Wednesday, 12 October 2011

What (do) Anglican clergy believe ...

I spent much of yesterday at a conference for Colchester Area clergy and readers, listening to DrPaula Gooder, a freelance writer and theologian and an associate lecturer at St Mellitus College.
Dr Gooder was speaking on the subject of her latest book, titled Heaven. What she had to say was perfectly OK. What I found myself wondering was why it had to be said to this particular audience.
I would have hoped that clergy would be familiar with the notion of sheol as the abode of the dead, rather than the equivalent of later notions of ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’. I would equally hope we’d thought a bit about what exactly is the nature of the afterlife. And I would agree with her (and, even more so, Tom Wright) that our hymnody preserves some pretty unhelpful notions: “Where like stars His children crowned, All in white shall wait around.”
Listening to the questions from the floor, however, I began to think perhaps we do need a rehearsal of basic doctrine and biblical background. The trouble with having a hundred plus Anglican ministers under the same roof is that you’re probably housing ninety or more theologies, most of them beginning with the phrase, “What I believe is ...”.
It also chimed in rather nicely with the issues I posted earlier about liberalism. One of things I said I wanted to know is what Christian liberal theology has to say about “The future fate of the universe in general and humans in particular.” Judging from yesterday, that question is worth asking.
There was a nice irony to the day, which was held at the church of St Peter ad Vincula,Coggeshall. On the way in, I picked up a leaflet titled, What do Christians Believe? Always worth checking, as I said to myself!
This certainly had about it a feel of ‘liberalism’: “Christians use the Jewish scriptures ... We accept some of the writings of the early christians [sic] also as scriptural ...”.
Rather amusingly in the context, however, it concluded, “We hope that beyond this life ... we shall be in the presence of God and be united with our loved ones, and that we shall find our fulfilment as human beings in the heavenly life of Eternity.”
I think Dr Gooder would have choked on her coffee at that one, seeing as how she spent most of the day telling us that was precisely not the biblical understanding of our hope.
The lunch, incidentally, was excellent.
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  1. I have always believed that theology should give way to lunch.
    Peter Carrell
    (who couldn't post from "Google Account")

  2. John 14:2-3 (ESV)
    In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

    Now without agreeing with, 'Where like stars His children crowned, All in white shall wait around.' this text seems pretty heavenly to me.

  3. Interesting, John. What is Jesus' father's house - according to John's gospel?

  4. It is:

    Where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. (The third heaven, God's presence))

    The father's House is the heavenly reality of which the Temple on earth was the model (Jn 2:16)

    In the temple, I believe, were rooms where the priests lived. I take it this is what Jesus means by 'many rooms'.

  5. Surely the 'problem' with 'wait around' is that we tend to think that wait = inactivity (like 'waiting for a bus'). I'd always read these lyrics as being 'wait as in waiter'. An inactive waiter is a rubbish one. In heaven, we won't be inactive, but we will be serving our Lord and Maker for all eternity.

    Mike, Birmingham

  6. I think you are quite right that 90% of answers will begin with "I believe."

    What percentage stand up and say, "The Church teaches..." or "the Bible says..."?

    U.P. (for whom the Google account worked this time but didn't for the Jupiter photos)

  7. it was better than last February at Fordham anyway!

  8. What do you mean, Tim? I thought we were told we'd had a 'feast' or some such last February. ;-)