Skip to content

Fighting Fundamentalism – Douglas Bartles-Smith

October 10, 2015

FFI warm to this author’s liberal Catholicism and his demonising of evangelicals as I have agreed with him on most points.

However, as I mature, I met ‘real’ evangelicals and slowly, and painfully, started to realise that they are not all fundamentalists nor do they all believe in penal substitutionary atonement.

And he isn’t really an anglo-catholic – he suggests that mark of the true anglocat was to kneel during the incarnatus during the creed – that wasn’t the case – most ‘higher than middle of the road’ churches did the same back in the day. This book is really an apologia for ‘South Bank religion’.

Yes, the evos are back in the ascendancy again but this is nothing new – they have bounced back and forth through the decades and, if you tell the Anglican story from their point of view they have as much claim to being authentic Anglicans as we have.

And he’s wrong to say that evangelicals aren’t interested in the ‘social gospel’ – they actually put the rest of us to shame sometimes whem it comes to issues of justice and peace.

Yes, we go to the pub after mass. That’s what Jeffrey John out of Welsh Calvinism.

It’s odd that he quotes an evangelical bishop against evangelicalism.

The great David Edwards reviewed it saying: ‘It is a pity that the spiritual autobiography of a thoroughly admirable priest, a former Archdeacon of Southwark, has this title. It sounds negative and offensive, and it seems to be an admission of defeat, since one of the chapters is entitled “The Triumph of Fundamentalism”…. But the fact that he has put these feelings on paper implies some hope that one day the pendulum will swing again.’

He frequently tries to show how tolerant he is of gays, whom he calls ‘homosexuals’ yet every reference says that so and so ‘liked the company of young men’. He seems to equate it with lust rather than love and is guilty of serious and misleading stereotypes. He wouldn’t dare say that he enjoyed the company of ‘young women’ as if he were some ‘dirty old man’.

He gives a very good summary of liberal theology for the intelligent layman.

Although he joined the Christian Socialist Movement he quotes, seemingly with approval, the way in which the c church bought into Thatcherism by taking over outsourced social work contracts from local authorities.

He must be the last generation of curates to have six other colleagues and to always wear cassocks outdoors.

He is spot on when he says that George Carey didn’t do his homework when speaking to members of the faith in the City report – he just bumbled in and spoke without preparation and, thereby, insulted experts by telling them that they had no expertise. I’ve also seen him do this.

The evangelicals who were suffragan bishops in Southwark were what we would no call ‘open evangelicals’. The same is true now but there are several rumblings of discontent as today’s evangelicals flex their muscles (and close their wallets when it comes to quota).

Quotations:

however, as I matured a little and met ‘real’ evangelicxals, I slowly and painfully began to realise that they are not all fundamentalists and not all of the believe in penal substitutionary atonement.

The Church of England when I was a boy was very different from the Church today. In the 1930s Conservative Evangelicals had very little influence, but gradually, throughout my lifetime, this Militant Tendency within the church has grown in power and influence. Today they form the largest party in the Church and some of their number are close to returning the Church to a dark age of blinkered, bible-based bigotry.

Desmond Tutu rightly sees Fundamentalism as a grave threat to world peace. ‘Religious extremism filled the void created by the collapse of dictatorships and the end of the Cold War, he told diplomats at the United Nations, ‘That is when Fundamentalisms arise, because then people are deeply distressed by complexity,’ he explained. ‘They look for simplistic answers.”

The Mass over, the men in the congregation went down to the Lion Hotel for a pre-lunch drink with the clergy and choir. For Jesus to be born in a pub was therefore very appropriate. To Catholics like us the Mass and the pub went together.

The Catholicism of the 1950s was very different from the divided and sometimes strident Catholicism in the Church of England today. It was confident, moderate and liberal in its approach.

I heard the Evangelical sermon for the first time. I say Evangelical sermon because it was always essentially the same thought dressed up in different trappings. It was a sermon which even as a boy I greatly disliked. How could God be such a monster as to will the violent death of his own son so that sin could be taken away?

Bishop Colin Buchanan, with whom I later worked when he was Bishop of Woolwich, makes this very clear in his book Is the Church of England Biblical? ‘There was a “backs to the wall” persecution complex, he wrote. ‘No Evangelical ever became a Bishop; the Evan­gelical colleges and their whole theological stance were dubbed “stone age” by the rest of the Church.

