This week I’ve been particularly interested in the authority of bishops. I realised that the status of the authority of bishops has changed significantly in my lifetime, in a way that I had been intuiting but hadn’t quite identified. I haven’t found it easy to find the right words to describe this, but I believe the bishops of the church, the teachers and leaders and theologians, senior staff at Church House and Lambeth Palace, the members of the Archbishops’ Council, no longer, ontologically, embody the kind of wisdom authority to the same degree that many church leaders embodied in my youth and my years in parish ministry.
Jesus’ authority is predicated on God’s authority. Biblical authority is predicated on God’s authority. Jesus declines to answer the question posed by the chief priests and elders. He poses instead a question they find it impossible to answer – clever move. But the question of what authority Jesus has remains unanswered. What amazed the people was not Jesus’ authority - the people were amazed at his teaching because, unlike the scribes, he taught with a note of authority. It’s the teaching, not the authority, that is fundamental.
I’ve been lamenting for a number of years the loss of quality of life in the Church of England compared with my experience in the 1960s and early 1970s. They were adventurous, exciting, imaginative, creative times. I was introduced to the work of theologians, prophets and mystics that continues to nourish my faith. Where has that energy and risk-taking exploration of faith gone? Because gone it certainly has. The centre of energy is shifting away from the orthodox, traditional patterns of church life and faith. I have a core of friends who are really living, living into God and the future, energised and inspired. I have no doubt they are being inspired by the same teacher and energised by the same Spirit and loved, intensely, gloriously, tenderly, unconditionally loved by the same God.
My faith has been questioned by a number of people as a result of the last two bogs I posted. The number of questioners is small but the range is wide, from gay and radical to conservative, catholic, evangelical and members of General Synod. What they are asking, I think, in different ways, is: What is required for someone to be recognised as a bona fide Anglican or as a Christian? I think some are saying that my faith has been found wanting essential, traditional, orthodox ingredients. I am indeed setting out to question and challenge that so-called ‘authorised version’. I didn’t ask to get myself involved in this drama. It was a calling from that in which I wasn’t sure I believed, thirty years ago, a vocation to change attitudes.
Catherine Keller, has written about theological thinking from a process perspective in On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process, 2008. She proposes “a way for theology to avoid the garish neon light on absolute truth claims, which was out our vital differences.” Two vital differences are being washed out of the Church of England for me. One is my sexuality and the other is my deep contemplative faith. The Church diminishes my faith by treating both as being questionable elements of my core experience. Catherine explores an alternative path of theology which is not a middle ground nor a compromise but something else, something emerging (a theme common in recent theology), something on the way (echoing the ancient image of Christianity being people ‘of the Way’).