where all these evangelicals are hiding, but I am yet to meet them!’ Really? Well here’s one for starters – and for me it began at Bible College. One reason they may not be visible is that contemporary evangelical faith has lost a eucharistic rooting and is too often simply non-sacramental in its life and worship. But I am meeting plenty of evangelicals who are drawn to the eucharist in this way and are glad of a chance to explore it further. Indeed over the years I have worked among ordinands in training and as a director of ordinands I have consistently noted a steady awakening and drawing to the sacramental dimension of faith among those whose faith formation and experience of worship had hitherto offered little in this respect. I would call it a move of the Spirit. Is it really ‘undiluted Anglo-Catholicism’ to be moved and deeply, obediently drawn to the expression of faith that Jesus himself commanded us to do in remembrance?

    • But the Anglican hierarchy completely balked at the idea of zoom eucharists, while free churches and independent Anglicans have experimented with this. The lockdown and the truly terrible way the Church of England hierarchy handled it have alienated a great number of people, while making communion something like a medieval observer’s sport.
      It’s understandable that ordinands should have a keener interest in the Lord’s Supper, and the thought of leading it, but is there a different reality in the parish? Do more communions mean less singing and shorter preaching, and how does it sit with the lass committed? Or are our services now only for the already committed, like the Brethren on Sunday morning, which is always communion? Genuine questions.

      • James, thank you for your comments but I am not sure in what way discussing zoom services are relevant to my response to Andrew’s review. Nor is it obvious to me why ordinand’s should be interested in the eucharist if their formative church experience has never encouraged that?
        So, off the subject and for what it is worth, we are part of a church that, like everywhere else, was suddenly pitched into a global emergency, thus facing urgent, completely new questions and the need for rapid responses. In the circumstances do not think the CofE response was ’terrible’ at all. In fact, with church buildings suddenly closed, an extraordinarily creative range of worship and other pastoral connections suddenly emerged (made possible by very rapid grasp of new technology). It is well known that numbers coming to worship actually increased – as did other areas of community involvement and mission. This is the opposite of your claim of alienation. I do not understand your reference about medieval observer’s sport. Most churches I know (including some free churches) have not been having communion at all but have chosen to fast from it until they could share it once again on the other side of distancing.
        A brief response, but, as I say, I am not clear how this relates to the points I was making? Sorry if I am missing something.

        • Thank you for responding, David. What I meant was:
          1. It’s understandable if evangelical ordinands become more interested in communion because (a) colleges usually have one weekly (b) they may learning about Eucharistic theology for the first time in their lives (c) they’re being inducted into ‘presiding’ at communion at ordination. If they had ‘presided’ at communion before college (as free churches may do), perhaps it would have less novelty for them.
          2. The expression ‘to fast from communion’ is a strange and unbiblical one. You might as well talk of “fasting from the Bible” or “fasting from prayer”. The Bible talks about fasting from food and from sin, never from the means of grace. The point is to do without a distraction to make more space for God. ‘Fasting from communion’ makes no sense if it really is the deepest encounter a Christian can make with God, as some claim.
          3. A zoom communion service – as numerous free churches and some Anglicans have done – gets round the social distance problem. But unbiblical notions about ‘priesthood’ and ‘sacrifice’ (as well as ‘manual acts’) stopped Anglicans from doing this. That’s what I meant by ‘medieval observer’s sport’ – watch the priest doing his holy acts but don’t partake. Welby’s Easter communion from his kitchen (why not his adjoining chapel?) was strange.
          4. I will leave aside for here the question of alienation but stand by my perception that the C of E bishops advised very poorly during the pandemic and certainly sent the message that church buildings don’t matter. My larger point – which I don’t think you’ve addressed – is that there is little evidence that making communion services central helps to grow the church numerically or in depths of committed discipleship. That’s what I meant by alienation. I would be happy to be proved wrong on this, but I don’t see the evidence for this claim.

          • Incidentally, I was recently inside the church I attend and assist in services, because we have been using it for a long time now to store and sort out food supplies for local families in need – and as our team was packing the food, I could not help thinking: If it is OK for us to be using this church as a food distribution centre (and it is), why did the Church of England bishops seek to ban the livestreaming of services from here? This made no sense at all and is part of the ‘alienation’ I referred to. I know a number of deeply committed church members who now have a very low opinion of the C of E hierarchy.

          • Thanks James. We are roaming off topic here so this is probably the place to pause. But if we were to talk over a long coffee I would want to explore what you think makes something ‘biblical’? Where, for example, is communion described in the NT as ‘a means of grace’? But I agree it is. Many who have been fasting from communion together have spoken of pain of missing church worship – but also of a deepening and renewal of what communion actually means. Fasting does that. By breaking up what has become habit and routine it can deepen love and understanding. That is a ‘biblical’ outcome isn’t it?
            What makes one pattern of leadership or ministry ‘biblical’ and another not? We know very, very little about how the NT churches chose leaders, worshiped or broke bread. We have clues that suggest working principles. Nor was there one pattern, it seems. Historic denominations all have their own varied patterns of authorised ministry concerning preaching and communion. But they have them. Very few allow anyone at all to preside at the community meal – and rightly so. I do not accept the CofE pattern is ‘unbiblical’. But nor do I claim it is perfect and the pandemic has triggered deep reflection on the way we minister and worship together. We will see what emerges and listen to the Spirit and the Word. Foodbanks and the like in multi-use church buildings were always important exceptions. But the general advice in a deadly pandemic was ‘stay at home’. Churches rightly set an example. Worship does not need to be led from church buildings – that is biblical too isn’t it? Where are church buildings in the NT? In fact most worship teams found it easier to stream services from home – the equipment and decent broadband were to hand. And as I said above, numbers at worship have increased in many churches during this time. And why was it strange to worship in a kitchen? Is that not ‘biblical’? In lockdown that is where people were spending a great deal of time. I saw it as solidarity. That argument goes either way of course.
            Finally, we celebrate communion to ‘remember Christ’, to proclaim his death and be united with him in faith, love and service. Where is communion anywhere linked to church growth and numbers in the New Testament? I don’t think that concern is ‘biblical’.
            Thanks again for a stretching discussion.

    • Can I suggest also that people read Stephen Cottrell in his own words and what Melvin Tinker of Hull (in York diocese) has to say about a man who told a group of thirty evangelical clergy in his diocese that if they didn’t like what he, Cottrell, stood for, they should leave?
      As some did after Cottrell promoted the work of a ‘transgender’ group in Chelmsford Anglican schools? And has continued to encourage same-sex marriage and labelled his opponents as proponents of “tribalism”?
      Tinker’s analysis is as sharp as ever in understanding how the Gramscian model of social change (such as Cottrell desires) functions at the cultural level. In Cottrell’s case it comes – as in his 2017 Chelmsford Synod address – in a novel combination of Catholic Authoritarianism (‘I am your Father in God, so you may not like what I say but you’ll have to accept it’) and Liberalism (‘My reasoning leads me to reject what the Bible and the Catholic Christian tradition says about sexuality and marriage’).
      In Welby the Church of England now has a liberal in Canterbury with a (sort of) evangelical flavour, and in Cottrell a liberal in York with a (sort of) catholic flavour; but the two men (probably the least theologically qualified men to hold these offices in living memory) are determined to keep the Church of England moving in a leftward direction. I think it was their hope that a Lambeth Conference would this year precede the “Living in Love and Faith’ document this autumn but now that is no longer possible thanks to covid-19. We know exactly where Welby and Cottrell want to take the Church of England. It will be challenging – but not inspiring.

      • James. My only comment on Chelmsford is that I recall enough of the reporting at the time, at the time to make clear there was more than one story – as there always is in conflict.
        Meanwhile over a number of years I am grateful and honoured to have read, listened to, talked with and crossed ministry paths with ++Stephen and I simply do not recognise this description of him an Anglo Catholic authoritarian or liberal. Meanwhile the evangelical tradition is well known for dictatorial language and behaviour of its own (not least, at times, on these threads). I think you caricature both the Catholic and Liberal traditions here. It is possible to respectfully disagree with both without doing that. I am still grateful that Andrew Atherstone could engage with ++Stephen in a tone of respect and gratitude – even while raising critical questions.
        Finally – the numbers argument (I challenged this in a previous post to you re communion). Well if growth/decline really is the surest validating sign of faithful ministry and teaching in the church why, after over a hundred years of steady decline in this country, are we still ordaining men to be church leaders?

        • More than one story? A combination of all events and all accounts adds up to precisely one (large) story. As it always does, so whence the idea that there is *always* *more* than one story? The only ways there could be more than one would be through imperfect understanding, imperfect recollection (or of course lying, theoretically). These are all things that can be clarified by asking people.

          • Christopher: I think it perfectly clear that David meant ‘more than one version of a story’ – and was using shorthand.

            All accounts definitely do not always add up to one large story. There is often extrapolation, embellishment, difference of interpretation as well as the other ways that you mention.

            And often people do not wish to clarify because they have investment in their particular version.
            Or often, as in the case of say the Gospel or scriptural stories, the people who might be asked to clarify are no longer available.

          • ‘They have investment in their particular version.’

            That was the ‘lying’ possibility that I already mentioned.

          • Ah no, lying is quite different. Example: there are those who believe the Anglican Church in North America is somehow part of the Anglican communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said it isn’t. Those who say it is aren’t really lying – they just have invested so heavily in their interpretation of what it means to use the term Anglican.

            James uses the term Independent Anglican churches – an interpretation in which he has investment. Whereas I believe it is impossible to be independent of Canterbury and still call yourself Anglican.

          • Andrew Godsall states: “You can’t be an Anglican and independent of Canterbury.”
            What a retrograde English Colonial you are, Andrew! Stiff for the Church of England and the British Empire!
            Notwithstanding the facts that the Scottish Episcopal Church was and is quite independent of Canterbury and it was the Scottish church that consecrated bishops for the American Church when Canterbury refused. By ‘independent Anglicans’ I mean those that follow the BCP and have historical Anglican orders but are not subordinate to the Church of England. I think Andrew will find that most of the world’s Anglicans now identify with Gafcon. As do a growing number of congregations in England.
            Time to give up that old white colonialism, Andrew. 🙂

          • Not about colonialism James. Being Anglican means to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury who is Primus inter Pares…….if you aren’t in communion, then you aren’t Anglican.

