Friday 13 April 2007
O Lord protect me from your 'followers'!
Jeffrey John has written to the Church Times in response to the criticism over his recent BBC lenten talk. It seems that some of those who took issue with him, many without even having had sight of the text of the talk, sunk to new depths in the vitriole and hatred expressed in their personal communications to him. And we wonder why Christianity is in decline!? Reminds me of Dan Kimball's new book "They Like Jesus but not the Church" which deals with the confusion arising in society today where Jesus' most ardent followers seem to be some of the most unloving and unloveable people you could ever meet! None of us can hope to be truly Christlike, but just once in a while it would be nice to see these 'Christians' who claim a monoply on righteousness paying any heed to the life and example of Christ. One suspects that Jesus himself would be too 'unorthodox' for these zealous guardians of the faith. Anyway here's the letter - see what you think? For the record I think the good Dean is the one who has shown a glimpse of true Christianity throughout this horrible experience.
Sir, — The most recent statement by the Church of England on the meaning of the Cross is the Doctrine Commission’s report The Mystery of Salvation (1995).
It restates the view of the 1938 Commission that “the notion of propitiation as the placating by man of an angry God is definitely unchristian” (p. 213).
It also observes that “the traditional vocabulary of atonement with its central themes of law, wrath, guilt, punishment and acquittal, leave many Christians cold and signally fail to move many people, young and old, who wish to take steps towards faith. These images do not correspond to the spiritual search of many people today and therefore hamper the Church’s mission.”
Instead, it recommends that the Cross should be presented “as revealing the heart of a fellow-suffering God” (p. 113).
On Wednesday of Holy Week, I broadcast a Radio 4 talk that was exactly in line with this guidance. The talk, however, was publicly condemned beforehand by the Bishops of Durham, Lewes, and Willesden — none of whom had heard or read the full text — on the basis of a partial and inflammatory preview supplied by The Sunday Telegraph, which published an article with the scandalously false headline: “Easter message: Christ did not die for our sins”.
As a result, before the talk was even broadcast, I received a deluge of hate-filled messages. Most of them referred to my sexuality, and many were abusive and obscene.
I have now received another deluge of messages from people who actually heard the broadcast, overwhelmingly of thanks, including many from people who, like me, were held back from faith by crude presentations of the theory of penal substitution.
These messages confirm the Doctrine Commission’s diagnosis. Ugly, illogical explanations of the Cross hamper mission, and need to be counteracted with explanations that concentrate on God’s identification with human suffering.
The crucifixion did not placate an angry God and change his mind. The Trinity is not divided. Of course Christ died for our sins; but the price is paid not to God, but by God. God in Christ took all the consequences of our fallenness on himself, and, in the supreme demonstration of his love for us, made the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice of himself which unites us eternally to him.
That is the doctrine the Church has urged us to preach, and we must not be intimidated from preaching it.
The Deanery, Sumpter Yard
St Albans AL1 1BY