Author Archives: Paul Inglis

About Paul Inglis

Paul Inglis is a long time member of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Australia. He recently retired as the Community Minister for Dayboro and Mt Mee Uniting Churches, just north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He accepted an invitation to become the Queensland's first Uniting Church Community Minister and continued in that role for more than 10 years. Previously he had been a State primary school teacher, school principal for 11 years and then Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology for 25 years. He has served on UCA Assembly, Synod, Presbytery and Congregational Councils. In retirement he is actively involved in family, church, and community. His commitment to 'progressive' Christianity emerged from contact with the late Professor Rod Jensen who founded the Lay Forum in 2004 and from his experience in ministry with people seeking an authentic faith. Paul's PhD from the University of Queensland is in Adult Learning.

Book review – Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.

Reviewed by Rodney Eivers – 22nd May 2017

 Glorify by Emily C. Heath

Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity

Glorify            I was drawn to this title in the MediaCom catalogue by its subtitle “Reclaiming the Heart of “progressive” Christianity”.  This is because, for all my own commitment to “progressive” Christianity I have to struggle with how we can generate enough passion about this option which will provide people with emotional satisfaction leading them to staying with it as a guide to the way we might live.

Although Emily Heath has much that is positive to say, the content of the book does not live up to my expectations.

Rev. Heath is at pains to identify with the “progressive” Christianity movement. A favourite phrase repeated in one form or another in pretty well every chapter is “We progressives”, yet her progressivism bears little resemblance doctrinally to what would be the standard for proponents such as, Spong, Geering and Borg – especially Gretta Vosper of “With or Without God” – with their dismissal of supernatural attributes of a 21st Century faith.

At one point Emily Heath goes as far as to acknowledge that she accepts a literal resurrection.  She then goes on however, to discuss this in metaphorical terms typical of modern liberal orthodoxy which is still anxious about disenfranchising itself from the wider church committed to the 4th Century creeds. Such a retreat from literal interpretation avoids the challenge from an educated public prepared to challenge supernatural interpretations of Bible stories.

Despite this, God, in this book, is spoken of virtually in theistic terms, as some form of ‘being” with whom one may make contact. I doubt that this is really Heath’s base position.

Her attachment to progressivism clearly comes from its acceptance and support of homosexuality and other elements of the LGBTQ community. With her being an openly gay minister of religion, recently married, thanks to changes in USA law, this is understandable.

She is spot on with her analysis of what is happening with the decline of church attendance, especially for the mainline denominations. She notes the reticence of today’s generations to join or commit to anything. This is being exacerbated by the attachment to screens and social media in preference to face to face interaction.

I am fully with her also on the place which local community interaction can play, perhaps must play, in maintaining and sustaining a vibrant Christian presence and initiative.

So I find the prominence given to “doing it our human selves” is made to sit uneasily against depending on God to sort it out.

The trouble is, what sort of God are we talking about here, assuming that we have moved away from the mediaeval, theistic persona waiting out there to come to our aid if we use the right prayer formula?

There are so many avatars of God. Jesus imagined God as a loving father but he also spoke of the God of nature, the creator of flowers of the field and of being neutral as to human welfare. “God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”.

Some speak of God as representing the spirit of love. As Don Cupitt has highlighted, the word “life” in common usage has become synonymous with God. Some see God, as the inner voice of conscience and reflection with which we each have an ongoing conversation. Another picture of God, somewhat allied to “life” or “what is” is that entity which comprises all the collection of chance events and probabilities ranging from formation of the cosmos to ordinary day to day living. That is, any moment in time. In this characterisation God itself does not know what is going to happen next. It is unpredictable. It is interesting that in this last case we can  pray to this god with intellectual integrity. In praying, for ourselves, or for someone else we can express a hope that the dice of life will fall our way. Is this not, indeed, what we are doing these days when instead of praying for someone with terminal cancer, we do not ask for supernatural healing. We simply express a wish, a hope, that the  doctors will do their best or that the end will be relatively peaceful.

So what is the God whom we are to glorify?

Perhaps the best we can do is to celebrate life and express our gratitude that we have the privilege of experiencing this great gift of living, of consciousness, of  knowing that we exist.

With these caveats I would suggest that although Emily Heath may not have found the secret to “heart” for most of us who call ourselves progressive, there is much of value in reading her take on the issue.

oOo

More hymns, poems and a lament – for the innocents

Following the interest in the recent post from Rev Rex Hunt, Rex has provided us with more useful resources for worship or events that call for a focus on the critical nature of a world of political, religiousRex Hunt and military conflict. These are the result of his initiative in responding to a friend’s request which went like this:

“I think if we are at war with various parties in the Middle East we can sadly expect to have incidents on our own soil that remind us that innocent by-standers sometimes share the costs of what we do elsewhere for whatever noble reasons.

They are extremists when they hurt us and we hate them for what they do: and rightly so.

But I guess those who hurt us or our kith and kin empowered by what we call a warped understanding of their own faith, possibly think the same way about us – or those who represent us back there in the conflict zones of the ME…

I sometimes wish that someone would write a hymn or two that reflects the agony of the innocent on both sides – the confusions of our faiths and the way of the Jesus of history that directly addresses the issues of now, but I guess  that may be not possible.”

The resources were kindly provided by Rex’s colleagues and follow:

Continue reading

Noel Preston’s memoir available

We have received the following message from Rev Dr Noel Preston. [After a period of health challenges and treatment, he is feeling quite well at the moment and preparing to take a holiday trip to Fiji.]

“This message is to advise that I have created a website designed to make my memoir “Beyond Noel Prestonthe Boundary” available to those interested. It was published in 2006 and has been out of print for some time. I have had a few requests for the text so this is my attempt to make it freely available.Perhaps you have read it and if so you know it provides a window on Queensland social history and also, I trust, through my own journey a background to a quest for progressive Christianity.  It is to be found at www.noelpreston.info. Apparently it is best to put this address in the top search bar!!!!) I would welcome it if this word can be spread through networks such as PCNQ and the UC Forum.”

Peace,

Noel.

oOo

 

 

 

The Trinity – litmus test of faith, problematic doctrine or three-fold vehicle for developing individuals and communities?

From Approaching Justice: an online journal of religion and politics

One Progressive Christian Takes on the Trinity

by Dwight Welch, United Church of Christ, Oklahoma.

 

trinity

Mark Sandlin, a Presbyterian pastor and blogger at The God Article, came out with a recent post questioning the trinity and the way it’s been used as a litmus test to determine who is out and who is in the church. It’s a sort of a “the emperor has no clothes” post in that it acknowledges publicly what many lay people have thought but never hear pastors say; the trinity is not to be found in the Bible, it was involved with historical debates and political power plays in the early church that may or may not be relevant to what it means to follow Jesus today. So I wanted to express my appreciation for his post and his naming something that I think has troubled many in the church.

Suffice it to say that I agree with him that the trinity should not be a litmus test. In fact, I think most litmus tests should be suspect. They shut down the possibilities of questions, they often operate as power plays, and they suggest that the arguments for a religious ideas are not sufficient so some external force is needed to produce conformity. When that happens, there is reason to doubt the claim. And something happens to a community which has to fear the use of such tactics. They don’t produce space for honest searches, for questions, for religious inquiry in general.

But as a progressive Christian pastor, I will admit, that the trinity has proved to be too important in the making of my own religious ideas to let it go. While it should not be the test of orthodoxy (even the World Council of Churches require for membership), I think of the trinity as the one of those undiscovered treasures when one finally cleans out the attic or basement. You dust it off and you have a new found appreciation for a very old idea. That’s what happened to me in any case.

Like many old ideas it’s had a battered history. Some have taken the trinity to be a “mystery”, an example of how our language gives out when seeking to describe the “ineffable“. Others take it as a contradiction, an example of religious communities requiring belief in the unbelievable as a basis to secure loyalty. It forms our creedal and liturgical language for centuries but its not clear that many members of the church could explain why. And if they could, would those reasons be compelling?

I know my attraction is not because I believe Jesus was God. I don’t. I believe he was a first century Jewish teacher. Nor do I believe that some percentage of Jesus was God and some other percentage was human, as if you cut someone up like that. My thinking of the incarnation is most influenced by Rita Nakashima Brock who speaks of the incarnation as grounded in relationships, not in a single individual, but in the interactions and connections that are had with one another. No person as an individual is so removed from society that you could make a plausible account of incarnation apart from society and those wider set of relationships, including Jesus.

So what compels me to pick up the trinity again? Some of it is history. To me, any religious doctrine that has had sway over a significant period of time and with a broad array of communities, suggests not an esoteric doctrine, a puzzle that can’t be solved, but instead suggests an idea that touches on something important in human experience. That is, religious doctrines that have some staying power, like most kinds of language, disclose something about our world. So I have an interest in what that might be. I’m a language junkie in that way. It’s why I worry about dying languages because something about human life is about to be lost with its passage.

That something Shailer Matthews, describes in terms of patterns discerned about our world and ourselves. What pattern does the Trinity point to? There are a number of good candidates. One that interests me is the inner relationality of God as the pattern of relationships which constitutes communities and human life in general. God never acts alone but is in constant mutual love and reciprocity between the persons of the trinity. From this, we have a model for living. For example, Bob Cornwall finds in the “unity between Father and Son…our unity as church”

But then he writes “can’t we go even further to understand the unity of creation itself to be found within this fellowship?  Jürgen Moltmann advocates that God is present in all things, and all things are present in God. Pushing further, he speaks of our existence within this fellowship in soteriological terms of salvation or wholeness.” I’d like to take that insight and run with it in this piece.

The first time the Spirit makes an appearance in scripture is in Genesis. There the Spirit of God, hovers over the deep, and begins the first act of creation by separating water and the land and the light from the darkness. That is, the Spirit separates and makes distinctions which makes for individuality. Abram is driven out from his people into the desert, and like Jacob, is given a new name to express the creation of something new, a new people, a transformed individual. It is the Spirit which names who Jesus is in the waters of his baptism and it is the Spirit which drives Jesus into the wilderness to take stock before his public ministry.

So the Spirit is intimately involved in the creation of the new, of the individual, of uniqueness, and of identity. The Spirit names things, separates people out, and creates new individuals. If anyone remembers the process of adolescence, the separations involved, in the growing up years, especially from parents, this provides the context for an individual to emerge, with a unique set of gifts, ideas, and personality to give to the world. If you watch the movie Boyhood, which just came out, you get to see that process unfold over many years.

The key part to the previous statement is to “give to the world”. The point is not simply to be an individual but to take that individuality and put it in the service of others. That is what makes it a gift. Paul identifies Christ as the power that makes for salvation. To the degree that our gifts can be put into the service of others, the encounter, the exchange that occurs, can become transformational and therefore salvific. In that, Jesus represents the Christ not in the waters of baptism but when he leaves the wilderness and begins his public ministry.

When we share who we are with each other, what HN Wieman identifies as creative interchange, it can transform individuals. They have a shared experience and the result is a different kind of relationship, one marked by growth and change, where new values emerge that are inclusive of those involved in the interaction. Because the moment you invite others into your community, you are inviting them to transform you as much as you will transform them. A new community emerges as individuals add their gifts and individuality into the mix. The act of creation which follows is what I understand when I affirm God as creator.

In this, there appears to be a three folded process.  The first is the act of creating individuals and individuality, the Spirit. The second is taking the gifts of individuals and sharing it with others, the Christ. The third is the deepening of relationships, the transformations of individuals and communities, God the creator. All three presuppose each other. You can’t create individuals apart from other people in community. You can’t create growing communities apart from individuals adding their uniqueness to the mix. You can’t deepen relations apart from the encounter with others. All three are necessary, all three need each other, and all three become the creative workings of God.

This three fold process, when separated out, produces problems though. If you have individuals who have no relation or responsibility to others, you don’t have a society nor can you build community. Think Ayn Rand. Think the United States and what fruit that has born. Now if you have communities which seek to squelch individuality, they are digging their own graves. They do so, because they remove the possible gifts that diversity can bring and because the problems inherent in these communities have no means of correction. Think any authoritarian system.  It is only when individuality and our relations with others work to build communities which sustain both that you can produce the creative good in life, that is when the act of creation becomes divine.

That three folded movement of God then becomes a way to get a hold of reality in some measure, to understand it and respond to it. That’s what I take the task of good religious doctrine. So when I say I believe in the trinity it is not because I am claiming orthodoxy. I’m pretty sure I’m not. It’s not because I want to make Jesus God. I understand Christ to be bigger then Jesus as much as he represents God’s saving acts for us as a Christian community. That is Jesus, points to something about our world in his life, he gives us a face to represent this reality but the reality is bigger then him or anything else in our tradition.

