St Mary's Theology Course

A Drop-in Course as an Aid to Theological Discussion

The Theology, Communications and Events of
David Jenkins becoming the Bishop of Durham (1984 -1994)

Revised a day after the In Depth Meeting

On the morning of July 9th 1984, according to some eye reports, some lighting did a dance around York Minister, and then it struck the Minster. The fire that took place destroyed the roof of the south transept and the very badly damaged rose window needed to be repaired and replaced. For the Archbishop of Canterbury, it was "miraculous" that the fire was so contained, whilst for others the miracle was that God had struck the Minster three biblical days after the consecration of David Jenkins as the Bishop of Durham. (Harrison, 1985, 1-2). In 1993 the to become Bishop of Peterborough (in 2009), Donald Allister, still included this in his list of recent woes of God's judgment, including the royal marriage saga of 1992, the fire at Windsor, the resignation of the Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, financial problems facing the Church Commissioners, and the 15% decline in the number of Church of England worshippers during the 1980s (Allister, 1993).

For Christmas 1984 David Jenkins wrote a piece in The Observer (Harrison, 1985, 10). In this he wrote that a riddle in a Christmas cracker, written by God, could be:

'When is an accident providential?'

And he recalled there where all the fuss had begun. This was in a Channel 4 programme (produced by London Weekend Television) called Credo, broadcast on 29 April 1984:

I was on the programme, so I understood, because I was known to be a theologian familiar with, and sympathetic to, modern critical ways of thinking who, none the less, combined this with a commitment to orthodox Christian faith, built round a traditional understanding of God as the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as the man who was God. As the critical position I was stating has been in wide circulation for something up to one hundred years and reflects questions which have been discussed for over two hundred years, and as the form of my Christian faith is, probably, unusually traditional and orthodox among scholars and intellectuals, it never occurred to me that anyone would be interested in my answer, let alone excited by it. (As reproduced by Harrison, 1985, 11)

In terms of the broadcast and the requirement for balance, David Jenkins, a bishop-designate, was selected as a middle man and not as a radical. He clearly thought this too. The programme followed an earlier controversial series by London Weekend Television called Jesus the Evidence presented by Ian Wilson (Wilson, 1984). Was it not the case that, actually, the programme's narrative set him up? This is a middle position on to which much was loaded. Let's see...

Philip Whitehead was the journalist presenting what was a serious programme to look at the issues interviewing a variety of theologians. David Jenkins had been Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford from 1954 to 1969, when he became Director of the Humanum Study for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, sending him around the world until becoming Director of the socially concerned William Temple Foundation from 1973; he was also Chair in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds from 1979 to 1984; and for a while he had shared the editorship of Theology from 1976 to 1982. Thus he was among colleagues in terms of offering comment, but his comment was set up to be one to somehow decide matters as regarding the Church and Church authority.

Philip Whitehead commented that some theologians see the Jesus worshipped by Christians as divine coming to save mankind as, in some elements, legend rather than historical truth. Christian belief in the atonement gained its real significance, said Whitehead, in God's self sacrifice on the cross and that in this supreme demonstration of love that God revealed himself as not only just but also full of mercy. Stewart Sutherland also supported this by saying Christians believe that people cannot save themselves but can be saved through belief in Jesus following his redeeming work on the cross. Phiilp Whitehead then referred to Jesus's life starting with a miracle at birth and peforming miracles, but that "most important" he rose after his death and appeared among his disciples "as a living person of flesh and blood" all of which could be taken as evidence that he was God incarnate. Richard Hanson then supported this by saying that:

From the beginning, almost from the beginning, certainly from the first or second century AD...

Practically all Christian thinkers assumed the miraculous birth, miracle events and that Jesus rose from the dead as the sign that he was divine and not simply human, said Hanson. Whitehead then entered a corrective that Jesus was also human, but the next piece from Dennis Nineham was still on the grounds of the attraction of God identifiying with the human lot, God becoming one with humans in Christ, and you cannot get a closer union than that.

Then Whitehead refers to a "dramatic change" due to science and unnamed people rejecting miracles and religion completely, but also an effect then on Christian theologians. The miracles become stories, and some go as far as to question the resurrection itself.

Keith Ward then commented that some (unnamed) theologians think that Jesus did not actually appear but the shock of his death and the significance of his life meant that all this had not ended but he was still with them, and they put this belief into the story form about appearances, Jesus thus in some sense being with them until the end of the world.