Looking back, the thing I disliked most was the way notices were given out. A doul would stand on a table and give out the notice and say, ‘God Save the Queen and down with the radicals’! Later, whilst still at Shrewsbury, I would see the radicals as the real heroes.

Such a radical Shrewsbury was a challenge to faith. It was a very questioning environment which satirised all institutions, including the Church. I still believed in God and argued strongly for the Catholic faith with my fellow sixth formers and with Laurence Le Quesne. But Shrewsbury was changing me and I was becoming more liberal in politics and religion. I could no longer believe certain parts of the Bible and for the first time was beginning to question whether I ought to be ordained

There were two books which helped me considerably at this time. The first was Herbert Butterfield’s Christianity and History. Part of it dealt with the problem of suffering, which many have found hard to reconcile with a loving God. But Butterfield made it clear ‘that only in a world where suffering is possible and vicarious suffering attainable, can human beings measure the heights and depths of love and reach the finer music of life. Because there is tragedy in history love itself is brought to burn with an intenser flame in human experience: He also warned that `it is essential not have faith in human nature. Such faith is a recent heresy and a very disastrous one:’

Dr Stafford-Clark’s definition would often be quoted by me: ‘Everyone is born with an innate prejudice in favour of oneself. No one is born with an innate prejudice in favour of other people. The job of religion is to give people that prejudice in favour of other people which they don’t naturally have Original sin therefore needs to be taken very seriously ‑ not least by religious people.

The other book which helped me was John Knox’s Criticism and Faith. I had long had difficulty with parts of the Bible. But no one had pointed out the obvious fact that Jesus had to be the final authority rather than the Bible or the Church. John Knox wrote, `It is not what was written that has authority, but what happened. The Bible has value only because it brings us a first hand account of that happening. The event is the important thing, not the account, and we must interpret the account to I recover the event.

Evangelicals had not been popular and in 1768 six students were expelled from St Edmund Hall for ‘too much religion. I eventually became president of the Liddon Society and encouraged the discussion of theology, mainly through talks from invited speakers during the year.

The Essay Society met to hear essays written by its own members. I still have the essay which I delivered on ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It reveals an important strand of my thinking at the time. The essay starts by commending a remark made by the journalist Walter Lippman that, ‘It was our human propensity to insist on having an opinion, when all that we are entitled to have is an open mind…how often do we air our views on world affairs, the bomb, religion, communism, sex such like questions, as if we really knew enough about those subjects to give a considered opinion? How often does our opinion on these only reflect the ‘pride and prejudice’ of our particular interests,….party, creed or any other system of thought to which we committed ourselves, rather than a free process of thought entirely independent of these forces?

`Christ, in Origen’s old words: says Robinson, ‘remains on the Cross as long as one sinner remains in Hell. That is not speculation: it is a statement grounded in the very necessity of God’s nature. In a universe of love there can be no heaven which tolerates a chamber of horrors, no hell for any which does not at the same time make it hell for God. He cannot endure that, for that would be the final mockery of his nature.’ But Robinson still took seriously the parable of the Sheep and the Goats and the need for choice. However when we really see Christ lifted up from the earth drawing us to him on the cross, all is possible. For ‘no person in the end can bear that encounter for ever; for it is an encounter with a power than which there can be nothing greater, a meeting with omnipotent Love itself. This love will take no person’s choice from him, for it is precisely his choice that it wants. But its will to Lordship is inexhaustible and ultimately unendurable: the sinner must yield.’

Gradually I became aware that many of the things which had troubled me over the years and from quite a young age, need not have done so.

I had already learnt from John Knox that Jesus Christ was the authority rather than the Church or the Bible. I now realised that biblical criticism was the way to reveal the authentic and authoritative Jesus. The New Testament was written down at different times. The earlier writings being more likely to be accurate than the later ones. The gospels were based on material which was already in existence and was used in worship, the equivalent of the readings we have at services today. These were strung together by the gospel writers at a later date, often to advance their own spin. It was possible therefore to discover what the first preaching (Kerygma) was, and to know which sayings of Jesus were likely to be authentic.

It was very encouraging to find that the first preaching included the Crucifixion and Resurrection which of course was essential for the truth of Christianity. I also found it helpful that some of the things which I found difficult to believe were written down later. These were therefore either considered by the writers to be secondary, or were possibily not authentic at all. What mattered was that the essential things were preached in the earliest days.

I was also introduced to Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich and Joseph Fletcher. My excitement in reading these theologians was not because I agreed with all they said, but because they were tackling the problems I had long wrestled with, and were not afraid to follow the truth wherever it led them.

