How broad can an Anglican church be?

Jun 16, 2024 by

by Martin Davie:

This is the text of a paper I presented at a meeting of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship at St Paul and St Barnabas Church, Belfast, on 14 June 2024.

John Robinson and Honest to God.  

Bishop John Robinson was a New Testament scholar and theologian, who was suffragan bishop of Woolwich in the Church of England from 1959-1969. His best-known book is Honest to God,[1] which was published in 1963, and which has remained in print ever since.

In his Preface to this book, Robinson explains that he believes that Christians in the modern world are called:

‘…to far more than a restating of traditional orthodoxy in modern terms. Indeed, if our defence of the Faith is limited to this we shall find in all likelihood that we have lost out to all but a tiny religious remnant. A much more radical recasting, I would judge, is demanded, in the process of which the most fundamental categories of our theology -of God, of the supernatural, and of religion itself – must go into the melting.’ [2]

In Honest to God Robinson attempts the sort of ‘radical  recasting’  of traditional orthodoxy to which he refers in his Preface in relation to the five the topics of God, Christology, worship,  prayer, and ethics.

About God, Robinson contends that just as we have stopped thinking of a God who exists literally or physically beyond the sky, so we now have to stop thinking of a God who is metaphysically ‘out there’ in the sense of  being a :

‘…. supreme Person, a self-existent subject of infinite goodness and power, who enters into a relationship with us comparable with that of one human being with another.’ [3]

What Robinson proposes instead is a new way of thinking  in which:

‘To say that God is personal is to say that ‘reality at its very deepest level is personal,’ that personality is of ultimate significance in the constitution of the universe but in personal relationships we touched the final meaning of existence as nowhere else. ‘To predicate personality of God’ says Feuerbach, ‘is nothing else than to declare personality as the absolute essence.’ to believe in God as love means to believe that in pure personal relationship we encounter, not merely what ought to be, but what is, the deepest, veriest truth about the structure of reality. This, in face of all the evidence, is a tremendous act of faith. but it is not the feat of persuading oneself of the existence of a super being beyond this world endowed with personal qualities. Belief in God is the trust, the well-nigh incredible trust, that to give ourselves to the uttermost in love is not to be confounded but to be ‘accepted,’ that love is the ground of our being, to which ultimately we ‘come home.’’[4]

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