Then Philip Whitehead said this is not all, but some question whether Jesus was God and man. To argue this position "in twentieth century terms" does not make sense. The Maurice Wiles appeared, to claim a problem of logical coherence to the story because to be fully human is to be a particular individual, in a point in history, of a particular genetic inheritance, who makes decisions from a limited growing human knowledge, which clashes with God as the eternal creator of everything and omniscient. To which Whitehead then says if he is not God, then the crucifixion is no longer God's self sacrifice by which humankind is saved. It further undermines redemption. The cross is, then, just a special example of God's love and mercy. Jesus is then a human being used by God to speak to humankind. Maurice Wiles then appears to say this means we can say most of the things said about Jesus in that he is "distinctive and unique" in being "supremely responsive to the spirit of God".

So we see the narrative of the programme, to set up surely correctly what is orthodox belief and what is a revision of this belief. We see a shift in the claim to being "distinctive" and this more subjective form of Jesus being "unique" as delivered by Maurice Wiles. In fact, only Maurice Wiles gave a revisionist view as his own. Others had described unnamed others and a generality. But then Philip Whitehead sets up a contrast and that of 'the public' by introducing a poll that shows that the public and not just churchgoers have views that conflict with these more radical theologians. 52% said he is Son of God, and only 24% that he is just a man, being 78% and 13% for churchgoers.

It is important, this, because he claimed earlier that there had been "a dramatic change", but did not say amongst whom, only that the theologians were affected - yet now the device of the public swings in to show either no change or still a majority in favour of traditional views. One has to ask about this narrative. How did that 52% compare with previously, for example: why is it put forward as an example of contrast rather than an example of dramatic change?

Having introduced the public, he then introduces the Church as "in between the public and the theologians". So to get a view of what "leading churchmen think", David Jenkins as a "biblical scholar" and bishop-designate had been interviewed earlier in the week. Thus Jenkins's contribution was hailed as a more significant interview than the range of contributions as clips so far seen.

So, in the narrative of this programme, Jenkins was set up as a kind of middle way arbiter, a leading Church person, and he would indeed provide a middle way contribution according to this narrative that had begun with the apparent belief of the ages regarding miracles as evidence, arrived at to many theologians today with a more story based view, set this up against majorities still in the public for traditions and miracles, and then arrived at the in between arbiter -loading a kind of conclusive statement on to David Jenkins. And he duly provided a middle way to this narrative of the programme. But it was one that set him up against the public poll taken by the (respectable and reliable) Harris Research Centre for Credo. And this is how journalism works.

So we come to some of the choice things that David Jenkins said. Introduced as "one of the most prominent biblical scholars among the leaders of the Church of England", Reverend Professor, David Jenkins, recently appointed Bishop of Durham.

In his answers he said that there are miracles that seem to happen when people are getting excited about important matters and which raise wonder, and the miracle story telling, and the virgin birth falls into the latter. The resurrection is "a whole different kettle of fish". Miracles happen across the world, and not just in Christianity, contrary to ordinary nature, and the issue then is whether they are just an interesting phenomenon or part of something else. Miracles make you wonder, and then its about answering the source of the wonder. Walking on water is a difficult one: there are stories of Tibetan holy men doing remarkable things. And he said:

The virgin birth, I’m pretty clear, is a story told after the event in order to express and symbolise a faith that this Jesus was a unique event from God, you see, so it’s different from the other miracles in my view and I mean, if I might be allowed to say so, I wouldn’t put it past God to arrange a virgin birth if he wanted but I very much doubt if he would, because it seems contrary to the way in which he deals with persons and brings his wonders out of natural personal relationships.

The birth narratives reflect already believing that Jesus is a unique person who’s come uniquely from God. That belief is symbolised by drawing on material that’s available from "what we call the Old Testament" and probably read into it things from the Hellenistic world. Asked about the resurrection, Jenkins said:

Well, I hold the view that he rose from the dead. doesn’t seem to me, reading the records as they remain in both the Gospels and what Paul says in 1 Corinthians, that there was any one event which you could identify with the resurrection.

Jenkins stated that for those who became apostles Jesus had certainly been dead, buried and wasn’t finished, and was raised up. His "very life and power and purpose" continued "in the sphere of God and in the sphere of history". It was more than internalisation, and more than sincere wish fulfilment, but about how God communicates with people rather than the imagination of people. regarding any actual apparition, there must have been some quasi-physical, quasi-psychological causes, and what God had done in Jesus goes from experience into a communal faith.

David Jenkins did not know what would be the evidence to show Jesus was God and man. It is about what distinguished Christians from Jews, and the understanding built up in the Church. God will act to fulfil his Kingdom and he’s going to do it via his Messiah, which is Jesus. The resurrection convinced the disciples that Jesus the criucified was the Messiah. He is God’s last work, the way in which God would finally act to bring in his Kingdom of Love, and this worked out in Greek terms. He said:

God is not just transcendent and beyond everything, and doesn’t just work through other agents, but he has so much love and is so down-to-earth that you can actually believe that there was a real sense in which God is Jesus and Jesus is God.

Back on the early life as a potential poetic metaphor, Jenkins said that any such poetry has to be lived in a down to earth manner. The reality of it comes in prayer beyond yourself to God and in yourself living life - for example, in your relationship to the environment. The Church has a responsibility to define the magnetic attraction of Jesus and why the creeds should go on being said.

At this point Philip Whitehead asked a revealing question with the assertion that a twentieth-century, more rational man, cannot see this explanation making a sufficient adjustment into the twentieth-century pattern of thought. So Whitehead has changed the angle of attack, because far from being too liberal, Jenkins is being too orthodox!

Against this, Jenkins called for more openness, but he thinks twentieth century man is only rational in different ways from the ancients, and not convinced he is more rational. The argument is primarily about God and only secondarily about Jesus: God is always more, and is about openness and transcendence. Jenkins was confident about carrying on with the arguments that had gone on around the New Testament records.

Jenkins said that if you go too far towards dogmas (that are a fence around the mystery) then "you know nothing but man". A person who thinks Jesus is nothing to do with God and there isn’t a God ought not to be in the Church, but he affirmed that a person who regarded Jesus as a great moral teacher and divine agent leading towards God but was not God made flesh is still a Christian.

It was here that the interview concluded, and Whitehead's summary focused on the revision that Jenkins had made and regarded this as a "big change" for the Church of England.

This was nothing of the sort. There was no big change here. More than this, Jenkins had expressed an historically subtle but fully affirmative view of the resurrection. His statement about a person who thinks Jesus is nothing to do with God and there isn't a God ought not to be in the Church is probably a reference to the likes of Don Cupitt. He has distanced himself from Don Cupitt, and from John Spong later on. David Jenkins had actually produced a substantive interview, that understood and explained how affirmative myths grow, and yet how the various appearance events in the Bible added up to a witness to an actual resurrection that he did affirm. In other words, there are myths as stories growing about a person's status but also myth around an apparent reality even if that follows a similar pattern of development in the story telling method. That reality, then, constitutes evidence, evidence that therefore Jesus is the Messiah through whom God is redeeming the world. And that is surely a strong statement about God, God acting, about Jesus, and about the progress of the world towards its redeemed finality.

This really does have to be contrasted against a view that sees the world as purely naturalistic, described by the sciences, social sciences and many of the arts, as something that came into being, evolves and will pass away, within which humans mythologise about their place, which produces stories about human progress or the lack of it, via a religious gloss or otherwise, for which there is no consequence other than by human behaviour.

Jenkins's view has also been different from a view that tries to say that Jesus represents God in the sense that here is the distinctive highest ethical position in religious terms, that humans who follow this exemplarism do the ethical work to build the Kingdom: that the New Testament provides all kinds of mythic terms for essentially an ethical position. This is the view near to that of Maurice Wiles, for example, and Jack Spong, where "God acting" is a myth about, in essence, humans acting that dovetails with all those myths in the New Testament, whether or not God is real, real and absent, or non-real.

For David Jenkins, however, God acts. And this is consistent with his theology that owes most to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and (less so, removing the ahistoricity) Karl Barth for reality and God (see Jenkins, 1985). Jenkins's views are not similar to Paul Tillich and ultimate questions, but to people getting on and living their lives in a busy Bonhoeffer fashion - lives lived and as were disrupted, for example, by the Miners' Strike in the 1980s, about which David Jenkins was a pastor to the people and a nuisance to the Government. David Jenkins had a theology that understood fully well that Jesus pointed away from himself and to God, and that the biblical witness, including miracles, was all about pointing to God even if Jesus did these miracles. God's revelation involves God's action, and we as people live in the context of God acting continuously, even if that action today seems invisible at times to us in a secular world. Bonhoeffer had covered this issue, in as much as he could.

