Tuesday 10 June 2008

The New Reformation?

Rereading parts of John A. T. Robinson's The New Reformation? (1965) again, I compare this book with other thoughts of the once inspiring and (for some) worrying bishop of the Church of England. He was prophetic, for example in seeing secularisation as a positive force to remove the isms of the world (including secularism) and he would recognise such a process going on now in China. Unfortunately, he was not so prophetic regarding the Church - his own and in general. He wanted a clergy that was retrained to fit in with laity, rather than what seemed like the other way around. He wanted Christianity to be accessible to a general public: the problem was the language.

We hear much today on conservative blogs about a New Reformation. It is all coming from the hard theological right. Robinson would have been very depressed at what he would have seen as theological illiteracy getting a grip in the Church, for this theology has no meaning whatsoever to the busy people in wider society with a practical outlook who ask this worldly questions about the meaning of life, and wonder about life's directions. Inside talk is taking over.

I wonder if he had been more successful what would have happened. He was worried about the book The Myth of God Incarnate (1978). He did want to "hold to the centre" and only then let thoughts go where they will. He didn't see that the onion just kept on peeling.

In an imaginary Church where such as Don Cupitt's and John Hick's insights had gained more of a place, John Robinson would have been on the intelligent right wing of the Church. He would have been joined by the likes of David Jenkins: Jenkins did not have Robinson's Tillichian flavour, but he did have a Barth and Bonhoeffer flavour and could work in and around secular Christianity. That David Jenkins had so much trouble just around the details of doctrines showed how the conservative tide was blowing, and so it has continued. Nowadays we have a theologian Archbishop of Canterbury who shows only fear and mimics the worst of the the right wing when under pressure. He combines narrative theology detail with doing vandalism to history; he lives in a conservative postmodern bubble which just closes off communication. Sometimes he talks to other religions about their scriptures and inspirations and you wonder what might have been.

Nevertheless, as for the New Reformation of the hard right: let them get on with it. Let them draw off the kind of conservatism that is now in the nonsense of satellite channels and charismatic entertainment. If GAFCON is successful down in Jerusalem and after - and let them be successful - then they will break the backs of these evangelicals who seem to me so often to talk so much nonsense. The right wing Anglo-Catholics allowed a more thoughtful Anglo-Catholicism to emerge, and this just might happen with the evangelicals.

David Jenkins would have been an evangelical in a moderate, thinking Church. He reached out, and he used ordinary language to make sense in people's struggles, and he got people to think about belief. So did John Robinson. He'd have been more centrist.

I wish GAFCON every success, because in their reorganising of themselves, and some others who they will split, they will allow through something more generous, communicative, warm, open and free to discuss than has been the case for some time.

I used to be a person wishing to see the widest possible ecumenical gathering (on a liberal to traditional to evangelical meaning) and would see the point in keeping people together. Slowly I have changed my view, simply because the others would not grant liberals the freedom to discuss and believe. Well, maybe with the new walls built around themselves, the evangelical hard right will allow the rest to create some of those things John Robinson wished to see come about and a new spring can dawn.

1 comment:

Doorman-Priest said...

That made very good reading. Thanks. David Jenkins was my professor of theology back in the old days and a more gentle and loving pastor would be hard to imagine.

That he became a demonised figure of fun in some quarters always srtuck me as an incredible injustice, but also as an illustration of how terrifying and threatening the use of intellect is in some Christian quarters.