The Christian gospel declares people are fallen and in the grip of evil powers. Satan and his host cause us to sin and are responsible for our alienation from God. We are helpless in the grip of evil agencies. This has little meaning for us today. But if we ‘demythologise’ and get at the basic experience behind the thought forms of the first century, we get something like this: We are in the grip of our own desire to achieve security and control our future in our own way; we look to visible and tangible things to give security like money, pleasure, power and ambition. But because all these things are transitory, and life is essentially insecure, people who base their lives on these things are always prisoners. Moreover we are bound to achieve our security and answer our own future at the expense of other people’s efforts to do the same. Hence arise anger, jealousy and all kinds of strife and bitterness. Such persons have lost their freedom and are slaves to their own anxieties, cannot be themselves and then cannot give themselves to others in love. All this is what the New Testament calls Sin and being possessed by Devils.

The opposite of this in New Testament language is Redemption or being in the Spirit; that is to say being released from the tyranny of the Evil power, Sin and Death and being filled with one supernatural kind of strength coming down from above. Demythologised, this means being open to the future, being released from the past and its guilt, no longer being compelled to carve a niche for ourselves to secure our future, but being prepared to abandon it trustingly into the hand of God.

It is also freedom from the compulsion to win recognition by our own efforts instead of being allowed to receive it as a gift, to be bold enough to allow God to accept us as we are, because He loves us, not because of anything we have to show which might appear to earn his acceptance. Thus we are free from anxiety, and so are able to enter into fellowship with others on the basis of generous, self-giVing love. This is the life of Faith — the life of the Spirit.

However we cannot change from one state to the other by our own efforts, but only by encountering a compelling and liberating word or assurance which comes from outside ourselves. For Bultmann firmly believed it was only through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus that we finally get the power to change from one state to the other.

Faith means surrendering ourselves freely and trustingly, in spite of our great doubts and with open eyes into the hands of God so that he can make us whole. For it is only when we have completely surrendered ourselves to Him, when we have confessed our faults to Him, only then can we.be grasped by the power of His healing grace, by the power of the New Being, and have peace of mind.

Such a faith, says Tillich, is more like courage. The courage first of all to throw ourselves into the hands of God, in spite of all the objections that can be raised against such a course. The courage also, once this is done, to accept the fact that we are accepted by God and to continue to live our lives in this conviction. So that at length the knowledge of our acceptance penetrates the innermost depths of our being and we can at last give ourselves completely to God and others.

General rules are still helpful so long as `Love’ as defined in the New Testament has the final say. For sometimes such ‘Love’ does say, break the rules.

A good example of this was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was involved in the plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was a distinguished theologian who was also a modern Christian Ethicist. He was executed for his part in the plot. In Tegel prison yard he was questioned by a fellow-prisoner and asked how he justified what he had done. Bonhoeffer replied, ‘If he, as a pastor, saw a drunken driver racing at high speed down the kurfursten­damm, he did not consider it his only or his main duty to bury the victims of the madman, or to comfort the relatives; it was important to wrench the wheel out of the hands of the drunkard: What Bonhoeffer did was what Jesus’s ‘Love’ told him to do in the situation he was in.

We learn therefore from the Bible that to follow Jesus must mean standing by the poor, the marginalized and the excluded. From my time at Wells onwards I found this particularly important in a society where most people have become rich, comfortable and powerful, because they form a majority of the Electorate, and vote at General Elections mostly in their own interests. The leaders of the political parties know this, and i believe there are no votes in helping the poor and marginalized. This is a cancer at the heart of our society. A dictatorship by a rich and powerful majority which excludes the poor minority from having any real voice is a very horrid thing, even when it happens in a democracy and through the ballot box. This is why the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider. At Wells I hoped the Labour Party under Harold Wilson would I change this, but I now believe that the comfortable majority will ensure no political party makes the changes that would prove really effective.

A whole morning would be spent each week taking the reserved Sacrament to people who were sick or housebound. One of the nuns would walk in front of me as I held the Sacrament. She would go inside the home to prepare everything whilst I waited outside. I would then enter, take a short service and administer the Sacrament. I then left, leaving the nun to clear up before following her to the next house. The whole procedure now seems extraordinary, especially at I was not allowed to have any conversation with the person receiving the sacrament.

Tony did not mind us drinking but we were not allowed to go to pubs in the parish.

