I am inspired to write in response to Rev. Colin Coward's blog Unadulterated Love and in particular his Living and loving in evolutionary times of August 10, 2016 responding to reactions online after the 23 July blessing of a marriage in St Agnes Church, North Reddish, between the immediately retired priest in charge, Clive Larsen, and his partner John, with Colin Coward participating.
As far as I can see, he is responding to need with provision, but obviously controversial to some others who have been jumping about online.
What interests me is the basis of Colin's faith that establishes a very different attitude towards assisting others from those of his institutional critics.
The blog entry summarises a more general position. So he criticises the use of the Bible as social control leading to abuse, from one target to another. Focusing on sin and guilt leads to negative impact. Whilst politics and society has moved on, the Church instructs clergy to follow previous mores. And yet the service conducted was celebratory and reflected loving partnership.
He asserts that faith is changing, and that this is evolutionary and demonstrating creative energy. Those who fear across the world are resorting to violence, and the Churches are defensive with its anthropomorphic God, a supra-being, where old ways of understanding are reinforced by liturgy, hymns, prayers and teaching. Dogma, hierarchy and control plus infantilising result in abuse. He notes a negative environment he can experience in church.
It is too head centred, without, he states, the heart and breadth of the unconditional and infinite and love to characterise the God of Jesus the Christ. This is set against Christianity with all its life-denials. Yet he also says there is much in Christian teaching that can enhance life, the source of his faith and the inspiration.
I have much sympathy for this view, but it doesn't quite add up.
It comes down to the question, 'What is Christianity?' I have this argument with others who identify as Unitarians, who also identify as Christian or of Christian sourcing.
For me Christianity is indeed centred in the New Testament and identification with those in the early Church who identified Jesus as the Christ, or the Messiah. This still allows for a highly critical interpretation of the Bible, of both Testaments, with every device in play. It identifies with those who did (and do) turn a Jesus who looked from himself to what he understood as the 'Daddy' God in end times into a cult of personality about Jesus himself, that he is intimately connected with God. So far I have introduced no main doctrines, except for the way the economic trinity was begun in this sense, in the eschatology of those days, in their peculiar cultural supernaturalism.
Now my argument against many Unitarians for example is whether, for them, Jesus is the Christ and they identify with this community and its turn. If they don't, how are they even minimally Christian?
Now Colin still makes this claim, but it rather feels like it is on its last legs. What he is doing is claiming an ethical outpouring from Jesus as the Christ which, for me, is far from demonstrated. How do we know this?
If things are truly evolutionary, then we have an ordinary man in every way, culturally limited, and who has to learn. He can only adopt and adapt to whatever it is that makes him this outpouring of unconditional love. But if I read the texts, he clearly is not doing this outpouring. He is Jewish first, that is his method, and his breadth is corrected, and the universalism is provided by Paul and his cultural crossover. And, in any case, we have only 'difference by degree' by which there is insufficient evidence either about Jesus or anyone else. You see, very soon the principle of unconditional love supersedes anyone who may have it, and no one can have it exclusively. The claim must be ahistorical, become an ideal.
Or else it is based on apriori doctrine, that theology comes before ethics, that the Church determines the reality of the universe especially in ethical terms. Or maybe it comes in the realm of some picture of reality, but only a picture, a kind of mythical bubble, and one superfluous surely to the main point.
But evolution is NOT this wonderful, open, love-encouraging reality. It is, rather, change by death. Things that cope less get overwhelmed by things that cope better, in any environment. What is more interesting, I suggest, is the existence of chaos (in which evolution is one example) followed by systemic interactions of what results. What is more interesting, also, is the beauty of equations, where Paul Dirac can state that the more simple and beautiful an equation, the more likely it is to be really true - not just metaphorically true, but descriptive. That is a very powerful signal of transcendence. Evolution is cruel, chaos is a swirl that can lose many, and yet there is emergent order and simplicity within complexity.
This is not Christian: none of this is Christian. Christianity is, in the end, regulative. It is regulative about the texts on the early Christians; it is about that odd notion Rudolph Bultmann claimed - kerygma. Somehow Christianity is released when it is preached, but along given texts, many of which are ethically harmful. Rowan Williams is one who digs into the tradition and lives within it to make much of it in a critical way without ever dismissing what is harmful. But if you are liberal, like me, you do dismiss what is harmful, and you select from anywhere.
It is really so simple: two men or two women loving each other, as a man to a woman, is evident. It clearly comes within experience, and it is worthy of ritual recognition. It is not for nothing that Yale Postliberalism and Radical Orthodoxy dismiss (or manufacture) experience, as they follow either a regulative path or some narrow Platonic idealism institutionalised. They have retreated into bubbles, but those who experience change cannot retreat into bubbles. Of course a Rowan Williams tries to have it both ways, thus will be in the tradition, criticise it, never drop it, become restrictive as Archbishop, freer and more inclusive when an academic. The latter position becomes a kind of ridiculous lack of discernment. Why does Rowan Williams think that liberalism came to an end point in 1978 or thereabouts? Because the tradition was under threat, whereas Colin knows that the whole 1960s to 1970s made theological discoveries that continue to matter to this day. Indeed so did the liberals much earlier. John A. T. Robinson inspires Colin as he does many still, but J. A. T. R. never went to where truth would lead. He kept starting - a personalist panentheistic theology and biblical conservatism.
More anchors there, and more than Colin shows in his own expansionist theology. I hate postliberalism, Radical Orthodoxy, and whilst I have some time for Rowan Williams, it is ultimately deceptive, the 'as if' history when it is all literature upon literature.
It did not surprise me when Don Cupitt said, 'My critics were right all along,' meaning that he was left without the ability to attach himself to regulative or even high and dry Christianity. He didn't just give up his ministry, but his participation; he reinterpreted Buddhism and adopted a religious humanism and became a Quaker sympathiser. He cannot argue now for any kind of Christianity: he cannot be liturgically conservative and try and make it stand on its head.
The fact that he or I in different ways might use Christian or Christian derived theology to make several points does not make us Christians. As I say, to be a Christian is to identify with the early communities and they both read and formed texts to make this cult of an individual. They effectively created a history of the world by which a God intervenes and sets up means for redemption. I don't believe in that: I believe our world came about through chaotic systems of physics, chemistry and subsequently biology, out of which symbolism and culture came. This Christianity is no more than mythology that gives insights into human anthropology.
I bet this is Colin's view, but as I say he makes a final claim. But devoid of regulative doctrine, devoid of regulative text, there is no basis for that turn into what Christ apparently represents, except by some made-up idealism.
In the end, I'm afraid, the mainstream Churches are doomed to defend and promote their own mythology. From that authoritarianism and infantilism does arise. From that evident love is denied. So why continue to defend the institutional dead-end?
Other than that, I'm with his sentiments and outlook.
Since written, the next day Colin wrote a follow-up that isn't particularly Christcentric or Jesucentric at all but it is entirely consistent with what my response here discusses. He recognises his own revisionism, which is fair enough, although I think (as above) that his stance stretches beyond revisionism.