Thank God for diversity?
We have the honour in Oxfordshire this year of hosting the Westminster Faith Debates on “The Future of the Church of England”. On Thursday at the University Church in Oxford the 4th of 5 debates took place on the theme of Diversity. Much was said by a fairly diverse panel and some brave and thoughtful contributions emerged from the floor. One such was the hope expressed that newly-empowered women priests (and bishops) should find it hard not to be sympathetic to the demands by gay people for equality within the church. Another came a good two-thirds of the way through the debate when someone stood up and implied that we might have been skirting the real issue, which is that “we have a problem with the Bible”.
Of course some people don’t have a problem with the Bible – in fact it serves them rather well: just look at the size of their congregations, pointed out the representative of Anglican Mainstream, alluding to the throngs of students at St Aldate’s and St Ebbe’s in Oxford. But a more striking comment came from someone from US (formerly USPG, a missionary society) who said that if we take the Bible seriously then we must realise that it contains so many theologies that the Church cannot but be diverse. (He might have added that, with the Bible self-evidently a library of 60 or even 90 books of all shapes and sizes and voices and styles, it’s tempting to say that, if this is 'the word of God', one might wish he would make up his mind…)
Symon Hill, associate director of the Ekklesia think tank, wrote in a commentary on a gospel passage about Pharisees and teachers of the law who were asking for a sign:
“God wants us to think for ourselves. This is scary. I have been to plenty of churches that are not comfortable with it, and do their best to ensure that their congregations are all taught the ‘right’ interpretation of the Bible. In contrast, Jesus told parables but rarely explained them. It seems that he wanted his listeners to think through the meanings, whether individually or in discussion with others.”
We shall be doing exactly that on December 7th at Wychwood Library as we respond in our different ways to “The Meaning of Jesus –Two Visions” by Marcus Borg (a leading liberal) and Tom Wright (a leading conservative), both important and respected scholars, well versed in the ‘Historical Jesus’ debate. As the publishers take care to point out on the cover, both have written books which show their commitment to explaining their faith: Borg wrote The Heart of Christianity and Wright Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. As usual at Wychwood Circle we will do our best to make sense of what we believe – and indeed of what others believe.
We meet at 7pm on Sunday December 7th at Wychwood Library in the High Street, Milton under Wychwood, OX7 6LD, ending not later than 9pm. We will focus on Parts 1 (How do we know about Jesus?) and 5 (Was Jesus God?). The book is available in different editions, including second-hand. Originally published in 1999, it came out as HarperCollins paperback in 2007.