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Christ Alive and at Large: Unpublished Writings of C. F. D. Moule – edited and introduced by Robert Morgan and Patrick Moule

April 24, 2016

CAAALCharlie Moule was a ‘liberal evangelical’ (he liked the term like ‘Prayer Book Liberal Protestant’) New Testament scholar who went to a public school in my home town. He was affectionally known as “Holy Mouley”

He came from an eminent church and missionary family. He obtained a first at Cambridge and trained for ordination at Ridley Hall, where he later became vice-principal at the age of 28. His Cambridge career culminated in his appointment as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, a post he held for 25 years, where he influenced a generation of Anglican leaders. This text includes an introduction to the life and works of C. F. D. Moule, a compilation of his writings on topics including the energy of God, biblical theology, and Christian practice and belief, as well as a collection of his sermons.

He produced two main written works: The Birth of the New Testament, first published in 1962, which explores the context in which the New Testament was written, and The Origin of Christology, published in 1977, which proposed that the church’s understanding of Jesus had not evolved but rather developed and matured over the centuries. He also contributed to the translations of the Apocrypha and New Testament in the New English Bible, although he preferred the Revised Version. His other published works include An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek (1953, 2nd ed. 1959), The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (1957), The Phenomenon of the New Testament (1967), The Holy Spirit (1978), and Essays in New Testament Interpretation (1982) and Forgiveness and Reconciliation, and other New Testament Themes (1998).

He’s decidedly protestant about Mary and ARCIC and insists that the presence of Christ in Holy Communion is in the action not the elements so their reverent consumption at the end is to prevent superstition. He doesn’t see the taking of the reserved sacrament by lay people to the housebound as anything other than a ‘reminder’.

Hew’s good on penal reform but not on ‘other religions’ or anti-Judaism in the New Testament.

I like the suggestion that some of the theology which he opposed was ‘more C. S. Lewis than C. K. Barrett.’

He was a good communicator at different levels: in the lecture hall and in the pulpit of a village church.

It tells you what sort of man he was when his brother found him in a chair by the bed, after an operation, con­nected to various tubes, and with, beside him on the table, his Greek Testament and the latest Harry Potter.


his theology was never angular or sectarian (remember his generous support of the litur­gical experiments of his successor as Dean of Clare, John Robinson), but there was a clear, eirenic but firm foundation in Protestant principle that made him very uneasy with what he regarded as the drip-feed of some sorts of Catholicizing devotion into Anglican practice. He always insisted (as he did in his beautiful brief work on the Holy Spirit, pub­lished not long after his retirement) that you blessed people not things; he was always uncomfortable with the spirituality of the Three Hours on Good Friday, insisting that this was the day above all days when a spirituality of the imitation of Christ was inappropriate, since you were celebrating what Christ alone and unrepeatably had done.

And that takes us back to what happened in those long and apparently quiet years in Clare, in the Margaret Chair, in wonderfully active retire­ment in Ridley once again. What happened was Christ. Everything Charlie wrote about the New Testament began from the uncompromising and un­qualified insistence that we could understand nothing about the text unless we understood that it was rooted in contact with Jesus; not memory or inspiration but contact…..As in every holy person, living in the Spirit, Christ was happening in him. And Christ can happen in his disciples and lovers because he is risen, with utter literalness in the sense that there is no dead body to mark the memory of someone who has gone into the past, only the unqualified and limitless life that now ‘contacts’ us in the Spirit. No writer in the New Testament speaks of Jesus otherwise than as living; none of them can think of him except as one who is in the fullest sense contemporary. We can’t get behind that, Charlie insisted: Jesus belongs in the present and, just as significant, in the future

The mid-century Anglican label ‘prayer-book catholic’ has disappeared as the Prayer Book itself has become mar­ginal, but one way to register this loyal churchman’s intellectual hon­esty and devotion to the historical truth as it appeared to a traditional Anglican of his time would be to shade the basic category ‘liberal evan­gelical’ with something like ‘Prayer Book Liberal Protestant’.

The atonement is understood as revelation rather than cosmic trans­action. The whole of Christ’s life of self-giving reveals God. His death concentrated into one hour what the life had always been revealing.

It is not that Christ or man tries to propitiate God, but that God in Christ expiates sin: God — marvel of marvels — suffering in order to neutralize man’s sin. The very initiative is God’s: how then can God be said to be propitiated? He is the subject of the verb, no longer its object.”