In the book of the series, In Search of Christianity (1986), David Jenkins wrote a personal chapter, using the pun 'Re-searching the Question of God', in which 'Jesus is Lord' is somehow an expression of an encounter and a sense of reality of a lasting difference on 'me' and should be all, to take God seriously, and that 'Jesus died for me' is less about its theories and more about the 'for me'. The stories from the Bible and the community who proclaim Jesus is Lord interact with the self and means that God finds one's self. Worship of the Thrice Holy God through Jesus and the Spirit means a presence that is an absence and a promise and such are tackled through interaction. These realities, including the one of love, are longed for even as 'I' (and we) fail to meet them. People are taken seriously along with the reality of God, with passion, even when seeing that so much that happens is evil. We cannot dismiss science or modern thought, though we might recover other cultural ways of looking at the world trampled on by Western imperialism (Jenkins's social and liberation Gospel side). A new search into the question and reality of God thus becomes necessary, and we should include critical realism alongside the worship. God is ultimate reality: the source, the fulfilment, the value. From a position of having modern thought we analyse and assess. There is a passionate concern for people through the openness of suffering love, and by worshipping God through and in connection with Jesus. Intellectually we fail to bring these understandings together with today's "autonomous processes of matter and energy". Christians as believers, struggling with a way of life today rather than maintaining a religious cult, help us bring those realities together through Jesus's living and dying that transcends living and dying. We go deeper into these realities, deeper into the hardness and nakedness of love. Thus Christian faith cannot be confined to symbols and formulas and doctrines (through which it is expressed): faith and discipleship are about an ever-expanding exploration into the response to and search for God, experienced in and worked out through life. God is always more, so we cannot make final and definitive statements about the Way: we have been found and hope to have been found by the Love that has risked the universe. (Jenkins in Moss, 1986, 82-95).

And yet the press got on to Jenkins and his lack of beliefs, centred around those symbols, formulas and doctrines, and the evangelicals decided to draw a line in the sand also based on them.

It was after this Credo programme, in a radio debate in October 1984 on BBC Radio 4's Poles Apart, that Jenkins made comments to produce his other oft misquoted line, about “a conjouring trick with bones”.

The correctives suggest that what he said was that surely the Resurrection was "much more than a conjuring trick with bones" or "not just a conjuring trick with bones". In fact he said none of these!

Recorded at Auckland Castle, David Jenkins was asked that if God worked in history through belief symbolically why a symbol in history cannot be real. He replied:

It is real. That's the point. All I said was literally physical. I was very careful in the use of language. After all a conjouring trick with bones only proves that somebody's clever at a conjouring trick with bones. I am bothered about what I call God and conjouring tricks. I am not clear that God manoeuvres physical things. I am clear that he works miracles through personal responses and faith. (as in Harrison, 1985, 150-151)

He went on to say that to have to think as the first century people did, or as the fourth century people did, was a lack of faith in God and God had not abandoned history. Again Jenkins was affirming reality and God in reality, and as much our reality of thought. (See Harrison, 1985, 151)

In the Daily Telegraph of 29 October he wrote that what he actually said was that the resurrection was far more than a conjouring trick with bones. He was sure than anyone who had heard the programme in full would find the controversy to be "ridiculous". (Harrison, 1985, 151)

Jesus was raised in his wholeness and his completeness to be alive for evermore, he would later claim (1991), and this was much more than the reanimation of a corpse, and spiritual for eternity.

The problem was that many suspected that his own corrective of "more than" (in the Daily Telegraph) meant less than, that it being spiritual meant it was not actually bodily at all.

Jenkins had appeared a second time on Credo, interviewed by John Stapleton, when he criticised government economic policy, that the government not only didn't seem to care but it didn't seem to care that it didn't seem to care. It was after this that Margaret Thatcher likened the voice of reverend and right reverend prelates in March to it not being spring without hearing the first cuckoo. Thus came a label that stuck to David Jenkins and more broadly used, including by himself, that he was a cuckoo in the nest.