          • “As do a growing number of congregations in England….”

            Precisely 18 churches at present identify with AMiE- the Gafcon arm in England. I suppose that’s growing from 16……

        • Only the Scriptures and the evidence of Scripturally-holy lives validate whether ministry and teaching and faithful and true.
          Cottrell is clear that he wants same-sex marriage in the Church of England. So do you and Andrew Godsall. So you welcome Cottrell’s new position of power in the Church of England. That is clear. It is also clear that Cottrell had a very fractious relationship with evangelical clergy in Chelmsford over the sexual revisionism that he supported, and he made it clear he thought they should leave the Church of England. Some did.
          As for episcopal bullies in the liberal evangelical world, of course they exist. And they should be ashamed of themselves. (I specify liberal here because conservative evangelicals have been pointedly excluded from the episcopacy for years now.)
          I don’t understand your last question. Even a declining church still needs leaders, and by no means are all congregations. My earlier point was that getting even more Eucharistic is unlikely to make a church more attractive to non-believers and nominal (if they still exist) and I don’t see that you refuted this.

          • I’m always amused when people believe that it is wrong to attract people to faith by ‘watering down the gospel’ (i.e. being inclusive to trans and gay folk), whilst saying that the Church won’t attract people with frequent Communion: a thoroughly biblical practice!

      • I can’t see the promotion of same-sex marriage and the encouragement of young people to think about transgenderism as an inspiring and hopeful route for winning the people of England to the Gospel of Christ, but hey, give it a go! It hasn’t worked in The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States or in the Anglican Church of Canada, both facing extinction in this generation (look at the statistics and demography, Andrew and David) but maybe third time lucky?
        Just let him drive out those “tribals” first with the true zeal of a Gramscian.

        • I can’t see that Bishop Stephen has done either of those things James but don’t let the facts ruin a good story.

          • Then you haven’t been paying attention, have you, Andrew?
            Read Melvin Tinker’s piece – it gives all the information you are unaware of.

          • James. You instruct Andrew to ‘Read Melvin Tinker’s piece – it gives all the information you are unaware of’. I am not sure how you claim to know what Andrew does and doesn’t know at this point. But what Tinker’s piece actually gives us is a third hand write up of a story and its interpretation supporting one side of the dispute. I do not mean it was not carefully researched or that there was any intention to distort. But this is the basic rule of conflict management, that in any context of human disagreement the side of the argument we happen stand on and believe in, is self evidently true to us. The work of conflict transformation, is to listen and pay close attention to the other side. Until we have done this we cannot be sure that we are not simply reading events from within our own concerns and prejudices. But even more, we will remain unreconciled in Christ.

          • Yes James I have been paying attention. My alarm bells always ring when little ultra conservative American websites, mostly representing churches outside of the Anglican Communion, are thought to be impartial about churches which are members of it.

        • Sorry – my response to your comment on numbers here appeared above this comment by you. And actually I know a number of people who have given up on church because of its resistance to accepting gay folk and others.

          • David

            So do I. Some middle-aged like myself, who are just fed up and angry. But also young people who don’t want to belong to a brand which they see as toxic and hypocritical.

          • Never say anything bad about young people. After all, they are all the same, all the millions of them, and can be generalised about. But as soon as it comes to people who are middle aged or older, some criticism is necessary and obligatory. Never trust anyone over 30. No, it’s *not* age discrimination, and it’s *not* saying people get worse as they get older, and it’s *not* saying that all those wonderful young people whom we now laud will be flung on the scrap heap in a few years for age reasons.

            As Cliff Richard sang, ‘We won’t be the young ones very long.’.

    • Is John Parker the egregious individual who surreptitiously recorded a meeting about supporting trans children? (Note, in passing, there is no such thing as ‘transgenderism’; this is a bogey of so-called gender critical activism and ideology.)

    • James. Thanks, but I read all this at the time actually – and quite a lot from other perspectives on the story – including +Stephen himself. I am carefully not coming down on one side. I was not there. Were you? In the meantime you have not responded to the more general points I have tried to make. Not sure why. But continuing to quote solely from conservative sources rather makes my point for me.

      • Then you agree that you, along with Andrew Godsall, want the Church of England to introduce “same sex marriage “, as I stated above. I understand that, but your position is certainly not evangelical, it’s basically liberal, giving primacy to generalised reason over specific Biblical injunctions.
        That’s understandable, people so sometimes change their beliefs in the course of life. Most liberals began as something else. Richard Holloway for example, was a traditional Anglo-Catholic before becoming a liberal and then ending up as an atheist. Gene Robinson also began as a rather conservative Southern Baptist before he became an ultra-liberal Episcopalian. I do not know what he believes now. But ex- evangelicals should not still describe themselves as evangelicals, that isn’t honest to language and theology.

        • James. This is no secret. I have supported the blessing of faithful, same-sex relationships as a Christian teacher and writer for many years – and have always based my position upon scripture and its faithful interpretation. Over these years I have taught and lectured at evangelical colleges – including St John’s Nottingham, Trinity, Wycliffe – willing, when asked, to sign their basis of faith. If you are interested I have just published ‘Love means Love – same-sex relationships and the bible’ (SPCK). James, bible- centred evangelicals disagree – strongly at times. What you have in me is a fellow, life-long evangelical as concerned to base faith and ethics on scripture as you are my brother.

          • Sorry, David, you are not an evangelical anymore than I am a Roman Catholic – which is how I was brought up and educated. You are a former evangelical who now accepts liberal arguments regarding sexual behaviour and marriage. The clear words of Christ and St Paul on marriage contradict your liberal beliefs. Don’t be afraid to embrace your liberalism and don’t murky the water by describing yourself as a “life-long evangelical”. You are a former evangelical, just as Gene Robinson is. And Dave Tomlinson and others. Have courage and embrace your post-evangelical liberalism.

          • James. How much simpler life must be if whenever we run into someone we disagree with we can simply tell them (very sadly of course – ‘sorry’) they aren’t ‘one of us’. Well I have been told this many times over the years but I am still here with my bible. Let’s stay on the subject. I challenged your reading of scripture on a previous post and you have yet to respond.

          • Then you are supporting something which (a) cannot fail to lead to disease in an appreciable percentage of cases historically (quite apart from (b) being contrary to design), since only very recently can we understand how disease works. What an odd thing to support as opposed to warn against.

            Disease levels are as high as ever in natural terms, though we have been forced to change nature to contain them. Whereas there is nothing safer than the lifelong husband-wife version. Quite a contrast between the 2.

            We could say – there is no reason why men who have sex with men should have higher levels. But no-one can find a real society where they really do not have far higher levels.

          • James. I return here as I don’t want sign off with a bad taste in the mouth. But it is hard to hear you stand in judgment over my faith and beliefs – not least when you do not know me and have shown no interest in finding out more. Would it interest you to know that, as I wrote the book I have just published, I shared parts of it with friends who are gay (single and partnered) and with friends whose views are more conservative? With all them we explored and wrestled with scripture. And when we disagreed we did so in recognition of each other as fellow disciples of Christ seeking truth. After all that my position is this (I do not know who I am quoting), ‘My confidence is not in the certainty of being right, but rather on the grace and mercy of God, before whom I have sought truth as best I can.’ If that is your position too then we stand together under the grace and mercy of Christ.

          • Hmm. IMHO ‘Wrestled with scripture’ sounds very fine, noble and sophisticated but takes no account of the fact that ‘scripture’ includes assertions ranging from utterly perspicacious to utterly bewildering. If the whole thing needed careful unpicking and unpacking then (a) scripture cannot be a guide anyway, (b) it would be unlike all other books and libraries, since pretty much all of them will include simple material alongside the complex.

  15. Is John Parker the egregious individual who surreptitiously recorded a meeting about supporting trans children? (Note, in passing, there is no such thing as ‘transgenderism’; this is a bogey of so-called gender critical activism and ideology.)

    • Penelope, I don’t care for the term “transgenderism ” or the earlier “transsexualism” it now seems to have replaced, I use it only for convenience sake (like “bisexualism”). I prefer to speak of gender dysphoria because it is a distressing mental condition which, fortunately, most afflicted persons manage to overcome.
      There is no such thing as “trans children ” either.

      • Yes, it’s a horrid construct.
        Gender dysphoria is interesting: some trans people experience this as painful and debilitating; others say that describing it as a mental condition pathologises something which is not a disorder, but perfectly normal.
        If you speak to trans adults you will discover that there are trans children. Whether people transition in adulthood, even in middle or old age, they were perfectly aware that they were trans from a young age, definitely before puberty.

  16. “What’s in a name…?”.
    Good question Juliet!

    James (July 14, 2020 at 8:15 am) thinks that David Runcorn should not describe himself as an evangelical. David (July 14, 2020 at 9:07 am) provides evidence that he is an evangelical.

    David is right when he writes, “……… centred evangelicals disagree – strongly at times”. They do. About (in no particular order) Theonomy, the fall of Jerusalem, the return of Christ and the end times, infant baptism, sexual ethics, supernatural gifts, predestination/reprobation, eternal punishment/retribution/annihilation of the unsaved, penal substitution, the seven days of creation etc.

    So what do evangelicals agree on? Here, repeating myself, I suggest one thing that I am especially concerned about. As well as the wonderful promises of salvation to those who submit to Christ in repentance and faith, there are, in both Testaments, the terrible warnings to those who do not, not least from Christ’s own lips. To be faithful to Christ all ministers have to regularly proclaim both the wonderful promises and the terrible warnings.

    Do any evangelicals disagree?

    Phil Almond

    • Phil. Thank you for articulating so clearly what a diverse bunch of believers we evangelicals are and always have been! I want to suggest even where we are agreeing we may express it in different language, place emphasis on particular texts and not others, and say in their precise interpretation. All of which warns us not to assume too quickly how near or far we are actually are from fellow believers. Thanks again.

      • David and James

        I’ve got to press you both. Hope you don’t mind. Do you both regularly proclaim the terrible warnings in the language that the Bible (and the Book of Common Prayer – the Commination) uses: ‘dreadful judgment’, ‘cast into the fire’, ‘fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, ‘fire and brimstone’, ‘burn the chaff with unquenchable fire’, ‘wrath of God in the day of vengeance’, ‘they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me’, ‘Go ye cursed, into the everlasting fire…’, ‘utter darkness where is weeping and gnashing of teeth’ alongside the wonderful invitations and promises?

        I hope and pray that you both do.

        Phil Almond

      • David, I did know you a bit years ago when you were teaching in a college, though you won’t remember me. I thought then your views were rather more mystical than conventionally evangelical because ( it seemed to me) you were more interested in what I call ‘the borderlands of the psyche’ than the traditional concerns of evangelical theology but I let it be because (again it seemed to me) pastoral theology often deals with folk ‘on the edge’ for whom conventional church has little to offer. Be that as it may. Why I don’t think you are an evangelical any more (just as I haven’t been a Roman Catholic for very many years) is because- to judge from what I have read of yours – you often express a scepticism about ever knowing what the Biblical writers were saying about sex and homosexual behaviour before opting for some generalised ethic. I think your exegesis is just wrong as well as wrongly taking refuge in doubt when the traditional (and catholic) interpretation goes country to modern liberalism. That is NOT how evangelicals handle Scripture. Evangelicals (like traditional Catholics) insist that Scripture is a symphony, not a conflicting cacophony or a murky mystery (as liberals believe, being ready to “retrieve ” as they say, the useful bits and discard the “harmful”). Try as you like, you will not find the affirmation of honosexual relationships in the New Testament, quite the reverse. Only by disqualifying or sidelining the texts that deal with homosexuality and ignoring the actual teaching of the New Testament on marriage (as a lifelong, sexually exclusive union between a man and a woman intended for mutual support and procreation) could you purport to make a case for homosexual relationships- and that is NOT how evangelicals handle Scripture. And it isn’t how catholic Christians handle natural law (the complementary design of our bodies and the natural means of reproduction): yes, I am not a Roman Catholic but very sympathetic to much of the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

        I am sorry to take such a direct tone because I recognise that you do really care about the real loneliness and stress that persons with same sex attraction face. The traditional Christian response – “seek the grace of Christ to live a chaste life” – is now presented as cruel and positively evil today in the post- Christian west, but this is partly because of the way our pagan culture has idolised the sex drive (as well as separating it from marriage and reproduction). I recall a student from theological college who died of Aids, and over the years I have known three Christian couples (two of them clergy couples) whose marriages broke up because one party left their marriage to pursue a homosexual relationship. And all the time I have asked myself, how would Jesus have counselled these persons?

        So I think I understand your pastoral motivation but your method isn’t evangelical because it isn’t controlled by the historical mainstream interpretation of Scripture- such as the Bishop of Birkenhead demonstrated in his exegetical addendum to the Pilling Report, which was arguing for the same position you hold. We are heading toward a schism in the Church of England over repeated efforts to change the historic doctrine of marriage. You may think that is an unjustified overreaction, but I answer that the issue is far, far bigger than homosexuality. I do not think it is at all accidental that erstwhile traditional Anglo-Catholic Richard Holloway, once he embraced the pro-gay outlook, moved onto ever larger religious liberalism before embracing atheism; nor is it accidental that Gene Robinson (brought up as a very conservative evangelical) became ever more liberal and “progressive” as homosexuality became the defining factor of his life. It is only following the logic of their presuppositions. If homosexuality is not a manifestation of fallenness (as Romans states) but part of good creation ( as theological liberalism asserts) , then it must produce good fruit. But the Bible, tradition and natural law disagree.

        • James
          Forgive me for intrusion into your conversation with David, but, as someone who is often described on here as a liberal or a progressive, I feel I must challenge your caricature of liberalism.
          I do not discard the harmful or murky bits of scripture. Like others, I wrestle with them, questioning why they are there and what they tell us.

          Likewise, neither liberal nor evangelical kind find any direct affirmation or condemnation of homosexual relationships in scripture because there are none. There are a few texts which condemn certain same-sex acts. That is all. Nowhere does Romans state that ‘homosexuality’ is manifestation of fallennes. Nor does the NT valorise procreation as the telos of marriage. Rather the reverse.

          You are right that the Bible, tradition, and natural law disagree. With each other.

          • Leave that for another day. I have not caricatured liberalism. The liberal outlook is actually a very clear one: the Bible is not the Word but at best contains or witnesses (with some errors and distortions) to Christ who is alone the Logos tou Theou. I understand that Enlightenment-born outlook perfectly well and have over many years studied how it developed in Protestantism, from Kant through Gabler and de Wette into the 20th century and beyond. The very fact that you refer to “the murky or harmful bits of scripture” shows you shae it.
            But it isn’t the view that Jesus Christ held of the Scriptures of Israel. That’s the dilemma for all liberal and kenotic theories about the Bible.
            You are wrong about Romans 1 and about the nature of catholic theology.

          • James

            The Bible is not the Word. That is idolatry.

            Harmful and murky were your terms, not mine. But do tell me what is not harmful and murky about Ezekiel 16.4-43.

            You are wrong about Romans. There is no mention of homosexuality in the letter.

            I understand the nature of Catholic theology. Some of it, particularly teaching on natural law, is not particularly biblical.

          • Words are just conventional signs standing for realities. Concepts do not transfer one to one between cultures and ages. Your expectation that they should is an error and causes a problem. When we map Paul’s world and language onto ours, what he speaks of overlaps greatly with what we call ‘homosexuality’, a word that regularly has behaviour as an important and central component of its meaning.

          • Christopher

            Paul mentions, perhaps twice, and condemns certain, male same-sex acts.

            This does not map onto what we now understand and describe as homosexuality.

          • Yes it does, to a large percentage extent. Your position is clearly wrong because it is binary, expecting a 0% or 100% mapping-onto. But how often will that happen between 2 cultures and eras? It’s therefore (and this is the second error) a false/unreasonable expectation.

            The reason it does is that homosexuality has behaviour as a main and central component.

            The third error is centering discussion of Greek first century texts around a concept that is a modern English language concept. Eisegesis.

            When we see what realities Paul was condeming (quite general realities, since why go to such lengths about obscure or recondite ones?) they are cross-cultural realities seen in all ages, e.g. men sleeping with one another in defiance of biology.

          • Christopher

            I agree. How foolish to centre discussion of first century texts on a modern concept.

            Just interested in what you mean by defiance of biology. Lots of things may be said to be in defiance of biology. Are they all bad?

          • Exactly. Some of them are positively good. But I am not speaking against things that are in defiance of biology. I am speaking against treating things that flow with biology and things that go against it as equivalents as though there were no difference. Homosexual practice which is treated as endemic but is nothing of the sort is (a) a death sentence in a less medically sophisticated age (i.e the vast majority of history), and (b) able to happen only through sophisticated artificial medical reparation in a more medically sophisticated age.

          • Christopher

            You still haven’t explained why homosexual practice is in defiance of biology. What has biology to do with it?

            Nor were homosexual practices any more of a death sentence than heterosexual practices in previous centuries. Both gay and straight died from venereal diseases before the advent of antibiotics and many women died in childbirth as a result of sex.

          • ???

            It is obvious that defiance of biology includes both:
            (a) promiscuity which leads to exposure to the bacteria and viruses that cause the said diseases [faithful marital sex being by complete contrast incredibly safe] and
            (b) anyone using their body for what it’s not designed for.

            Both gay and straight died from venereal diseases??
            -Except that neither of those categories would have been understood to be accurate.
            -Well – yes – obviously, but that would only be relevant if the death rates were the same in both groups!

            You are treating ‘there’s at least one person in each category’ as the same as ‘identical rates and percentages on both sides’!

            What Christian is going to be surprised that the groups ‘homosexual’ and ‘promiscuous’ both had high rates of risk? Of course they did, by definition.

            The way Christians are viewing it is ‘in accord with biology/Christianity’ on the one hand and ‘not in accord’ on the other hand.

          • Christopher

            We have had this conversation many times. But, here goes……
            There is more than one biological purpose of sexual intimacy. Reproduction is one. It is not the only one. As I have asked before: what is the telos of the clitoris. If you believe that reproduction is the only non defiant use of sex surely proscribes all sex acts which don’t lead to procreation. So no kissing, snuggling or mutual masturbation for good Christian couples.

            I agree that promiscuity is far more likely to lead to STDs and have no idea the proportion caught by gay or straight sex in previous centuries. Of course, there were lots of people whom we would now regard as bisexual.

            Once again, faithful marital sex is very safe with regard to STDs. So why stop Christian men and women from marrying in Church?

            What do you mean by anyone not using their bodies for what they were designed for? If you are referring to anal sex, not all gay men have anal sex. Some straight couples do. Not all straight couples reproduce. Biology does not equal Christianity.

          • No, the entire plant and animal kingdom is constructed on the basis of male-female fusion. Secondly, all the differences between men and women converge on reproduction. How can something be that big and you miss it? How do you view these 2 point?

            Third: you are speaking of pleasure and reproduction as separate, almost independent ends. Biologists disagree. The biological imperative of reproduction is served proportionally to the degree of pleasure. That is how and why pleasure evolved to be so intense. So the two are inextricable.

          • Christopher

            1) they are not
            2) even if they were, sex (for humans) isn’t just about reproduction
            3) telos of the clitoris again – many women do not orgasm through PIV sex, though they do through manual or lingual stimulation. So reproductive sex does not provide the most intense pleasure
            4) many of the differences between male and female have nothing to do with reproduction

          • (1) Examples?
            (2) That is just a reassertion with no evidence given.
            (3) Hard to separate physically & biologically from reproductive sex.
            (4) Examples?

          • Christopher

            1) parthenogenesis
            2) men tend to be taller and balder than women; these differences have nothing to do with reproduction. For why sex isn’t just about reproduction, see 3)
            3) no, the telos of the clitoris (which is joy, according to Rowan Williams) has nothing to do with reproduction. There are many forms of sexual intimacy which may precede PIV sex, but may not; and have nothing to do with procreation
            4) men tend to be taller, heavier and deeper voices than women. These differences have nothing to do with reproduction

          • No – parthenogenesis is acknowledged but the male-female thing is the big picture, the framework within we discuss things like parthenogenesis.

