David Jenkins the controversial Anglican Bishop should be called to task says Mgr Michael Buckley
EVERYONE knows about Galileo. He is the prototype of all those who fall foul of ecclesiastical authorities because of their new ideas and theories.
The infra-structure of an ecclesiastical organization like every other big institution is highly suspicious of anything new. It has always been so, not only because it is conscious of the turmoil change causes its followers, but also because of its own need to preserve the status quo and its power. To pretend otherwise is foolish thinking. Hasten slowly (festina lente) is its password.
It is surprising, therefore, that in our age, bishops of the Established Church in this country should be in the forefront of 'new thinking'.
It is one thing to overthrow the accepted doctrine that the earth was the centre of the universe, quite another to reject the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Galileo's theory could be accepted or rejected without in any way affecting one's Christian belief; the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the other hand is essential to our Christian faith. 'If Christ has not risen from the dead' wrote St Paul, 'then our preaching is useless, and your believing it is useless, (1 Corinthians 15, 14.) In other words if you do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead then you cannot call yourself a Christian.
'You may reply 'it all depends what you mean by the resurrection — symbolic or physical'. Is it sufficient for a Christian to believe only in a symbolic resurrection? The Apostles did not think so. Neither did the Church down through the ages. Do we know better than they? And what of Tradition as being the twin source of revelation? Does it not firmly hold to a physical resurrection?
Why then were all the Churches until recently, so silent about Bishop David Jenkins theory on the resurrection because he certainly denies the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only a few fundamentalist Protestants voices were raised in protest against the symbolic resurrection theory as being sufficient for Christian faith. Their response was predictable and therefore received little support or comment.
But Roman Catholic voices were also silent. Why? Because we were glad that it was 'them' and not 'us' who were in trouble, or was it because we were afraid of rocking the ecumenical boat? Could it be that we too were shaky in our belief?
I suppose most English people were silent because they think the church is irrelevant and its thinking confused anyway. But among caring, committed Christians I sensed a need to put the record straight. They wanted someone to affirm unambiguously their belief that Jesus did in fact rise physically from the dead.
We rarely talk about those beliefs which are closest to our hearts. Perhaps not so much because we take them for granted but because they are often too meaningful to be put into words. Yet when they are under attack we welcome a voice which expresses in words what we are thinking deep inside us.
At a literary luncheon in Leeds attended by over five hundred guests I took the opportunity to reaffirm my belief in the Virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The immediate response at the luncheon was electric. I struck a chord. Most people there breathed a sigh of approval and relief that someone had at last taken the Bishop of Durham to task for his public doubting.
Church of England people took no offence; on the contrary they were only too anxious to express their agreement. The great regret expressed by many Catholics was the silence of their Church over the whole Jenkins Affair. They felt let down. Then one dissenting voice assured me that Bishop Jenkins was a scholar and I rejected his teaching on the Virgin birth and the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ because I did not understand it.
It is because I understand what he is saying that I reject it as incompatible with the essentials of the Christian faith.
Bishop Jenkins is only requoting theological speculation on the resurrection which was in vogue over twenty years ago. It was common for us in the '60's' to speculate on theological issues. When you are secure in your faith then you can speculate with great freedom because faith is not based on theological speculation. It is a gift of God, given to us through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
'Christian theology', wrote Alan Richardson, 'has never suggested that the 'fact' of Christ's resurrection could be known apart from faith'. What does Bishop Jenkins believe in faith apart from his theological speculation, because this speculation does not lead to or from the basis of faith? It is human theory and not divine faith.
Over the past twenty years a large number of books have been written on the resurrection which reflect a wide range of theological perspective. Some of these views are incompatible with the basic Christian belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus which has been the centre of faith since Pentecost. Some theologians say that the resurrection is not a historical fact because it cannot be verified by science. It is a unique event and its truth cannot be demonstrated such in a repeated event.
Karl Barth, a highly respected Protestant theologian, wished to preserve the resurrection as an event apart from historical criticism. Why? Because the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are not history in our sense of the word. They are beyond the reach of historical research and therefore we have no right to analyse Christ's postresurrection appearances as we would any ordinary historical event because these appearances can only be "known" by faith.
But isn't this exactly what we mean when we say that we believe that on the third day he (Jesus Christ) rose again? We know that it happened: its manner is hidden from us. It is an event known by faith which is a gift from God independent of theological speculation. Our belief is not based on contemporary biblical interpretations. Speculation will always remain subject to faith.
The theological opinion most accepted and acceptable to Christians would probably be similar to that put forward by Pannenberg. He wrote that the resurrection of Jesus is a past historical event which happened at a specific place and time; inside the tomb near Jerusalem after Good Friday and before Easter Sunday morning.
No one observed the resurrection except Jesus who experienced it, but the finding of the empty tomb and the postresurrection appearances of Jesus to the Apostles and others are bits of historical information which the Church uses to confirm its belief in what it calls the 'resurrection of Jesus'.
True, the language of Paul in I Corinthians 15 when he writes about the resurrection is metaphorical but it does give some idea of what happened to Jesus' body and what will happen to his followers after death. Jesus' body was changed after the resurrection because close followers like Mary of Magdala and others did not recognize him easily. But it was still his body.
Bishop Jenkins' doubting ol the Virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus Christ span the whole life of someone in whom we Christians believe. Jesus is the Son of God. This is why I believe not only in the Virgin birth and his resurrection but also in his miracles. I want to know am 1 right in believing that Joseph was not the father of Jesus; that Mary did actually conceive immediately and directly by the power of the Holy Spirit; that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and that the tomb was empty on Easter Day, and that these are essential truths of our Christian faith? If these truths are not necessary for salvation then will someone in,the Roman Catholic Church please speak out and tell me why not?
I know there are philosophical and linguistic problems involved as well as modern biblical insights but they cannot change the essentials of my faith, or does one have to be a theologian to be a believer?