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Comments on the conversation published in the April edition
from Signs of the Times, No. 46 - Jul 2012
David Storey's proposed creed is an admirably clear statement in modern English of traditional Christian belief but I believe it fails on three counts. It doesn't lift up our hearts joyfully and make them sing, as does Blake's 'Jerusalem' or 'La Marseillaise' -- compare them with our flat national anthem so devoid of inspiration; 'Love divine all loves excelling' works fine as a hymn but 'Divine Lover' invites ribaldry ('My dear, you must meet my new lover; he's simply divine') and above all because what it says about Jesus is no more true than the parallel passage said or sung in the 1662 Prayer Book: 'And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, ... He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.'
What is true is 'Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried', and it is the distinctive genius of Christianity that it should have seen the essence of God not in acts of power and retribution but as expressed in loving identification with the victim of a cruel and unjust death, a thorn-crowned God reigning forever from an instrument of torture with nail-torn hands outstretched to bless.
The New Testament scholar Frank Beare used to say that the cross was so terrifying that it was nearly a thousand years before Christians could bear to look at it at the front of their churches, preferring to think of themselves as sharing in God's judgement on the world, a distinctly unchristian attitude towards others.
Founded in 1898 to be the cutting edge of thought in the Church of England, now calling ourselves 'Modern Church', it's as well that we don't ask our members what they believe. Also in April's issue at the top of the back page is the claim: 'We believe divine revelation has not come to an end.' What revelation? Isn't it time we gave up on all outdated concepts - and, with all the world's religions, became far more radical?
Patrick Lewin was convenor and chair of a philosophical society and is a Modern Church council member.
As a lawyer, I learned early in my career how positive words may conceal a negative meaning or intention. I thought of this when I read your words to David Storey that Creeds "usually emerge to answer the questions of the day". He replied making reference to "context". Creeds, covenants, gang songs, whatever they all make rules for enforcement on the followers with a strictness that the Lord will not own. For longer and unrecitable equivalents, try reading of the Thirty-nine Articles and the Windsor Report. Both reveal in positive wording almost only what the Church is against. If only it could be clearer about the positive of what it is for. The numbers of followers would increase exponentially!
Anthony Hannay is a retired lawyer involved in reconciliation ministry based on Liverpool Cathedral.
David Storey finds the churches' emphasis on the distinctive divinity of Jesus "alienating and unhelpful". May I urge that, unless a particular human being was also Emmanuel, God with us, in a strong sense, Christians have no answer to offer anyone who is seized by the problem of evil. If the Cross was only one more painful death, how could the Creator, safe on high, have the right to make a world with so much suffering?
Lady Helen Oppenheimer is a moral philosopher and theologian.