            Baldness and the other things you mention often have to do with testosterone. And testosterone is involved in sperm production. It is all interrelated. Otherwise why would any differences at all exist between men and women, and why would the concepts man and woman exist. Why would there need to be more than one sex? The most basic questions of all.

            Why do you think the clitoris is located where it is rather than elsewhere?
            Also: sexual union is acknowledged to be a process more than an act.
            And thirdly it involves all of us, rather than artificially analysing body part by body part.

          • Christopher

            1) not at all, only mammalian and avian reproduction involves male/female fusion.
            2) male pattern baldness is genetic, but *my bad* androgenic alopecia affects both men and women. Women also have testosterone.
            3) the concept of men and women is a social construct. People go on about gender being a social construct, but so is sex. Society constructs meanings around what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman.
            4) we know why the clitoris is situated where it is but, unlike the penis, it has no reproductive function. Yes, sexual union is, or can be, a whole body and mind experience, but its end is not necessarily reproduction and the female anatomy derives most pleasure from an organ which has nothing to do with procreation.

          • (1) There is a continuity even from the plant kingdom upwards (pollen on the one hand, ovary on the other). Else how could the different organisms be related?

            (2) Straw man. No-one said women had *no* testosterone. They said that there is a clear difference (one of the many) on average between men and women concerning how much testosterone they have. The only point you have refuted is one that was never made, on a topic where everyone already agreed with you. So no progress.

            (3) The concepts man and woman are social constructs? Nothing to do with one having a womb, breasts, female genitalia, and the other having male genitalia etc.. Send in the clowns.

            (4) On the clitoris you are just repeating the same point which (as in 2) has already been agreed with. You agree on the whole-being holistic point and on the interrelatedness point. For most of human history people did not know precisely how reproduction happened. They did not generally set out to have babies but to fulfil the pleasure instinct. The fact that babies then turned up on a minority of occasions shows that the pleasure potential developed to fulfil the survival/reproduction imperative. In the interests of which it was inevitable in terms of evolution that the pleasure potential would develop to the max. And that is why sex is so pleasurable. You try to separate pleasure and reproduction: it can’t be done without destroying the overall interconnected picture and replacing it with a selective picture.

          • Christopher

            Females (in the main) have wombs and ovaries. Males (in the main) have tested a d penises. Both have breasts.
            These organs are necessary for human reproduction.
            The way in which we view these differences, assign meaning to them, decides they are ‘opposite’ sexes, and name them ‘men’ and ‘women’, are social constructs.

            It us nonsense to state that pleasure is intrinsically connected to reproduction.
            Women (the name we generally give those with the large gametes) can become pregnant without experiencing any pleasure whatsoever.

          • Your ‘in the main’ is part of the bonkers conformist outlook we have grown yawnfully used to.

            Your point on ‘opposite’ would work only if people considered men and women actually were opposites. Very few do, though they lazily use the term ‘opposite sex’ without thinking sometimes.

            You can’t demonstrate the way things are by citing rare exceptions. It is the fact that they are rare exceptions that makes them generally the very last place one would look in seeking to find out the way things are. And that is exactly how the expression ‘the exception that proves the rule’ came about.

          • Christopher

            What on earth do you mean ‘bonkers’?
            Most females have female reproductive organs.
            Most males have male reproductive organs.
            Some males and females do not.

            I agree. The notion of ‘opposite’ sexes is a cultural construct.

            I don’t know what you mean by minorities. Most women don’t experience orgasm through PIV sex. That is not a minority.

          • I replied to this a little bit lower, it came out in the wrong place. What a joy killer all this is. Midwives are forbidden to say ‘It’s a boy’ or ‘It’s a girl’. What is the rather lengthy, jargonesque meaningful spiel they will now be forced to give instead? Adults are encouraged to have a relatively selfish view of sex that is all about me (rather than that ‘me’ being not self-referential but outward looking and developing to fulfilment and fruit in the process of reproducing). and (according to feminist dogma) see reproduction and babies as the enemy. So maybe they are not keen on the blissful picture of baby nestling on mum. We don’t like joy. What do we like then?

        • James. Thank you for apologising for your direct tone. I wonder if you realise how pronouncing you sound at times here – ‘you are not an evangelical …. you haven’t been paying attention, have you? …. You are wrong …. I understand …’ ? You do not sound very open to discussion. It would be so welcome to hear you pausing to check at times – ‘This is how I read you. Have I understood you? Is that what you believe?’
          I am not sure why you particular pick out the three people leaving their marriages for same-sex partners. Countless numbers of heterosexual people can be found doing the same? It is tragic wherever this happens.
          Finally you say this about me – ‘you often express a scepticism about ever knowing what the Biblical writers were saying about sex and homosexual behaviour before opting for some generalised ethic’. Really? I have just written a book saying the opposite! So let’s have an example. Just one will do. Then we have the basis for an actual discussion. Thanks.

          • I don’t apologise for the content of what I say, David – I meant only that the printed (electronic) format of communication doesn’t convey tone of voice, gesture and other phatic forms of communication, so that my words can be quite direct – but there is nothing wrong with that in the history of Christian communication. The Bible is also very non-English, even brutal at times. It’s partly cultural. I’m not English and don’t mind directness. I repeat that your position on the Scriptures is, like Dave Tomlinson and a few others in recent years , post-evangelical, not evangelical, even though you want to hold on to that title. Stott, Green, Packer and Robert Gagnon would not recognise your approach as evangelical, and neither would Bishop Keith Sinclair in his Appendix to the Pilling Report. As I said, your approach has always seemed to me more pastoral-psychological than conventionally evangelical , with a strong awareness of the brokenness of human beings and their need for healing. I understand that, but I’m not really beginning from a therapeutic angle but from constructive dogmatic theology. If same-sex acts are moral (as you claim), so is same-sex “marriage* (as you claim), and so is same-sex parenting of children. That’s the logic of your position.

          • David Tomlinson’s position is the saddest. It seems based in personal biography and psychology. Our world is trillions of times bigger than personal biography and psychology.

            There are trillions of things in this world to get excited about. He fails to characterise his position in terms of any of these, only in terms of saying what he is *not*, and is *not* excited about. Well, he is not most of the other things either.

          • James ‘I repeat’. Yes you do. And that’s all you are doing. And you are always right aren’t you? And there’s that familiar insinuation that people like me can’t cope with direct engagement (unlike culture x, The Bible, Jesus, Paul and – you). Fear not. I enjoy directness too actually (see, I am deliberately dialling it up a bit here to show you I can do do it – I speak as a fool). James, the issue here is that no discussion is possible when one side simply declares their own viewpoint is ‘right’ and tells others in the room they are ‘wrong’. Be as direct as you like. Fine by me. But have you noticed people don’t tend to hang around when their views are dogmatically misrepresented, distorted and simply not respectfully engaged with? That’s how I feel treated here. You continue to criticise my theology and approach to scripture in the most general terms. You do not respond to points I make or engage with discussion when I have invite you – including giving just one actual example from my writing that illustrates your concerns. Come on. Try me. It’s called discussion.
            …. or let’s leave it.

            Re Tomlinson – ‘The Post Evangelical’ is his own account of his journey – which began in a very narrow corner of the Brethren.

        • That perfectly illustrates how such a position is self-refuting. What is it that causes you to classify the reproductive organs as ‘male’ and ‘female’ in the first place?

          What leads you to do so is clear observation that those are the 2 types that exist.

          So you can hardly object when people make that 2fold classification on that basis. Because you are doing the same yourself.

          Without this, no-one would have ever spoken of ‘male’ and ‘female’ at all.

          But the difference in your case is that, having classified male and female on this basis, you then also take a second contradictory and simultaneous position which is that being male and female is not to do with reproductive organs.

          Well, if it is not, then it needs to be to do with something even clearer, more scientific, more observable, and less open to cultural forces and less open to the potential of lying. One cannot, after all, very easily lie about which organs one has.

          But your proposal is none of those. It is less clear. Less scientific. Less observable. Less open to cultural forces. More open to the possibility of lying.

          And then it is posited as a superior alternative???

          If you are going to classify the inner workings of humans, there is no particular reason to do so on a gender basis rather than any other basis. Still less on the basis of gender stereotypes. Still less in a binary manner. Male/female sex is a binary matter with a few exceptions, but it does not follow from this that anything else (e.g. how people feel about themselves inside) has to be analysed in a binary manner, let alone according to this same binary.

  17. What’s in a name? That which we call a (Liberal/Evangelical) by any other name would…..what?

    Penelope, David, James

    Which of you are prepared to tell others (in the words the Bible uses) that the warnings listed in my July 14, 2020 at 3:59 pm post are true warnings from God and that the only way to avoid those terrible judgments falling on them on the Day of Judgment is to submit to Christ in repentance, faith and obedience?

    Phil Almond

    • Yes, they are true. Do I preach on them? The occasion rarely arises but more often I refer to what Christ the sin-bearer has saved us from, which includes condemnation for our sins.
      I do not know how much ‘hell consciousness’ still exists in the culture at large. People with residual Christianity may think “we all go to heaven when we die”, but a growing number, not just of the young, believe that death means extinction. This is where I rely on the Kantian argument that if you believe that justice has an objective existence (and isn’t just a social construction of humans), then you have to believe in some kind of post-mortem reckoning. I have used this, for example, in sixth form classes of Religion and Philosophy.

      • What I appreciate about Penelope is that she doesn’t beat around the bush. She doesn’t claim to be a catholic or an evangelical. She is a modern liberal who takes an axe to all she thinks is wrong with traditional Christianity. She speaks her mind. If only her Homeric namesake had been so direct, those wretched suitors wouldn’t have been trashing the royal palace of Ithaca all those years.

        • But beware of using pre-formed categories. Characterisation of one’s beliefs comes after investigation not before. If we start off by saying there are certain ‘package deal’ options called ‘catholic’, ‘evangelical’, ‘liberal’, we will not only miss the multiplicity of unclarities and incoherences in the last named, but we will also fail to be truth seekers.

          • Oh, I don’t think liberal theology is one clearly defined thing – it is not, because manifestly liberal theology is in a constant state of flux, because self- described liberal Christians today are VERY different in belief from their forebears in the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet the Enlightenment set a course running in theology that has taken many twists and turns. Some liberal theological views would now be called “racist ” and “imperialist” because they were based on Progressive notions of Western thought and culture. Much of it is anti-supernatural and historicism in its assumptions, while its Christology (as far as it goes) is largely adoptionist. The new turn of liberal ( or Progressive) Christianity in the past generation has been toward a generalised multi-faith “spirituality” that earlier liberals would scarcely have recognised, but it too comes from the root idea of liberalism, that God speaks primarily through culture. Liberal Christianity is still fundamentally religious Hegelianism. Which, as Gresham Machen pointed out a century ago, is another country.

          • It certainly is not one thing. It is actually impossible to pin down or define. How convenient, I say with pardonable cynicism. And how worthless for scholarly and precision purposes.

          • Massive generalisation once again Christopher. Your dismissal of liberalism as being ‘ worthless for scholarly and precision purposes‘ is one of the most imprecise statements, and implies a narrow mind unable to tolerate any challenge to its preconceived ideas. It’s almost as if the enlightenment never happened in your world.

          • Which is why I did not say it. I did not say that liberalism was useless for scholarly and precision purposes. I said that anything at all which was difficult to define was to that extent useless for scholarly and precision purposes. You will agree that one cannot even begin to discuss anything when the definition of the thing that one is discussing (its bounds, what it includes and fails to include) is unclear and never could be clear.

          • The conversation:
            James: “Oh, I don’t think liberal theology is one clearly defined thing…”
            Christopher: “It certainly is not one thing. It is actually impossible to pin down or define…. how worthless for scholarly and precision purposes.“
            Christopher a bit later: “I did not say that liberalism was useless for scholarly and precision purposes.”

            You pretty clearly did say it! But we will accept your retraction.

            What I will agree is that it is impossible to discuss and debate anything which is caricatured in some Vast generalIsation.

          • A retraction, as we all know, is withdrawing what has been said. You slyly misuse the word to mean clarifying what was and was not said. But I noticed.

            As soon as liberalism receives a clear and bounded definition then it will be useful for scholarly and precision purposes. So it is not intrinsically useless for those purposes, only useless for as long as it is ill-defined. My impression is that liberalism (insofar as it can be pinned down at all) is at present much like situation ethics: infinitely malleable to suit people’s preferences.

        • Thanks James. I shall take this as a compliment.
          I’m not really a liberal, modern or otherwise, but I have to accept that label because I’m certainly not a conservative either!
          I am a Catholic (first Roman, now in the Anglican tradition), which is partly why I made only one, slightly tongue in cheek, comment on Ian’s ‘bread and wine thread’.

  18. Christopher,
    I am not overly familiar with the reasons why Dave Tomlinson abandoned his earlier evangelical-charismatic faith for whatever he espoused later. Is there a succinct account somewhere?

    • James,
      One source is ‘Restoring the Kingdom’ by Andrew Walker which makes a number of references to David Tomlinson’s changing beliefs and the process of how it happened (I think his book is still in print). More recently David Matthew’s E- book ‘A Poke in the Faith’ also references Tomlinson.
      (you can download his book and read it for free here

      His reference to DT is near the end of the book.

      Matthew worked closely with DT in the early stages of the restoration house church movement and knows DT well. The impression I get from his assessment is that Tomlinson rather that being post -evangelical, is now essentially post-christian in spite of being in Anglican orders.

      The late Canon Michael Saward also wrote a critique of DT views in the ‘Post Evangelical Debate’ a book which I think is out of print now and quite dated, but references among other things, DT’s somewhat cramped Brethren upbringing as strongly influencing his thinking.

      As an aside in all this, I think it is worth commenting that the progress from ‘evangelical ‘ to ‘liberal’ understandings of Christianity -I am using the labels somewhat loosely here – seem more often than not -one way. There do not seem to be as many cases of people progressing in the opposite direction although I am sure there are a few. This suggests to me that conservative evangelicalism lacks sufficient coherence in its *presentation* to be of practical sense to peoples lives and properly address issues to them that matter.

      This may be because reasoned evangelical scholarship does not really percolate down to the masses in the way it should, or it could be that it addresses issues in a too simplistic way (I might add, that I think liberal versions are even less coherent). Ian’s blog and articles are a very good example of evangelical scholarship BTW!

      Finally, I would say the the term ‘evangelical’ perhaps does not have quite the same currency and common understanding among Christians that it used to have say 20 years ago, and may need to be replaced with some other term to maintain its distinctiveness.

      • Chris. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection on ‘evangelical’ identity. Lecturing for some years on Evangelical history made clear it has never been one unified movement biblically or theologically. Nor has there been one unambiguous ‘method’ or understanding of the bible text. Our uncompromising emphasis on the supreme authority of scripture has never stopped evangelicals differing sharply or dividing over particular issues and texts within it has it? Phil, (on July 14:1.33) highlights what a wide, diverse and therefore conflicted tradition this has always been. So, at least at times, I think this tradition tends to define itself by what it is resisting and standing against – defending ‘the faith once given’ etc. We are not ‘that’ or ‘them’. So, at any one time, your take on a particular text issue or concern defines, for others, whether you are still ‘one of us’. In my life time, from Bible College onwards, these make or break issues have included Creation/Evolution, Calvinist/Arminian, Charismatic gifts, Divorce/remarriage, headship and ordination of women. All of which in their time were, for some, the line that held to defend the scripture revelation. Supporters of all of these defended their position from scripture. I have been declared post-Evangelical on most of those issues over the years as I expect others have here. Same-sex relationships is the latest. But what went before was no less contested.
        So when you suggest we need another name – does it not need to be a name that recognises this rich biblical diversity rather than one effectively draws the wagons into an ever tighter circle?

        • Hi David -thank you for your reply.

          Ah– so what new term shall we use? My guess is that it will be a term favoured by those who adhere to their understanding of what evangelicalism means – ‘Reformed Evangelical? ‘Orthodox Evangelical’ perhaps? This will add of course, yet another species to the tribes of evangelicalism – and yes- it will drive the wagons together more closely.

          I must confess that when I first read ‘The Post Evangelical’ I thought the book was misnamed. Tomlinson should have called it the ‘Pis**ed Off Evangelical as he complains so much about evangelical piety ( but I do admit to being facetious here)..

          Although I think Tomlinson has now moved far beyond what would be recognisably be called Christian (David Matthew certainly thinks he has), Tomlinson had a point as he recognised that the evangelicalism he encountered often did not address the complexities that Christians faced in their everyday lives. Tomlinson thought that the answers offered to Christians within evangelicalism were too simplistic, nice and neatly packaged, and failed to change their lives. Instead, rather than conforming them to the image of Christ it conformed them to each other. To his dismay, when he escaped from the Brethren into the House church movement he saw exactly the same characteristics manifest again which I think drove him even further off the evangelical wall.

          I have a lot of sympathy with him in that respect, although I think his response to it has been incorrect. Michael Saward who was a prominent Anglican Evangelical and was instrumental in the growth of evangelicalism among Anglicans, in the ‘Post Evangelical Debate’; deplored the ability of evangelicals to have any coherent ecclesiology of the church and the consequences of the failure of evangelicalism to handle matters of disagreement and difference amongst themselves.

          Saward contended that the triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason as being the supreme but not the sole source of authority should be the basis of evangelical unity. Independent evangelicals (and those of a similar outlook), generally treat Scripture as the only authority and Saward argues that it is this which is a major contributor to evangelical disunity. I think he was right.

          One needs to be careful of course, of maintaining creedal orthodoxy and what constitutes adiaphora particularly in our post-modern society and internet culture. I seem to recall that Andrew Goddard has written extensively on this aspect somewhere on Ian‘s blog and there is not space to go into that here. FWIW, in my view, women’s ordination and SSM are adiaphoric issues and are fundamentally questions of theology which for Anglicanism I understand, have to be decided synodically ( I am a Baptist BTW).

          I am not sure if this has answered your question adequately David. From your writings, I sense you have a very strong pastoral heart. We must always remember (as I am sure you do) that it is in the midst of people that we preach the Evangel. Individuals who are often confused, living complicated lives, fearful of death- wanting some order and meaning to their existence and bound in sin. As evangelicals we need to offer them hope and a message that is reasoned and on a firm foundation.

          • Chris

            I can understand why you think Tomlinson is post evangelical. Why do you think he is post Christian?

          • Penelope,
            I am going on what David Matthew (DM) has said about him who knows DT well right from the early days of the House church movement. DM in his book states this about DT:

            “He has expressed in my hearing his belief that the resurrection of Jesus, as classically understood, did not take place, and has stated that he has no interest in trying to convert Buddhists and Hindus to Christianity. He also says that the atheist’s ‘no god’ could well be the equivalent of ‘our God’. As for the kingdom, he writes, ‘The kingdom of heaven, for me, is a state of consciousness — a different way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that anyone may sense from time to time.’ And he does not believe in the literal return of Jesus. He has little time for doctrine, whether Bible-based or not. He calls it ‘dogma’ and uses the word in a pejorative sense. So one begins to wonder what is left. ”

            DM thinks that Tomlinson has moved from evangelicalism into a kind of eclectic universalism. This does seem to me to be be a tad at odds with the historic Christian creeds especially if he is in Anglican orders and for which I understand Anglican clergy affirm. I don’t see this as being christian in any real sense at all – more like eastern mysticism.

          • Thanks again Chris. I am not up to date on Dave Tomlinson but am aware his journey has continued to beyond traditional boundaries.
            As to a new name? Well I think evangelicalism is already heavily sub-labelled. This is of limited value if it just tribal defences. It has some value is ‘positioning’ different approaches to the debates and issues. The challenge is to remain creatively open and exploratory for the fresh challenges each generation brings.
            Thank you for affirming my pastoral heart – I aspire to nothing less. I agree pastoral ministry needs, as you say, ‘a reasoned and firm foundation’. By that I assume you mean doctrine and scripture. But pastoral theology also critiques and challenges approaches to doctrine and Scripture. In his book ‘The Word of Life’ William Challis (former vice-principal at Wycliffe) strikingly defines the task of pastoral theology as ‘being to prevent theology becoming oppressive, denying the truth of people’s experience.’

