Blog Menu

Sex and the Church

p02n7tt5Last Friday I very reluctantly tuned in to watch Oxford church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch talk about Sex and the Church. I was reluctant for several reasons. First, don’t we talk about this enough already—aren’t there more important things to focus on at the moment? (Tonight’s ‘Kill the Christians’, for example, highlighting how the US/UK invasion of Iraq has led directly to the elimination of Christian communities in the region). For another, I was pretty clear what MacCulloch’s agenda was going to be:

I think religion has got everything appallingly wrong and it has been terrible for us in sexual terms.

Sure enough, MacCulloch was evidently very cross at what has happened about attitudes to sex in the West, and he is pretty clear that it is all the fault of Christianity.

But I stayed with it for a number of reasons. It was beautifully shot, it was informative (in a popular rather than scholarly way), and MacCulloch certainly has an engaging way of presenting things. But more than that, it was intriguing to see the way MacCulloch wove his argument back and forth, integrating a curious number of contradictions without batting an eyelid on his way to proving his thesis: that the West’s obsession with sex comes from Christianity. In fact, the first contradiction arose in relation to the thesis itself, from which he immediately stated the the Church’s current obsession is irrelevant. But if the West is obsessed with sex, and if it is the Church’s fault, should not the Church be reflecting on this, and wouldn’t this reflection have some relevance?


My next question, which was tacitly but not explicitly answered, related to the meaning of MacCulloch’s thesis: if it is Christianity’s fault, then which Christianity? I don’t mean here the question of differing theological traditions, but the relation between the practices through history of those who have called themselves ‘Christian’, including the institution of the church, and the original teaching found in the New Testament. As MacCulloch made clear at several points, for better or worse, Christian attitudes to sex owe very little to the Bible. The early (how early?) Christians ‘turned sex from pleasure into a sin’, he claimed, curiously supposing that sex in first century culture was unproblematic and generally enjoyable. This was in marked contrast to the person of Jesus, who said little about sex (other than siding with one side of the Jewish debate on how strict divorce law should be) but rather a lot about forgiveness.

This was set in the context of Jewish concerns about sex, which was important as the means of procreation, the main object of Jewish marriage, in which ‘women were there to serve men, one way or another’. I think MacCulloch managed to avoid sounding anti-semitic, but it was a shame that there was no mention of the contrast between Jewish attitudes to gender roles, marriage and sex compared with other cultures in the ancient Near East. Curious, too, how MacCulloch deployed the language of ‘straight and gay’ without hinting at the historical anachronism of such terms.


woman_9Against this backdrop, Jesus comes out very well. Refreshingly, MacCulloch allows that Jesus ‘went his own way’ against dominant attitudes both in Jewish and Greek culture. His insistance on monogamy went against Jewish practice; his attitude to women was ‘revolutionary’; he said nothing about homosexuality, and little about celibacy (except of course that he was celibate himself, which would have been highly unusual). ‘Jesus was not at all representative of what was to become a sexually repressive religion.’ So what was the origin of the problem? All eyes turn to the villain of the piece—St Paul!

Yet MacCulloch gave him a mixed press, bordering on positive. On the one hand, Paul appeared to have a negative view about marriage, since ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman’ (1 Cor 7.1), and at times wanted women to remain silent. And yet the same Paul seemed to have a radically egalitarian view of sexual relations in marriage (1 Cor 7.4), and counted women like Junia amongst the company of the apostles (Romans 16.7). What a puzzle this Paul is! It was a shame that MacCulloch here did not consult some better commentaries; it is now universally thought that Paul is quoting the Corinthians’ own view in 1 Cor 7.1, and if our reading of Paul includes contradictions within a few verses, might the problem not lie with our reading rather than Paul’s writing? The idea that Paul wrote his letters thinking that Jesus was going to return any second, and so did not really consider the consequences of his teaching, is rather discredited.


So, if Paul was not the cause of the problem, who was? MacCulloch plausibly suggests two sources at two different points. The first was a cluster of ideas from Greek philosophy: a notion of austerity and asceticism which had a lasting impact on Christianity; Plato’s radical division between body and soul, in which only the world of the soul mattered, a division which became ‘a basic instinct in Christianity’; and the outlook of Aristotle, for whom ‘masturbation was murder’ since future humans are encapsulated in male semen. It was all this, MacCulloch declaimed, which made the ‘early’ Christians ignore Paul’s more healthy outlook.

640px-Codex_Tchacos_p33The second bad influence was the rise of the monastic movement, with its disproportionate emphasis on celibacy in communal life. And where had this come from? Buddhist and Hindu monks in the far east. This led to the valorising of the celibate life for men and women, and infected attitudes to sex in the growing Christian movement. The remainder of the programme traced the impact of this through the growing power of Christianity after the Constantinian settlement, the development of Mary as a perpetual virgin (already present in the non-canonical Gospel of James, right), and the thoroughly bad behaviour of Jerome. (My favourite closing comment related to the seventh century, when all the regulations that grew up meant that there were only 100 days a year on which you could have sex. I don’t want to run the danger of inappropriate personal disclosure—but how many married couples have sex on more days than that?!)


All this turned sex from something about which Jesus had very little to say into an obsession. And who is to blame? Well, contrary to MacCulloch’s opening statement, the answer is not ‘Christianity’—at least, not in the sense of the teachings of Jesus and Paul and the rest of the New Testament (which is quite clear that Mary did not remain a virgin). If we take MacCulloch’s historical argument seriously, then the problems lay with ideas from Greek philosophy and Buddhist and Hindu teaching, and these actually distorted early Christian teaching. To be sure, Christianity as a social movement become the vehicle for these distortions being transmitted across the known world.  But all this suggests an obvious response: to reform the social practices of Christianity, and the impact that a ‘repressive sexual morality’ has had, by getting back to the teaching of Jesus and Paul.

Why doesn’t MacCulloch suggest that as an option? Because, despite all that he says in the programme, he thinks that the Bible itself is wrong, and he feels angry about it.


Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

, , , , ,

76 Responses to Sex and the Church

  1. Father Ron Smith April 16, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    “Well, contrary to MacCulloch’s opening statement, the answer is not ‘Christianity’—at least, not in the sense of the teachings of Jesus and Paul and the rest of the New Testament (which is quite clear that Mary did not remain a virgin)” – Ian Paul –

    And what scriptural proof, Mr. Paul, do you have of this outstanding statement – which quite goes against the Christian Tradition?

    Diarmaid MacCullioch is a very highly respected Christian historian, with perhaps a little more knowledge of the situation he talks about than your good self, so I guess we can take your assessment of his talks with the necessary pinch of salt.

    • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

      Dear Ron, thanks for the question. I think there several things to note.

      First, MacCulloch is an academic, and has put something out there in the public sphere. The usual and expected response would be for qualified peers (like myself) to review and critique it, and I am sure that MacCulloch would expect that. As published NT academic, I am simply contributing to that process.

      Second, as Clive points out below, the NT talks without any remark about Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and there is no evidence whatever that these were ‘step’ brothers and sisters. In fact, the whole logic of Matt 12.48-50 makes no sense.

      Thirdly, I am in fact simply repeating what MacCulloch himself says. At that part of the programme, he was fairly emphatic that the Gospel of James was being fantastical and unreal.

      Does that help to lighten the salt load?

  2. Clive April 16, 2015 at 11:22 am #

    Dear Father Ron Smith,
    Jesus at the very least has a number of brothers in the Bible (Mark 3:31 etc) and not one them ever claimed to be divine, even James didn’t.
    I do hope that Diarmaid was in that biology lesson to understand what it means that Jesus had human brothers.