He will not say that the Church is the extension of the incarnation, or even of the atonement, because nothing can infringe the unique­ness of Christ. ‘The Church is not co-equal with God as Christ is.’

In the passage in Ephesians 6 about the Christian warrior’s armour, ‘the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God’ (verse 17) is almost certainly not the Bible. If it were, it could refer only to what Christians call ‘the Old Testament’, for the New Testament did not then exist. Rather, the weapon that delivers the winning stroke is simply obedience to the will of God, however found. The function of the Bible is not to speak God’s will directly to us, but to bring us into touch with Jesus Christ, and to make us open to his guidance: he it is who, in his living presence, speaks the ‘word’ or utterance of God to us, if we are sensitive and thoughtful. It is Jesus Christ whom the New Testament calls the ‘Word’ of God (e.g. in John and 1 John I); actually Ephesians 6.17 does not even use the standard word, logos, but rhema, ‘utterance’.

From the top of a London bus I once caught sight of a ‘wayside pulpit’, a board outside a place of worship with a ‘sound-bite’ on it. It said: `God doesn’t hate you any longer’. This appalling message meant that the death of Jesus Christ was a sacrifice that had pacified an angry God. But that is not a Christian message. It is a straight contradiction of the marvel at the heart of the gospel, which is that — astoundingly ­Jesus Christ is ‘one’ with both God and humankind — perfectly divine and perfectly human. He didn’t give his life to placate an angry God.

It has been my professional job to bring as critical and as sceptical an eye as possible to the examination of all the evidence I can find, in the New Testament and outside it, for the nature and origin of the Christian movement, and, above all, of the figure at its heart.

It has been my duty to ask, ruthlessly and with no holds barred, Is this true? Does that stand up to scrutiny? Where is the evidence for such and such a view? How much is legend, how much is history?

In the process, naturally, I have indeed had to jettison some of the beliefs with which I set out. But the central beliefs, I can truly say, have been reinforced; and, above all, the belief in the Word made flesh — the incarnation of God in Jesus, the heart of the Epiphany. This has been impressively deepened and confirmed for me by my sceptical studies.

It is fashionable at present to disparage St Paul, both as a man and as a writer. He was a misogynist, they say; he was arrogant and opinionated; he was hopelessly obscure. But one cannot help noticing that a high proportion of these shafts of criticism are discharged by marks­men, and markswomen too for that matter, who simply do not know their target. A well-known public figure went on record recently, in a religious journal, to the effect that St Paul (I quote) ‘was such a bigot that he was quite happy for those who disagreed with him to die’. But she did not give chapter and verse for this opinion; and since, in the pre­ceding sentence, she had made two gross misquotations from a Gospel, it is not unfair to conclude that she was speaking quite literally without her book. And so it is with many of St Paul’s critics.

That St Paul is a difficult writer, who could deny? The reason for this may be, in part at least, that he seems to think in Aramaic but dictate in rather erratic Greek — not the best recipe for a lucid style. There is cer­tainly much that remains obscure and is endlessly debated. But what is clear enough is the reflection, in all his letters, of one remarkable fact.

Here is a man who, on his own admission, started as an ardent, ultra-observant Jew, an extremist, a ‘fundamentalist’, as we might call him today. In the name of his ancestral faith, he turned the whole force of a literally murderous fury against every follower of the recently executed Jesus of Nazareth.

Why was that? Jesus had been a hugely acclaimed teacher and healer. Yes; but his views were so radical and unorthodox that, to a Jew like Paul, the Jesus-cult that had sprung up must have seemed nothing less than a fatal canker at the heart of Judaism. So he sets out to exterminate it. But very soon (as his letters clearly show) he has done a complete U-turn no less. He is convinced, now, that, after all, Jesus represents the very heart of Judaism, the goal and climax of Israel’s vocation and mean­ing. To belong to Jesus, to be incorporated in him, St Paul now believes, is to be incorporated in the people of God even if you are a Gentile.

When the needle on the -dial spins so wildly, one naturally asks: Is this not some kind of religious fantasy, some manic disorder? Besides, what could it mean to speak of being incorporated in a contemporary indi­vidual, recently executed? According to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul was indeed accused of madness. (Before King Agrippa)

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From → Biblical, Biography

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