He was interviewed by David Frost on February 2nd 2003 in Breakfast with Frost on BBC 1 (2003). David Jenkins had brought along his autobiography (2003), and Frost mentioned the cuckoo origin from Margaret Thatcher. He asked about the claim in the book that Jenkins came closer to atheism during his time as a bishop. Jenkins answered:

All sorts of people in the church simply turned in on me, quarrelled with me about the details of the Christian faith and showed that the churches are now so turned inward, they're always trying to preserve the past for the various brands of certainty, the various brands of Christianity and indeed of course Islam and Judaism have, and have quite forgotten that if there is a real God, he's the God of now for the future. You see, so how are you going to break out and come together for the future of humanity, which I believe God promises us. (BBC, 2003)

So we can even turn to the present, because David Jenkins is still often used for positioning, either with approval by some or disapproval by others, and this reference to the cuckoo is used again.

There is an Open Evangelical group called Fulcrum, that combines a willingness to debate with an evangelical outcome, one well to the theological right of David Jenkins. It owes more to the apologetics of the other Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. It likes to think that it now defines the centre of the Church of England, and presents itself as second to none in its support for the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his efforts to produce an international Anglican Covenant.

One of its admittedly independent number is Bishop Pete Broadbent, the suffragan Bishop of Willesden in London. In the context of a discussion on the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans UK, Pete Broadbent wrote:

Nobody, to my knowledge, refused the ministry of David Jenkins or John Robinson in days of yore, even though there were much more fundamental difficulties with their credal orthodoxy. So the ground rules for evangelical tender conscience appear to have changed. (Tuesday 20 October 2009 - 05:49 pm)

And later he stated:

...there are certain criteria that the NT and the ordinal apply to the office of bishop - about teaching the truth, and defending the historic faith. David Jenkins clearly had a calling as a theologian; whether he fulfils the criteria for what is to be required of a bishop is somewhat open to question. (Friday 23 October 2009 -10:37pm)

And even later stated:

I'd want to reassert that it's not (and never has been) the role of a bishop to question the central tenets of the faith. From the Pastorals onwards, and re-expressed in the ordinal ["Will you teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and will you hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?"], there's a clarity about what we are to do, to be and to teach. Doesn't mean that I can't argue theology over a pint, or get involved in theological exploration, or engage in speculative exploration of the kind Rowan [Williams] is so good at -but none of that is inherent in what I teach publicly as bishop, because I'm a servant of a revealed truth (Jesus Christ) in scripture, creeds and formularies. So, tough if you want liberal bishops who push the boundaries - you may find that there's another church across the pond that does that kind of thing. Pluralist, too, has found contexts in which he can do it. It's not where the C of E should be. (Sunday 25 October 2009 - 09:38pm)

These comments are quoted, including a surprise mention of the author of this paper (not a bishop, not even ordained), not because Bishop Pete Broadbent defines the Church of England - after all, who does - but because he represents a view that has David Jenkins as unacceptable. He did not do what a bishop should. The promises of ordination mean that an individual is a servant of a revealed truth, and "So, tough if you want liberal bishops who push the boundaries".

The response to being mentioned was to outline what has been the narrative so far within this course, as presented:

I have written a non-exclusive article for the Parish News, but it may not see the light of day there. It tries to put across the narrative of the course so far, and it is of the failure of the liberal position and guaranteeing the divinity of Christ within the Church of England. We had Essays and Reviews in 1860, basically Unitarianism from Oxford Anglican theologians, and then came Charles Gore and his synthesis of the Oxford Movement and these liberals to stitch together something of the Incarnation belief again - the tradition of Anglo-Catholicism that the recent FiF sermon likened to the appearance of pus [“You cannot dilute the Faith as would the liberal catholic: that suppurant oxymoron...” -Supparation is the formation act of becoming converted into and discharging pus, Davage, 2009]

Jump to John Robinson in 1963 and after and he asked the Church to find a way to secure the definitive divinity of Christ after his personalist theism and biblical narrative of a human Jesus failed to secure it, and he realised this. You get the technical layered muddle in The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977 - whether a functional Jesus was represented by a myth of doctrine, or whether a functional human Jesus was itself a myth of a bloke like everyone else, and then we get Don Cupitt 1980 on who produced a postmodern textual God and a set of Jesuses, who is now coming back to large scale secular narratives and even history - he wanted to reform the Church to include people like him and he failed, as he too is now no longer a communicant and is over to the Quakers. When we get to David Jenkins, as the group will discuss next month, again from my yet to be written presentation, we are discussing a bishop doubting only a few details whilst by and large having a Barth and Bonhoeffer style faith. Yet he was as fiercely challenged as Robinson in terms of legitimacy....