  3. Pete April 16, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Ian, I thought this was pretty interesting (coming at it from a different perspective from the bloke you are talking about): http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/sex-after-christianity/

    • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

      Thanks Pete. Really fascinating. Two paragraphs in particular, for very different reasons:

      In a dinner conversation not long after the publication of American Grace, Putnam told me that Christian churches would have to liberalize on sexual teaching if they hoped to retain the loyalty of younger generations. This seems at first like a reasonable conclusion, but the experience of America’s liberal denominations belies that prescription. Mainline Protestant churches, which have been far more accepting of homosexuality and sexual liberation in general, have continued their stark membership decline.

      It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether.

      and

      In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

      It would be wonderful to recapture that…

      • clytamnestra May 14, 2015 at 12:01 am #

        …It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether….

        I agree with that observation.
        In that same vein i see the church doubling down on ‘sex as sin’ less as ‘these idiots driving away all their followers’ and more as ‘trying to hold onto the few fanatics’. Which unfortunately drove the whole thing into a bit of a negative spiral (making liberal christians think there was no place for them), and means the problem is more complex than merely the ‘irrational fear of modernity’ that so many people are eager to ascribe to religion.

  4. Gill Kimber April 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    Yes, MacCulloch does have a bee in his bonnet, and despite his impeccable credentials as a historian he is no theologian.

    As for Mary remaining ‘ever virgin’ – I once got into a very sticky discussion with an Orthodox NT prof in Romania who maintains strongly that ‘brothers’ is simply a generic term for ‘cousins’ or other extended family members. And both Catholics and Orthodox seem to think that Jesus was born ‘magically’ – suddenly appearing without any labour. Very strange and contradictory of our humanity.

    • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

      Worse than strange: actually docetic, and a heresy to boot.

  5. Jas April 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    MacCulloch’s description of Judaism was very misleading: Yes, Judaism’s Scripture stresses the importance of “go forth and multiply” but he said there was no thought of “adultery” and “celibacy” when there very much was in the first century…

    ADULTERY / MONOGAMY
    John the Baptist was very popular among Jews when he protested to Herod Antipas about his “adultery”.
    The Hillel/Shammai debate on divorce shows concern about adultery’s definition.
    “Adultery” was understood as connection with “another” who took the spouse’s place in a monogomous relationship – Jews took this definition from prophets Hosea and Malachi 1 – the parallel “monogamy” of their relationship to God. So there is no way Jesus introduced or even promoted monogamy to a Judaism that thought polygamy was still acceptable!

    CELIBACY: Josephus tells us of Essenes who did not marry – choosing celibacy. They were admired becuase of their pious choices. The Dead Sea Scrolls support the New Testament and Josephus in showing that the pious lifestyle was extremely important to first century Jews. The Greek influence which MacCulloch identifies is one which had influenced Judaism for centuries before Jesus’ influence.

    Now why would MacCulloch be inclined to avoid these facts and end up with Jesus being the one who simply promotes Monogamy and is too Jewish to be the one who really spoke about Celibacy? [Matt 19:10-11]

    I think, Ian, that MacCulloch would be quite happy for you to accept the “obvious response”: He wants to have a Jesus who is pro-sex, even pro-marriage. He wants everything else to be later presumption by the church. And we should then get back to the ‘real’ Jesus whom he has defined for us. Everything else becomes the church’s misuse and abuse of pure Jesus teaching…

    We’ll see this playing out as the series continues no doubt. But we’ve already had a taste. Did you observe how he ridiculed those who say marriage was defined by Jesus? His argument was that they didn’t even HAVE a wedding ceremony in those days! So the definitions our country trashed last year aren’t anything to do with Jesus – it’s the later church who’s to blame!

    So yes, I think that we can see where this programme’s going – but I think that he’s just laying down the path at the moment – that will lead as many as he can to walk the Way of MacCulloch’s ‘Jesus’.

    • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

      Thanks Jas, that’s really helpful. But why object to going back to what Jesus said? There are many Christians and churches who don’t feel the need to be involved in celebrating weddings.

      I don’t have very much quibble with the process of recounting the history, and on the later history MacCulloch is clearly an expert. I do have a quibble with some of the historical inaccuracies, as you do. But my biggest question is why he does not follow his own logic through.

      If Jesus and Paul were as MacCulloch says, we should get back to them. It is just that there are *some* things they say that he does not like.

      • Jas April 16, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

        Ian,

        I have no problem, in principle, with if or how weddings are celebrated 🙂
        My concern about going back to what Jesus says is nothing to do with weddings or with the the principle of seeking to know what he taught in context – It’s a concern about what it often presumes and what it leads to these days:-
        1) It often presumes that the Church has been nothing be a corruption of the Word – so we must remove all the Church has done beyond the first apostles – or Jesus himself even. When did the Holy Spirit start to find it impossible to lead the Church into truth? “Tradition” is certainly not always ‘true’ but I think it is far too often dismissed far too easily – and that leaves us with…
        2) When we go back to Jesus and ignore all interpretations ever since, we depend on scholars arguing whose context is most accurate. And when they can’t agree, we can’t say what is true anymore because we don’t believe the Scholar is the one who claims God’s truth.

        So yes – OK to go back to what Jesus says but not to dismiss tradition or to accept a “scholars findings” as being the certain “truth”.

        • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

          I would agree with you that tradition can be too often dismissed. But it can also be too often adhered to, as Ron demonstrates above.

          I think the Spirit leads us into all truth by reforming the church in the light of Scripture. If you don’t think something went seriously wrong in the first four centuries on the question of women, sex, and church order, then you must think God is seriously unpredictable or has a split personality, since teaching in this period on certain things quickly moved away from Scripture. I am not sure any serious theologian would dispute that…though people give it different statuses.

          I don’t think the only alternative is the kind of ‘priesthood of the commentator’ that you suggest. Tradition is an important element of the interpretive task, since it gives insights into how people read the texts. But some tradition arises separate from the texts, and not as an interpretation of it—Mary’s virginity being a good example.

          • Jas April 17, 2015 at 4:48 am #

            Yes. The perpetual virginity of Mary certainly moves beyond Scripture – in a similar way to infant baptism and some Trinitarian teachings. I’m not gonna go there! 🙂

            That the Church in the following centuries ‘moved away from Scripture’ (as you put it) is a better argument to make than that they ‘rejected Scripture’ (as is all too often presumed and used as a convenient yet unreasoned case against the Chuch of the time). It’s more often a wrong emphasis on one truth that loses sight of another, so there is ‘some’ truth to be found in the way the Church went. e.g.celibacy is one way of living a holy life.

            Yes, there are, as you say, ‘other alternatives’ re: seeking a ‘true’ interpretation, but my aim here is to point out where I see MacCulloch going with this… And I’m seeing a few familiar faces at the end of this Tradition-dismissing ‘This is what Jesus was REALLY like’ path. Their Jesus is one that didn’t mention same-sex marriage, but would clearly have been cool with it – he hung around society’s margins with the prostitutes! And he avidly promoted monogamy. In fact, being such a supporter of monogamous relationships among the Jews, Jesus would certainly be one to fully endorse same-sex marriages in our present day – despite what the ever-wrong Church says!

          • Clive April 17, 2015 at 8:21 am #

            Dear Jas,
            Given that every time Jesus mentions marriage its purpose is procreation and it is between one woman and one man, it is really not possible to see Jesus as being in agreement with same-sex marriage (whose purpose is NOT procreation).

            Regardless of sexuality marriage is actually really hard and the real question about pastoral care is how you pastor a couple thinking of marriage on the subject of CHRISTIAN marriage.

            The hypocrisy of Parliament was clear when they praised Sir Richard Attenborough’s marriage on his death and simultaneously discussed redefining marriage.

