Cathedral, university, media join forces to undermine biblical faith
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
“My son feels increasingly called to full-time ministry”, said a friend proudly a few years ago. “He’s only 18, but he’s made the decision to study theology, and he’s got a place at the University of Chester!” I kept quiet, unable to totally share the enthusiasm, as I’ve always felt that academic theology especially in a University setting can undermine and often destroy biblical faith rather than nurture it, especially the kind that is needed for a lifetime of faithful Gospel ministry.
This was confirmed when I read a Church Times lead article (12 August) written by Adrian Thatcher, Professor of Theology at Exeter University. He argued that Christians should fully embrace the contemporary understanding of ‘gender fluidity’. The Bible, he said, largely teaches that women are not a different gender, but a lower, inferior version of the male. After the 17th century the idea of two separate ‘complementary’ genders came in. Today we are so much more enlightened, and have rejected this ‘binary’ model in favour of the idea of gender being a spectrum, based on how people feel and act, rather than their physical sex. The theological backing for this new understanding comes from pushing Adam and Eve into the background, and seeing Jesus as a supra-gender inaugurator of a genderless new and ‘equal’ humanity in which, guess what – “there is no longer male and female”.
Like the proverbial multi-story car park in an area of rural beauty, this is wrong on so many levels. The binary complementarity of two sexes was not invented by the Reformers or enlightenment philosophers, but is explicit in the accounts of creation in Genesis and confirmed by Jesus himself, who was male (and the divine ‘husband’ of his ‘bride’ , the Church). Just as the bible teaches the dignity and equality of all human beings regardless of social status (and the radical, counter-cultural laws of social justice in the Old Testament underlined this), so the message of the Gospel is that salvation, relationship with God, inclusion in the Kingdom of heaven is not dependent on wealth, race or gender, but open to all through repentance and faith in Christ. So the meaning of Galatians 3:28, quoted by Adrian Thatcher, is not that gender is erased or fluid, but that all males and females in Christ, not just the ‘eldest son’, have equal access to the privileges of the Kingdom.
Professor Thatcher’s account is a danger to the church not just because he has mis-read the Bible, but because he has rejected the Bible’s clear teaching about humanity in place of a contemporary humanistic myth which has its origins in ancient non-Christian religions and radical Marxist philosophy (see for example here). This ideology is now given centre stage in the main publication of the Church of England. The Professor’s Gospel seems to be that people do not need to repent and re-align their worldview to Christ, but that Christ can be re-shaped to align with and bless the worldviews of pansexual humanism. It is an explicit call for the church to reject its historic understandings, and capitulate to the powerful spirit of the age.
Two weeks after Dr Thatcher’s article, another piece, this time in the (supposedly more conservative) Church of England Newspaper, showed that this kind of thinking is not just found in the obscure halls of academia, but has really taken hold in the official thinking of the C of E.
Day conferences hosted by University of Chester in that city’s Anglican Cathedral are advertised as part of a research project on ‘sexuality and Anglican identities’ (details here [£]). The first, scheduled for October, will look at the ‘evolving’ understanding of marriage, and features a clergyman in a same sex marriage as one of the speakers. The second conference in 2017 will discuss sexuality, gender and Christianity more generally, and will feature Professor Adrian Thatcher. The Chester theology lecturers who are coordinating the programme, follow the reasoning of the Pilling Report, saying:
“As society continues to embrace the equalities agenda, there is a real danger the Church will become primarily associated with being ‘anti-gay’ in the minds of people… While, of course, this in itself is no reason for the Church to change its understandings of sexuality and marriage, it is important to understand the implications for mission if Christianity is seen primarily as a movement opposed to the equalities most people take for granted”.
Going on to address the transgender issue specifically, Dr Paul Middleton says that the traditional ‘binary’ understanding of sex and gender is ‘undermined’ by the experience of transgender people, and “If this is indeed the case, it seems to me that the whole edifice of the church’s traditional understanding of gender and sexuality could be built on less than secure foundation, and may be in danger of collapsing.”
It’s clear from these comments, and the programme, that the plan is to use the respectability of the academy and the historic place of worship to promote radical change to the Church’s teaching on the nature of humanity, with its expression in sex and marriage in particular. The ‘open forum’ seems to consist of one point of view. The conference organiser and spokesman, whose day job involves teaching theology to young people, is not even trying to hide the fact that he believes the church should draw its authority and its teachings not from the Bible (“a less than secure foundation”), but from a secular humanist ideology which has been aggressively promoted through the culture and finds its expression in the felt experience of a tiny minority of people. Mission, the spokesman assumes, is impossible unless Christians abandon their distinctive beliefs and take on the contemporary ‘trending’ ones promoted by an unrepresentative elite.