However, there is some liberal slack - after all, no clergy person now has to uphold the Thirty-nine articles except in a general sense. There was progress there, but the direction is now otherwise and this C of E is presently too widely spread and will lose all of its outer elements including liberal.

In other words, after John Robinson and Don Cupitt, someone as orthodox and central in his use of the modernist evangelical theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and (less so) Karl Barth is seen as beyond the pale, simply because David Jenkins showed some fidelity to biblical studies (that John Robinson assumed), and referred to myth making as a communal process. For a Pete Broadbent, you just proclaim the rules, and anything else is tough.

Previously, and curiously - but it tells us something about the impact of David Jenkins - Pete Broadbent had written this:

The doctrinal disputes over Robinson were never the same as those over Jenkins. Nor has evangelicalism in the C of E been literalist since well before the 2WW [Second World War]. Robinson was attempting to restate a fairly traditional faith in a different conceptual framework; Jenkins, on his own admission, was being a cuckoo in the nest. (Wednesday 27 August 2008 - 10:38pm)

In response, from Pluralist :

John Robinson had quite a critical view of theology, of course he later was seen as more orthodox because of early dating of the NT. But he was going for some pretty central metaphors, and his changes did affect, for example, how to understand prayer. Jenkins, however, was Barth and Bonhoeffer influenced, and arguably more sound on God. The difference was Jenkins was more focused on details not the big scheme, and people were worked up on details that had been ordinarily accepted in the theology world for decades and decades. (Thursday 28 August 2008 - 03:21am)

Once again then, another failure, like John Robinson, and Don Cupitt; but this time, and less than ten years after The Myth of God Incarnate, by a Bishop of Durham, who, like the modernist theologians, affirmed the centrality of Jesus in the actions of God. Thus, now, dogma gets separated from theology, and it is dogma that is proclaimed, at least according to one group representing a central evangelical constituency.

David Edward Jenkins was born on 26 January 1925, the son of a Primitive Methodist insurance inspector father and Wesleyan Methodist mother. Remembering Sunday School as childish, things progressed with exploring biblical texts and prayer in Crusader classes (about ten years old) and he never lost his faith as a teenager, when he first felt a call towards ordination. School was at St Dunston's College in Catford; a curate at Newport Pagnell broadened his view of Christianity. About fourteen or fifteen he was moving about, going from Evangelical classes to Evangelical Church of England to a more Catholic side. Evacuated to Reigate he joined the army in 1943 and went to the University of Glasgow to train to be an officer. Sent to India he turned home leave in 1947 into an exploration of Calcutta, Darjeeling, Sikkim and the Tibetan border and places in between, throughout which he encountered both the awesomeness of God contrasting with the human suffering in cholera seen from the regiment's movements. He went to Queen's College Oxford as a result of his last year's school scholarship. He married Stella Mary Peet in 1949, achieved a second class degree in 1951 and added a First in Theology a year later. From Lincoln Theological College he was ordained Deacon in 1953 with a stint of lecturing at Queen's College in Birmingham. Back in Oxford in 1954 he was Fellow, Chaplain and Praelector at Queen's College Oxford (again) and Lecturer in Theology from 1955. IN 1966 he gave the Bampton Lectures and these became his book The Glory of Man (1967). He left in 1969 for the World Council of Churches and was back in the UK in 1973. (Harrison, 1986, 5-9) After his stint as Bishop of Durham he became Assistant Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

In 2005 David Jenkins blessed a civil partnership between two men (one a vicar), His sermon stated:

Those of us taking official parts in this service know that holding it here in St Thomas' is contrary to the spirit of a pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England on Civil Relationships issued on July 25 of this year. The statement makes it clear that the House of Bishops does not approve of, or authorise any form of services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. This is too bad and much to be regretted, but the civil recognition given to the partnership of Malcolm and Christopher is not to be regretted. (North East Archive, 2005)

in 2006 he was banned from preaching in some local churches after swearing in a sermon with in the parish of Romaldkirk and Laithkirk in County Durham with the words 'bloody and 'damn'. The context was splits in the Anglican Communion over homosexual priests .

Jenkins last week admitted using the words in a sermon given just before Easter but said: “The main reason for people not believing in God is the behaviour of people who do believe in God. I am fed up with the disgraceful quarrelling among Anglicans when they should be addressing major world questions.