            Given that the law still defines whom you can’t marry (e.g. a brother can’t marry a sister) and its only purpose is due to the risks of procreation it follows that procreation is still included in marriage. Indeed even if one party is infertile a brother still can’t marry a sister, so the question of fertility is nothing to do with marriage. Given that the government is using taxpayers’ money to persecute anyone who believes in procreation and the family it is very difficult to understand the hatred being shown to married couples by Politicians.

    • Clive April 16, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

      You note that MacCulloch claims there wasn’t a marriage service, so does he know of Jesus’ first miracle in John’s gospel at the WEDDING feast at Cana.

      When St Paul wrote he would have been writing knowing all about wedding services such as the one at Cana. So Jesus’ comments about marriage are made in that context and St Paul’s comments are also made in that context.

  6. Andrew Godsall April 16, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    “Why doesn’t MacCulloch suggest that as an option? Because, despite all that he says in the programme, he thinks that the Bible itself is wrong, and he feels angry about it.”

    This sentence presents us with your major problem Ian. The bible isn’t that kind of book. How can you describe a letter (of St Paul, for example) as being right or wrong? A letter isn’t right or wrong. It’s simply an opinion. An opinion that has informed a tradition I grant you, but that doesn’t mean tradition can’t be changed; we changed lots of traditions.

    • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      If something has been included in the canon of Scripture, it is no longer simply an opinion, that’s why. And all Anglican clergy sign up to the faith which was ‘uniquely revealed’ in these writings. Moreover, we affirm our ‘loyalty’ to this inheritance of faith as not only our inspiration but our guidance.

    • Brian April 18, 2015 at 9:24 pm #

      “How can you describe a letter (of St Paul, for example) as being right or wrong? A letter isn’t right or wrong. It’s simply an opinion.”
      That’s a ridiculous comment and totally contrary to the teaching of the Church of England and the Church Catholic. “Opinions” in a latter can be right or wrong, just as Gospel statements can be false or true.
      As for “opinions”, the Church knows what an apostle is and how he is guided by the Holy Spirit.

  7. Andrew Godsall April 16, 2015 at 7:54 pm #

    Ian what you say does not negate my point I’m afraid. We very obviously ascribe different status to different parts of the scriptures and have different interpretations of key passages when it comes to ministry – the ministry of women being a very obvious one. Of course the faith is uniquely revealed in, and of course we are loyal to, scripture. But nowhere do we say scripture is infallible. And we clearly admit that it is open to interpretation.
    Being in the canon of scripture does not guarantee the opinion. It simply tells us that those who fixed the canon happened to favour the opinion, rather like conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics ( amongst others) favour the opinion that women should not be ordained.

    You just can’t deny that tradition has changed and developed. You, like all of us, are just a bit choosy about which traditions you like more than others.

    • Ian Paul April 16, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

      I think you are confusing two related categories—interpretation and authority. We might disagree on what a Scripture means, but that is different from disregarding what Scripture means.

      If I am being choosy about which teaching of Scripture I follow, do please let me know (and of course I don’t mean picking proof texts out of context at random). My commitment is to fashion my life in accordance with the teaching of Scripture, interpreted responsibly.

      To say ‘Paul was simply wrong on point x’ is not an option in that—and I think that is what the Declaration of Assent commits us to. I trust anyone involved in training ordinands teaches this clearly.

      • James Byron April 17, 2015 at 7:33 am #

        As regards scriptural authority, we’re back to the question of what Anglicanism should be: a broad church, or a confessional church, that confession presumably being the Jerusalem Declaration or somesuch.

        It’s a question that won’t be solved by parsing the canons, not least since many evangelical clergy have played fast-and-loose with them when it comes to ecclesiology, obedience, robes, funding, etc.

        • Peter den Haan April 17, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

          If “broad church” means relativising the authority of scripture to the level of some dead dudes’ opinions which may or may not be true, which seems to be what you’re doing, then this “broad church” Anglicanism is historically a very recent development. Someone like, say, Hooker Can we take Hooker as the classic formulation of the Anglican approach? He was quite explicit indeed that the authority of scripture trumps that of tradition and reason. As was Cranmer, as are the Articles.

          It also follows that the choice you present between “broad church” and “confessional church” is a false dichotomy. These are not the only choices. The current confessional trend within the Anglican Communion always struck me as (among other things) a response to the hollowing out of classical Anglicanism (today’s “broad church”, I suppose). Ordinands and bishops vow to their faith as revealed in the scriptures, and the witness of the formularies, whilst actually believing merely a heavily redacted pick’n’mix selection of it all. Is it then surprising that some want to nail things down beyond the ability of even the most determined postmodern to reinterpret?

          I agree that parsing the canons is beside the point here. We’re talking about something much more fundamental than that: the DNA of the church and, I would say, the Christian faith.

          • James Byron April 19, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

            Yes, Peter, theological liberalism is recent (relatively, it began in the 19th century), which has no bearing on its merits.

            Appropriately enough, MacCulloch helped explode the Anglican foundation myth of a uniquely broad church in his 1991 article “The Myth of the English Reformation.” Anglicanism has been in faux throughout its life, and will remain so.

  8. Clive April 16, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    Dear Andrew,
    Although our understanding of Scripture has expanded or altered we have never before simply dismissed it because we don’t like it, yet that is the danger now.

    • Andrew Godsall April 16, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

      Ian – I think I’ve been ordained rather longer than you, I’ve been a DDO, a bishops Chaplain involved directly in ordinations and not once in 29 years that I can recall has anyone talked in those terms about the Declaration of Assent actually. Paul was clearly wrong in expecting the imminent return of Christ and therefore advising people not to marry.

      And I’m not disregarding what scripture means. That’s where you are getting confused. I’m clear that scripture meant certain things to the writers because of their particular understanding and context. Our understanding and context is different, as is our culture. We don’t only have to translate the words. We have to translate their understanding of things.

      And you obviously are being choosy about scriptures that con evos find authoritative concerning the ordination of women. You disregard their reading of it.

      • David Shepherd April 16, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

        Andrew,

        Oh, the irony of invoking your clerically superior ordination experience during an era of unparalleled church decline.

        Yet, in the next breath, you’ve the acuity of insight to pinpoint exactly where you think the apostolic guidance of St.Paul went awry.

        This is St.Paul, who declared: ‘Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.’ whom you say (without a whit of context or qualification) ‘was advising people not to marry’ .

        This is the same apostle, I might add, who warned of future ascetic heresy by saying: ‘They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.’ (1 Tim. 4:3 – 5)

        Yet, you claim that con evos have yet to recognise the understanding and context of those who wrote scripture. Just a bit rich, I’d say.

        You also claim: ‘I’m clear that scripture meant certain things to the writers because of their particular understanding and context.’ The mistake with that approach is that divine revelation is not necessarily restricted to the context of its human mouthpiece..

        As St.Peter explained of the OT prophets: ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.’ (1 Pet. 1:10 – 12)

        Nicodemus also comes to mind: ‘Art thou a master in Israel…’

  9. Andrew Godsall April 17, 2015 at 6:50 am #

    Ah David I’m not claiming any superior experience at all and you skilfully ignore the argument. I’m simply responding to Ian who says of the Declaration of Assent that “I trust anyone involved in training ordinands teaches this clearly.”. Obviously they don’t.

    You then go on to give a load of proof texts in the way that Ian helpfully suggests we don’t.

    My point about conservative evangelicals is that Ian concludes different things from the same scripture.

    • David Shepherd April 17, 2015 at 8:03 am #

      Andrew,

      Prefacing your understanding of the Declaration of Assent with the words: ‘ I think I’ve been ordained rather longer than you, I’ve been a DDO, a bishops Chaplain involved directly in ordinations’ does comvey an air of clerical superiority.

      You then dismiss, as a mere resort to proof texts, my challenge to your own assertion (ironically based on a single proof text) about St. Paul’s view of marriage.