Of course reality is bigger then our words and our doctrines too. But they can open us up to our world, they can be maps as I noted in my last column. In that there are a treasure trove of ideas, doctrines in our Christian tradition. Some which may need to be put aside. Others which need to be reclaimed. I’m interested in reclaiming the trinity but I have no use for scapegoats and blood atonement. So I’ve done both, dropped ideas and reclaimed them and I believe the freedom to do just that must be accorded to everyone in the church. In that I thank Mark and his blog for his ideas, the conversations they spur in the church, and for anyone who is seeking to live out their faith in a way that humanizes us all.

Dwight Welch is the new pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma

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Congratulations to Greg Jenks

Sunday 4th June 2017

Bishop Sarah Macneil, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Grafton, has announced that the Reverend Canon Dr Gregory C. Jenks has been appointed as Rector of the Parish of Grafton and Dean of the Cathedral Church of Christ the King.Greg Jenks2

The official announcement is being made this morning in the Cathedral Parish and in the Parish of Byron Bay, where Canon Jenks is currently serving after returning to Australia from Jerusalem earlier this year.

Dean Jenks will take up his appointment as the eighth Dean of Grafton later this year, and will continue to serve as the locum priest for the Anglican Parish of Byron Bay until that time.

The Cathedral of Christ the King has both local and diocesan mission responsibilities. The Cathedral is the parish church for the Anglican Parish of Grafton, which includes the northern half of the city as well as two nearby rural centres: Copmanhurst and Lawrence. At the same time, the Cathedral has a prophetic mission to the city of Grafton, and within the Northern Rivers more generally, as well as its ministry within the wider life of the Diocese.

Greg Jenks is married to Eve James, who is manager of the Roscoe Library at St Francis Theological College in Brisbane. They have two adult daughters.

For Canon Jenks this is a return to his roots in the Northern Rivers, as he was born and raised in Lismore.

Dr Jenks is a Canon Emeritus of the Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr in Jerusalem, and was previously the Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem. Prior to his appointment in Jerusalem, Dr Jenks was Academic Dean of St Francis Theological College  and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University.

Canon Jenks values his close links with Palestinian Anglican communities in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Haifa. He looks forward to developing mission partnerships and pilgrimage opportunities between the Cathedral and these faith communities in the Holy Land.

Dr Jenks is a co-director of the Bethsaida Archaeology Project in northern Israel, where he also serves as the coin curator for the dig, and is also the founding director of the Centre for Coins, Culture and Religious History. His research interests focus on the coins from the Bethsaida excavations, as well as other coins that illuminate the role religion has played in shaping human culture.

Dr Jenks is the author of several books and numerous published essays. His most recent books include Jesus Then and Jesus Now (2014) and The Once and Future Bible (2011).

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Caloundra Explorers June ‘Gathering’ – an invitation

“Gatherings”

The ExploreExplorers Grouprs Group has altered the basic form and liturgy of what has been its “ Emerging Church Service of Worship” on the Third Sunday evening of each second Month to a new format – “A Gathering”. This allows a much greater flexibility for style and theme and particularly for a liturgy more appropriate to its underlying ‘progressive’ influence and the ‘journey’ preferences of its participants.  A meal, together with other discussion opportunities, now seem to be the favoured interactive segments in the evening’s format.   A ‘Theme’ has proved very popular.

We continue to attract participants from the Catholic Church and a growing number from many areas around the Coast and Hinterland. There is a demonstrated strong desire for spiritual refreshment and challenge from many ‘progressives’ whose home churches have not adequately kept pace with their personal spiritual development. Several have ceased contact with the church in their area.

June 18th  Jesus “Meek and Mild” or “Radical Political Activist”??     Christians and Politics! 

This Gathering will be led by Rev. Pieter Hoogendoorn with Anne Hoogendoorn.  It will be advertised as from 1st June to both ‘Friends of the Explorers’ and the congregation, and will be supported by the church website and listing on the UC Forum blog ( this is sourced by many who have no home church supporting progressives).  Highly topical, and quite challenging as to our ‘christian’ activity.

Enquiries: email John Everall

“Living the Questions” Project – 2017 thru 2018.

