Bradwell Papers 5

Winter 1997

I am pleased to say that this modest theological journal is now being welcomed by many readers beyond the Bradwell Episcopal Area, and so it continues to come to you via the internal Diocesan Mailing across the whole of the Chelmsford Diocese.

Our last mailing, however, failed to deliver to everybody who wanted one, a copy of the Bradwell Papers Special entitled "Jesus and the Jubilee", my own paper on the theology of debt in the New Testament and in our contemporary setting. Please contact me if you did not receive your free copy.

I am so pleased that contributors continue to multiply - now from all across the Diocese - but unfortunately, once again, there has not been space to include every item contributed.

In this issue you will find three papers, each very different in style and subject matter. I hope you will enjoy reading them and that they will encourage you to offer something for our next edition of the Bradwell Papers.

With very best wishes.

+ Laurie Bradwell


The Priest as Parson, Canon Trevor Shannon

The View from the Vicarage, The Rev'd Jim Bateman

The Authority of the Bible, The Rev'd Colin Hopkinson

The Priest as Parson

Redbridge Deanery Chapter, 22nd September 1997, Canon Trevor Shannon

I want to make it clear that this is an unlooked-for privilege. Some months ago Michael (Canon Michael Cole) asked, in general terms I thought, if I would talk about ministry. At the last Chapter Meeting he said something about the "minister as student".

I am no more student or scholar than the next man, or woman, and as I have thought about things I felt that I wanted to open the topic much wider. And so, if we need a title, it will be, not the "minister as student" but the "priest as parson". What I am offering is reminiscence and reflection. I hope it may help you reflect on your own ministry.

38 years ago this month I was made Deacon in Manchester Cathedral and that evening I took part in my first service at Christ Church, Moss Side. I read a lesson. A year later I was ordained priest and I celebrated my first Communion Service on the following Wednesday morning in the Lady Chapel, with the usual half dozen in the congregation.

My route to Moss Side was from upbringing and school just outside Oldham, through National Service in the ranks of the RAF, to Selwyn, Cambridge to study theology and on to theological college at Westcott House.

Moss Side, in the late 1950s was trying to cope with the changes brought about by large scale immigration from the West Indies and a slighter influx from India and the two Pakistans. There was a Sikh Temple in a decaying terraced house about a hundred yards from the church. There were 25,000 people in the parish which was staffed by a Rector, two curates and a Brother of the Holy Cross, whose specific task was liaison with the West Indians in the parish, most of whom were Anglicans.

A typical Sunday would be 8 o'clock said Communion, 9.30 Parish Communion, 11.00 Sung Eucharist (a relic from the days when there had been a High Mass at that time). In the afternoon there would be Baptisms: very rarely was there a Sunday without 3 or 4. Evensong was at 6 30 and that was followed by the Servers' Club which met in the Rectory till about 10.30pm.

We were kept busy. Everything we did was fitted around the saving of the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. On weekdays we said Morning Prayer at 7.00 am. It was usually followed by Communion, attendance at which was not obligatory. Evening Prayer was at 5 30. The mornings were for reading and writing: there was no telephone. From 2.00 pm till Evening Prayer we visited. From 7.00 pm until 10.00 or 10.30 we were at clubs or meetings or engaged in more visiting.

None of this surprised me. I was, and I am, a conformist and I readily do what I'm told. Indeed, when I became a curate there was nothing in my background which might have led me even to consider questioning the way things were done. From a Grammar School where one was simply expected to pass exams, to National Service in forces which had not yet forgotten the war and in which discipline was generally sharp. And on to Cambridge where college gates were locked at 10.30 pm and where you would be fined for walking in the town at night without your college gown. And then on to a theological college which was a watered-down monastic community. None of that worried me or oppressed me and I enjoyed it all.

It was no shock, going to the parish as a new curate, to have to pay for my own bed-sitter in a house in the parish. I shared the house and its one bathroom with the landlady, another curate, and four Manchester university students. And when, two years later I married, again I expected to have to search for and pay rent for our flat.

The picture of priesthood and ministry which I can give is mine - very personal and idiosyncratic, shaped by personality, strengths, weaknesses, background, training and experience which is only mine. I shall set out some ideals and aims and, seen against those, what I say will be largely a confession of mediocrity and failure.

As I have thought about this talk over the past month or two I have found myself thinking more and more how out of date I am, and how dated was my training. I came to think that I and my generation were trained to work in an England which had actually disappeared in the War.

We were sent out almost totally unprepared for the changes which occurred from the '60s onwards. Nevertheless, there were riches in what I was taught and I want to mention some of the people and things which have guided, strengthened and inspired me; the things that have helped me to slog on when I felt it would be easier to give up. Biblical texts like (Colossians 1. 11) St Paul's prayer "may he strengthen you ... to meet whatever comes with fortitude, patience and joy". And Hebrews, "run with resolution the race for which we are entered".

I was influenced profoundly by two men. One was Kenneth Carey, principal of Westcott House. Ken was a man of prayer, who tried desperately to keep Westcott what it had been when he had been a student there under B. K. Cunningham. If you would like to know what Westcott House was like in the 1950s when I was a student, you need only read Moorman's biography of B. K. Cunningham. In my day you would find the same striving after Anglican comprehensiveness, the same stress on prayer, the same attempt to equip us all with an adequate rule of life, the same attempt to strive for Anglican ideal of "godliness and good learning", the same readiness in Ken, our priestly ideal, to be available at any time of day or night, to anyone who needed to talk, weep, confess, exult. I owe more to Ken than I can easily say.

Westcott taught us to form a way of life and a rule of life that would serve us and sustain us when we were far from Westcott, when perhaps we were alone and lonely in a parish. That rule of life was to govern our prayers, study, receiving of the sacraments, rule on visiting, rule on money, rule on leisure. We were urged to think about the use of time. We were warned about the fragmentary nature of time in parish work. We were encouraged to learn to use the ten minutes for a letter, the odd half hour to read a few paragraphs or make a brief call.

The other monumental personal influence was Bill Vanstone, a Westcott man himself. He had a housing-estate parish not far from where I was brought up. For something like six weeks in the summer before I was ordained, I worked with him as a sort of unordained curate. It opened my eyes - wide. When I got to Moss Side the timetable there was leisurely compared to that which Bill imposed on himself and into which I was drawn.

After extraordinary academic success in Cambridge, Oxford and New York, Bill buried himself in his parish. He gave himself totally, and it was only after retirement that he allowed himself time to write "Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense". He is the most engaging conversationalist, a brilliant mimic and teller of jokes, and conversation in his study over thick black coffee would begin after the evening's meetings and clubs had drifted away and would continue till one or two in the morning. I would crawl off to bed. I never saw Bill go to his bedroom. When I emerged in the morning for Morning Prayer or Communion, Bill was already up and about. His was an example of total self-giving to his people that can rarely have been matched. I don't think it is altogether fantasy to say that Bill was, or is, a sort of Cure d'Ars of the Church of England. In every part of my ministry I have been aware of Bill's example and standard, and of my own failure to come anywhere near it.

If you want to read at leisure an account of the sort of priesthood for which I was trained, and which was exemplified by Ken Carey and Bill Vanstone, you will find it in Charles Smyth's biography of Cyril Garbett. The account of Garbet's ministry, first as curate (one of about 16), and then as Vicar of Portsea tells of the pattern of life and work that those of my generation from my sort of theological stable were expected to follow. That biography is worth reading, or re-reading.

Depending on how much you may know about Carey, Cunningham, Garbett and Vanstone, it may have occurred to you that the men who personally or by reputation influenced me, were all celibate bachelors. They were looked after by housekeepers. They didn't have to help with washing-up or ironing, with shopping or cleaning. They had no experience of nursing a sick child or comforting a hurt or distressed spouse. The only children they had to worry about were those in the Sunday School, choir and clubs. And even if one turns to married priests of the generation from which I learned, those whose stories are told, those who became well-known enough to have biographers, were of the generation and class which employed help in the home. One wonders whether Westcott or Fisher, Lang or Temple ever made a cup of tea for themselves. Perhaps I am not being fair to them.

When he was Bishop of Winchester, Garbett wrote a pamphlet in which he said, "At the heart of Christianity is a Cross; the cross means self-sacrifice, heroic surrender for the sake of others, and self-denying service". I believed that - and still do - but what did bishop Garbett know of the strains Maureen and I felt when I went to my first incumbency after three years as a curate in Moss Side? We were fruitful and we multiplied. Our first baby died; we'd been married 9 months. Within a year Mark was born, not without difficulties for Maureen, and 14 months after that Christopher was born. Maureen spent six months of that pregnancy in hospital and almost died. It had to be the end of our do-it-yourself family; after that we adopted. The vicarage we went to in Bury was a Victorian terraced house in the next parish. I had to decorate it. There were no such things as parish expenses: I paid all postage, stationery, telephone, etc. A car was out of the question. Money was very short. The diocesan scale was £850 per annum, and I suppose that was comfortable for those who were single or whose family had grown up or who were fortunate enough to be in a parish which chose to pay expenses. There were great inequalities between parishes then. We struggled and we worried and we quarrelled and we wept because we were trying to do what we believed was our duty and thought we were failing. I had been guided and inspired and perhaps brainwashed by celibates from an age that had passed, and I had not been prepared for the harshness of life as I found it. I felt I was out on my own. The Rural Dean, who was also my patron, was a kindly aristocrat whose stipend was reputed to be £3.000 a year and who, I suspect, had little idea of how the younger and poorer clergy in his deanery lived.

To say all that is not to say that the ideals which were planted in me have ceased to be ideals. Cyril Garbett and Bill Vanstone still make me feel guilty if I'm not visiting by 2.00 pm each day. I try to keep myself up to the mark by recording each visit, so that I know at the end of the week whether I have done those things which I ought to have done.

It was Garbett who resolved, on the day of his ordination, to read for at least 2 hours each day. I accept that as an ideal to strive after and it wasn't difficult as a curate. Being an incumbent is a different matter. When I returned to the parish ministry after 22 years in education the biggest difference I found was the amount of time that has to be spent by an incumbent (and even more by a Rural or Area Dean) in administration. So time for reading is not easily found by an incumbent. I find it requires some planning. I try to use the hour from 8.30 to 9.30 each morning and try to keep that as undisturbed as possible. When mornings are spent visiting, then the afternoon can be spent reading - if one can keep awake. Sometimes a day or half a day in a library can make up for a lot of lost time.

I have always enjoyed studying. In 1957 I had to choose between my place at Westcott House and the offer of doing a Part 3 in Hebrew. I went to Westcott, but perhaps have always regretted that missed opportunity for academic work. I did keep up my Hebrew for a long time. Even now, occasionally, I do some work on a Hebrew text, but I don't persevere.

What I do consider important is that if I am to preach and teach then I must renew and deepen and widen my own knowledge and understanding. When I was teaching I sometimes saw teachers using notes that were yellow with age: notes they had taken at university. It was no surprise that they were the teachers whom the pupils complained of as being "boring". They were bored themselves with their subject; how could they fail to bore their pupils? The same must be true of clergy. We have a duty to ourselves, to our people and to God to be perpetual students.

I hadn't been teaching long, less than a term, when I was challenged by Jewish pupils about the limitations of my concept of Religious Education. I did an external London degree so that I could study Judaism and Hinduism to a reasonable level and start myself off towards some understanding of other faiths. Learning about other faiths had to be done while continuing to teach Biblical papers and church history. This required me to keep as up to date as possible with both traditional and new theological studies. The problem of how anyone who is not a professional scholar can find time to study their own and other faiths is probably insoluble.

It is very easy for well-meant reading to become casual and haphazard, though that sort of reading is better than nothing. What we make of our reading differs from person to person. I have always found that unless I have some sort of pattern to my reading I forget most of it. We are changed by anything we read and much of our stored knowledge is from sources, people and books, which are now forgotten. Something is assimilated from everything we experience, from everything we read. To try to make the value of the reading I do more permanent, I do three very simple things.

First, I log everything that I read. I include all books; novels, which I may read in bed, biographies, commentaries (which may take weeks), general theology, spiritual reading. I make a note of them all.

Secondly, apart from novels, I always keep a slip of paper in each book so that if anything strikes me as worth remembering I make a note.

Thirdly, I keep a running list of books to be read. These usually come from the footnotes or bibliographies of whatever I'm reading. The author catches my interest, gives his authority or source for something and I think "I'd like to know more about that", so on the list it goes. This list is like the priesthood of Melchizedek, apparently without beginning and certainly without end.

Perhaps I should add a fourth practice or strategy. And that is to pursue a particular theological interest. It might be the Cathar heresy or early liturgies, the thought of a particular person or a book of the Bible. I've tried to sustain an interest in St Mark's Gospel and in the Book of Job, and I'm going to spend 6 days at St Deiniol's Library in December when I shall be able to pursue those interests at a greater length than I can in Ilford.

