Sunday 15 November 2009

About the Rt. Rev. David Jenkins

The next St Mary's Barton-upon Humber In Depth Group course paper is ready for presentation by me. It is all about the theological controversy surrounding the former Bishop of Durham, now Assistant Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, David Jenkins.

Unlike some theistic liberal Christian theologians, David Jenkins clearly believed in God acting in history, and in people living in reality - reality of life lived and the reality of God. Some see Christianity as a myth system with Jesus as a highest ethical exemplar of what God is or should be, but it is up to people to do the acting, to make the Kingdom of God. Such came from nineteenth century liberals and continues today. This was not Jenkins's view. In the manner of modernist evangelical theologians Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jenkins had a far stronger belief that God acted in history. This is a biblical revelation theology, but one by someone who knew that communities told stories that escalated into myths. But whereas this can be made of the resurrection belief (the future expectation) as of the virginal conception, Jenkins again was quite different despite his understanding about the limitations of text (and history). The various appearances pointed to an event, an actual event, of a resurrection, and this was evidence that God indeed worked in history, and through Christ.

My own view is that both resurrection and virgin birth (and indeed non-healing miracles) are of the same status-escalating communal story telling of the early Churches. The resurrection claim is closer, being after the end of Jesus's life, but in a charismatic period stories can fly and change very quickly. This is a fluid period of expectation, that Jesus as dead can either be the Messiah to return or nothing (no longer pointing to another agent of God to come, for example) and then, in the Greek culture and subsequently Roman power, the status escalated all the way to the Creeds. Bishop Spong (and I) would see the 'presence' of Christ come into the the ritual meals of the earliest Jewish Christians, and thus it is all mythic - and this is clearly not the position of David Jenkins. Jenkins really believes that God has acted to produce the first of the resurrected, and that this is not just the language that people would apply to their experiences in the context of a still expected end and how that end was going to come about.

Jenkins sees that this claim does clash with the reality of how we see things today, and we have to confront belief in God acting with today's language. Thus Bonhoeffer is relevant. Such a gap is not a problem for me, nor much for Jack Spong, and certainly not for Cupitt, for whom the major secular narratives of this day and our understanding of biology, sociology, social anthropology etc. rule out a dead corpse even reanimating into something that goes through walls. Not only do we rule it out, but can do so on the basis of the texts in the New Testament. The gap is David Jenkins's problem, one of his risks of faith as he would call it.

The sadness is that the Church of England cannot see when a person is full of belief and tackles modernity at the same time, but starts demanding rules and formulas. No wonder, as he got older, he started swearing in sermons and remained a bad boy. Why not? He has every justification.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the time of David Jenkins' Bishopric, I recall a comment made about cakes baked in an oven that were crater like in the centre when they came out being known as: 'Bishop of Durham cakes"

They hadn't risen.