In Depth Meets

The In Depth Group met on Tuesday 19th January 2010 for a pause session to look back and look forward.
I (Adrian) writing and presenting all the 'St Mary's Course' material so far pointed out that mention had been made that the group was originally "Faith In Depth" and thus I'd felt it was important to address this matter, first by reference to the material and second about me personally.
The course had looked at theology and ethics, establishing what theology might be, and then looked at modern theologians who were responding after the first world war and the end of liberal optimism, who tried to produce schemes of either systematic or biblical theology (or social theology) that connected the tradition and the claim of Jesus as the Christ with contemporary times.
Then it looked at Anglican controversies, and started with effectively (I think) the Unitarian Anglicans of Essays and Reviews, responding to the new disciplines including the limitations imposed by the historical method, and German biblical criticism, and this kick off was coupled with Charles Gore and Lux Mundi trying to reinsert the divinity of Christ by coupling the Oxford Movement and what was in Essays and Reviews into a sort of Catholicism seen today in Affirming Catholicism. The people of Essays and Reviews were heavily attacked and unacceptable to the Church. Then in the 1960s came John Robinson and his personalist God of a biblical narrative (against Thomist power), and he was sidelined regarding his career. Don Cupitt's postmodern attempt to change theology in a wholly naturalistic direction was simply rejected by the Church and he admitted that his critics were right and has now moved from a less inventive and creative stage to something more regular as he himself moves towards a Quaker position. When in the 1980s David Jenkins took the view that an interventionist God would not abandon we who think in secular terms and be confined to a New Testament form of language, he was criticised for minor issues regarding claims of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, far less radical in implication than John Robinson.
Now may be much of this material seems negative. It is a history of failure of the liberal stances within Anglicanism along the way. Jenkins had shown how the boundaries seem to be coming in.
The idea was to round off the section by looking at various Doctrine Commissions output involving collections of individuals wheeled out from time to time when there is an issue. Looking at what this involved, particularly the controversy of 1976, and correctives of 1981 and since, and of these responsive essays, the group decided that they wouldn't be bothered by such ad hoc and relatively insignificant responses. So that session is scrapped.
Then there was my own position as presenter. I made a point that it was never my position to try and uphold any doctrinal theology and would not. Theology either stands or falls on its own, though there is an institutional issue. Now my position is that when attending Anglican communion services I do not stand at the gospel, in that it signifies presence (this led to debate whether in fact it is no more than a habit), nor will I stand or say any creed (certainly not the "I believe" because I don't, nor the "We believe" because I'm not of the we - and there was the quip that the we was the Council and therefore should be "They believe". I was therefore quite happy to stand down, or do less, and the group decided they did not "want to sack you".
In any case the sessions move on, and so next comes Thomism (I still want to tackle this in a contemporary approach, not simply description but application). [This will be combined with other inherited traditionalisms.]
I mentioned the loony evangelicalism of a Pat Robertson, that Haitians had made a deal with the Devil to remove French colonial rule, later changed to Hades under the heat of criticism when the French had never occupied Hades; and then the theodicy of a Craig Uffman that God is only in the good things, which defies traditional creation Christianity that God made it all; and then liberals have this weak God is in the suffering and then don't knows, whereas this leaves God as either all loving and useless or all powerful and a monster. A statement was made that there is no incompatibility between religion and science - and I said there is even a Church of England General Synod motion coming up to this effect. But how so? Jim Khalili had shown on his BBC Four The Secret Life of Chaos programme recently that Turing's maths of pattern formation was self-generating, and this was shown by Belusov's chemical experiments of oscillating colour mixture and clearing up. We also had Mandelbrot and his fractals, and the impact on nature and the closeness between patterns and chaos. As regards a mention from one of a God who lights the touchpaper and retires, I said that won't do because such deism offends the principle that simplicity produces complexity and intelligence. Here we have intelligence that produces simplicity that produces complexity and intelligence. Christianity, on the other hand, is based principally on an intervention in history, that one man in history has divinity of God and is God, and that this history has an end. These are clearly incompatible. Comment was that the intervention is a very difficult concept but also why there and then. I quipped so that Jesus would be killed, after all doing the same here would earn him an ASBO at best if that, though this is out of context. Elsewhere in the world today could be dangerous, but I said this is the same as requiring a difficult time as well as a difficult place. But the two are incompatible, because they are different thought-forms.
This also raised an issue of miracles, because this had been preached about as a "sign" and the New Testament is "uncomfortable with miracle". The point had been made that it is still a miracle. When we were told we don't know what happened, one said because water does not become wine, and I said if you believe as I do that Jesus was born in Nazareth or Capernaum unknown, then he is human, and cannot turn water into wine. It needs grapes and time. The story is theological and of the early Church, and is about transformation (as the preacher said) and the Kingdom of God (the best is last) and resurrection (transformed body) I said. They were not historians. I said I object when a preacher says, "I don't know whether this happened or not," as a cop out, and I think, "Yes you do."
There was support however for a real events point of view, and there was also discussion about Abraham. I suggested there was as much realism in Abraham estabishing the Ka'aba, which many criticise, as for his emergence and travelling west, that is (in my view) no basis for any of it.
There was also a discussion with approval of Diarmaid MacCulloch's BBC Four now BBC Two A History of Christianity, but particularly the book. A recording had been made and was passed to one participant to catch up. Two participants had their own copies of the book and were reading through. I said I had seen the book (and had watched the series) and the book's section on Eastern European Unitarianism, snuffed out by resurgent Catholic power, is excellent, charting the first pluralist societies from Transylvania to Lithuania and heralding the West later. I'd also read Martin Palmer on The Jesus Sutras, being the Chinese Christianity that emphasised the birth narratives beyond resurrection narratives and agreed that the TV series illustrated the text - it was good to see the Christian pagoda for example on screen (first programme). One participant had written a review online using video, but not the length or kind that I might write, he joked.
So next time we look at Thomism on February 16 and I'll present something that can generate discussion. I still want to keep Platonist Conservative Postmodernism to its own session despite a temptation to bring one to the other. [It will include other traditionalisms.]

[Note: this was changed in the course of the writing.]


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful