Archive for June, 2016

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in the writings of all these thinkers, which is why I am puzzled about the notion that they have all supposedly been superseded.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?

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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.



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