LETTER FROM ENGLAND
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 Bishop’s position? One might suppose that it would be powerfully influential in the Anglican commu­nity. Actually, Jenkins’s 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 Jenkins’s radical views are far less influential within the Church than one might otherwise suppose.


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