      I simply identified other scriptures that cast St. Paul’s position on marriage as far more positive than a single proof text from 1 Corinthians.

      My response was hardly an attempt to impose the prima facie understanding of those verses as implied by the phrase ‘proof texts’.

      Your central argument is that the difference in our understanding and context from that of first-century Christians limits the direct applicability of their words to a future that was beyond their human comprehension.

      My point, drawn from St. Peter’s epistle, was that, the words of prophets can and do testify by the Holy Spirit to both their contemporaries and future generations: Christ’s first advent being a prime example.

      On that basis, the apostolic witness is capable of the same future applicability that can transcend the limitations of their context and understanding.

      Indeed (‘presumed proof text’ alert), as St. Paul said of the OT context and understanding of severe judgments during the Exodus: ‘now these things were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come’. He didn’t dismiss their applicability as out of context with ‘shellfish and mixed fibres’ shibboleth.

      What you claim was a prima facie erroneous insight was actually an exhortation to all those belonging to the church era. You’ve simply imposed the limitation of Paul’s words solely to his immediate context. Your position is itself erroneous.

      • Brian April 18, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

        If Andrew Godsall thinks St Paul was mistaken on the time of the Second Coming (as Andrew understands St Paul’s words), then a fortiori he must the same about Jesus: ‘There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Kingdom come in glory’ – unless, of course, those words don’t mean what Bultmann and liberal scholarship claim they mean.

        The hard fact (for people like Ron Smith and others) is that Diarmaid McCullough no longer describes himself as a Christian, yet he still wants to affirm ‘Jesus’ (against the Church, tradition etc) – like the old comment about looking down a well to see your own reflection (or projection). And yet this is a well-trod path and should be embarrassing for liberals still within the church: like Richard Holloway who led the liberal charge for years before admitting (once he was safely retired) that he no longer believed. It is certainly true that McCullough is no theologian and no biblical scholar. And Andrew Godsall should recognise that his own pick ‘n mix approach to the Bible sets him on the same trajectory as McCullough and Holloway.

        • James Byron April 19, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

          MacCulloch, along with most scholars outside evangelicalism, accepts the Schweitzer model of Jesus, who resembles no modern agenda, so much as he does the concerns of 1st century Jews anticipating the apocalypse.

          As for his position leading global to unbelief, depends what it’s belief in: AFAIK, neither he nor Holloway have announced a belief in atheistic materialism, so much as they’ve rejected the certainty of dogma.

          And why reject dogma? They’ve both had up close and personal experience of the damage it can do.

          • Brian April 19, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

            James Byron: MacCulloch isn’t ‘outside evangelicalism’, he is outside orthodox, creedal Christianity, including the Anglo-Catholicism he once espoused. He has said simply and plainly that he is not a Christian, and you should recognise this, James, and not obfuscate.

            The ‘Schweitzer model of Jesus’ (and I’m not sure if MacCulloch believes in this either) isn’t the Jesus of the New Testament or of the Apostolic Church; Schweitzer’s “Jesus” isn’t the Incarnate Son of God but is a mistaken man who died and remained dead. Perhaps that’s what you believe, James, but this figure is of no interest to orthodox Christians, including believing Anglicans.

          • James Byron April 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

            Brian, I readily acknowledge MacCulloch’s position (in his words, “a candid friend of Christianity”), and was merely pointing out that confessing Christians within the academy also hold to the Schweitzer model, i.e. John P. Meier, Dale Alison.

            It’s not confessional, no, but it does follow the evidence, which academia’s supposed to.

  10. James Byron April 17, 2015 at 7:23 am #

    “But if the West is obsessed with sex, and if it is the Church’s fault, should not the Church be reflecting on this, and wouldn’t this reflection have some relevance?”

    It’d have some relevance, Ian, but not much, since society has left the church behind on sexuality. I see no contradiction: the church started the obsession during christendom; the obsession lingers, but it’s taken on a life of its own.

    I always find it hard to know how popular programs like this should be critiqued, since a necessity of the format denies MacCulloch the opportunity to source most of his statements, and he’s restricted to summarizing his arguments. Hopefully there’ll be a book or journal article along in due course.

    • Clive April 17, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      The issue James is why the BBC which has forgotten its mandate to be impartial is not showing any TV programmes with alternative views.

  11. Andrew Godsall April 17, 2015 at 8:13 am #

    David- Ian made a point about the Declaration of Assent and how it was taught to ordinands. I’m simply pointing out that he is wrong. It’s not superior or inferior – it’s simply a statement of fact.

    And my central point – again which you ignore – is that nowhere do Anglican clergy say that scripture is infallible. It’s once more a statement of fact. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Scripture is clearly full of opinion and reporting of stories. I say again that A place in the canon of scripture does not guarantee the opinion or accuracy of reporting. It simply tells us that those who fixed the canon happened to favour the opinion, rather like conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics ( amongst others) favour the opinion that women should not be ordained. Ian prefers another opinion on that.

  12. David Shepherd April 17, 2015 at 10:51 am #

    ‘And my central point – again which you ignore – is that nowhere do Anglican clergy say that scripture is infallible’.

    Your central point was already addressed by Ian, distinguishing between infallibility and authority.The latter refers to its moral precedence: that scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. That’s not a statement of infallibility.

    Those who argue for the ordination of women might establish this matter as an adiaphoric custom and therefore not necessary for salvation. Alternatively, they might hold that scripture has been hitherto misinterpreted. Again, this is debatable.

    What neither side seriously argued and the Rochester report bears this out, was that, if the scripture considered to limit episcopacy to men did have salvific implications and didn’t agree with modern rationalist sensibilities, it was quite simply wrong and should be set aside.

  13. Ro Mody April 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    To reply to Andrew Godsall: The formularies have a much higher place for Scripture than you allow. Art V! declares it sufficiency, Art XIX/XXI says that the Church/Councils can err ( and implies that Scripture doesn’t). Art XX states that we can’t interpret one passage against another.
    The Homily on Scripture (referred to Art XXXV) states that the Scriptures “certify our consciences with the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual assurance” and that God is the “only author of these heavenly studies.” We are free to disagree with formularies, but it is unhistorical to assert that the Formularies don’t have a view of Scripture much higher than that of modern Western liberal Christianity. Please note Martin Davie’s comment that the English Reformers “accepted the belief always held in the Christian church that every one of the words of Scripture was inspired by God” (Our Inheritance of Faith, p.247.)

  14. Andrew Godsall April 18, 2015 at 8:26 am #

    David: “Your central point was already addressed by Ian, distinguishing between infallibility and authority”
    Not really. He simply gave an opinion which doesn’t really stack up.
    And if you think that con egos don’t think that those who are in favour of ordaining women are opposing scripture, you haven’t sat through the endless synod debates.

    Ro: do you really take the articles that seriously? 99.9% of the Cof E would not even know they exist. They are the product of anti Catholic culture several hundreds years ago. Time to move on…..

    • David Shepherd April 18, 2015 at 9:22 am #

      Andrew;
      1. A blog comment thread is hardly the ideal forum for detailed theological exposition on the difference between infallibility and authority. In the absence of a through discourse, you claim ‘he gave an opinion that really does not stack up’.

      Your own ‘central point that nowhere do Angkican clergy say that scripture is infallible’ is a straw man. If you must, contend with what evangelicals actually believe, so take issue with the authority (i.e. the moral precedence) of scripture for salvific issues.

      Ian did say: I think you are confusing two related categories – interpretation and authority’, so deal with that and not the straw man of infallibility.

      2. ‘And if you think that con evos don’t think that those in favour of ordaining women are opposing scripture’.

      So what if they even did think that? The issue is whether ordaining women in opposition to scripture has salvific implications.