“I suppose there was a bit of anger and swearing but I get worked up in the pulpit and I get quite lively. Dogmatism is destroying the reasonableness and realism of religion.” (Sunday Times, 2006)


Jenkins in Guide to the Debate about God comes back to Karl Barth but is critical of his ahistoricity. The main driving force of the modern theologians is Bonhoeffer. I assumed Barth and Bonhoeffer in combination, which I think is defensible.

During the discussion it came to me that if God acts, and does so through people of faith, rather than people just responding to human myth-making that is being religious, then God presumably moves the chemicals in the believers' brains that are involved when they are responding to God's initiatives (feelings of ecstasy and wonder that cause them to act). This is still kenosis. How is God capable of this when he cannot maneouvre bones? It comes down to the same thing, if God is acting. Psychological processes are as much 'actual' as any collection of bones, or rather the ability to revive a corpse once dead and beyond resuscitation.

Main Points


  1. Is David Jenkins right about God the reality, acting (as evidenced in an event of resurrection), or is it more an anthropology of religion as myth (where resurrection looks more like virgin birth that different), or indeed is it about the details as laid out by the Creeds and other doctrines?

  2. Compare Jenkins and Barth/ Bonhoeffer.

  3. Is the Church, if focused upon formulas, incapable of holding a dynamic, re-searching faith, even on Jenkins's understanding?


Allister, Donald (1993), 'Facing the Challenge of Liberalism', Churchman, 107/2 1993, paper read to the 1993 Church Society Conference held at Swanwick 15–17 April 1993, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Friday November 13 2009, 16:06].

BBC (2003), 'Interview: Rt. Rev. David Jenkins, Former Bishop of Durham', Breakfast With Frost; February 2 2003; David Frost interviewing, BBC, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 19:19].

Beeson, Trevor (1999), Rebels and Reformers: Christian Renewal in the Twentieth Century, London: SCM Press, 203-204.

Broadbent, Pete (2008), Comment at 'Patience and Urgency: Lambeth Conference 2008', Fulcrum discussion boards; August 2008; Fulcrum, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 05:29].

Broadbent, Pete (2009), Comments at 'Problems with FCAUK by Stephen Kuhrt', Fulcrum discussion boards; October 2009; Fulcrum, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL:, and page=4, page=6, page=7. [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 05:01].

Davage, William. (2009), 'A Future Promise', Sermon at Forward in Faith National Assembly 2009; 24th October 2009; in the Votive Mass of Our Lady, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 19:45].

Harrison, Ted (1985), The Durham Phenomenon: What Does Today's Most Controversial Bishop Really Believe? London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Jenkins, David (1986), 'Re-searching the Question of God' in Moss, Tony (ed.), In Search of Christianity, Credo (television series), London Weekend Television/ A Channel Four Book, London: Firethorn Press, 82-95.

Jenkins, David (1967), The Glory of Man, London: S.C.M. Press.

Jenkins, David (1985, oringally 1966), Guide to the Debate about God, London: S.C.M. Press.

Jenkins, David, Jenkins, Rebecca (1991), Free to Believe, London: BBC Books.

Jenkins, David (2003), The Calling of a Cuckoo : Not Quite an Autobiography, London: Continuum.

The North East Archive. (2005), 'In Celebration and Defiance' (sermon), The Archive; December 22 2005, Publisher, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 20:58]

Pluralist (Worsfold, Adrian) (2008), Comment at 'Patience and Urgency: Lambeth Conference 2008', Fulcrum discussion boards; August 2008; Fulcrum, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 05:29].

Pluralist (Worsfold, Adrian) (2009), Comment at 'Problems with FCAUK by Stephen Kuhrt', Fulcrum discussion boards; November 2009; Monday 26 October 2009 - 04:41am, Fulcrum, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 20:04].

Times Online, Morgan, Christopher (2006), 'Bishop Banned from Pulpit for Swearing', Sunday Times; August 27 2006; Times Newspapers Limited, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 21:05]

Wikipedia, 613kpiggy (ed.) (2009), 'David Edward Jenkins'; 14:02, 29 March 2009; Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Saturday November 14 2009, 19:57].

Wilson, Ian (1984), Jesus: The Evidence, London: Pan Books.

Course Pages 93 to 105

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Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful