Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Nits of Apostasy

For any of you who might be under the impression that Jay Currie's bizarre take on the Christian vocation is far-fetched, even by liberal Anglican standards, think again:

The Very Rev Jeffrey John, who had to withdraw before taking up an appointment as bishop of Reading in 2003 after it emerged he was in a long-term homosexual relationship, is set to ignite a row over one of the most fundamental tenets of Christian belief.

Clergy who preach this Easter that Christ was sent to earth to die in atonement for the sins of mankind are "making God sound like a psychopath", he will say.

In a BBC Radio 4 show, Mr John, who is now Dean of St Albans, urges a revision of the traditional explanation, known as "penal substitution".

Christian theology has taught that because humans have sinned, God sent Christ as a substitute to suffer and die in our place.

"In other words, Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him," says Mr John. "This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we'd say that they were a monster."

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about "love and truth", not "wrath and punishment". He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could "share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us".

I don't know where to begin with this, so I won't even try. Suffice it to say that even if we are to accept the contention that Christ came to liberate us from the tyranny of the Old Testament law--that, furthermore, St. Paul sought only to undo that most holy work--the problem with this horrifying belief that Christ was just a big ol' bleeding heart, come from on high to empathize with us to the death, is that it stands in direct contradiction to just about every single thing that Christ himself actually said upon the matter.

So I come back to C.S. Lewis:
It is your [i.e. the clergy's] duty to fix the lines [of doctrine] clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other.
The irony of that last analogy, given the current sad state of western conservatism, likely won't escape JC--who, apart from his various heretical beliefs, is no fool. So why doesn't he recognize the absurdity of calling the explicit rejection of Jesus Christ a Christian labour?

I only ask.