      If those against or in favour thought that it did have salvific importance, they argued the case from scripture, rather than setting entire swathes of it aside as wrong.

      That’s because both sides recognised the authority of scripture: that the church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

      Your comment to Ro makes me wonder what you do take seriously.

      A DDO reaching down to the low-bar of the nominal ignorance of the Articles (which encapsulate the common framework of doctrine that undergirded peaceful theological coexistence after the Settlement) has to be the nadir of Anglican churchmanship.

    • Ro Mody April 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

      Andrew,

      If it is time to move from the 39 Arts, then surely the way forward is clear: campaign to have them removed and replaced by something more modern. Until then, surely it is an Anglican position deserving respect to assent to them?

  15. Andrew Godsall April 18, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

    David: it’s simple really, I take following Jesus Christ and working for the kingdom seriously. The articles are certainly not going to help win our nation for Christ and the kingdom.

    Many of those opposed to women in ministry DO think it has ‘salvific implications’ (weird phrase) because they think the sacraments they celebrate are not valid.

    Recognising the authority of scripture does not mean thinking it can’t be wrong. I recognise the authority of the Prime Minister, but I don’t think he is right about everything.

    • Brian April 18, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

      “Recognising the authority of scripture does not mean thinking it can’t be wrong. I recognise the authority of the Prime Minister, but I don’t think he is right about everything.”

      That’s a ridiculous comparison and shows no understanding of historical Catholic theology, the Creeds, the doctrine of inspiration and the work of the Holy Spirit. Liberal “theology” calls to mind the picture of a man sawing off the bough of the tree he’s sitting on.

      If you set yourself as the arbiter of truth, then you need to say: 1. which parts of Scripture are true; 2. which parts are false; 3. how you are able to tell the difference and why you are sure you are correct.

      The Bible doesn’t even talk about “valid sacraments” (you will find neither word in Scripture) but you talk happily in an ecclesiastical way as if that concept (for example) was self-evident. For someone who is sceptical about the trustworthiness of Scripture, you need to be far more circumspect about your own concepts and words.

      • Andrew Godsall April 19, 2015 at 1:42 am #

        Brian:
        I don’tset myself as the arbiter of truth at all.
        I think the concept of ‘valid sacraments’ is ridiculous and don’t subscribe to it at all.
        Does that help?

        • Brian April 19, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

          Andrew: you stated where you think Paul made mistakes, about the Second Coming. That makes you a self-described arbiter of the truth of the Bible. There are other places where you have stated that Paul is wrong on homosexuality.

          I don’t think the concept of valid sacraments is ridiculous, only that the case for the idea has to be made out from Scripture and there is nothing ex opere operato about it.

    • David Shepherd April 18, 2015 at 10:47 pm #

      Andrew: You and other liberals are not alone in taking the call to follow Jesus seriously.

      The Articles provide a basis of organisational unity between the different strands of the Church. So, if tomorrow I wanted to introduce a hip-hop Eucharist of gin and juice,

      Your analogy of the elected PM is poor in that the hope of salvation extends far beyond his earthly remit.

      You have yet to prove your case regarding St. Paul or any other aspect of apostolic revelation.

    • David Shepherd April 18, 2015 at 11:12 pm #

      Andrew: You and other liberals are not alone in taking the call to follow Jesus seriously.

      The Articles provide a framework of organisational unity in Anglican teaching. A framework that recognises a basis for high, low and broad church who even took up arms against each other to be in communion with each other will not win over the nation for Christ, but it embraces Christ prayer that they may be one, despite having real differences.

      It’s the evangelicals who are attracting many people to rely on Christ’s power as the scriptures present Him, while others seek to explain away all of his miracles as first century Christian propaganda.

      Whatever some might believe about sacramental assurance, they should argue their case from scripture because they are claiming obedience to Christ. Although, even baptism is no more (and no less) than the ‘answer of a good conscience before God’.

      Your analogy of the elected PM is poor in that the hope of salvation extends to revelation far beyond judging a politician’s earthly remit.

      You have yet to prove your case regarding St. Paul’s supposed error or any other aspect of apostolic revelation.

      • Andrew Godsall April 19, 2015 at 1:46 am #

        David: I am presenting an opinion, not a case, just as Ian is, and just as you are. Blogs are hardly the medium for presenting anything else are they?
        The Articles do not lead to unity. Nobody cares about them beyond a few enthusiasts. They are a statement of the way things were several hundred years ago. Things are not like that now – hence we refer to them as historic formularies.

        • David Shepherd April 19, 2015 at 7:06 am #

          That’a facile argument, Andrew. We have statute law in this country and apart from a proportionately small group of enthusiasts, known as judges and lawyers, few lay people concern themselves with them.

          The historic framework of common law is even more abstruse. It remains foundational to British society. So your attempt to imply irrelevance to the Articles fails miserably. They are no more irrelevant than the common law. So, demonstrate the irrelevance of common law and I’ll concede your point.

          As you’re aware, opinion connotes subjectivity. Perhaps, your responses here are entirely subjective. Earlier you claimed of Ian’s response: ‘he just gave an opinion that didn’t stack up’. If we’re all just rendering subjective opinions without making an objective case for the points made, on what objective basis could you discern whether they stack up?

          This is just another non-sequitur of yours.

          You we’re right about one thing, though. Time to move on…

          • Andrew Godsall April 19, 2015 at 11:23 am #

            David: Canon law is what is used the the church. The articles are historic formularies, not laws so the comparison just won’t work.

            A blog, by its very nature, is subjective. All the responses here are subjective. I thought that went without saying.

          • David Shepherd April 19, 2015 at 11:39 am #

            Andrew:

            So, let’s agree on that shall we? And let’s look at Canon A2: ‘”The Thirty-nine Articles are agreeable to the Word of God and may be assented unto with a good conscience by all members of the Church of England” As such, the comparision does work, regardless of whether the average churchgoer cares about them any more than the BCP.

            Of course, on this blog partial and complete subjectivity differ. That this is reasoned discussion demonstrates a good measure of reference to objective facts and not just opinion.

          • Andrew Godsall April 19, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

            Happy to agree on that David, and I guessed you would go for that particular Cankn. Happily it is so general as to be meaningless. It says the 39 articles MAY be assented to. Doesn’t say that they have to be assented to. The phrase good conscience also hints at that – we don’t have to take the articles too seriously, fortunately.

            Yes I agree there are some objective facts in our discussion. But a blog by its nature is a comment or opinion piece – Likewise Diarmaid’s TV series is not exactly like a paper he might give in Oxford.

          • David Shepherd April 19, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

            Andrew,

            It’s unfortunate that you’ve resorted to pedantry.

            The BCP is used and is also ‘agreeable to the Word of God’.

            As you’re aware, the word ‘may’ can describe either tentative possibility or permission.

            Considering its use elsewhere, Canon B31: ‘A man may not marry his mother’ means it isn’t permitted, not a tentative possibility of prohibition.

            Take this conversation seriously.

          • Andrew Godsall April 19, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

            David: I can only admire your devotion to the 39 Articles. I’m sure it’s honourable. I’m by no means persuaded that they are going to be resurrected as a cornerstone of C of E revival or heresy trials. They are not taught in detail even to ordinands.
            It’s fascinating that even as long ago as 1936 the Spectator published an article by a clergyman which said:

            “In short : who wants the Articles ? What good do they do ? Who even reads them unless they have to ? At present they are merely a source of scandal : the Clergy are liars to every plain man except themselves : and they, before all men, should be forward to put themselves in a position of common honesty.”

            I sincerely doubt General Synod could be persuaded to revisit the articles. So I suspect that they will simply remain historic formularies – and we assent that that is what they are. They will leave enthusiasts like yourself chance to go on enjoying them.

