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A Christianity that can be believed in – Paul Badham

October 21, 2016

actcbbiMuch as I like the work of John Hick, this booklet relies too heavily on it.

The author rightly point out that creation ex nihilo is in line wit modern cosmology but the suggestion of a finely-tune universe, though credible, veers too much towards ‘intelligent design’.

Too much reliance is placed on ‘near death experiences’ to prove life after death.

I was very surprised to learn that the Alpha course doesn’t deal with life after death.

The time gap between King and Jesus and between Anglo-Saxon kings and the present day isn’t as close as is suggested.

Quotations:

St. Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century, ‘God in the beginning created only the germs or causes of the forms of life which slowly developed in gradual course over long periods of time.’

If God is truly omnipotent he must be able to create not only genuinely free human beings but also a genuinely autonomous universe. Indeed I a suggest he could not do one without the other. Hence I would argue that God’s inability to intervene within the physical universe should be added to the list of paradoxes of omnipotence alongside his inability to create square circles.

We are told that Augustus required Joseph to go to Bethlehem to pay his taxes there because he was descended from King David. But King David had lived a thousand years earlier, and his dynasty had been replaced many times. To order his descendants to go to David’s city to pay their taxes would be like today’s Government requiring descendants of the Saxon royal family to travel to Winchester to pay their council tax.

 

The Church of England has never officially taught belief in hell since when the 42 articles of religion were drawn up belief in hell was one of three rejected, which is why the Anglican Church ended up with 39 articles. For this reason the legal right of Anglican clergy not to believe in hell was upheld by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1864 and hell was finally repudiated by the doctrine Commission as incompatible with belief in the love of God in their report The Mystery of Salvation in 1995. In reality I think this is also true of much Roman Catholic thought today though that church finds it particularly hard to explicitly repudiate ideas which have once been accepted and sporadic references to hell are occasionally made by church leaders. The latest Catholic Catechism teaches ‘the sad and lamentable reality of eternal death also called hell’. However this assertion is at once qualified by the claim that ‘it is also true that God desires all men to be saved’ and ‘for God all things are possible’. Consequently the Catechism concludes: ‘At the end of time the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness… and God will be all in all.’ A similar situation occurs in Archbishop Carey’s Letters to the Future. He also speaks of hell but immediately follows this with talk of the wideness of God’s mercy which will embrace all humanity, so that in the end God will be all in all.

The response of the churches to the death of Princess Diana provides the clearest picture of what Christians today really believe about sin and salvation. From the perspective of traditional Christian teaching she was a married woman who had separated from her husband and was ‘living in sin’ with another man. But apart from two fundamentalist Sunday School teachers who attracted great press opprobrium, no church leaders spoke of her as a sinner. Instead she became a contemporary icon of the Virgin, Mother, and Martyr archetypes. She had been the virgin bride of the Prince of Wales, then the Mother of a future king and finally she had been martyred by the wicked press. At her funeral Archbishop Carey prayed for her Muslim lover Dodi al-Fayed ‘in certain hope of resurrection to eternal life’. This was in spite of the fact that Dodi al-Fayed manifestly embraced neither Christian belief nor Christian morality. As for Diana herself, Cardinal Hume made it clear that she was on route for heaven where ‘God locks us for ever into that endless now of God’s ecstatic love.’

The clearest statement of universal hope in the main stream of Christian thinking is Pope John-Paul II’s encyclical on the Redeemer of Humanity in which he proclaimed that ‘every human person without any exception whatever has been redeemed by Christ because Christ is in a way united to the human person – every person without exception even if the individual may not realise this fact.’

The Epistles in the New Testament have all of them a particular reference to the condition and usages of the Christian world at the time they were written. Therefore as they cannot be thoroughly understood, unless that condition and those usages are known and attended to so further though they be known, yet if they be discontinued or changed exhortations, precepts and illustrations of things, which refer to such circumstances now ceased or altered, cannot at this time be urged in that manner , and with that force which they were to the primitive Christians.

It is interesting that as early as 1726 Butler argued that the human situation had changed too much from that of the first century for us simply to apply New Testament ethics to our own situation. Yet the world has changed far more between 1726 and today than between the time of Butler and that of the first century. Hence the truth of his observation is greatly enhanced for us at the present time. In this context it is really extraordinary that some evangelicals can describe the Bible as the ‘makers instructions’ as to how we should live now.

Butler’s sermons were immensely influential within the Anglican tradition because for over a hundred and fifty years virtually all Anglican ordinands were required to study them. Butler’s empiricism was at its most influential in the thinking of the Church of England Council for Moral Welfare which subsequently became the Board for Social Responsibility. In all their reports they took especial care to be thoroughly informed of the empirical facts and of the known consequences of the existing prohibitions. These Church reports had an enormous influence on the so-called `permissive legislation’ of the 1960s which followed very closely their recommendations. Thus the Church’s report The Problem of Homosexuality of 1954 foreshadowed the decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour in 1967. Likewise the report Abortion: an Ethical Discussion published in 1965 paved the way for the legislation of 1967, just as the report Putting Asunder of 1966 recommended a Divorce Law for contemporary society almost identical to that instantiated in the Divorce Reform Act of 1969.

It is tragedy that more recently instead of being in the van of moral reform as the Church was forty years ago the Church is now increasingly at odds with the ethics of a modern civilised society through seeking to re-impose biblical taboos from a very different age. I suggest that it would be far better if we could return to a believable Christian ethics.

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