About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Saturday, 23 February 2013

David Jennings and doubting the resurrection

In an online article the Rev. David Jennings, canon theologian at Leicester Cathedral, says that he wants to allow the diversity of Christian interpretations of the resurrection to include the denial of its historicity so long as we affirm that “something significant happened which was of life-changing proportions.”

Jennings is keen that his minimalist version of resurrection should be allowed to count as a permissible Christian alternative in order to avoid the Church of England becoming a sect! A claim that echoes David Boulton’s comment in 1999 that clergy that are Sea of Faith members — many of whom were atheists — wish to remain as clergy within the Church of England because they “refuse to abandon it to fundamentalists.” But, contra Boulton, since when has believing in God been fundamentalist? And, contra Jennings, since when has belief in the bodily resurrection been sectarian? It is simply basic Christianity.

Whether Jennings’ minimalism is consistent with Christian faith very much depends on what he means by denying that the resurrection was a historical fact. His article is less than clear. He rightly points out that in the NT accounts “something else is going on than just the recording of an historical event” (italics mine). Indeed. He also rightly points out that the resurrection is not historical in the same way that the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was historical. It is a truly unique event and thus not “historical” in any mundane way. And yet Christians have always insisted that the resurrection of Christ was bodily — that is what resurrection meant — and this seems to be the very thing that Jennings wants to be allowed to doubt and even to deny. Now one may affirm, with Rudolph Bultmann and ex-Bishop of Durham David Jenkins, that something transformative happened in the hearts of the disciples after the crucifixion. Fine. But that claim does not amount to belief in the resurrection. To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is to believe something about Jesus — that he has been raised bodily from the dead — not something about the disciples. Jennings is welcome to doubt and to deny the resurrection (and I am unclear as to whether he is doing that) but in doing so he is doubting and denying Christianity. If that is what he is doing then his view should not be permitted within the Church of England. The Church of England may be a broad church — and I for one am pleased that it is — but it is also an orthodox church and reducing the resurrection to a transformation in the disciples (if that is what Jenkins is considering) is simply to step beyond "the faith once for all delivered to the saints."

Friday, 15 February 2013

Online audio versions of George MacDonald's "Unspoken Sermons"

The theological heart of the nineteenth-century Christian author George MacDonald is found in his Unspoken Sermons. All thirty-six of these have now been recorded and made available online for free by David Baldwin. You can locate them here. David says, "Each sermon was carefully recorded using studio quality equipment with the end goal of helping others encounter MacDonald's thought in a fresh, new way or perhaps for the first time."

This is a really great resource and I intend to check out a few. David has suggested that a good place to start may be number 19 — "Abba, Father."

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Priesthood of All Believers? Hmmmmm

I became a Christian through Protestant Christianity and I quickly picked up that one important doctrine was "the priesthood of all believers."

Now I must say that I have given this doctrine very little thought over the twenty-nine years since my conversion. It seems to pop up now and again in conversation when my conversation partner will present it as an obvious truth that some bad person has seen fit to deny but I must confess that it was always a doctrine that loomed small with me.

In part, I suppose that this is because it seems to be built upon two passages of the NT. 1 Peter 2:9 and Rev 5:10.

The idea was that new covenant believers (unlike old covenant Israel) were all priests so we needed no priests (implied: what the flip are those Catholics playing at!!!).

But, of course, 1 Peter 2:9 is actually a quotation from Exodus 19:5–6 in which God calls Israel a kingdom of priests. So the notion of the community as a priesthood is hardly a way of contrasting the old and the new covenants. Old covenant Israel was just as much as "royal priesthood" as new covenant Israel and the nations in Christ.

The idea in crass presentations of the priesthood of all believers (and I am not referring here to the sophisticated presentations) is that in the old covenant the people needed their relationship with God to be mediated by a priest but we no longer do. Mediation is now cast aside.

But it is not.

New covenant believers have no unmediated access to God. We have a new and better mediator—Christ Jesus—but unmediated access we most certainly do not have.

And the other thing that bugged me about the focus on the priesthood of all believers is that, in good Protestant individualist fashion, it was often interpreted as "John is a priest, Jane is a priest, Colin is a priest, Catherine is a priest, ..." and so on. We are all, as individuals, priests. But in both the OT and NT texts it is the community that has a priestly function. The church is a royal priesthood.

And there is the other thing, the idea of the royal priesthood is often interpreted to mean that we now need no mediation in our relationship with God but that is NOT the point of the biblical image. The thing about being a priest is not that you have unmediated access to God but that you mediate in some sense between God and others. So if the church is spoken of as a priesthood then the point is that the church in some sense mediates between God and ... others.

