Martyn Percy

At last weekend’s conference about John Robinson’s Honest to God, Martyn Percy gave a lecture on ‘Being honest about the Church’. It was a powerful challenge to church authorities, all the more impressive coming from the principal of a leading theological college.

Martyn is in close touch with the priorities and concerns of the Church of England’s leadership. He argued that church leaders spend too much time talking about evangelism and organisation and not enough about God. 35 of the 42 dioceses in the Church of England have straplines. The most common word in these straplines is ‘transform’. ‘Jesus’ and ‘love’ do not occur at all!

James Crossley at the Honest to God conference

At the recent weekend conference on John Robinson’s Honest to God  one of the speakers was James Crossley, a New Testament scholar at Sheffield. Crossley’s talk raised two questions in my mind. One is about Jesus’ ministry to the destitute at a time when, some scholars think, the economy was growing. I discuss that elsewhere. The other was about how much we know about Jesus.

The reason for asking Crossley was that Honest to God has a chapter about Jesus, entitled ‘The Man for Others’. Personally I don’t like the title – I imagine Jesus as a spare pair of hands willing to repair anyone’s bicycle punctures – but Robinson’s point was that a Christianity based on Jesus must pay attention to his real human person, not just speculate about the Christ of faith.
 

Last weekend we had our weekend conference on Honest to God, organised jointly by the Progressive Christianity Network and Modern Church. It was held at the conference centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire where I made a new friend, pictured here. He was stuck in a field on his own and presumably feeling pretty bored.

The 50th anniversary events were almost entirely positive. Not much was said in any of them that was critical of Robinson or his famous book. I wasn’t at the 25th or 40th anniversary events, but I’m told that they were more critical. On both those occasions it seemed as if Honest to God expressed the mood of a brief phase, the permissive 1960s, and had little lasting value. Now it looks different. It may have been a brief phase then, but it is just what we are looking for today. I have written at length on that elsewhere.

Honest to God cover

This was the title of the Liverpool session held on Monday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Robinson’s Honest to God.

About 60-70 people attended, mostly older people who could remember when it first came out. For that many to turn up, in a city with Liverpool’s history, was a surprise. The book must have meant a lot to those people, and judging from the discussions it did. Lively memories of 50 years ago emerged. For a certain generation it was, clearly, a life-changing time. Why?