The Bishop & the Muslims
November 1992By John Warwick Montgomery
The Rev. John Warwick Montgomery, a Lutheran clergyman, is a practicing barrister and Principal Lecturer in Law and Human Rights at Luton College in England.
Those interested in the more arcane side of contemporary church history will recall that in 1984 the roof of Durham Cathedral was struck by lightning near the time its new Anglican bishop was to be consecrated. Public opinion in certain quarters as displayed by some remarkable letters to The Times suggested a direct causal connection between the two events. It was said that the Lord God had put up with enough from theologian David Jenkins, and that his elevation to the see of Durham had pushed the Deity to an act of dramatic temporal judgment.
Since Jenkins became Bishop of Durham, he has not in any way toned down his radical theological views. To the contrary, he has lost no media opportunity to expand upon them. Just before his consecration Jenkins on the television religion show Credo had in effect shouted, Non credo! He had informed the public that he did not consider the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Christ to be historical events. Now, eight years later, Jenkins continues to reaffirm and extend these nonbeliefs.
In an interview published this year in Alpha, an English evangelical periodical, the Bishop claimed that the language of the Fourth Gospel is not literally true, but should be considered powerfully descriptive of what the literal truth was about. Thus, according to Jenkins, John put the words, I am the way, the truth, and the life, into Jesus mouth (Jn. 14:6). Christologically, the Bishop stated that he is now approaching an adoptionist position. It seems more and more likely to him that God adopted the man Jesus to be his son. After all, there was no Virgin Birth!
What is the general effect of the Bishops position? One might suppose that it would be powerfully influential in the Anglican community. Actually, Jenkinss views have had little impact in Anglican circles, in spite of his being a darling of the media. At least three factors provide an explanation: First, the serious Anglican skeptics consider Jenkins a mere pop-theologian and continue to rally around the even more radical Don Cupitt; second, the comprehensiveness of the 16th-century Anglican settlement has always made room for theological eccentrics, and the Bishop fills the bill most adequately; and, most importantly, the broad church element in the Church of England is being swallowed up by its far more powerful rival, evangelicalism. A generation ago, conservative biblical scholarship of the F.F. Bruce variety began its takeover of Anglican theological colleges; today the statistics suggest that by the year 2000 the evangelical wing will be the dominating element in the Church. Thus Jenkinss radical views are far less influential within the Church than one might otherwise suppose.
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