The Explorers have purchased the major Study and Outreach Program” Living the Questions 2.0” for $350, with $150 donated, and the balance to be recovered from registration fees during 2017/2018.  Quoting the Jacket Cover: “Living the Questions” is an open-minded alternative to studies that attempt to give participants all the answers. “Living the Questions” creates an environment where participants not only interact with one another in exploring the best of today’s theological thought, but strive to explore what’s next for Christianity. “  It comprises 21 sessions which can be offered in three segments of seven units. It is DVD based with extensive written study and support material. It is ‘quality’.

The Explorers are putting together a small team to develop a discussion paper on suitable approaches to its use in this Congregation, and possibly as a strong external outreach into the Caloundra District. It is suitable to small groups and classes, and also  has a retreat/seminar format. One approach has a two hour time frame covering the twenty minutes of video and incorporating a meal. Another possibility is a study/discussion period for a couple of months before Sunday Morning Church (8-9.10am); another is a full outreach in the style of the recent Anglican “Alpha” Course, with appropriate advertising(recoverable).  Two major issues are (i) leadership, and (ii) follow up support for newcomers within the Caloundra Uniting Church.

This is a major exercise requiring quite a strong commitment by Explorers, and potentially Church if a more innovative exploration of possibilities is undertaken.

“May we live in peace, with a smile on our face and love in our hearts for all humankind”

From Explorers Leaders – John Everall    May 13th 2017.

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A timely new hymn

compassionFrom the creative mind of Andrew Pratt with title and tune suggested by Rex Hunt comes this timely song for worship or group gathering.

Stir Up Compassion”  (Tune: ‘Was Lebet’, 12 10 12 10)

Hopeless to help in the face of catastrophe,

helpless while watching this picture unfold,

history repeating with such regularity,

innocents injured while violence takes hold.

 

Where is the love when our cities are targeted,

common humanity shattered or lost?

How can we love when such hatred is harvested,

offering grace while not counting the cost?

 

God bring compassion to heal our communities,

love reaching deep to the centre of loss,

meeting us deep in our horror and fearfulness,

vulnerable saviour of comfort and cross.  (© Andrew Pratt 4/6/2017)

 

Alternate Last Verse:

Stir up compassion to heal our communities,

love reaching deep to the centre of loss,

meeting each neighbour in horror and fearfulness,

draw us together through comfort and cross.

oOo

Critical comments about the 40 years of the UCA’s Basis of Union

A RESPONSE TO GEOFF THOMPSON FROM JOHN GUNSON (author of God, Ethics and the Secular Society: does the church have a future? reviewed in Crosslight.)God-ethics-and-the-secular-society-COVER

Rev Dr Geoff Thompson’s Disturbing Much, Disturbing Many: Theology provoked by the Basis of Union, received some attention in Journey On Line in July 2016.

[Both books available from Morning Star Publishing] [Thank you to Rex Hunt for helping us to observe this debate].

Rev John Gunson –

The Uniting Church is this year celebrating the fortieth anniversary of our formation, our coming together.

One of the things worth focusing on must surely be the Basis of Union –  the expression of the faith of the church upon which three separate denominations came together.

Geoff Thompson has done us a service here in his recently published book about the Basis entitled “Disturbing Much  Disturbing Many – Theology  provoked by the Basis of Union”.   I would like to continue the conversation, both because it is important to the future of the Uniting Church, and because Geoff’s analysis expresses only one point of view in our churches and because it is factually wrong about aspects of the Basis, while other aspects of his theses need challenging.

Disturbing-much-disturbing-many_FRONT-COVER.13.5.2016The title of Geoff’s book is apt.  I was certainly greatly disturbed by what Geoff has written.  The framers of the Basis expected their work to “disturb much and disturb many”, probably because they knew it was much out of kilter with how many of those in the three churches would have expressed their faith, but there is very little evidence that such an expected theological disturbance took place, or lasted for long.

As one who was involved (not on the Joint Commission itself, but in other ways preparatory to union), I have a different understanding of much that Geoff asserts about the Basis and its function and significance.

Geoff believes that the Basis of Union was intended as the forever definitive theological basis of the Uniting Church.  Some of those on the Joint Commission may well have believed that, or at least hoped that would be true.

What in fact determined the theological position expressed in the Basis of Union was the pragmatic need to find a basis upon which three very different denominations with widely diverging theological positions could come together in union.  In other words it had to avoid looking like a normative/typical statement of any one of the three negotiating churches.  e.g. “That’s Presbyterian.  We can’t agree to that.  That is a takeover.”  So let’s agree on one of the historic creeds that we give lip service to as part of the church’s history – a kind of neutral ground.  Nicea is more or less recognized across the major expressions of the church as the first definition of faith to come out of an ecumenical council and its attempt to unify the many different theological positions of the time.

Let’s conveniently forget that this supposed “divine revelation” was implemented under Roman Imperial threat for the convenience of the Roman state and empire, and its consequent continuing orthodoxy for the next 1300 years also imposed by the State which everywhere controlled the church.

Geoff refers to God’s “inscrutable ways” to explain the otherwise nonsensical and inexplicable.  The God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is here seen operating totally out of character with what he reveals in Jesus, and in terms of a revelation that he obviously denied to his “only-begotten” “incarnate” “Son”.  Geoff quotes some lonely scholarship that suggests that even if Jesus didn’t claim Messiahship he acted Messianically.  But he makes no case that Jewish messiahship is seen by Judaism as implying anything vaguely approximating the incarnate son of God dying for our personal salvation.

Since the Reformation, with the church increasingly freed from the control of the State, and with the benefit of the European Enlightenment(s) and Biblical and theological scholarship freed from “church” control and censorship, many branches of the church were moving on from Nicea.

Our union 40 years ago happened at a time when neo-orthodoxy /Barthian theology was resurgent (that doesn’t mean it was right).  Had we come together in the 19thcentury we would have had an entirely different  Basis of Union, and Geoff would have been arguing my case – that the Basis of Union was certainly not “for all time”, but simply the best and most pragmatic way to get agreement/union between the churches at the time, and thus subject to review and change.

The second factor at work 40 years ago was the ecumenical spirit of that time.

Dominant in the life of our three churches, it brought home to us powerfully the scandal of denominationalism and disunity.  I, along with many others, was heavily involved in ecumenical activities and the work and scholarship of the World Council of Churches and the Australian Council of Churches.

Congregationalists (my background) historically did not look on themselves as a denomination but as a reforming movement in the life of the church, and we urgently desired and worked for both the continuing reformation of the churches and the unity of the church.  That was a much higher priority than a particular choice of a confession of faith we could all agree about at the time.

We believed that the Basis was a necessary pragmatic concession, in order to achieve union – which we could each interpret in our own way, in spite of its Greek philosophical thought forms, themselves incomprehensible to most.

The majority of Congregationalists would probably not have entered into the Uniting Church if they had not believed that the Basis of UNION was a starting point on which we could come together, not a permanent “once and for all” expression of the faith of the Uniting church.  Such a confession would have been called “The theological basis of the UC’, not the basis of UNION.

To make absolutely sure this was the case, Congregational representatives on the Joint Commission insisted on the inclusion of Paragraph 11.

To those not privy to the background I have described above, Geoff’s interpretation of Para. 11 may seem reasonable.  But, in fact he explains away its essential meaning and purpose, and in fact is quite wrong.

I knew personally the Congregational representatives on the Joint Commission.

Geoff mentions both Henry Wells and Maynard Davies and refers to some of their correspondence.  Maynard was a member of my congregation and I knew his thinking intimately over nearly a decade of close association.

Maynard believed that modern scholarship was giving us new knowledge and understanding of our sources and our faith, and that he expected the Uniting Church to take it seriously and not reject it because it did not happen to reflect literalist interpretations of Bible or creeds or Barthian or any other interpretation of the faith of the church.

For Maynard (along with most Congregationalists) the church was always a church under reformation, and not to be imprisoned by a 1000 year old statement of faith, nor a 1000 year old interpretation of it.  He didn’t believe, as Geoff does, that God wants to be understood in a way that makes no sense to most people today –  thatwhile scholarship and knowledge has moved on, yet God and his works are best understood expressed in the limited knowledge and ancient Greek thought forms forced on the church by a Roman Emperor.

Maynard Davies would have approached each meeting of the Joint Commission with the words of Pastor John Robinson ringing in his ears, as Robinson farewelled the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower, fleeing persecution from “orthodoxy” in England for a new life in America in 1620.

