A Conference Notebook - Swanwick November 2013

Brian Wilson was one of over 150 people to attend this joint conference with Modern Church at the Hayes Centre, Swanwick, marking the 50th anniversary of John Robinson's book, Honest to God. This is his personal catalogue of 31 quotes he took away from the conference.

A Conference Notebook - Swanwick November 2013
The conference was called Being Honest to God and each of the five speakers was given a different area to be honest about.

Prof Elaine Graham of Chester University was the Conference Chair. She began the conference with a talk entitled simply “Being Honest”.

  1. Distinguish between radical and revolutionary. A radical is one who still has a care for the roots; a revolutionary just wants to tear them all up. John Robinson was a radical, not a revolutionary.
  2. To many people God is at best something at the very edge of daily life – like a rich aunt in Australia.
  3. The point of organised church life is to encourage and prepare us to live a loving life.

Prof James Crossley, from the Biblical Studies Department of Sheffield University spoke on “Being Honest about Jesus”.

  1. All religion has a tendency to become theocracy and to be as imperialistic as any political revolution like, say, Marxism. Jesus’ life became a base from which others created a Christian domination culture.
  2. Jesus + Paul = Marx + Lenin
  3. Culturally radical groups emerge under the stress of historical events and 1st century Palestine witnessed serious upheaval.
  4. Marx’s quote about religion being the opium of the people needs to be read and understood in full; “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people".
  5. You cannot recover the historical Jesus. Beware of the rhetoric of scholarship; its criteria for authenticity can be flawed. The best we can hope for is to understand the early traditions surrounding Jesus.

Canon Dr Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon Theological College, Cuddesdon gave a talk entitled Being Honest about the Church.

  1. A possible advertising slogan for the current C of E: “Church of England - serving the nation since 597 with a slight air of superiority.”
  2. We must distinguish between institutions and organisations. Institutions (eg the church) exist to propagate their values from one generation to the next. Organisations are free to rebrand. (eg. Nokia started in the rubber industry).
  3. Too often leadership of institutions shifts into management of organisations. The Church spends too much time on mission, growth and evangelism and not nearly enough on God. We need deeper spiritual discernment, not measurable growth.
  4. Priesthood is not work and it is not paid - it is an occupation which receives an allowance for living. Its use of time is not related to purpose. Ministry should be occupied and preoccupied with God.
  5. The church needs to be more than “social democracy in a clerical collar.”
  6. The most interesting thing about religion is God

Simon Barrow, Co-Director of Ekklesia gave a talk entitled. “Being Honest about Ourselves”.

  1. In talking about God we must constantly push the boundaries of the un-sayable and recognise that all language is metaphorical, and that the meaning of God has shifted constantly, and especially over the last two centuries.
  2. God is not a thing and cannot be related to as if he was.

  3. Honesty about ourselves requires a change of heart and must lead us to confront the self deceptions of the powerful and institutional ‘truths’ that surround power.
  4. Read: Robin Meyers, Saving Jesus from the Church.

Richard Holloway, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh spoke on the theme “Being Honest about God”.

  1. The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty
  2. The true atheist only believes in one less God than all the others
  3. The human history of God is one of constant editing and revising; the history of God is a history of flux, change, and abandonment.
  4. The religion of Abraham and Isaac was one of absolute obedience, but in time religion moves us away from primitive superstition to something more humane.
  5. All religious documents reflect the climate of their time. They can be approached in one of three ways: they are “the truth”; they need “critical interpretation”; they are “non-realistic” (ie. metaphorical).
  6. Most religious people are still imprisoned in a theory of revelation. The claim to revelation is a problem because of belief in its realism.
  7. Why do we still seek biblical authority for doing the right thing? Though one must respect those who feel bound by biblical authority to be faithful to their tradition; but they often are in fact idolaters of that tradition.
  8. Religion is one of our greatest artistic creations; it is our effort to represent the reality of the universe. There is a need for all of us to find meaning in the nothingness from which we emerged.
  9. Poor talkative little Christianity – I just want the church to shut up for a while.
  10. Quoting George Steiner: The validating wonders of mortal existence are Love and the Invention of the future tense. The Messianic moment will be when Love and the Future Tense are married.
  11. My only red line in religion is that if your religion makes you cruel, then I challenge it. I don’t care much about anything else; you can be a 6-day creationist if you like. But don’t cross my red line or I reserve the right to oppose you.
  12. At the end of this earth’s story, something extraordinary will have happened through us – great art and many acts of love. Then, even if there is no God, it will be enough to have been gloriously wrong.
  13. Never teach something to children that you know not to be true; never put into them something they will have to reject later.

There is a photo gallery of the conference


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