DISCUSSION NOTES: FREE DOWNLOAD BELOW. The book is still easily available, including second-hand from Amazon.
‘Sex was invented in 1963; between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP’. (Philip Larkin – ‘Annus Mirabilis’)
1963 was the year of the Profumo affair as well as the publication of ‘Honest to God’. This short book asked what we mean by 'God' and whether the traditional understanding is still fit for purpose. It questioned the usual meaning of Jesus' death and how we decide about morality. It asked what we mean by 'spirituality' and challenged the Church to do things differently. Since then even fewer people say they believe it all, but has anyone who is left actually noticed?
Bishop John Robinson had recently given evidence for the defence in he Lady Chatterley obscenity trial so he was already (in)famous. Of course the book reflects its time. You have to ignore the constant use of ‘men’ when he means ‘people’. That at least shows that some things have changed in the last 50 years! It is a little difficult to follow in places, but on the whole it is pretty readable – and introduced a British and US audience to 3 German C20th theological giants – Tillich, Bultmann and Bonhoeffer.
Over a million copies were sold, way beyond the publishers’ expectations. People literally bought them as fast as they could be printed. Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, said the book did ‘much damage’, (though he later said he regretted saying it). There was a significant national debate, not only in the Church but in the press and TV etc. But a few years’ later Robinson left his post as Bishop of Woolwich in frustration that the Church was still widely ignored in modern ‘swinging’ London and went back into academic life.
What happened to all those who bought the book? Some, like some of the church leaders who denounced it, probably never actually read it! Others, I suspect, gave their local church a try and were disappointed. Has anything changed since? We had one or two more flowerings of radical theological thought with John Hick, Don Cupitt, David Jenkins and Anthony Freeman, but not much recently other than Richard Holloway. Maybe nobody cares any more. Or maybe the Church is still ignoring the key issues.
In some ways the book is not radical enough for me, especially about the Bible and whether we can still talk of a ‘personal’ God at all. But his concern, like mine, was to stop Christianity becoming irrelevant in the modern world. It still raises many exciting opportunities for the interested enquirer or the radical follower of Jesus today, most of which have never been addressed in open and inclusive debate. Sometimes this has all been considered too difficult for ‘ordinary’ Christians to cope with, or too threatening for them even to be made aware of it. I don’t believe that either objection is true.
All religions were created to answer human questions: What are those questions? And do the traditional Christian ‘answers’ still make sense? We’ll begin there. So I hope you enjoy the journey, even if the going may get a bit bumpy in places! What I offer is my interpretation of this classic book. I am no expert. You might see something entirely different. That’s fine.
The brief FREE NOTES below give you all you need to facilitate a study day/weekend or a series of group meetings, alongside actually reading the book together. CONTACT ME if you'd like me to share in the discussion with you, either in person or by email.
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