          • David Shepherd April 19, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

            Andrew:

            The authority of scripture, instead of your straw man of infallibility, has been central to this discussion.

            Your opinion that St.Paul was wrong in expecting the imminent return of Christ (as evidenced by advising people not to marry) has been soundly rebutted.

            As I’ve mentioned, the Articles provide a framework for organisational unity. I also highlighted Christ as the cornerstone of our faith in Eph. 2:20. So your hyperbolic reference to my devotion to the Articles is another straw man.

            As the framework for the CofE’s organisational unity, the Articles does not have to be taught in detail. At least, not any more than the common law, given that your canon law distinction has also been rebutted.

            Scripture, as the prophetic and apostolic record of the truth about God’s promises through Christ will have moral precedence above your opinion (or any other) in propagating the gospel in any genuine revival.

            It is that moral precedence that is the authority of scripture for Christians.

            We have debated this enough, it really is time for us to move on. If you wish, please have the last word.

          • Andrew Godsall April 20, 2015 at 8:37 am #

            David: thanks for the summary from your perspective. The point you don’t seem to quite get is that if the scriptures are not infallible, which you say they are not, then there is the logical possibility that they might just contain errors. Either they are infallible or they are not. You can’t have it both ways.
            Which is not to say that they don’t have authority. It’s not that they aren’t inspired. It’s not that they don’t bear witness to the word of God. It’s just that they were written by human beings, and human beings err. So we need to respect them, but also apply human reason to some of the situations that we are presented with that are different to the ones that scripture dealt with.

            I’m a huge fan of St Paul, and the RC Franciscan Richard Rohr is currently doing a series of reflections about him. I commend them to you.

  16. Daniel Lamont April 18, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

    When I read this and other blogs, especially the comments on the substantive posts, I cannot see any real possibility of the to be hoped for “good disagreement”. Perhaps it is an impossible aspiration or perhaps I am wrong to look for it in blog where all too often the tone is combative because contributors don’t seem to actually ‘hear’ how they are read by others. Too often the temptation to make a quick sneer goes unresisted. Too often rigid positions are taken up on both sides and accusations of bad faith or bad theology abound. This thread reinforces my sense that any kind of respectful agreement to differ is not going to be possible because positions are so entrenched. Labels like ‘liberal’ or ‘revisionist’ are flung about, often it seems as a means of demonizing people of different views. I am inclined to echo Cromwell’s cry ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think that you may be mistaken.

    On a more substantial point, I think there is a case for revisiting the XXXIX Articles but not in the context of a single issue – hard cases make bad law. They are the product of very the particular circumstances of the ‘long reformation’ of 1540 -1662 ie 350 years ago. A number of Anglican churches no longer subscribe to them. At bottom we are talking about authority and I have found Walter Brueggemann’s writing very helpful. I am simply making a plea for more graciousness from all parties.

    • James Byron April 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      Entrenched positions are what makes good disagreement so important. They two don’t contradict.

      As for whether it can happen, right now, ball’s in the traditionalist camp: if they’re willing to drop their demand that church policy impose their preferred practise on all members, the vast majority of liberals would, I think, be willing to live and let live.

      This blog is, surely, one of the most positive signs: disagree as people might, they keep talking, and keep it civil. I’ve seen much, much worse.

      • Brian April 19, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

        I think it’s civil – and robust here. So I have no problem in saying that MacCulloch is not a Christian, whatever he means by ‘a candid friend of Christianity’. I really don’t know how to be a ‘friend’ of a belief system I believe to be wrong. I can be a friend of a misguided person but not of his mistakes. I could never call myself a ‘friend of Islam’, though I would strive to be friends with Muslims (if I knew any). As for Meier and Alison, I don’t know how Schweitzer’s beliefs about a failed messianic pretender can be squared with New Testament faith, for all the mystical talk about how ‘he comes to us as one unknown’ etc. If Christ died and wasn’t raised, he doesn’t come to us at all.
        That’s the long and the short of it, James: theological liberalism is really just religious humanism in an endlessly morphing mode, as Gresham Machen astutely recognised in the 1920s. It uses the language and currency of faith, while declaring the currency to be counterfeit. Better to follow Holloway in his agnosticism or atheism than to play fast and loose with the Apostolic faith.

        • James Byron April 20, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

          Brian, Dale Allison addressed the issue of reconciling the historical and theological Jesus in The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus. Allison’s solution is, in short, to keep the two separate. Religiously speaking, he’s a traditionalist, but he compartmentalizes.

          As for theological liberalism being secular humanism by another name, that fundamentally misunderstands its purpose, which is to reconcile the pre-modern New Testament worldview (which presupposes a three tiered-universe and magical causation) with subsequent discoveries. If it were just humanism, it wouldn’t bother.

          It may lead to humanism, but then, so too does evangelicalism that refuses to accept advances in knowledge, from evolution, to human sexuality. If anything, ex-religious conservatives make the most trenchant atheists!

          • David Shepherd April 22, 2015 at 12:55 am #

            Regarding that endeavour to reconcile that ‘pre-modern’ NT with subsequent discoveries, Allison makes a perceptive observation about the exercise of establishing criteria for authenticity:

            ‘“Because our criteria are not strong enough to resist our wills, we almost inevitably make them do what we want them to do: we, with our expectations and preconceptions, bend them more than they bend us” .

            At least, instead of claiming that liberal theology simply follows the evidence, he was honest enough to admit that fallible human reasoning will bend the criteria of authenticity and for what are reckoned to be genuine advancements in knowledge to the authority of a predetemined liberal bias.

            Is there something magical that protects modern human reasoning from the preconceptions that Alluson describes?

            Does the semblance of selective skepticism dispel bias in evaluating authenticity? Is the mere exercise of a reasoning intellect the charm that’s guaranteed to ward off that bane of biblical authority in matters of salvation?

            Of course not. But it sounds credible enough to claim to just follow the evidence when it’s consonant with modern philosophical assumptions to do so.

          • Brian April 22, 2015 at 9:55 am #

            “Dale Allison addressed the issue of reconciling the historical and theological Jesus in The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus. Allison’s solution is, in short, to keep the two separate. Religiously speaking, he’s a traditionalist, but he compartmentalizes.”

            If he does that, he doesn’t RECONCILE, he just avoids the problem.
            To reconcile means to overcome enmity or division; it doesn’t mean to ignore a question.
            This has been obvious at least since the 13th century, when Thomas Aquinas refuted the Latin Averroists with their ‘two kinds of truth’ theory. Truth is one.

            As for the old line about ‘three-tiered universe’ etc, I really don’t believe that is what the Bible is saying, though you will likely disagree. C. S. Lewis is his popular but still very profound way and G. B. Caird more academically discuss the question of phenomenological language in its historical context.

            ‘Magical causation’ is simply a slur and betrays no knowledge of actual magic in the ancient world. We are talking about *miracles, which is an aspect of God’s providence and activity. Liberalism is locked into a 17th or 18th century closed world of cause and effect and can therefore make on sense of what is central to the Bible’s world view.

            I repeat that theological liberalism is really religious humanism and I think you half-concede this. Richard Holloway and Diarmaid MacCullough understand where liberalism leads and have followed consistently. Those who still loiter in the church porch should think again. My prayer is that they will discover that orthodoxy, God-centred, miraculous Christianity is a lot deeper than their maunderings in Hume, Renan, Schweitzer and Bultmann lead them to think. We ain’t dumb. We know what these people said and why.

          • James Byron April 22, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

            Brian, supposing (arguendo) that material like the Ascension is metaphorical; we still know that the ancients were ignorant of much subsequently discovered about our universe. “Magical causation” isn’t a slur; it’s an accurate description of the ancient mindset that hadn’t conceived of reality as a closed system regulated by natural processes. You’re right, that’s not easily reconciled with the Gospel accounts, which is what liberalism attempts, a more creditable exercise that papering over differences by appeals to post modernism, quantum mechanics, and all the other saving-throws.