THE London bombs have made people even more worried about Religious Fundamentalism. It is clear that many Muslims are as counter cultural as many Conservative Evangelicals would have us be. They hate the culture in which they have been brought up. 31% of Muslims who were polled in a Telegraph YouGov poll’ shortly after the London bombs exploded agreed with the statement: ‘Western dem­ocracy is decadent and immoral and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end but only by non violent means:

David Banting, Chair of Reform, is not saying anything very different when he adds: ‘We are moving into a world where the Church is going to have to be counter cultural, more so than it has been for a thousand years: Stephen Bates the Guardian journalist warns that ‘Just as the Militant Tendency tried to subvert the old Labour Party in the 1980s, so the Church of England is being invaded by a Taleban Tendency with its own agenda and strong determination to win. This is a takeover bid, to create a pure church of only one sort of believer. And it has found allies in the USA and the developing world: Stephen Pritchard writing in the Observer agrees with this and adds: `What the Evangelicals cannot grasp is that their self-righteous crusade against a tiny minority is driving away thinking heterosexuals, disgusted at their tactics and dismayed that the Church’s leadership is so supine’. Finally Joan Smiths writing in The Times said that she and her friends saw that ‘Militant religion is the gravest threat to the secular modern world . . . Individual freedom depends on keeping religion firmly in its place: We need to take these words very seriously and fight to keep the Church of England tolerant and sensible even if this means ditching the Anglican Communion. We need to remember how we became a Church in the sixteenth century. For the Elizabethan Settlement was formed in not dissimilar circumstances to today.

Elizabeth I stood for the Via Media. The extremes of Roman Catholicism and the Puritans (the Evangelicals of the time) were not part of the Established Church. Elizabeth tolerated Catholics and Puritans who were loyal. But she knew that both posed a danger to the State and the Church. The Pope issued a (fatwa’ excommunicating Elizabeth and encouraging Catholics to kill her. The Puritans were already stirring up trouble, which would lead in the end to the beheading of Charles I, and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell — a society which even extremist Muslims would not find decadent.

The Church of England in Elizabeth’s time was still a very broad Church. From those who wanted to keep Bishops, the Sacraments and some Catholic practices to those who were moderate Puritans. From time to time some people attempted to make the Church more Puritan, but Elizabeth insisted on moderation and pounced on extremists.

Members of the Church of England need to remember this today. No one wants the Conservative Evangelicals to give up their beliefs, but they must allow others to keep theirs, and this they are not doing at present. There would be no problem over homosexuals for instance, if the Con­servative Evangelicals allowed the Liberals to hold their view, whilst they held to theirs. This would seem the sensible thing to do, over an issue which many believe to be secondary, when compared with the main doctrines of the Church. It already happens over the ordination of women to the priesthood where ‘two integrities’ have been agreed. But the Conservative Evangelicals refuse to do this because for them it is a major issue as scripture they believe says homosexuality is wrong. Therefore to accept homosexuality is to deny scripture.

This is a pretty dubious argument for many reasons. The Bible is not clear on the issue. Jesus says nothing against homosexuality. Paul is against homosexual promiscuity, but says and knows nothing of homosexual partnerships which are not promiscuous. There are a few verses in the Old Testament which condemn homosexuality but many more which condemn usury, and I don’t know of many Evangelicals who refuse to take interest from a bank. Scripture has not prevented Evan­gelicals being against slavery — though many opposed Wilberforce at the time of abolition. Most Evangelicals have been able to support women priests; so what is the problem over homosexuality? It seems we only have homophobia left as a reason.

But there is no doubt many Conservative Evangelicals view the Bible differently from others — not least from the way I have used the Bible in this book. They believe in the verbal inspiration and sole authority of scripture. They treat the Bible like Muslims treat the Koran (Qur’an).

They are in fact Fundamentalists. They ignore what has been Anglican teaching since Elizabethan times, when the theologian Richard Hooker formulated the classic Anglican position which called for reliance not just on ‘scripture, but also on ‘tradition’ meaning the whole inspired experience of the Church of Christ, and on ‘reason’ as the God given glory of humanity. All three must be used if we are to get at the truth. Fundamentalists rely only on one. But it is the lack of any real ‘authority’ being given to ‘reason’ which causes the harm. –

The debate about homosexuality therefore has become the defining moment for many Conservative Evangelicals who only rely on scripture. Wallace Benn the Bishop of Lewes makes this very clear:

I think homosexuality is the presenting issue of a much deeper problem, which is how faithful to the teaching of the Bible will the Church be? It teaches us God’s perspective on how he made us and how we are meant to relate to one another sexually. Jesus offers forgiveness and a new way of life. If the gospel says believe in Christ, if I change what it says, I change the Bible. Homo­sexuality has become the key. I wish it wasn’t, but it has become the issue we are presented with.