          • Chris

            Thank you. I find myself agreeing with some of Tomlinson’s beliefs and not others.

      • As people become liberal as they get older, this will typically be part and parcel with the process wherein they lose their energy and fire and idealism and ability to be countercultural where necessary. Too much theology is disguised autobiography.

          • Socially and politically yes, theologically no. Each time it’s too often disguised autobiography. There is a world beyond our own confines and it is absolutely huge.

          • Do you think there might be a reason why people become more theologically liberal as they get older Christopher? I am genuinely interested to know if you really think it’s a trait, and if it is, why it may be so.

          • I gave the answers above. They lose energy, fire, youthful idealism, and capacity to be counter cultural. They also realise how short life is and how much they still don’t know and will never know. So it is all rather autobiographical (boo). Your question frames the issue in terms of competing prepackaged and preconceived ideologies whereas the
            whole point is that anyone half scholarly will not touch any ideology with a bargepole.

          • You always fail to see that you are proposing an ideology though Christopher. The ideology that no ideology works. Plus you dont really Answer the question with either any evidence or any reference to theology.

          • Christopher

            Most of the theologically liberal people listed here are, to some extent, counter cultural. Gene Robinson didn’t wear a bullet proof vest because his views were vanilla.

            All theology is ideological. What we fail to notice is that when black, queer, gay, feminist etc. theology is marked as ideological, we fail to notice that cishet male white theology is also ideological. Because it is simply marked as the norm.

          • No – ideologies are things that people want to be true and propose or assume without stating their evidence or logic. There are plenty of theories that are grounded in evidence and/or logic, and those theories are not ideologies.

            The way that you Andrew use the word ideology one could be forgiven for thinking that every theory in the world, including the most true and evidenced ones, was an ‘ideology’!!

          • Nor did I say that no ideology works. Plenty work and plenty are true. One can light on the right answer by chance with zero application of logic or evidence. But that is sheer luck.

            In general it is highly unlikely that precisely what we want to be true will be true. We all know that.

            On countercultural, most people interact not with the culture as a whole (who could do that?) but with peer groups. It has been increasingly apparent (internet echo chambers ,’but – but – but I’ve never met anyone who did not agree with my politics) that these peer groups are frighteningly unrepresentative. But it is peer groups that Gene Robinson et al expect their affirmation from. These (elites, sometimes) are treated as being the *real* people, the people that matter. It’s an aristocratic or oligarchical system.

          • Christopher

            Who is Gene Robinson’s peer group? And to which elite does he belong?
            Does having to wear a bulletproof vest make you an oligarch?

          • If you look at elites they are often minorities. They are typically oligarchical. Oligarchs are intrinsically ‘minority’. However they treat themselves as though they are the ‘real’ people and others are somewhat more plebbish.

            If one is in a minority, it follows that most people will disagree with you. You will be stirring up resentment if you are imposing your minority way without first giving evidence. Hence the bullet proof vest, poor chap. But has he ever actually needed it? Have his opponents ever showed violence or been the sort of people who do?

            As for peer groups, everyone has them. They are one’s own sort of people who affirm one and one’s way of living and way of looking at things. Some are more self-aware and critical of them than others.

          • Christopher

            The only elite which Robinson belongs to is that of the episcopacy. True, there aren’t many bishops in the population at large.

            As for his peer group – white, ageing, gay, former bishops. Well, I won’t speculate on how large a group that is!

            Robinson received numerous death threats. Serious enough for the police to advise him to wear a bullet proof vest. Most of these death threats came from ‘Christians’.

          • But below you said you always believed people’s selfidentification as Christian. Here you follow me in sometimes putting ‘Christian’ in inverted commas. Which is it?

          • Christopher

            People who self identify as Christians usually share (some) Christian beliefs and principles.

            People who self identify as Christians, but send death threats to gay people, pro gay people or medics who perform abortions, are ‘Christians’. You cannot send death threats and follow the Lord.

          • So, Christopher, how do you identify a Christian? And why are you so sure that Holloway is not Christian?

          • I don’t: I just follow the normal usage. However, it is a word that (like other words) means something; and as with almost every other word that meaning excludes far more than it includes.

            I’m surprised you ask this question as though the issue had never been raised before. Many books touch on it. The Bible touches on it, Rom. 10.9.

          • ???

            I ‘accept’ everybody.

            If someone self-identifies as a Christian they may do so on the basis of knowledge or of ignorance. That is an undeniable fact. They may also do so honestly or mendaciously. That is a second undeniable fact.

            No-one believes that saying ‘I am an X’ confirms that you are an X. I am a duck billed platypus.

  19. David

    The doctrinal issues I mention in my July 14 post are all either/or. One view is right and the other view is wrong. This is not “rich biblical diversity”.

    What is needed is serious debate and disagreement on these doctrines, marshalling the strongest exegetical arguments and counter arguments from all sides, involving the theological academy, the Presbyters and those laypeople who wish to join in (like me), with a willingness by everybody to confront and be confronted by the strongest arguments and counter arguments. The only way to do this is on the web. The situation is that each person who claims the title ‘evangelical’ has a set of doctrinal convictions and the set differs from person to person. No point in searching for another title.

    Rather than ask what do evangelicals believe or what should they believe, let’s ask a narrower question: what should Anglicans believe about the gospel.

    I have submitted this request to Ian Paul:

    “Hi Ian,
    Please could you consider me for a slot in your Festival of Theology to make the following case:

    In my view the Christian message, the Christian Gospel, has two big and essential parts:
    1 The serious warning that because of the Fall and our personal sins we all face the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards, which will become retribution inflicted by God on the unsaved on the Day of Judgment, and we are all born with a nature inclined to evil.
    2 The wonderful good news of the invitation, exhortation and command to repent and submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, and be freely forgiven and have a new, eternal and living relationship with God

    I can’t prove it, and would be humbled and put in my place, but glad, to be proved wrong, but I surmise that this definition of the Christian message, the Christian Gospel, especially the terrible diagnosis of the human condition, is believed and proclaimed by only a minority of Anglican ministers, including Archbishops and Bishops.

    I aim in what remains of my life (I am 74) to devote considerable time, by prayer and persuasion, to help to bring about a situation by the grace and mercy of God where that definition is believed and proclaimed by all Anglican ministers.

    I would welcome the opportunity to outline at your Festival of Theology my conviction that all Anglican ministers, because of the Historic Formularies, including the Homilies, and Canons A5 and C15, have promised to so believe and proclaim, and also for me to point out, as I see it, parts of the Formularies in need of improvement.”

    If this ever happens, David, will you be agreeing with my assertion about two big essential parts and the promise you have made to so believe and proclaim?

    Phil Almond

  20. Hi Phil. ‘What is needed is serious debate and disagreement on these doctrines, marshalling the strongest exegetical arguments and counter arguments from all sides …’ Do you really mean to imply this kind of study and discussion has not been happening over the years?

  21. Hi David

    I don’t only ‘imply’ but I assert that the study and discussion has not been happening in the open and interactive way it should happen. It has happened in people writing commentaries, submitting articles to theological journals and societies, discussions in private between scholars and theologians, by significant people agreeing to differ – without the public challenge, naming names (always humbly and with courtesy) and including laypeople.

    For years I have tried to persuade leading evangelicals to write an open letter to all Bishops and Ordained persons challenging them about whether they do believe and preach the doctrines which (on any plausible use on the English language) they have promised to believe and preach when they made the Declaration of Assent. There seems to be no appetite for doing that or making any similar challenge.

    Now I have answered your question. How about you answering my question asked in the last sentence of my July 17, 2020 at 4:22 pm post.

    Phil Almond

  22. “For years I have tried to persuade leading evangelicals to write an open letter to all Bishops and Ordained persons challenging them about whether they do believe and preach the doctrines which (on any plausible use on the English language) they have promised to believe and preach when they made the Declaration of Assent“

    Phill: the fact that your campaign to persuade leading evangelicals has not borne any fruit might be an indication that it will always be fruitless.
    I have to disagree, once again, with your suggestion that those who make the Declaration of Assent don’t have any command of English. I’ve made the Declaration many times in the last 32 years. I have never once seen the meaning you ascribe to it. Your experience suggests that leading evangelicals don’t see that meaning in it either.

  23. C 15 Of the Declaration of Assent
    1(1) The Declaration of Assent to be made under this Canon shall be in the form set out below:

    The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?

    Declaration of Assent

    I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.

    It would appear that you don’t understand the meaning of ‘affirm’ ‘loyalty’ ‘inspiration’ ‘guidance’.

    Phil Almond

    • Phil: I understand those very well thank you. The key sentence is this:
      “…inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation“

      Those articles you are so keen on would not be at all written like that in this generation. Loyalty to them means understanding what they meant when they were written so that you can translate them to a very different culture. No one has ever asked me to say – and these declarations do not ask anyone to say – that they believe the articles have to be believed and proclaimed as if we lived 400 plus years ago. They are so vehemently anti Roman Catholic for one thing. They have a theological equivalence of Belief in a flat earth.

      The fact that no one wants to uphold your challenge is telling. The fact that the articles are not taught (as if they must be taken literally) at any theological college I am aware of is also significant.

      I am sorry Phil – I just do not believe what you say about the articles and I don’t know anybody else who does.

      • I would have to add that what you propose Phil is disloyalty to this inheritance of faith. And that is why I think you can’t get any leading evangelicals to support you.

  24. Andrew
    But the Preface asserts that the Church has been led by the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christian truth in the historic formularies….. You are saying that Christian truth changes.
    Phil Almond

    • No – I am saying our understanding changes. The historic formularies tell us how people understood things 400 years ago. If you really believe you have the complete truth you are like God – and the world has somehow missed it!