            David, yes, Allison allows that methods are flawed, but goes on to say that they can produce results independent of the author, provided we’re constantly aware of bias and attempt to counter it. The historical Jesus reconstructed — an ethical idealist, prophet of an imminent eschaton, wholly subservient to the will of Adonai — is a world away from any modern concern. Hardly created in the image of his authors, is he?

          • David Shepherd April 23, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

            ‘reality as a closed system regulated by natural processes’.

            Only that, for a closed system, entropy always increases (2nd law of thermodynamics). So, we are left to wonder how this could be a closed system capable of moving from chaos to order. By this, I’m not defining its cause, but I am questioning the idea of the universe as a closed system regulated by [natural] processes.

            ‘Hardly created in the image of his authors, is he?’ Well, if the image is the result of a selectively reductive process that demands conformity to their intellectually derived show of certitude, yes.

            While you might claim that you’re not papering over the disparities between pre-modern scriptures and modern discoveries, rationalizing the beliefs that others have depended on and seen results

            And why should the words of this particular ‘prophet’ be any more significant than those who preceded Him? On what objective basis would we consider Him to be ‘wholly subservient to the will of Adonai’? Because of His ostensible impact on His ‘misguided’ followers who ‘exaggerated’ His virtues?

            I can’t see how it helps to try to distil that fraction known as the ‘historical Jesus’ by scholarship, while attempting to rid oneself of bias.

  17. Clive April 20, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    Dear James,

    You create the extremely odd and strange position that it’s all the fault of the conservatives when you say:
    “Entrenched positions are what makes good disagreement so important. They two don’t contradict.
    As for whether it can happen, right now, ball’s in the traditionalist camp: if they’re willing to drop their demand that church policy impose their preferred practise on all members, the vast majority of liberals would, I think, be willing to live and let live.”

    What you are really saying is that “traditionalists” should stop believing in Scripture as one of the three mainstays of anglicanism and reduce it to just “reason” alone by discarding the Bible.

    There is a significant proportion of the Church which will split anglicanism in order to continue faith in Scripture as well as using it to critique tradition and reason, rather than discarding all the bits of Scripture they simply don’t like.

    The ball is NOT in the traditionalist court at all, it is with the liberal position to work out whether Scripture on marriage has any application or whether Scripture, in their opinion, should simply be discarded.

    • James Byron April 20, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

      How, Clive, am I asking traditionalists to “stop believing in Scripture as one of the three mainstays of anglicanism”? Trads can believe what they like, and should be allowed to conform their lives to any mainstream interpretation of scripture (including male headship and heterosexual exclusivity, excluding orgies and other idiosyncratic readings, tho if anyone wants to make a case … 😉 ).

      Moreover, traditionalist congregations ought to be allowed to set their own policy, a radical break with catholic Anglican order.

      The alternative is that conservatives be empowered to demand that liberals (and anyone with a different interpretation of scripture) dismiss reason, and live their lives by a code they believe to be not only wrong, but actively harmful. My position is toleration in the sense I believe the church should allow discipline I personally believe to be wrong; your position demands that conservative discipline be imposed on all.

      If the ball’s not in the traditionalist court, where is it?

    • Brian April 22, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

      I don’t accept that the Ascension is metaphorical. It is taught throughout the NT. It doesn’t mean ‘space travel’ either. Jesus’ crucified body was raised imperishable and he left this world for the direct presence of God. Of course, liberals don’t believe that Jesus was raised back to life.

      Magic is *not the same as miracle. The two are always distinguished in the Bible. Magic is condemned.

      The idea that the world is a ‘closed system of cause and effect’ was *entirely known to some ancients at least. They were called atomists. Read Democritus and 1st century BC Roman Lucretius. Of course, the idea is inconceivable for a monotheistic Jew.

      I certainly don’t appeal to postmodernism; it’s incoherent nonsense. As for quantum mechanics, I don’t claim to understand it so I don’t dismiss it out of hand. But Newtonian mechanics is very far from the last word on physics.

      • James Byron April 23, 2015 at 3:35 pm #

        Brian, I’m using “magic” neutrally to mean, roughly, “inexplicable event outside the norm.”

        As for ancient ideas on causation, this article‘s an excellent intro. Cliff Notes version: it’s a mistake to view ancient natural philosophy as being of a kind with modern, post-Newtonian science.

        And this must surely be the first time that a post on sexuality has gone off topic! Isn’t it wonderful. 😀

        • Brian April 23, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

          “Magic” is *not* a neutral term. It is always pejorative. I won’t let you smuggle in such biased terms. The Christian terms are ‘miracle’ and ‘providence’; indeed, miracle is simply one aspect of the Providence of Almighty God.
          I know liberals don’t believe in miracles (special divine action), but that’s your problem, not mine. It is integral to Christian faith.
          If you know anything about Democritus and Lucretius, then you will know that some ancients *did” believe in a closed system of causality.
          The revival of atomism in the 17th century AD was a precursor to exactly the old Enlightenment view you appear to espouse.
          Liberalism is simply religious humanism. In a few years it will cast off its unnecessary religiosity, just as Holloway and MacCullough have done. Stop limping between two opinions. Have the courage of your sceptical convictions.

          • James Byron April 23, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

            You might view “magic” as a biased term, Brian, but it’s commonly used in a neutral, technical sense, as in “magical thinking.” I’ll consider a synonym if you can supply one that carries the same sense.

            As for those old time atomists, as Democritus’ Stanford entry notes, he viewed causation in active terms, with atoms actively seeking out other atoms. He wasn’t a proto-Newton. The apologetic cloak you thrust on him is an ill fit.

            Even accepting, once again arguendo, that the Greek atomists had conceived of something like modern naturalism, as you yourself accept, in the remote possibility that they were even aware of it, this line of thinking would be alien to the New Testament authors. In any case, it was philosophical speculation, not evidence-based cosmology.

            Humanism of course began as a Christian movement. You’re evidently convinced that liberalism is humanism in disguise, in which case, I wonder why theological liberals bother with the pretense; or spend so much time trying to reconcile the gospel with subsequent discoveries, such as defending a physical Resurrection as a singularity. Is that secular humanism in your book?

          • Brian April 24, 2015 at 8:25 am #

            “You might view “magic” as a biased term, Brian, but it’s commonly used in a neutral, technical sense, as in “magical thinking.” ”
            Not so – not commonly used in theological circles. I repeat: ‘magic’ has a pejorative sense and usually denotes a satanic force. But I think you know this already.

            “I’ll consider a synonym if you can supply one that carries the same sense.” I have already told you this: Providence, with the subset of miracle. This is basic Christian theology, posited on divine omnipotence. Nothing to do with “magic”.

            “As for those old time atomists, as Democritus’ Stanford entry notes, he viewed causation in active terms, with atoms actively seeking out other atoms. He wasn’t a proto-Newton. The apologetic cloak you thrust on him is an ill fit.”

            I don’t know what you mean by “apologetic cloak”. Apology for what? I simply said that atomism was a closed-system view of the world, and I would add, a radically materialistic one. Of course Democritus and his 1st century Roman disciple Lucretius didn’t know what ‘atoms’ are, but the physico-mechanical theory they espoused was remarkably like later ideas we find in the 18th century. And he was NOT ‘proto-Newtonian’ because Newton very much believed in God as the sustainer of the cosmos (‘the sensorium of God’) and the source of his three famous laws (which never occurred to Democritus, who never paused to consider why ‘atoms’ supposed fall in the first place (gravity) or what causes their supposed ‘declination’ and collision (exterior forces acting upon them). For Democritus, if the gods existed, they were indifferent to us and just as much composed of atoms fated in time to decompose – therefore death was not to be feared. Very modern, n’est-ce pas? “There probably isn’t a god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

            “Even accepting, once again arguendo, that the Greek atomists had conceived of something like modern naturalism, as you yourself accept, [no, not accept – insist!] in the remote possibility that they were even aware of it, this line of thinking would be alien to the New Testament authors. In any case, it was philosophical speculation, not evidence-based cosmology.”