Many believe that Conservative Evangelicals have chosen this ground in order to take over the Church of England. Christina Rees, who has served on the Archbishop’s Council and is a liberal Evangelical, believes this to be the case:

Conservative Evangelicals want to govern the institution of the Church and all its boards and councils. That is their avowed aim. They want to end up running the whole Church, to make theirs the dominant view . . . Cultural imperialism is now coming from the developing world. Just as it is wrong for Victorian missionaries to cover up nudity among Africans in the nineteenth century, we are now being told that we are wrong and that we have to live in a certain way. That doesn’t make it right. We have learned to treat other cultures with respect but what is clear is that when some Anglicans speak out on the issue now, it comes with a threat.

I think it is about how men see themselves. It is about a cultural under­standing of manhood and masculinity. It is anathema to men to think of not being very heterosexual. In Africa there is no concept of sexual orientation as there is in the West. Things which threaten the patriarchy will not be tolerated.

The likely strength of Conservative Evangelicalism in the future can be seen in some universities. We are rightly worried about universities as a breeding ground for Muslim Fundamentalists. We should worry also about Fundamentalist Christians. In September 1999 the Guardian reported their huge success at the University of Durham where the Evangelical Christian Union is the biggest university society with 500 members. Jonathan Margolis believes that Christianity may be becoming the ‘symptom of youth rebellion — a novel counter-culture for students: One student, hitherto a churchgoer, expresses her concern at what is going on in what she describes as ‘in your face’ religion: It very soon became obvious that it was not only Evangelical, but very Orthodox and Fundamentalist with elements of racism, sexism and homo­phobia.

What is striking is the conservative interpretation of the Bible, with a narrow view of morals that ignores, for example, consumerism, and does not prevent these students from moving to take well-paid jobs with vast multi­national conglomerates with little moral concern for the parts of the world they exploit.

The prospect of a flood of hardline religious zealots emerging from Britain’s universities who see other Christians as simply wrongheaded is no more encouraging than the Fundamentalist views of some Muslim youths. The dangers of growing Fundamentalism here, especially if it becomes politically useful, as it now is to politicians in America, is obvious.

There is the prospect also of Christians and Muslim Fundamentalists working together to change society towards the goals they share. David Banting, the leader of Reform in the Church of England, told Stephen Bates of the Guardian, that one of the things he had learned from net­working with Muslims in his former parish in Oldham was that they cannot understand a Church where people can question the faith. ‘I learned not to be frightened of clear Christian convictions. There was a huge common ground on social and moral issues with the Muslims. We had solidarity: The truth of this became clear in January 2006 when Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, told BBC Radio 4 listeners that same-sex relationships risked damaging the foun­dations of society, and scientific evidence showed that homosexuality carried high health risks.

Each of our Faiths tells us that it is harmful and, I think, if you look into the scientific evidence that has been available in terms of the forms of various illnesses and diseases that are there, surely it points out that where homo­sexuality is practised there is a greater concern in that area.

Such a medieval view is swimming against the tide of public opinion. Most of us would prefer Britain as it is, grounded in the toleration of the Elizabethan Settlement and the Enlightenment. We are proud of British democracy, and far from seeing the West as decadent, we see it as a place of freedom of thought for people of all sorts and where we can still question religious faith. We are against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia. We are glad we are no longer subject to religious prohibition on extra marital sex, abortion, homosexuality and contraception. The findings of science and evolution are accepted and therefore taught in schools.… These two provinces in the Anglican Communion are shining lights which need our support against their Fundamentalist opponents. We must side strongly with them and make this clear in any way we can. We must listen to Archbishop Winston Ndungane of South Africa rather than Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. If the Anglican Funda­mentalist Bishops threaten to wreck the Anglican Communion, we should let them do it, rather than give way to their demands. The Anglican Communion is only worth saving if the Fundamentalists are not in control and the American and Canadian Churches are part of it. For there is much at stake here. The Church of England will only be credible intellectually in the future, if it sides with the forces of reason.

To return to the home page, click on the header at the top of this page.

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: