Monday, 14 September 2009

Back in 1977

I'm currently preparing a piece for presentation to the In Depth Group on The Myth of God Incarnate, edited by John Hick and published by SCM Press in 1977. It's mainly about the reaction. The month after it will be on Don Cupitt and then after that Doctrine Commissions of the Church of England, and after that some reactions from different camps to these theologies. It was not just an Anglican book but was ecumenical, and much was centred around the University of Birmingham.

Anyway, thanks to one member I have the Lincoln Diocesan Leaflet of the time. Simon Wilton Phipps was the Bishop from 1974 to 1987. He wrote this:

Lincoln Diocesan Leaflet
VOL. 4 No. 8 AUGUST 1977

The Bishop of Lincoln writes...

As I write, the new book The Myth of God Incarnate has just hit the book-stalls and the headlines. My guess is that it will also hit quite a lot of Christians smack between the eyes. So I want to set down some preliminary thoughts - preliminary, because I have not yet had time to read the book. And there's my first thought.

Quite a lot of people often get quite a lot of steam up in controversies, such as the one this book is likely to arouse, without in fact being sure of what they're getting steamed up about. This is not, I fancy, a book that the general public will read. It is not even a book, quite probably, that many clergy will actually read. If, therefore, we havent read it. let us be a bit careful about how we discuss it!

Unique uniqueness

Taking that to my own heart, my second thought is this. It is my guess, from at least reading some of the first reviews, that this book will seem to threaten much of what we conceive to be the basis of our Christian belief, i.e., what Clifford Longley in The Times calls "the unique uniqueness' of Jesus Christ. But let us remember that this is by no means the first time that a book has done this sort of thing to Christian beliefs. From the earliest Christian times this was going on. The Gospels themselves, and certainly St. Paul's letters, and the works of the early Christian thinkers we call 'The Fathers' were all engaging with different ideas which were cutting at the foundations of Christian convictions. And in the 19th century there were a number of controversies, fired off by books, which set a lot of Christian cats among other lots of Christian pigeons. And only a decade ago Honest to God did the same. And yet Christian experience and Christian witness and the Christian community have not been blown off the face of the earth.

Static View

My third thought is this. I think too many of us Christians are bad at living with 'dialectic. Dialectic' means something like this: you say "X" That causes me, in response, to say "Y". As a result of the discussion which follows, we are both led to discover "Z", an aspect of the truth we would never have discovered if, in the first place, you hadn't started off the discussion in a rather provocative way, which made me think some new thoughts for myself. The Oxford Dictionary says of Dialectic "the process of thought by which contradictions are seen to merge themselves in a higher truth that comprehends them. Do not too many Christians hold a static view of Truth - the Truth once delivered to the Saints, something we get taught and then hang on to for grim death. My uneasy feeling is that some of us clergy do this just as much as anyone else. But if infinite Truth is infinite Truth, there must be infinite new aspects of it to be discovered and explored and received. If we enter openly and adventurously and enthusiastically into the process of dialectic, we learn more of the Truth, rather than feeling and fearing that new insights are whittling more and more of it away. The people who wrote this book are people of real integrity. They may not be unerring in their view of things. But neither are we because no human beings ever can be unerring. We always do well to be open to the insights of others, so that they may throw light on our own.


Now I look forward to reading the book! it is sure to make us think, perhaps make us angry. But let us not let it make us afraid. If we open it with expectation and not fear, it will surely enlarge our vision, deepen our convictions.

There's a bit of fence sitting, a little bit of space, an opportunity for movement but no movement... The press enjoy this sort of thing too.

I also have just the front page of a two page report from The Daily Telegraph, on the same week as the book was published. I see how the controversy was mixed up with Don Cupitt's Who Was Jesus? television programme. I have a book that Don Cupitt wrote after this series and The Myth of God Incarnate, and invaluable book called The Debate About Christ published by SCM Press in 1979. Anyway, back two years to this Daily Telegraph report.

Dr. Coggan Challenged to Explain Jesus book
By JOHN CAPON, Ecclesiastical Correspondent

THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, Dr. Donald Coggan, is under pressure from many sides to make an unequivocal statement reaffirming the Church's belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

A book by seven leading Christian theologians pub-lished on Friday challenged the traditional concept of Christ's divinity.

Dr. Coggan did not receive an advance copy of the book and is reading it this weekend.

If he decides to make a statement he has the ideal opportunity this week during the meeting in London of the General Synod, the Church's parliament.

The pressure began in April this year when Dr. Coggan received a heavy mail from the public protesting at the B.B.C. television programme "Who was Jesus? " It was compiled by the Rev. Don Cupitt, Dean of Emanuel College, Cambridge, a contributor to last weeks' book "The Myth of God Incarnate".

Historic faith

In the view of Its critics the overall effect of the programme was to question and undermine orthodox views of Christ as Divine Son of God and and to deny his bodily resurrection.

The same month, the 2,000 delegates to the National Evangelical Anglican Congress unanimously passed a resolution calling on the archbishops "in the light of current theological speculation and scepticism to confirm publicly that the Church of England still stands by its historic faith in the Christ of the scriptures and the creeds".

Press reports last week about "The Myth of God Incarnate" brought more sackfuls of mail to Lambeth Palace seeking such reassurance.

1963 parallel

There is no doubt of the archbishop's personal view of these controversial issues: his most recent book, appropriately entitled "Convictions,"...

It's like the Archbishop can pronounce and then everyone is happy, and the evangelicals do their bit as usual to stop the train. The cartoon on the same page at the time resonates today, given the story about the holocaust denier Roman Catholic Bishop Williamson.

This morning I went to the Unitarians to hear a chap from Wakefield preach on truth, in a sense of living in questions rather than living in answers, but he also extended it to the political conference season approaching and whether religion influences political views. In the evening I attended at the Anglicans to experience something called 'the invention of the cross' which involved the thick religion (see the Cupitt interview below on thick and thin religion), a combination of Isaiah that would lead to divine violence, some early Middle Ages magic and Paul's salvation by death all of which should be "disturbing" but which I found in content of readings and some hymns rather indigestable.

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