      • Andrew

        So what you are saying is that, to take a specific example, people 400 years ago believed (summarising Article 9) that because of original sin we are all born with a nature inclined to evil and therefore we all deserve God’s wrath and condemnation from birth onwards. However, the church in general, including you, believe that they were wrong 400 years ago and that the wrath of God and his condemnation is something else, at any rate not something that we all deserve from birth onwards. But does it not follow that this means that the Holy Spirit was mistaken 400 years ago; and, surely, you are rejecting the doctrine as untrue, not affirming your loyalty to it and how can this untrue doctrine be your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care? So how could you make the Declaration?

        I hope to follow with some evidence that I am not without support among leading evangelicals!

        Phil Almond

        • Phil: I’d have to be persuaded that 400 years ago there was greater influence from the Holy Spirit than there was from Calvin. And again, if you think Calvin has the monopoly on truth then you elevate him to be like God.
          The only thing I could ascribe infallibility to is God. The articles of religion are not up there. Nowhere does the declaration ask for specific adherence to a particular interpretation of an article that was always suspect. We give assent to them as historic formularies, which is what they most certainly are.

          • Andrew
            The language of the Preface and Declaration does not ask for assent to what the Church believed 400 years ago. The language of Article 9 is clear. There is no other interpretation than its plain meaning. And Canon A5 is about the doctrine of the Church of England NOW. Not 400 years ago.

            Phil Almond

          • Phil: the declaration affirms belief in the scriptures and the catholic creeds. It says the historic formularies bear witness to those things. They do. But it’s a partial witness.

  25. Interesting comments on Dave Tomlinson, thank you – I haven’t followed the course of his thought, but the summaries of his recent books in Amazon were certainly pointing the way to “eclectic universalism “, which I think is a pretty widespread outlook in Anglicanism and accords with anti-dogmatic benevolent liberalism. You see the same thing in ex-evangelicals like Rob Bell and Brian McLaren. I too have wondered if the intense biblicism of the Brethren, with a lack of interest in historical theology and philosophy, may lead to them repeating disputes or abandoning evangelicalism for a generic spirituality.
    Christopher’s comment about theology really being disguised autobiography may be part of the picture as well, where Bell and McLaren are concerned . Maybe a certain kind of popular evangelicalism believes more of the heavenly existence that we experience in this life is promised to us and then reacts out of disappointment. A temptation for charismatic, I think.

    • Thanks. Theology is disguised autobiography among some ideologues, but never for honest or truthful people.

      The correct all-encompassing worldview is based on one person’s personal autobiography? No.

      • “The correct all-encompassing worldview is based on one person’s personal autobiography? No.“

        Christopher: you describe yourself most accurately in this statement.
        Of course no one person’s worldview or autobiography can be ‘correct’ (whatever you mean by that, which is of course very unclear and vague). Please name one reasonable person who claims that their worldview is all encompassing and correct? You are very low on evidence and very high on generalisation. Alarm bells ring again.

        • Ex-Christian Bishop Richard Holloway believes that- he went from Anglo-Catholic to liberal catholic to atheist, following the liberal trajectory. I know many liberal Anglicans who revere Holloway. He is very certain about his beliefs ( as they morph and change). He was a great hero and trailblazer to liberal Anglicans in previous decades. Didn’t you support him once, Andrew?

          • James

            I have great admiration for Richard Holloway. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he writes. But he is a good, principled and interesting man. I would rather follow him than the egregious Robert Gagnon (whose existence at least proves that we are saved by grace and not by merit).

          • I am not persuaded that Richard Holloway is ex Christian, James, if that’s what you mean. But I’ve not met him. Like Penny, I find his writings very interesting and he comes across as a man of profound integrity and passion. I’m keen to read Waiting for the last bus.

          • No idea what it is Christopher. What I do know is that you consistently ask for evidence and specificity from other people and are very light on providing those yourself. Which suggests that you believe your own, often quite personal view of things (evidenced in your many lengthy posts) is the ‘correct’ one. You frequently suggest that if other people can’t see these obvious and self evident points that you perceive so clearly that they must be lacking.

          • That sounds more like either psyche or intellectual-autobiography than autobiography. My commitment has always stood. If you ask for evidence on a given point I will always provide the evidence which gave rise to my making that point.

  26. Ex-Christian Bishop Richard Holloway believes that- he went from Anglo-Catholic to liberal catholic to atheist, following the liberal trajectory. I know many liberal Anglicans who revere Holloway. He is very certain about his beliefs ( as they morph and change). He was a great hero and trailblazer to liberal Anglicans in previous decades. Didn’t you support him once, Andrew?

  27. Is it respectful to refer any Bishop by their second name alone? Did St Paul earn a slap for a similar error of judgement? Possibly.
    A thoughtful piece, spoilt by the fist fight in the car park afterwards.

  28. If anyone is “not persuaded that Richard Holloway is ex-Christian”, he plainly hasn’t been paying attention or reading Holloway’s own words which are quite explicit: he has renounced theism and he has said so for over ten years. I am amazed that there are people who know of his work and who read him who don’t know this or even deny this. Holloway is a particularly clear example of where liberalism (as the controlling principle) in theology leads you: to atheism and its waiting room, agnosticism. I know this is uncomfortable for some, especially since Holloway is a revered pioneer for Anglican liberals, but you need to courage in both hands and follow Bishop Richard out of Christianity into the wide open space of – well, whatever. Tomlinson, Rob Bell and (probably) Brian McLaren are in a slightly different place at present, but the trail has already been blazed (forgive the pun) by Feuerbach.
    John Henry Newman was very prescient in his “Biglietto” speech on the English and religion.

  29. I am amazed that there are people who can be so clear in their judgement of so many other people without having ever met them.

    • I m amazed that there are people who can’t even look up an interview with Scottish newspapers in 2009 – or read a man’s own crystal-clear words and understand them. In a river in Egypt?

    • Um…what is the problem with this testament James? Are you suggesting that Holloway isn’t ‘saved’ because he has honest doubts?

      • Why aren’t people allowed to self identify as not being Christian? It reminds one of Karl Rahner’s ‘anonymous Christians’. There may well be people who are Christians without knowing it (notably those who would respond with love, deference and awe if they ever met Jesus), but I very much doubt that they include people who reject that designation and don’t want to be Christian. I am puzzled by Penny’s position.

        • It isn’t clear that Richard Holloway self identifies as not being Christian. It only seems to be clear to those who judge him not to be one according to their own interpretation.

          • Yes, but why ought our view of him be pushed the Christian side of agnostic rather than the nonChristian side of agnostic? That seems arbitrary, doesn’t it? Precisely how arbitrary it is can be seen from the fact that assuming ‘Christian’ is no more evidenced than assuming ‘nonChristian’. And why should one be taken to be more charitable than the other? And does the truth always lie on the side of charity anyway? I haven’t noticed that it did.

            ‘Christian’ means something in particular, like anything else. If it can mean anything then it means nothing. If we take his self-description that no more leads us to say that he is a Christian than that he is not.

            Taking things a bit further, most people will be ‘not’ most things. ‘Not Christian’ seems more accurate given that the broader the term ‘Christian’ is, the less it can even be used; nor do Bible nor formularies at all suggest that the term is one of broad definition. The vast majority of adjectives mean something very specific. *Wanting* ‘Christian’ to be different in this way counts for nothing.

          • Christopher: I think our view of Richard Holloway tends towards the Christian side for at least two reasons.
            1. He has been ordained for many years and has not, to my knowledge, renounced his orders as either a bishop, priest or deacon.

            2. In his own words he says: “I choose to be identified with generous-hearted, compassionate Christianity because I think that it has beauty, because I love community, because I like to be challenged by the best of it. But reality is so mysterious, isn’t it? I don’t think there’s any neatness here. There is a human need to tidy things up, and the neaten-uppers are the ones who tend to turn into monsters, who want to herd us all into great regiments that march in step. No, I’m all for eccentric untidiness. And kindness.”

            I don’t see anything in that is specifically *not* Christian. And I agree that the human need to tidy things up does not apply to something so mysterious. Hence the thief on the cross goes to paradise. The woman caught in adultery isn’t stoned. And many other biblical Christ centred events.

          • Is he saying that *everything* in the world is eccentrically untidy rather than being on a spectrum from tidy to untidy.

            This doesn’t sound too well thought out.

            On the other hand it is a well known cliche, which raises one’s suspicions.

            Also he has a second cliche in being in favour of kindness. Please introduce me to someone who is not in favour of kindness. And thereby show me the reason why anyone would feel the need to say they were in favour of it. Does he also like animals and happiness?

            Being in favour of kindness is irrelevant to the study of which worldview is true.

          • By and large interviews in newspapers and journals tend to be edited sound bites don’t they? And journalists are not always in favour of truth but of what sells their newspaper. So I could see no reason to judge whether something is well thought out based on a few lines.

            Have you actually read any of his books Christopher? If not I highly recommend Crossfire or Anger Sex Doubt and Death.

            Being in favour of kindness was not said in reference to any ‘worldview’ (Which we have seen before is a very general term anyway) but in reference to people and their judgmental attitude concerning faith.

          • Why ‘actually’? I have dipped into several but read only Leaving Alexandria. I don’t tend to read books that don’t read the Bible in a grounded historical way, since by the law of averages one will know more than the author 50% of the time.

          • All words need unpacking. There is a Chicago institute for the study of worldviews. Are you going to demand they close?

          • Why not ‘actually’? It fits in this context in common usage.

            Richard Holloway is not a biblical scholar or writing from the perspective of one, and there are other ways to read the bible than a ‘grounded historical’ way. The writings tend more towards philosophical theology.

          • No. I am in favour of kindness. Did you actually think some people weren’t? Should we call a press conference to say so?

            That is a correct use of ‘actually’: it picks up on something that seemed clearly implied. Whereas my having read or not read books by this particular Holloway (he shares the stage with Edward, David and others) was not implied in any way.

            Also there is only one way to read the Bible – holistically and comprehensively: many coexisting angles. Your idea that philosophical-theology and history are somehow alternatives is an obvious error. A deficit in history does produce faulty readings though.

          • Oh well some people have clearly behaved as if they were not in favour of kindness. Various of the Herods. Hitler. I’m sure you could name some yourself. But you said it was such a cliche and didn’t need saying, so I wondered if you really thought a kindness institute needed to exist.

            I’ve no idea if a ‘worldview’ institute needs to exist. I have no idea what it does or doesn’t do.

            I think you are well aware which particular Holloway it is. The full name ‘Richard Holloway’ has been used, so that is not in doubt. What was your point about that?

            You implied you had read his works because you seemed to speak with a little knowledge of them. Therefore I wished to ascertain if you had actually read them. So, as you agree, it was a correct use of the term.

            There are many ways to read the bible. Liturgically. Dramatically. Personally and silently. Meditatively. Critically (in the proper sense of that word). I am not claiming they are in opposition. I am claiming they bring different things to bear – different emphases. Not all are able to read critically. It demands understanding of source or form criticism, for example. Are you suggesting that those who don’t have the full panoply of understanding should not read it?

          • Yes, it’s undoubted that these bring different things to bear. It is always better when they do not exist in isolation. Also there are certain dimensions whose absence typically leads to error, e.g. understanding of the meaning of terms, historical background.

            You mean you meant ‘Have you actually read them or are you just bluffing (lying)?’. The question would be insulting and the answer is obvious.

            A worldview institute? Nothing is more needed. Any correct overall theory will have ramifications in *every* direction. Physicists are therefore (as is logical) very keen to find it. As are all lovers of truth. Failing that, we still need to be able to approach it incrementally whether by giant steps or pygmy steps.

          • The answer was not at all obvious, hence my question as to whether you had actually read anything of his. ‘Dipped into’ is not quite the same as reading is it?

            Do send me a link to the website of the Chicago institute for the study of worldviews. I’d be interested to see. I’ve searched online and can’t actually see any such thing, but maybe looking in the wrong place.

          • ‘Dipped into is not the same as reading, is it?’

            First, ‘Is it?’ is patronising. Second, what I said was something different: that I had read one long one and dipped into others.

            The Chicago reference I got off Tom Wright 30 years ago so maybe the institution is no longer there. I think he refers to it in (presumably) The New Testament and the People of God; maybe search index under ‘worldviews’. Anyway no progress could possibly made if one refused to study them (and plenty of institutions and people already do), for that would be an abrogation of joined up thinking (which ought to be a characteristic of all thinking).

          • What is for sure is that it at least used to exist. Secondly, what is also for sure is that all philosophy departments in all universities are more or less worldviews departments.

            You regard it as likely that worldviews are never a study priority anywhere in the world. Not only do we live in a big world where all kinds of things are studied, but nothing can be studied at all without some moorings in a worldview, hence the importance of getting a maximally accurate worldview.

          • Oh I regard the study of philosophy and theology as very important. I simply want to remind you that you have previously said that ‘view’ is one of the most useless terms in the English Dictionary. Whereas ‘worldview’ is a word you think needs a university institute, as it’s such an important concept.
            Both are terms that have their uses and of course their basis in relativism.

          • But any such institute would be for the study of worldviews not for the study of the concept ‘worldview’.

            ‘View’ as currently used is indeed useless (and its prevalence as a concept is a major reason for unclear thought) because it covers the whole range from preference to research conclusion. Which are then treated as though they were equally good. As if.

            People are not, however, generally said to have worldviews (as opposed to views) unless they are thoughtful and intelligent.

            It matters not a bit whether another phrase or word (such as philosophy, system of thought) be substituted for ‘worldview’.

        • Christopher

          I am sorry you are puzzled. I don’t think people who are agnostic or atheist have any problem in identifying as such. We don’t have test acts any longer.

          My point was that some Christians make of faith – or the assent to a ‘correct’ set of doctrines – a test case for identifying an authentic Christian. This makes of faith, or correct beliefs, into works which achieve salvation. Little room is left for the grace of God who saves whom She chooses.

          Some people have decided that Richard Holloway and Dave Tomlinson have rejected the Lord. Do they have the mind of God?

          • To decide one can (a) go by the person’s self-description, or alternatively (b) assess. Things are made easier if a and b agree.

            One would just as much need to have the mind of God to know that someone *was* a Christian as that they were *not*. This point invalidates your answer. So (secondly) does the idea that one must always err (illogically) on the side of people being a Christian. Do we err on the side of people being anything else? Truthful? Reliable?

            A further and more important point. It is not good parenting to just think ‘Oh, X will be fine, we will hope and trust for the best’. That is a dereliction of reality and probability, but most importantly of care. Our present context is not parenting but it overlaps in the sense that it is another instance of care for the soul of another. Those who grew up when tolerance was proclaimed as the greatest virtue generally do not care enough. We are talking realities, one-chance lifetimes, life and death. That is both the NT attitude and the realistic attitude, the one that reflects reality. It has generally previously been taken for granted that the priest’s role is cure of souls, which is not laissez faire or que sera sera – the reverse.

          • Christopher

            No. If someone says that are a Christian- an evangelical or a catholic; a Muslim; an agnostic; a Buddhist; a pagan; I tend to believe them. People don’t normally lie about their faith, or lack of it.
            Like I said, we don’t have Test Acts any longer and I have no wish to make windows into mens’ [sic] souls.

          • To cite your own personal normal practice does not refute a point. It’s not about making windows into people’s souls but about the infinitely more important thing of caring for people’s souls.

          • I can care for people and still not wish to make windows into their souls. Indeed, I would not be so presumptuous with Holloway. It is between him and God. Sometimes reticence is best.

          • Socially and conventionally, not ‘best’ but at least ‘least hassle’. History’s movers and shakers are not known for passively abiding by social conventions.

          • “History’s movers and shakers are not known for passively abiding by social conventions.“

            Totally agree. Who would we put in the list?
            The Beatles
            The Rolling Stones
            Bishop Barbara Harris
            Gene Robinson
            Richard Holloway

          • Christopher

            I didn’t mention reticence in beliefs. I can fight for my beliefs. I try not to fight people because I think they may not be ‘saved’.
            Fortunately, Robinson didn’t abide by social convention.

            Great list, Andrew, apart from The Beatles!

          • Andrew’s list is extraordinary, but I suppose I did say ‘history’s movers and shakers’. The list makes no distinction between those whom we honour for nobly changing history and those who did in fact change history without any nobility in sight.

            Talking of nobility, Penelope’s pledge not to fight people because she thinks they may not be saved sounds a noble one. This is in contradictinction to the militias now setting out to do just that in holy war from several denominations?

            It reminds me of my schoolfriend who initially thought the Salvation Army were all about shooting those who were not Christians.

          • Christopher

            I agree. Not much nobility from The Beatles. But surely all the others have nobility in sight?

          • Yes. I look at the Rolling Stones and think that the word ‘nobility’ could have been made for them. Who would break these innocent fragile butterflies on a wheel?

  30. It’s a good example James. Nowhere does Richard Holloway say he isn’t a Christian. What he says is:
    “I choose to be identified with generous-hearted, compassionate Christianity because I think that it has beauty, because I love community, because I like to be challenged by the best of it. But reality is so mysterious, isn’t it? I don’t think there’s any neatness here. There is a human need to tidy things up, and the neaten-uppers are the ones who tend to turn into monsters, who want to herd us all into great regiments that march in step. No, I’m all for eccentric untidiness. And kindness.”
    Sounds quite Christ like to me. The rest is journalism, and having had a reasonable amount of experience in that field pre-ordination, it’s easily spotted.

    • You clearly didn’t read his own words in the previous line where he said he didn’t believe in the doctrines of Christianity any more.
      Enough of the word games, Andrew. Richard Holloway has rejected the Lord Jesus Christ for his own beliefs. Don’t follow him in unbelief. What will it profit a man to gain the approval of the chattering classes and to lose his soul?
      I mean this sincerely as a minister of the Church of England.

      • No. What he says is:
        “I’m still a religious person. I still get much out of going to church, I just don’t do it in a doctrinal way. Hypocrisy used to be going to church and not practising it. But a lot of people think I’m a hypocrite for saying that I don’t believe it and still going to church.”
        He is not saying he doesn’t believe it. Other people, like you, are saying that.

        Please don’t judge or act like God. You aren’t, whoever you are.

  31. Christopher

    No. If someone says that are a Christian- an evangelical or a catholic; a Muslim; an agnostic; a Buddhist; a pagan; I tend to believe them. People don’t normally lie about their faith, or lack of it.
    Like I said, we don’t have Test Acts any longer and I have no wish to make windows into mens’ [sic] souls.

    • If someone came in my shop and said ‘I am an honest man’ would I believe them?

      There are always lots of options. They are telling the truth about where they stand (existentially or organically). They are protesting too much. They are giving the least-hassle account of themselves in particular company. They are proclaiming themselves accurately as born into a cultural Christian family/culture. They are telling an untruth. From Christ of all people we learn that it’s not what we say about ourselves that matters, for that is precisely the situation where we will be most biased.

      • “From Christ of all people we learn that it’s not what we say about ourselves that matters, for that is precisely the situation where we will be most biased.”

        Perhaps this explains why Richard Holloway is reluctant to give himself a label?

        From Christ of all people we also learn not to judge others.

        • There’s nothing humble about giving oneself no label. Saying whose child you are is a label. Saying where you work is a label.

          If ‘Christian’ is to be viewed as a positive label then that assumes a Christian is a good thing to be. Which is precisely the point under dispute between those who do self-identify as Christians and those who don’t.

          • Well I’m sure Richard Holloway identifies as Christian. If not, why would he say “I choose to be identified with generous-hearted, compassionate Christianity”. His assessment of why he chooses that seems to be overwhelmingly positive. Unless you are aware of *evidence* to the contrary, as opposed to your own judgement of the man.

          • The evidence of his own words is important. They seem quite nuanced. There is always a way-of-life dimension and a belief dimension, and I can see the first but not the second. In real life neither can be dispensed with.

          • The Pharisees never suspected Jesus of regarding doctrine as unimportant; they just saw him as disagreeing with them on doctrine.

          • I am sure they did actually Christopher. They thought that he sat very light to it.
            What Jesus said is that God can see what’s in a persons heart and God alone and therefore God was the judge.

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