Anglican Samizdat

February 26, 2010

Diocese of Niagara: chipping away at the divinity of Jesus

Filed under: Diocese of Niagara — David Jenkins @ 5:52 pm

The diocesan newspaper is a beacon of enlightenment – on how Niagara got to where it is today:

A friend recently asked me, out of the blue, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” I could have simply said, “Yes,” but hesitated instead.

Of course you did: why build faith when you can sow doubt. This is, after all, what Western Anglicans mean by Evangelism.

Why? I felt that it was a simple question to which I should, as a Christian, have an immediate and satisfactory answer. Racing through my head, however, were various interpretations of these words, some more valid than others. Furthermore, what answer would be most useful to my friend at her stage of questioning? Other progressive Christians joke about being labeled heretic.

Being labelled a heretic in the Diocese of Niagara is no joke: it is a condition of employment.

Back to the question of the identity of Jesus. He called himself “the Son of Man,” a more modest label than “Son of God.” Like “Messiah,” with its overtly warlike associations, “Son of God” was an aggressive, politically loaded term from the Old Testament that some of Jesus’ followers must have pressured him to claim. They also called him “Teacher,” “Rabbi,” and “Lord.” The Christian Church has used all these titles as well as “Christ” and “Emmanuel.”

First we employ Anglican bafflegab and confuse the issue of Jesus’ divinity by focussing on the irrelevant: warlike associations and aggressive, politically loaded term[s].

By the time I had realized that this information was merely the tiniest corner of the scholarship on the topic, days had passed. I began to consider that the key word in my friend’s question was “believe.” That posed a second challenge. Have I any business expressing my ideas let alone my beliefs if I do not believe in Jesus in an orthodox way?

Then clinch the muddle by casting doubt on the meaning of common words: in this instance believe.

This is a variation on the Nicene Creed debate. Many church leaders have stopped reciting it during church services because they can no longer believe it to be literally true. No wonder many loyal Anglicans feel torn! Another friend said recently, “I like to recite the Creeds because they remind me of what I believe. If I throw out these beliefs, which I realize are limited in terms of common sense, it’s like jumping from the familiar into the unknown and I don’t know where I’ll land.”

And the coup de gras: almost no-one in the Anglican Church of Canada believes the Creed any more; if you do happen to find yourself in a parish that defies common sense and still says, “Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father”, you can always cross your fingers.

As Søren Kierkegaard, the early 19th century Danish theologian, put it, to be a Christian requires a leap to faith because of the logical absurdity inherent in orthodoxy. How else, for example, can we assert that Jesus is both God and man when our rational minds say that this, let alone the doctrine of the Trinity, doesn’t make sense? To take a leap to faith requires a leap of faith. The pervasive 20th century response to the claims of religion was the existential despair of nihilism.

It’s just as well Kierkegaard is no longer with us since he spent much of his life inveighing against clergy who lived lives contrary to their professed beliefs. His solution to this hypocrisy was for the clergy to live up to their beliefs; the contemporary Anglican solution is for the clergy to abandon them.

I called my friend and gave her my rather long answer to her question about my belief in Jesus as the Son of God. She said, “Oh, really, I didn’t know it was so complicated! I’m sorry to put you to all this bother. What matters to me is not right or wrong theology but that we are friends!” As Paul put it, “if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Jesus’ divinity is mysterious; it only becomes complicated to those who don’t believe in it.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus seems to have been pleased by Peter’s prompt response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Two millennia later, the question, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” should not be asked as a test of orthodoxy. It deserves an answer only if asked in the spirit of friendship.

Who needs a test of orthodoxy? Not the Diocese of Niagara.


1 Comment

  1. As you rightly say:

    “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?”


    Comment by Stuart — February 26, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

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