            Well, of course it is alien to the NT authors – that’s what I’ve been saying all along! But this proto-rationalism is pretty central to modern rationalism. Don’t you know that Democritus is a hero to modern rationalists and sceptics like A.C. Grayling? As for ‘evidence-based cosmology’, I don’t think such a thing existed in the first century. Scepticism is more content to point to what it sees as the *lack of evidence for any assertion.

            “Humanism of course began as a Christian movement. You’re evidently convinced that liberalism is humanism in disguise, in which case, I wonder why theological liberals bother with the pretense; or spend so much time trying to reconcile the gospel with subsequent discoveries, such as defending a physical Resurrection as a singularity. Is that secular humanism in your book?”

            Many things began as “Christian movements”, like liberalism and communism – yes, even the Episcopal Church. That doesn’t mean they stayed true to their roots. Look at Bart Ehrman. As for the motives of theological liberals and their labours, you will have to ask them. Scholars are expected to write books by their employers. I don’t think they ‘try to reconcile the gospel [whatever you mean by that?] with subsequent discoveries’; most of them are old-line Bultmannians who dismiss the historicity of NT miracles and deny that the Gospels really tell us history. Not much ‘reconciling’ going on there.

  18. Clive April 20, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    Dear James,

    You have consistently refused Scripture references.

    The reality is that the law will force all churches to adopt SSM (and to be intolerant towards procreated families) if the liberal churches allow SSM. The idea that churches can do what they like within a broad church is untrue.

    The ball is NOT with traditionalists, it lies equally with liberals unless the Anglican church splits.

    • James Byron April 20, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

      Clive, which law, exactly, makes equal marriage an all-or-nothing proposition in England?

      If the law says this, it should be amended. Would you remove your objection to diversity within the church if it was?

      • Clive April 20, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

        Dear James,

        You are making every possible effort to change the subject when you dismiss Scripture at every turn and then try to say that its all the fault of traditionalists when traditionalists are the ones taking Scripture seriously and trying to interpret it.

        Dismissing Scripture completely is a step too far and nothing whatsoever to do with traditionalists as you choose to call them.

        I have received a 30 court cases where the UK court has attacked Christians but to single out those cases that on the one hand supported same sex unions but couldn’t understand the administration’s willingness to simply persecute Christians is possible but it would be allowing you to change the subject when the subject is actually about trying to persuade Liberals to stop walking away and instead both take Scripture seriously and engage with the difficult area of interpretation.

        • James Byron April 20, 2015 at 10:10 pm #

          Clive, it’s possible to “take Scripture seriously” without believing in biblical authority. I’d argue that this disbelief aids in the task, as it allows an exegete to let scripture speak for itself, without trying to cram the words into a doctrinal straightjacket. (See all the howls of protest at the “new perspective” on Paul, which dares suggest that a 1st century Pharisee didn’t think like a 16th century evangelical.)

          I’ve no need to change the subject, since I’m quite open about my attitude to biblical authority, and willing to defend it. Since I don’t expect evangelicals to agree with me, I don’t think that’s the main issue here; which, to me, is a church in which both parties can exist with integrity.

          If by contrast you want a confessional church built along evangelical lines, well, it’s a POV, but it’s not Anglicanism as currently exists.

  19. David Shepherd April 20, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    Authority has been defined as ‘the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes;’ So, this is what we mean by the authority of scripture: that it takes moral precedence in deciding matters of salvation.

    As Hooke described: ‘Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

    ‘In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.’

    From this, the scope of biblical authority is clear. What isn’t written in scripture, or can’t be proved by means of it, is not a requirement for salvation.

    Indeed, some things contained in scripture may be adiaphoric. However, Christian doctrine does establish that the Holy Scripture (by combining the Law and the Prophets with the writings of those personally commissioned to apostleship by Christ) provides what is sufficient to make us wise unto salvation.

    In the OT, after warnings of severe chastening, Isaiah reassured Judah with this description of God’s inexorable providence in prophecy:

    ‘“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ (Is. 55:6 – 11)

    It’s clear that Isaiah meant this of the ministry of God’s prophets. They were the very human mouthpieces of God’s word, yet the outcome of which they spoke was inexorable, however it appeared to tarry, meandered and permeated through generations to eventual fulfilment.

    Neither was the change from speech to the written record for future generations impaired as both accurately articulated the means and manner of Judah’s future deliverance.

    This is why I take issue with the notion of qualifying scripture by the limitations imposed by human reasoning. For Isaiah’s contemporaries, human reasoning uselessly contradicted the prophet’s prediction that a Jewish alliance with Assyria would be a lost cause.

    And this is why scripture still takes moral precedence in the church. It remains the unique record of all things necessary for salvation, as it comprises the Law, the Prophets and writings of those whom Christ personally commissioned.

    It’s also fallacious to claim that human fallibility automatically renders our moral statements unreliable or wrong. For instance, we probably unanimously agree that premeditated murder is wrong. By that I mean that no-one has the right to wilfully destroy another life for personal gain. Although we could quibble endlessly here over what murder is, we would probably reach agreement when someone waits in a deserted car park, only to violently attack and cause the death of a family member.

    Hold on, though. As fallible human beings, should any definitive moral statement about such a murder be qualified by our human fallibility, or limited to our particular era and context? Will pre-meditated wanton murder ever be right? Of course, not.

    And despite this, what does liberal theology offer in place of scripture written by fallible humans? Well, nothing more reliable than fallible human reasoning. While this might serve a hypothetical exploration well, it is useless for the organisational decisions that the church must make.

    Also, whereas scripture gives greater precedence to God’s prerogative as creator, human reasoning needs never prioritise or even recognise anything about God as a valid moral reference point.

    What’s worse is for this to masquerade as Christianity. There really can be no good disagreement with such rationalist pretensions.

  20. clytamnestra May 14, 2015 at 12:51 am #

    I wasn’t very impressed by this tv-show.
    There was just too much of an ax to be ground: christianity (and catholicism in particular) is completely corrupted and the source of all our sexual woos. At times there were glimmers of rebellion but all in all it was basically 2000 years of sexual repression and witch-burning. Jesus and the early church-fathers all conviniently share his politically correct ‘pro-sex pro-gay pro-women’ stance (just so you know he is totally open-minded and isn’t hating on christians or even on all priests but just on ‘corrupt powerhungry clergy’). As do the ancient greecs, jews, and really any other culture on earth but those trampled by these morally overbearing but ultimately utterly hypocrite christians.
    It’s not that the information herein is factually incorrect perse, but with an agenda dripping out of every pore it’s hard to see where objective facts end and wishfull thinking starts.

    A shame imo, because the question of sex and religion is interesting and complex and deserves some study. In terms of where it came from (the influence of jesus’ jewish teachings, combined with early greec/roman views, and the eventual influence of gaul/germanic sexual norms), how it acted as a dominant religion for several centuries (f.e. fluctuating attitudes on gay marriage and abortion and divorce/annulment throughout different periods in the middle ages, and the tightening of norms in the reformation era), and ultimately the fight to stay relevant in a world with many competing ideological time-sinks (sometimes by being ‘the counterculture’ to liberal social norms, such as when many 1960s hippies became ultra-conservative christians and created f.e. the quiverfull movement)

Leave a Reply to James Byron Click here to cancel reply.