Snide Romanism

A local retired priest lets me see copies of the Catholic Herald when he has finished with them (I get the Church Times from another source).  As a liberal member of the Church of England I find the experience both fascinating and appalling.

The news items and factual articles are interesting enough but the tone of much of the theological explanations and contributors’ pieces, and especially the letters page, seems to lose no opportunity to denigrate Anglicanism with frequent well-chosen sneers.

The overall impression is one of beleagurement, a siege mentality shaded with vindictiveness; altogether disheartening.  Why is this?  “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” taken all too much to heart? Why is Rome so strident?

‘Twas ever thus.  I am reminded of the Trotskyite I met in the Horn of Africa who claimed that cradle Catholics grow up to make the best communists, whilst Church of England babies eventually adhere to nothing better than woolly liberalism.  In Hilary Mantel’s novel Fludd the parish priest reports that his village community has no Christians, only Catholics and heathen.  Or, as Oscar Wilde remarked, “The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”

Theology now

Much in tune with my current explorations of modern theology, the Church Times recently ran a series of articles on where this branch of knowledge now is.  I found its coverage and detail enlightening but disheartening.  I had not realised how much there is out there, and how much I still have to read in the subject.  One particular assertion, set out in more than a few of the contributors’ pieces, brought me up short.

According to these, much of twentieth century theology is now little regarded and ‘is to be left on the shelf.’ This includes the ‘God is dead’ trope particularly associated with the Divinity School at Cambridge in the mid-1960s.  That is when I was reading theology there (I graduated in 1968) and attending lectures given by most of the following: great names in their day who in 1967 were younger than I am now, which becomes clear when their dates of birth are also listed:

J S Bezzant (1897-1967)

Alec Vidler (1899-1991)

C F D Moule (1908-2007)

Geoffrey Lampe (1912-1980)

Donald MacKinnon (1913-1994)

John A T Robinson (1919-1983)

Harry Williams (1919-2006)

Dennis Nineham (1921-2016)

John Hick (1922-2012)

Maurice Wiles (1923-2005)

Richard Holloway (1933-  )

Don Cupitt (1934-     )

Books or papers by at least eight of these eminences (and others) are within arms’s reach as I write this.  Not only these, too, as my director of studies was Stephen Sykes, who could not conceal his disappointment when I told him, all of 48 years ago, that I would not, after all, be putting myself forward for ordination.

I have never regretted that decision but, keeping in touch, I have found insights in the writings of all these thinkers, which is why I am puzzled about the notion that they have all supposedly been superseded.  By what?  Whom should I be reading now?


Not long ago I opined that the clergy, in the Church of England at least, were no longer preaching any doctrinal material likely to be uncongenial for average churchgoers.  Now an editorial in the Guardian this week says much the same thing:

“The people in the pews have always been heretics with only the vaguest notion of what official doctrines are, and still less of an allegiance to them. The difference is now that they are outside the pews, even if they still hold the same vague convictions about a life spirit or a benevolent purpose to the universe.  These theological or metaphysical convictions are connected with more firmly held values: contemporary humanists, just like the Christians of previous generations, believe in reason, fairness, freedom and decency. But they no longer have a set of religious stories and rituals with which to justify these beliefs, and charge them with emotion.”

The same point is made at book length in Don Cupitt’s After God (1998), to invoke just one of a number of theologians who have published in this field.



Actualising God

I seem to have spent a lot of time recently thinking online about God (or that which we call “God”), rereading all my old theology books, or searching the web for others’ testimony or speculations, or simply thinking things through.  Why is this, and why now?  What am I trying to achieve? Continue Reading »

More Christian reticence: it is only after writing my previous post on this site that I came across the following remarks which to my mind parallel, albeit in clearer language, what I am trying to say:

“On the other hand it cannot be said that the Church concerns itself very much to emphasise the radical character of Jesus’s ethical teachings.”  Humphrey Carpenter.  Jesus.  Oxford, 1980. p93

“What now passes for belief in God is a very reduced version of what it once was.” Don Cupitt. After God: the future of religion. London, 1998.  p82

“Most of Christian theology has already been lost, as we soon discover if we ask people to explain, for example, just how Christ’s death has made atonement for our sins, or the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, or the doctrine of the Trinity.” Cupitt, ibid p81

Somewhere in his many admirable books, Richard Holloway draws a distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ belief;  perhaps that is what is needed to be referenced here.


Modern theology

“Modern theology is not always easy reading.  It would be helpful if theologians tried to present it in an atttractive, accesible way to enable congregants to keep up with the latest discussions and the new insights of biblical scholarship, which rarely reaches [sic] the pews.”  Karen Armstrong.  The case for God.  London, 2009  p295.

My point exactly; though it is striking that her book does not even mention Marcus Borg, Richard Holloway or Richard Harries, to speak of but three.

Love matters

It’s been a long time since I heard any preacher mention Satan, hell, damnation or eternal punishment. What happened to these concepts? Things change. Continue Reading »