Posted by: rogermitchell | September 20, 2011

A reason for hope

Sue and I have just spent quality mutual learning and listening time with a bunch of friends together in Majorca. It is such a wonderful thing to be connected by the Holy Spirit across age, gender, race and gift with people of the same mindset and on the same page. But sometimes I meet with folk who simply and obviously are not on that page, and yet something definitely connects us nonetheless. I think this is because in the end it is a connection in the spirit that determines relationship, not first of all the mind, important although clear thinking is for the full expression of our humanity.

Today in the course of conversation the subject of Graham Greene’s conversion came up, the story of which was on the tv or radio this week. The comment was made that he did not come to faith in Christ for a reason, but because of the quality of life of a priest he met. The apostle Peter’s statement “always be ready to give … a reason of the hope that is in you” came up (I Pet 3:15). It hit me that this was precisely the meaning of the verse! We in the West have been obsessed with reason. But reason is no reason for hope! It is the quality of love that is the reason.

In my research I have found Don Cupitt’s ‘The Christ of Christendom’ in Hick’s “The Myth of God Incarnate” surprisingly helpful. As a young man when the book first came out I reacted to his shocking rejection of the incarnation. Now I can understand why he rejected it. It was because the arguments for it had such terrible implications. As Cupitt makes clear, this God was in the character of a Greek or Roman emperor, dominating the earth, and his Son was the foil and cover for his demonic personality! It is right, in my view, to reject, as Cupitt does, such a view of the incarnation. I agree with him, and as I argue in my forthcoming book, the Nicaean Creed attempted to reconcile Jesus of Nazareth as one substance with exactly this view of God, when in fact he came to expose and overcome this imperial view of power with kenotic, relational love.

Cupitt, however, seems to have been unable to receive the amazing news that the whole thing is the opposite way round and the transcendent eternal one was not a sovereign ruler but instead one in substance with the kenotic Jesus of Nazareth. Intriguingly, tragically, Cupitt apparently rejected incarnation altogether because, as he put it, the idea of a kenotic God was against reason. He saw the traditionally assumed attributes of God, his omnipotence, omnipresence, impassibility and the like as rationally necessary to divinity. But truth is not firstly rational, a matter of reason, but relational, a matter of love and friendship. Rational arguments start from there, not the other way round.

Our reason for hope is that we have encountered the loving Jesus in the gospel story and in other humans. Giving reason for the hope that is in us is about having the character of the God who is like Jesus in our hearts and in our behaviour, as Peter makes clear in the context of his statement. When this is present there is hope for mindset change, for arriving at a new syncretic, shared standpoint, and together grow up into the new hamanity the creation is groaning for.

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Responses

  1. Roger – the material you have been writing most recently is fabulous. I can’t wait for the book. This said by a woman who never reads ‘christian’ books anymore. c.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. I’m excited by my copyeditor’s note to me on completing her work this week: “I am so glad to have had the opportunity to read your book. While I must admit that it makes very challenging reading (both intellectually and spiritually), I am in absolute awe of the amount of research that has gone into this book and your ability to distil that huge wealth of information into such a well presented and well argued book. It is an incredible achievement.” So hopefully you won’t be dissappointed!

      • Wow, great praise. I just hope I understand all that intellectually challenging reading.

        I was thinking about how we understand and act out our theologies of God. I think in many ways what most of our theologies do is turn God into the very idols we are told not to worship. God becomes like Baal – demanding the blood of the future, refusing to provide unless appeased. To worship a God of the imperial spirit is to worship an idol rather than the real, living God.

        So I think this book is important for me because I am continually struck by your interpretation of scripture. I’ve long rejected much of what I was taught theologically but sometimes when you interpret a scripture in this blog I realize how deeply that way of thinking still holds me, at least in terms of understanding scripture. I stopped reading the Bible about a decade ago after 20 years of daily reading. And somehow, I’ve never been able to get back to it, despite my best intentions. So I think I need to see the scriptures reclaimed from the imperial spirit, to see them actually speak what I know of God is true in how I have met with Him and been in relationship with him. So I look forward to the reading. . . now I just need the time for it.
        c.

      • I think the point you raise about how we interpret scripture is a really vital one. As you will be aware, the theologians refer to this as our hermeneutic. For me this is the Jesus of the gospels, who my journey of faith convinces me is the living God in the flesh. This makes the gospels the lens, the hermeneutic heart, of biblical interpretation. The modern era challenged this rationally, because of its reaction against the supernatural transcendence it found in the gospels, and it had already accepted the correlation between transcendence and imperial power. In other words there is not so
        much a historical, rational problem with the gospel accounts but a problem with the church’s betrayal of transcendence. This is what the final part of my thesis, now book, attempts to deal with.

  2. Bravo!!! Encore, encore encore!

    • Thanks Rosie, I am currently working on dates for another Silverdale theology weekend early in the new year. It will be a repeat of the one next month that you can’t now make. Hope you can come!

  3. I have to say Roger, that I am, like Cheryl, waiting with bated breath not only for the issue of the book but the impact of it, both on my thinking and life and on that of others…without putting pressure on you, I’m convinced its publication is timely and vital in our generation – am praying it will be so and for you in all of that.
    Whether I’ll be able to rise to the challenge of its impact is another matter! I hope so.
    Jane x

  4. I’m looking forward for reading you book as well. Reading through the old testament at the moment whilst trying to understand it from a Jesus perspective is doing my head in!!! Where are we going to be able to buy the book from?

    • The book should be available through Amazon, hopefully this side of Christmas, but we shall see!

  5. Im impressed, I ought to say. Very hardly ever do I come across a blog thats each informative and entertaining, and let me let you know, youve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is critical; the problem is something that not enough people today are talking intelligently about. Im seriously pleased that I stumbled across this in my search for one thing relating to this concern.


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