Don't mishear me. I am not saying that we do not have access to God "within the veil"—we have unrivaled access mediated through Christ. My point is simply that the notion of the priesthood of all believers has been misused within some sections of Protestantism.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Simon Oliver on Plato

Love Plato
Love Simon Oliver
Love these Nottingham Theology Department videos

Conor Cunningham on evolution

Well, no surprises here but all good fun and wisdom, none the less

Conor Cunningham on atheism

Here is Conor as his usual controversial self: but such fun!

Conor Cunningham on grace and nature

Conor Cunningham is always a wonder to watch and thought-provoking. This is well worth a watch.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Queen is dead; long live the Queen: the death (and resurrection?) of theology

Here are some thoughts based on Brad Gregory's book, The Unintended Reformation (2012).

In Europe and America universities were originally Christian institutions intended to expand knowledge within the framework of a Christian worldview. In the twenty-first century they are secular institutions from which a Christian worldview has virtually been expelled. For years the pressure has been on Theology departments because they remain within the model of “faith seeking understanding” and no longer fit the ethos of the secular university. Many universities would prefer Religious Studies (the supposedly neutral, scientific study of religions).

In the medieval period Theology was the Queen of the Sciences, the subject that served to integrate all the other disciplines. Now the knowledge generated within Theology departments is not even considered to be knowledge by the university. Theology is no longer Queen; she is a beggar that at best gets pitying glances from passers by.

In the Middle Ages reality was seen as a single reality and all truth was God’s truth. Theology provided the integrative framework that sought to explain how all the different areas of the world and knowledge of it were interrelated. It could do this because its subject matter was the most fundamental level of reality — God and God’s relationship with creation; nothing fell outside of its range. The modern academy is broken up into countless specialist subjects that often do not inter-act, and even inter-disciplinary efforts fall far short of the intergrative project of the medieval period. Christian spirituality also governed the very ethos of learning:
Christianity’s salvific, participatory knowledge as epitomized in monasticism was not anti-intellectual, but it was resolutely teleological and therefore deliberately selective: knowledge of the natural world was good, just as literacy and knowledge of rhetoric, grammar, and logic were good, if they served the common good of the virtuous, shared life and participatory knowledge of the faith oriented toward the final good of eternal salvation. ... Like monasteries, universities were intellectually selective, teleological institutions who purposes presuppose faith’s truth claims and participatory knowledge. ... They were Christian moral communities that sought to contribute to the wider good ... (Gregory, Unintended Reformation, 311, 314)
A great weakness of medieval Christian universities was that they did not appreciate that knowledge of the natural world is not primarily gained through examining classic texts (such as Aristotle) but through empirical study of the world. This failure of insight came back to haunt them during and after the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.

The fall of theology was, argues Gregory, an unintended consequence of the Reformation. The Reformation broke the shared framework for the integration of knowledge (a framework shared by both scholastics and Renaissance humanists). Rival doctrinal claims became the basis for rival confessional universities.

Universities were very important for rulers because that was where their lawyers, doctors, diplomats, pastors, and secretaries were trained. Confessional states, Catholic and Protestant, did privilege theology within their universities but for the sake of political stability they protected it from intellectual challenge such that theology ceased to keep up with advances in other departments, such as in the natural sciences, and then found itself unable to handle the new knowledge. Political protection for theology made it intellectually weak.

Also new non-university institutions such as scientific academies were set up. They bracketed out Christian theological questions so as to enable cross-confessional collaboration and this created a context in which science developed in a way only weakly connected to theological thought. Thus the new knowledge associated with the natural sciences and the discoveries of the new world developed outside university contexts, often in the palaces of rulers. This knowledge, unlike theology, seemed universal (people of different creeds could agree on it) and useful. Closeted away in universities theology was insulated from needing to properly engage the new knowledge and thus theologians often lacked the adequate training and understanding when they did try to do so.

Gradually the new perspectives on philosophy and history began to turn to the domain of theology — the Bible itself began to be studied like any other ancient document and serious questions began to be asked about its historical reliability

Universities began to change by moving away from the confessional model, first Leiden then Göttingen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Berlin. Their duty was to enable to state to function and religion was proving a hindrance to that so it was increasingly sidelined and sealed off from influencing other subjects which could increasingly ignore religious questions. The increasing demands in modernity for scientific objectivity (grounded in the success of the natural sciences and increasingly imitated by other, newer subjects like sociology and psychology) combined with the inability of theologians to agree on method let alone results led to the secularization of knowledge.

But, it seems to be that the notion as theology as Queen of the Sciences is ripe for a cautious revival. A Christian vision of the world does lead one to seek a wholeness and interconnectedness of knowledge, something beyond the mere inter-disciplinary studies of the modern, fractured academy. And the vision of God and creation set forth in classical Christian theology does provide a framework within which to make sense of the disciplines. Something worth pondering. But such a revival of the notion must be done with great care. So I think I'll let someone else do it.