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ON STILL BEING 'HONEST TO GOD'
60 YEARS ON
A FREE 40 page booklet with an ESSAY, CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS AND 5 FOLLOW-UP DISCUSSION SESSIONS
LAST REMAINING COPIES
What hope is there for the Christian Church in the UK? Not much many would say. Numerical decline and the loss of its former status have been dramatic over the last 100 years. There is no Church 'of England' any more; we are diverse society with no one creed or religion dominant. The remaining believers seem to face a choice: become a salvation sect for members only, based on a supernatural 'faith' that few now find convincing. Or change the record and enter into dialogue with the C21st. Tell a different story about the man Jesus who embodied 'God-ness' for us all, but in a new way that also recognises what we have discovered since. I still want to keep the Jesus story central, but not in the way the Church has traditionally told it.
But let's start with the word 'God' and what it can still mean, which we hardly ever talk about openly. All religious language is metaphorical, not a literal description. Humans devised it; we can change it. John Robinson's short classic book published in 1963 still raises many exciting questions for the open-minded enquirer. He rightly predicted what would happen if nothing changed. Of course it was controversial but over a million copies were sold. The nation was actually still interested then! But the chance was missed with the inevitable consequences.
So in this 60th anniversary year, let's discuss it again and how to respond in a new way. Robinson's main point was that to keep Christianity believable we need not just modernising but 'recasting'. Everything we previously thought true may have to go into the melting pot: our claims about a 'God', the meaning of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, the basis of our moral choices and the purpose of the Church. It's not 'Christianity' as we know it but is that necessarily a bad thing? So why not think it through for yourself and with others to see if anything can be salvaged that might actually make sense in the modern world?
Order sample or multiple FREE copies of the booklet HERE
I am happy to take part in a ZOOM discussion on request
If you only ever read one book that outlines a positive and reflective alternative to fundamentalism, make it this one by Robert Reiss. Written by someone who had a lifetime of ministry in the C of E, not some nit-picking outsider deliberately trying to be difficult!
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, (2016).
My aim is neither to praise nor to bury Christianity but to re-imagine it in a world that is totally different from that in which it was conceived.
Is faith in a supernatural God 'up/out there' and observing a 'religion' the only way to engage with the Jesus story? Can it have a new meaning in our times, not the one about salvation, atonement and a God who 'sent his Son' to die for us? That means nothing to most people now. Is there anything left to believe in? I genuinely hope so.
Christianity has given us a rich historical and cultural legacy. Its music, art, literature and buildings etc. deserve to be celebrated. Much would be lost without them. But rather like the National Trust is having to do, the legacy needs to be contextualised, not simply preserved without question. The Bible has to be interpreted for our times, not just repeated. 'This was what they believed then; what do we believe now'? How has the language and moral/social context changed and how should that be reflected in the message and purpose of the Church today?
Just as with other traditional institutions, many current believers seem unable to adapt their thinking. They seem proud to be out of step and counter-cultural. I'm not. I'd rather see people engaged with the story than alienated from it. It's just not credible to present a C21st message using a C1st theology and world-view. New wine and new wineskins are required. 'Christianity' was built on Empires. As its former power base in the Western world declines, conservative believers need to understand that they are not offering any credible hope for the future. They are just meeting their own psychological needs and will be ignored by all but a few. Much of their approach is based on claims about the Bible which are simply not true, (see below). Is that the only future on offer?
Because it is so much part of me, I still want to draw inspiration from the Jesus tradition, and from many of those who have followed it with integrity. There is a truth here somewhere about our humanity, if not the usually-presented one. With Bonhoeffer, Robinson, Spong and others I am interested only in being fully human, not in being 'religious'. Much of 'Christianity' will have to be left behind as no longer in tune with our modern reality. What Jesus stood for, and why he was killed, was that living for others matters far more than your own supposed eternal 'salvation'. The 'religious' people didn't get it - maybe they still don't. But hIs vision lives on: 'God-ness' made flesh as a dimension of life, not just as a unique one-off in him but as a model for who we all can be.
A PowerPoint presentation for individual or group study. Includes exercises and pauses for reflection.
Some Christians make extravagant claims about the 'authority' or 'inerrancy' of the Bible, based on little or no known facts. Most pay scant attention to how it was actually written and what kind of writing it is. Do they realise that we are all working with varying translations of different copies of unknown 'originals' written long after the event, (if there ever were such 'first editions' of any of its 66 very different books)? This PPT gives an overview based on generally-agreed scholarship. The Bible is what it is; not necessarily what we want it it be. Taking it all 'literally' or as somehow dictated by a God as we have it is a distortion. Most Christians have probably never thought about it or been told the facts. So let's be honest about what we know and see where that takes us. I am happy to speak to this presentation in a ZOOM session on request.
I am a million miles away from those self-confident 'Christians' who believe that they alone hold the keys to eternal life and everything else. So why do I still go to church at all? It's a good question and for years I didn't. It's partly out of habit and for family reasons; partly for the aesthetic and cultural content, (the C of E 'high' church I go to has excellent choral music with intelligent and thoughtful preaching) and partly because I still want to feel part of the community. But I don't go 'religiously' in any sense.
I am as much an observer as a participant, reflecting on what I see and hear, not necessarily agreeing with it all. John Wren-Lewis (whose chapter in the book 'They Became Anglicans' is much-quoted in 'Honest to God'), describes C of E services as 'an affirmation of life and beauty'. I wish they weren't called 'worship' and there are bits I can't join in with. But it's a peaceful space in a not always peaceful city. During the week people come in to sit, or light a candle or just to look around and explore its history. It's still a 'sanctuary' for those who feel vulnerable; a place to keep warm for a while or find a friendly welcome. The quality of life would be lessened if it wasn't there so I still feel some kind of duty to keep it going. Not entirely logical perhaps but there we are. That's where I am, for now.
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The world doesn't need more religion but more humanity. That's what we all share.
WELCOME. Christianity is deeply embedded in my personal, intellectual and cultural identity. So, for all its many impossible beliefs and obvious flaws which trouble me, I still hang on to the C of E. I enjoy exploring its all too-human history. I'm happy to attend Evensong or a quiet reflective service or open-minded study group. I can't say the Creed with integrity and only take communion occasionally. But I still choose to engage with the Jesus story though not based on a religious 'faith'. There is a truth about our shared humanity here. I am sure I'm not the only one who feels like this.
This website contains a variety of resources to interest those looking for a more radical and progressive approach to 'God' and the Bible. You may have been told there is only one response; take it or leave it. That may be true for most believers and non-believers alike. I'm more interested in those who may have given it all up or share my doubts but who are open to finding a new way to go in our C21st context.
For those who are prepared to risk losing the 'faith' they have or searching for something that makes sense in the modern world, I hope this will encourage you to continue in your own journey. FEEDBACK is always welcome.
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