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?

Allah in Arabic script

Miroslav Volf has an interesting article on whether Allah is the same as God. In some places, apparently, it matters a lot:

Under the influence of Malay militants, in 2007 the Malaysian Home Ministry decided to enforce the 1986 law prohibiting use of the word 'Allah' in non-Muslim publications. The Malay-language edition of the Catholic weekly Herald was forbidden to use 'Allah' to denote the God Christians worship. In a parallel move, in 2009 the government also ordered customs officials to seize some 15,000 Bibles because they used 'Allah' as a translation for 'God'.

Thinking Anglicans logo

Thinking Anglicans, to which I am grateful for much information, has juxtaposed two items of news which made me reflect on the similarities. One is about women bishops, the other about same-sex partnerships.

Both are stories of majorities becoming minorities and then becoming unpopular schismatics. At each step along the way the amount of respect due to one’s opponents has to be reassessed, and may not last long before it needs to be reassessed again. How will the decisions being made now look in 10 years’ time? In 50 years? Will they look like politically-inspired fudges or far-sighted solutions?