Robinson urged them : “I charge you before God … to follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ.  If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive truth from my ministry, for I am persuaded that the Lord has yet more truth and light to break forth from his holy word. …..  The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw  … and the Calvinists  … stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things.  This is a misery much to be lamented.”

A third and powerful factor also determining the Basis of Union was the vision expressed in the deliberate wording of our name – the Uniting Church in Australia, not the “United” church.  In coming together we all believed that this was only the first step in a larger on-going process of union, beginning with the Anglicans with whom preliminary discussions were already underway, and ultimately, some dared to hope, even with Baptists and Roman Catholics. (See paras 1&2 of the Basis.)

To even start conversations with Anglicans and Roman Catholics we knew we had to have a theological/creedal basis with which they would readily agree.  Nicea made obvious sense.  Further, in support of this goal, great consideration was given on the Joint Commission as to the possibility of including Bishops in the polity of the new church.

Again, all of this was about achieving a starting point, and assumed an ongoing reformation and reformulation of the faith, not a capitulation to the churches with whom we hoped for union, but from which we had since the Reformation distinguished ourselves.

Ecumenism, unity, and the scandal of denominationalism was the driving motivation, formulation of the faith secondary and pragmatic.

Ecumenism and ongoing church union is no longer a central priority of the Uniting Church.   The priorities of 40 years ago need no longer delay our urgent attention to a ”fresh confession of the faith” and the ongoing reformation of the church.

These then are the major misunderstandings and misrepresentations in Geoff’s position, but other aspects of his book are perhaps even more disturbing.

While Geoff rightly refers to and recognises the diversity within the unity of the

Uniting Church, he believes that any departure from what he sees as orthodoxy, orthodoxy based on a once for all revelation by God, is somehow a capitulation to what he calls a modern “relativist” culture which characterises the intellectual world of today.

He declares his belief that “the Creed’s homoousiospoints us to the real intellectual, ethical, cultural and spiritual radicalness of the Christian faith.  It is a reminder that Christianity has reasons for arguing that the love of enemy, generosity to the poor, a relationship with God based on mercy and grace, the universal scope of God’s love, the summons to resist all dehumanizing and unjust ideologies, the realities of freedom and hope ….have a ground in the one who is the Creator and Lord.”  And “that God is not especially impressed by religion or spirituality, that true lordship is servanthood, that forgiveness is unconditional ,”

Geoff contrasts this orthodoxy which he believes points to the radicalness of Christian faith with a number of contemporary scholars whom he believes are captured by the relativist spirit of our age, and whose intent, he declares is either “to dismiss the church and its faith”, or some like Crossan (widely regarded as probably the leading New Testament and Historical Jesus scholar today because of his meticulous and objective research) whom he claims has a deliberate intent to “modernise or re-invent the faith.”

This is so far from an accurate and honest assessment of Crossan that one is tempted to wonder whether Geoff has actually read his research.

But the more important point here is that many, if not most, “progressive” Christians give assent to precisely that “radicalness of the Christian faith” that Geoff refers to above, except that they trace its genesis, not to “the one who is creator and lord”, but to the historical Jesus himself.

If the result of the best contemporary scholarship that Geoff finds so threatening is a radical Christianity that is agreed by both ‘orthodox’ and ‘progressives’, then to make such a fuss about the importance of orthodoxy is to suggest that our particular theology is more important than the life lived.

The Church in Australia moves inexorably through decline to imminent death.  Geoff sees no need to work at reforming the church to reverse this decline because it is the world that is the problem, not the church and its practices and its theology.  As a teacher of theology training our future ministers for the front line, I believe Geoff has an obligation to present impartially all the best scholarship, not just that with which he agrees, and certainly not to denigrate that with which he disagrees and is in fact outside his particular discipline.

Does the Uniting Church have a strategy and program to ensure that both/all versions of “radical Christianity” receive equal exposure and are in active dialogue both in our churches, and in particular in our theological colleges?

Both interpretations of faith involve Jesus at the centre.  Let’s start from there, or just accept that so long as we live what the Christ- life means, whether we find Nicea central to that is a matter of personal choice.

At least the secular world, that has turned away from a Nicean statement of Christianity, needs a chance to hear and respond to a more contemporary version , based on a more historically accurate version of the man from Nazareth.

That is why Para 11 is in the Basis of Union, and why Congregationalists came into the Uniting Church.

John Gunson.

A note on John Gunson:

The author is a retired minister of the Congregational Churches in Australia (now Uniting Church). He is a graduate in Arts and Theology from Melbourne, and later completed post-graduate studies in Theology and Christian Education in the USA. He has served parish churches in Australia and the USA, and been Director of Christian Education for the Congregational Churches in Australia.
Retiring early he sought to test his growing questions about theology and the church by undertaking secular employment, where his final lob was as Manager Human Resource Development with a major state road planning and construction authority.
He has been actively involved in the community on issues of social justice and in particular the conservation of the natural environment.

A note on Geoff Thompson:

BAgrSc Hons (Melb), BD Hons (MCD), PhD (Cambridge).  Co-ordinator of Studies: Systematic Theology at Pilgrim Theological College within the University of Divinity. Previously Director of Studies: Systematic Theology at Trinity College Queensland (2001-2013) of which he was also Principal from 2010-2013. Geoff’s research has focused on Karl Barth, Karl Rahner, the functions of doctrine in the church, the relationship between practical and systematic theology, the theology of the Uniting Church (especially the Basis of Union). Current and future research is focused on the relationship between Christology and Discipleship and the theological significance of secular or non-Christian appropriations of, or responses to, the Christian narrative.

oOo

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Love – following Jesus in a postmodern world

While spending May on board a YWAM Australia medical ship with 100 other volunteers in the Milne Bay (PNG) island villages, having no TV or internet, I managed to read several books. This one was a real joy as it helped me place the work of the doctors, dentists, opticians, nurses, pediatricians, general volunteers and crew in a context of being ‘agents of love’. As the oldea conspiracy of lovest volunteer on board and feeling the oppressive heat and humidity, I do not deserve this accolade but witnessed much of what the book described in the people around me.

Then he said to the crowd: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me”…. Jesus of Nazareth.

The author, Kurt Struckmeyer, dedicated this work to his grandchildren with the request that

May you work toward a better world where children no longer weep from poverty and hunger, where they no longer live in fear from violence, and where they are taught kindness. 

If ever a country needed liberating from poverty, sickness, poor government and hunger it is Papua New Guinea. PNG is listed at the bottom of the World Health Organisations scale.

Struckmeyer is, like many of us, on a journey of transformation and non-conformity to this world (Romans 12:2). He was greatly influenced by Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and early in life took up a stance of non-violence and unconditional love that he saw manifested in Jesus teaching. His thinking was furthered informed by Harvey Cox, Hans Kung, William Stringfellow and Clarence Jordan. He set himself the challenge to find a contemporary life of faith that followed the radical nature of the gospel. He has not found this very often in the church and he is “deeply disappointed by the church’s passionless and feeble response to the dramatic social changes of the postmodern world.” So he has looked more closely at the teachings of Jesus than than the mission and message of the church.

In the 1990s he participated in weekend retreats with Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Walter Wink and followed this with the Jesus Seminar conference in California.

He makes the point that his experience has taught him to say with confidence that following the radical teachings of Jesus is not central to religious life in most congregations in America. Like Ghandi he says that following Jesus is not just for Christians, and this is what I experienced on the medical ship where conservative, liberal and non Christians were working on a Jesus agenda together.

This book Conspiracy of Love offers many different people – those who remain in the church, those who dwell on its margins, those who have left, and those who have never ventured near – with a life of faith that is both intelligent and passionate.

I picked up my copy as a Kindle audio book but it is also available in hard cover or soft cover from Amazon.

oOo

 

Book Review – The Shack

The ShackWilliam Paul Young’s novel The Shack became a mega sensation after solid word-of-mouth from America’s Christian community transformed it from a little-known novel from a tiny publishing outfit (operating on a shoestring marketing budget) to a USA Today best-seller. With the film adaptation—featuring Hollywood stars Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer—about to hit Aussie cinemas, Rodney Eivers reviews the 2008 book that launched Young’s career.

The Shack is an intriguing book. On just about every page it raises questions which provoke thought. It is the sort of book I would love to chew over in an analytical Christian study group or in one-on-one conversations particularly with someone exploring Christian faith….

For the complete review go to: https://journeyonline.com.au/scoop/book-review-shack/

oOo