Monday, 2 April 2007

Jeffrey John talk 'to attack penal substitution'

The Church's traditional teaching of Christ's crucifixion is "repulsive" and "insane", a controversial cleric will claim on the BBC this week.

The Very Rev Jeffrey John, who had to withdraw before taking up an appointment as bishop of Reading in 2003 after it emerged he was in a long-term homosexual relationship, is set to ignite a row over one of the most fundamental tenets of Christian belief.

Clergy who preach this Easter that Christ was sent to earth to die in atonement for the sins of mankind are "making God sound like a psychopath", he will say.
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In a BBC Radio 4 show, Mr John, who is now Dean of St Albans, urges a revision of the traditional explanation, known as "penal substitution". Read more

5 comments:

Blair said...

Hello John,
well, I'm still haunting this blog! Must admit to feeling rather frustrated by this report. Maybe I'd better be careful as I haven't heard Jeffrey John's talk (presumably Jonathan Wynne-Jones has... but I wonder if Tom Wright and Rod Thomas have?). But in the report JW-J calls penal substitution "the traditional explanation". To say this without qualifying it or saying more seems to me misleading. If my (pretty limited) understanding is anywhere near the mark, penal substitution is not the only model or theory of the atonement. Indeed, there isn't a 'doctrine of the atonement' as such. I may be wrong but I understood that the penal substitution theory derives from St Anselm via John Calvin and others. So this model has a history and is not the only thing that "Christian theology has taught". I have some awareness that many groups in, and branches of, the church hold to it, but that does not make it the only possible way of understanding Jesus' death and resurrection. Jonathan Wynne-Jones' report seems to slant things so that it appears there is a single orthodoxy in this area which Jeffrey John is 'dissing'.

And penal substitution doesn't work as a theory without presupposing that there's vengeance in God - isn't it at the very least understandable if people (Jeffrey John would hardly be the first such) find it abhorrent?

in friendship,
Blair (off to calm down!)

Daniel Roe said...

As in ‘vengeance is mine’ – Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, as does Hebrews 10:30 – hmm – apparently Feuerbach suggested that ‘God is nothing but man’s projection upon the backdrop of the universe’ – for some people that doesn’t include vengeance, hence their abhorrence.

OK how about this? Supposing that there really is someOne upThere, then it doesn’t necessarily preclude people from having their own individual projections – hence the diversity of world faiths and denominations / traditions within these faiths – it all comes down to the question of authority: is there a reliable objective source of authority?

The evangelical answer would be yes – it is the Bible, but I dare say anything in the Bible that doesn’t fit one’s projection is quietly ignored – you don’t get many sermons on Psalm 137:9 or Exodus 15:3 for example

I noted that the article about jeffreyJohn was on page 12 of the Sunday Telegraph 01/04/2007 – and I noticed the date – was this an April Fool joke – mind, such is the silliness of government and local authorities these days it is hard to tell the difference between reality and folly – so perhaps it is true after all – it does seem consistent with his other views – he is, after all, what people would call a liberal – what I would call an honest liberal.

Humor: what is the difference between a liberal and an evangelical? Take evolution as an example – the idea that someOne upThere created everything in six days doesn’t quite match the idea that somehow we all evolved over zillions of years from stuff: the liberal will openly dismiss Genesis as myth, but the evangelical has already affirmed that the Bible is God’s inspired (and presumably infallible) Word – as in 2 Timothy 3:16 – hmm, now what? Elementary really – it’s called ‘interpretation’ (i.e. ‘spin’) – ‘day’ is actually a billion years – so where does that leave Methuselah (Genesis 5:27)?

Hence the superfluity of Scripture: the parts that don’t agree with our worldview can be discarded, and as the parts that do are superfluous anyway – I mean we already have a worldview – right?

It’s already happening – it would be interesting to do a survey among churches: take a gander at the Bible readings and the sermons on Sunday and the studies done in weekday meetings – how much of the Bible is covered and how often – and is what is in the Bible really explained or is it simply a background or starting point for the speaker’s own views – some people have a hobbyhorse / obsession and that will emerge whatever the professed subject of the sermon.

Now there’s challenging – to professed evangelicals

But to return – vengeance – it isn’t whether of not the idea of vengeance in God is acceptable or not, but whether or not it is true – and how do we know? Why, for example, do people find it unacceptable?

OK – supposing for a moment that there is vengeance in God, well there are lots of other unacceptable things going on in the world. I mean, since a God of love wouldn’t allow all this suffering, then this suffering isn’t really happening – well not on my planet anyway. Do we go with the way things are or what we would like them to be? Do we go with the way God is as opposed to the way would like God to be?

For all candidates – discuss

Daniel Roe said...

Q

OK – how about this then? Imagine the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus

A

Hey, steady on guys, I don’t recall anything about Jesus in the Old Testament

Q

No, this is the New Testament – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8

A

Hey? I mean show me – I mean I like to think of God as a God of compassion and love

Q

And angels are those pretty little things you see in Christmas cards – no, it doesn’t quite fit the script, does it?

A

Well – to be honest, I don’t recall seeing 2 Thessalonians in my Daily Reading notes, but as it happens I have a question for you – what about the millions of people who haven’t heard? I mean the reason they don’t know is that they have never been told, and how can they obey if they don’t know?

Q

Good point there, but then we didn’t write this stuff

A

Well whoever did write it certainly can’t be a Christian – not the way I like to think of Christianity

Q

Doesn’t necessarily mean it ain’t true

A

True, but doesn’t fit my picture of a loving God?

Q

OK – does a world of suffering fit in your picture of a loving God? I mean – put it this way: suppose you decided to do something practical about world debt for example and you produced some info about the consequent suffering, and the PCC voted against it on the grounds that it can’t be true – I mean supposing one of the churchwardens explained: ‘I have never been to Africa, so I can’t speak personally, but our church has always taught that God is love and I am sure that he would never allow this sort of thing to happen – so all this stuff about suffering is not true, and I find it frankly abhorrent and I for one don’t want to hear anything more about it’

A

This is silly

Q

But consistent – by the way, where did you get your picture of a loving God? No – don’t let’s go there. The point is that there is reality – that is, the way things are. It might not always be to our liking, but it’s best to go with the flow – fit in with the way things are. For example returning from Mars to the earth, you have to get your entry just so: too steep you burn up in the atmosphere; too shallow you bounce off back into space – I mean that’s the way it is.

A

True – but a God of love wouldn’t condone vengeance.

Q

How do you know?

A

It speaks of love in the Bible – God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…

Q

OK – forget for a moment that this is the same Bible that contains the 2 Thessalonians bit about vengeance – we are talking about everlasting life for those who believe – not a lot of love for those who don’t

A

As it happens I suspect that everyone is going to heaven

Q

So there wasn’t a lot of point in God’s giving his only Son

A

I don’t know – I suppose you just have to read the Bible with discretion – I mean there might be, er

Q

Mistakes – surely not

A

Well I don’t think I would want to put it quite as strongly as that, but we do need to read it carefully

Q

With our contract lenses

A

You mean contact lenses?

Q

No, contract lenses – for reading the small print – joke!

A

Right – er, haHa

Q

OK – your point is that some parts of the Bible are to be taken more seriously that others, but my point is how do you know which is which.

A

It should be obvious

Q

So obvious, in fact, that we don’t really need a Bible

A

I don’t follow – of course we need the Bible, this is church

Q

Give me strength – listen: we have a Bible that is a bit like (forgive me) the curate’s egg – good in parts. Let-me-spell-this-out-carefully: to discern what is good or bad we have to refer to sources outside the Bible, for example my own worldview or what is commonly accepted by the world around us. I repeat: we judge the Bible by some external source – so why not go straight to the external source and ignore the Bible – if you like, ignore the monkey and go straight to the organ grinder.

A

Without the Bible we wouldn’t know much about Jesus, would we?

Q

Like his penchant for vengeance – as in 2 Thessalonians, hey?

A

Now you’re just being childish

Q

Yeah – just like the little boy who could see thru th’ emperor’s new clothes. The point is that it’s not whether we find something acceptable or not, it’s whether it’s true or not. The idea of vengeance in God may be abhorrent, but that’s not the point – I mean is it true or is it false? How do we know? If it’s false, then jeffreyJohn is vindicated – and General Synod should proscribe the Bible as a wicked and hateful book; if it’s true, then we had better get to know God and start to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus – right?

Frustrated East Cheam said...

I remember hearing a previous Bp of Durham talk of the resurrection as a conjuring trick with old bones. I thought at the time - "How did people like him gain preferment?" Obviously a one-off who slipped through the net and I thought nothing more.

Ah me that I should live in such "interesting" times. I should have thought How the Hell (and I mean that most sincerely folks) do people like him become priests and prayed a lot more about it? How DO people like Jeffrey John become priests? Is it through people like me "thinking nothing more" or a deceit of the candidate or those accepting him for ordination?

Daniel Roe said...

Q
“How do people like that become priests?” Was this “a one-off who slipped through the net?”
A
Hang on – one question at a time – well actually, as it happens, I can answer both questions with one answer – so are ye sitting comfortable like?
Q
Yup
A
OK then – imagine an office takes on someone totally unfit for purpose. For whatever reason the guy sailed thru th’ interview
Q
Good first impressions, outgoing people-person?
A
Something like that, but his work didn’t pass muster: careless and incompetent – what do you think?
Q
Disciplinary procedures would kick in and he would be kicked out – right?
A
Now imagine it’s someone who slips through the net and talks his way into becoming a humble curate
Q
Haven’t you first got to go through selection and training procedures before ordination?
A
Exactly – and the guy you are talking about went through all that and somehow missed out on any disciplinary procedures – aye – he careerAdvanced to what is the numberFour job in the C of E – and stayed there for 10 years – until retirement
Q
Wow
A
To me that says more about the C of E than it does about him – let’s talk about toadstools.
Q
Toadstools?
A
Yeah – colourful and often poison – you don’t imagine they somehow spontaneously generate, appear from nowhere – heyPresto, voyLĂ !!
Q
No – aren’t they part of the fungus network underground?
A
Exactly – I mean rogue bishops don’t appear from nowhere – I mean this guy wasn’t parachuted in from some remote galaxy at the end of the universe – he is part of the system and simply a symptom of the real problem – the C of E itself. I don’t know for certain, but I guess his views are more representative of the clergy than yours
Q
Surely we should have heard if it were so
A
No: they kept it quiet; he spoke up – let the cat out of the bag, if you will. I mean put it this way – at Christmas and Easter the great unwashed turn up at church – you know the kind of thing – Midnight Mass with long queues at the altar and some people the worse for wear after getting well bladdered – organist and choir notice a funny smell – the inevitable chancel pizza
Q
Someone getting ill, right?
A
Right – but with the right atmosphere it can be quite charming – the timeless story of the shepherds and angels – people are enchanted and always come back year by year – and there’s King’s College with the lessons and carols – Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings
Q
And then some Bishop says he doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth
A
Rather like some insensitive parent suggesting that Santa ain’t real – it’s just mummenDad filling those stockings – and at Easter it’s conjuring tricks with bones, so the Resurrection an’t real
Q
So it’s possible that the local Vicar might not really believe in his own message
A
Quite possible, but just take a gander at some of these guys’ sermons – I mean if you compare them to, say, sermons in the book of Acts – well it’s obvious that these guys have a different agenda than the Bible – and I dare whether the resurrection happened or didn’t isn’t going to make a lot of difference to this new agenda – but my point is that it’s not yer individual bishops that are to blame, it’s the church that produced them wots to blame – and it’s nothing new apparently as is obvious in Thomas Hardy’s poem, The Respectable Burgher on "The Higher Criticism"
Q
How does it go?
A
Since Reverend Doctors now declare
That clerks and people must prepare
To doubt if Adam ever were;
To hold the flood a local scare;
To argue, though with stolid stare,
That everything had happened ere,
The prophets to its happening sware;
That David was no giant-slayer,
Nor one to call a God-obeyer
In certain details we would spare,
But rather was a debonair
Shrewd bandit, skilled as banjo-player:
That Solomon sang the fleshly Fair,
And gave the Church no thought whate'er,
That Esther with her royal wear,
And Mordecai, the son of Jair,
And Joshua's triumphs, Job's despair,
And Balaam's ass's bitter blare;
Nebuchadnezzar's furnace-flare,
And Daniel and the den affair,
And other stories rich and rare,
Were writ to make old doctrine wear
Something of a romantic air:
That the Nain widow's only heir,
And Lazarus with cadaverous glare
(As done in oils by Piombo's care)
Did not return from Sheol's lair:
That Jael set a findish snare,
That Pontius Pilate acted square,
That never a sword cut Malchus' ear;
And (but for shame I must forbear)
That —— —— did not reappear!...
— Since thus they hint, nor turn a hair,
All churchgoing will I forswear,
And sit on Sundays in my chair,
And read that moderate man Voltaire.