Should the church change its beliefs in order to appear less ‘out of touch’ and ‘bigoted’? Will it reverse its decline and grow if it embraces same sex marriage and transgender naming ceremonies? Various examples from history would suggest not. The experience of the church in the Roman Empire in the first three centuries after Christ, the church in China under communism, and in the Middle East today, shows what happens when the church takes its identity and message from the Scriptures, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit for transformative and if necessary, counter-cultural mission.
Ask not for whom the volcano erupts – it erupts for thee, by Albert Mohler [who asks: “Do the sexual revolutionaries and their erstwhile supporters and theologians understand just what they have set loose?”
Today’s revisionists, tomorrow’s roadkill, by Kevin deYoung, Gospel Coalition
How to make the Bible support any sexual practice in three easy steps, by Hans Fiene, The Federalist
Occasional satirist Jeremiah Beanfarmer has written a pseudo-historical parody of the Chester event here:
Panel of speakers to discuss the future of Christian marriage at Corinth conference.
The event is hosted by the Herod Antipas fund on “Sexuality and Judaeo-Christian Identities”.
In the first discussion, at Corinth’s temple of Caesar, featuring Simon the Sorcerer, Alexander the Metalworker and the anonymous teachers of the Nicolaitan and Colossian heresies, panellists will look at the normal understandings of sex and marriage in Roman, Greek and near Eastern pagan societies, including their religious, legal and cultural frameworks, and compare them with the historic Hebrew understanding and the emerging narrative of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
The advance publicity notes that there will be “an increase in marginalisation, irrelevance and disengagement” of the new Christian church if it maintains its strict and counter-cultural code of sexual ethics. “There is widespread acceptance and normalisation of a great variety of sexual practices across the Roman Empire and the near East. Christians and Jews who still cling to an outdated and unworkable model are simply not engaging theologically or missiologically. They are finding themselves marginalised”.
The hosts argue that this has been felt more acutely in the Church of Corinth, which contains a complex and lively mix of national, civic, social, and religious identities.
The Project Directors said “There is a real danger that the church will be seen as atheistic, disrespectful to the gods of the people around it, phobic of those different from them, and disloyal to Caesar and the state. However much Christians talk about and demonstrate love, they will just be seen as judgmental, hateful and treasonous. While this is itself no reason for the church to change its teachings, it is important to understand the implications for mission if the church persists in being seen as opposed to the sexual freedoms most people take for granted”.
The second planned Open Forum for the Sexuality and Corinthian Identities Project, ‘New Directions in Sexualities and Christianity,’ will be discussing the future of sexuality debates, and present the theological challenges that may emerge beyond current controversies. The programme notes argue that: “the old idea of one God, Lord of all, but with me in every moment, is considered restrictive, and the concept of many deities on a spectrum revolving around my psyche much more exciting. In the same way, the old idea of two genders corresponding to physical sex as a given reality is increasingly shown by people’s experience to be oppressive, and the concept of many genders on a spectrum, centred around my emotions and needs, much more liberating. It is probably the case that the particular issue of homosexual relationships will appear relatively straightforward in comparison.
“As we, as a society, begin to take seriously the experience of transgender and intersex people, and rediscover the ancient and profound theological insights of the Canaanites in this area, it may appear that the claim, foundational to Christian understandings of gender, ‘male and female he created them’ is undermined,” predicted the project directors.
“If this is indeed the case, it seems that the whole edifice of the Judaeo-Christian traditional understanding of gender and sexuality could be built on a less than secure foundation, ie the words of the author of Genesis, Jesus, and that troublemaker Paul who is on death row where he belongs. It is simply impossible that this narrow, implausible ethic of sex and marriage will survive beyond a tiny, irrelevant sect.
Christians have to learn to re-read the Bible in a different way”, they said, “ not as an authoritative and unchanging word from God, but as a text which came out of a particular society. If we can deconstruct the text, analysing the power agendas of the authors, then that will help us to see which bits we can safely reject, and which parts we can adapt to fit subserviently with contemporary society”.