Balancing extra-parochial interests and duties with one's primary duties as a parish priest, spelt out in the Induction Service, is always something of a problem. It was, however, at a time when I felt most under pressure as Area Dean with no curate, that I accepted the invitation to be a tutor on the East Anglican Ministerial Training course. My motives were two-fold. I enjoy teaching and looked forward to experiencing again the challenges it provides. It was also quite cold-bloodedly a decision to move study higher on my list of priorities. I knew there would be times when it would be necessary to read to prepare for a tutorial or to enable me to mark a particular essay. I suggest that if such an opportunity comes along, either with an Ordination Course, the Course in Christian Studies, or some other, take it as long as it does not affect for the worse your parish responsibilities.

As Anglican clergy we are quite unique. Our established status gives us opportunities denied the ministers of other denominations and faiths. I am the parson, "the person" of my parish and, if possible I should be known and recognised by all who live in the parish, whether they worship at the parish church or not. Because of this I think dress is important. I know that not everyone agrees with me on this. I think we should wear uniform, by which I mean generally our dog-collar, so that we are recognisable by all who see us. Such recognisability makes us available and vulnerable. How often would the tramp or the drunk or Jack-the-lad have ignored me had I been out of uniform and how often would I have been glad to be spared his begging, wheedling, insulting. But we serve one who laid himself open to the approaches and reproaches of all. What's more, to someone as conformist as me, it matters that Canon 27 (1969) states, "The apparel of a bishop, priest or deacon shall be suitable to his office; and, save for purposes of recreation and other justifiable reasons, shall be such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to his spiritual charge ".

I think visiting by the clergy is important. I know that it's difficult; doors do not open as readily as they used to do. especially after dark. And it may well be that some of the time we previously spent visiting will in future be spent in training others to visit. But my view is that however much we train others, however much the priesthood of all believers is recognised and encouraged, visits by the parson, God's person in the parish, cannot and should not be underestimated. We can hardly realise the comfort, reassurance and challenge we bring. Perhaps people's desire to be visited by the vicar has much of ''folk religion" in it. But we all know that the thoughtful use of folk religion can be one of the most fruitful means of evangelism. Properly nurtured folk religion can grow into saving faith.

We are in Holy orders and orders mean discipline. The saying of the Daily Office should be the firm skeleton on which the flesh and blood of our ministry hangs. The chapter in the Book of Common Prayer, "Concerning the Service of the Church" states "... all Priests and Deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause. And the Curate that ministereth in every Parish-Church or Chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the Parish-Church or Chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a Bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God's Word, and to pray with him."

I think we should still do that. The people may not flock to the services, but at least they know that we are there, praying for them. I occasionally remind my congregation of this and ask them to say a brief prayer for us when they hear the bell for Morning or Evening Prayer.

Thomas Merton's book "The Sign of Jonas" is his diary of the years leading up to his ordination as priest. It's worth reading. He writes "the life of a Christian has meaning and value only to the extent that it conforms to the life of Jesus. But Jesus lived in poverty and hardship and died on the Cross". How remarkably close that comes to the works of Cyril Garbett which I quoted earlier. And they bring me back to the constant dilemma of how we give ourselves totally to Christ when we have other claimants to our love and devotion - spouses, children, parents. friends, even the demands of our own self-development and leisure.

We are called to deny ourselves: how much of that self-denial can we impose on those closest to us? I think we have constantly to wrestle with this. I feel disquiet about the tendency to make priests into parish executives, available only at the parish office in office hours. I like to think of the priest, in the pattern of Ken Carey and Bill Vanstone and many other great priests, as always, always available to anyone. I am not averse, despite what bishops and diocesan advisers say, to considering days off and holidays as privileges rather than rights. I know we have to be sensible and balanced about these things, but balanced common-sense never has been an obvious mark of following Jesus. What have courses on self-assertion to do with the Passion of Christ?

B. K. Cunningham once said "God works not magically by the annihilation of the natural, but sacramentally by the raising of the natural to higher power". One of the healthy things about the training we received at Westcott House was the importance attached to the priest as natural man. We played cricket because we enjoyed it, not to have fellowship with the people from Ridley Hall. God chooses us as we are and asks us to consecrate to his service what we are, not what we might like to be.

If you want a better pedigree for that thought, B.K's words echo a passage in Ladder of Perfection. "We need to know the gifts given to us by God, so that we may use them, for by these we shall be saved. For some by corporal works and acts of mercy, some by severe bodily penance, some by lifelong sorrow and penitence, some by preaching and teaching, and some by different graces and gifts of devotion will be saved and come to the bliss of heaven. "

Every congregation, as it settles itself to listen to our preaching, is saying "Sir, we would see Jesus". And to show Him, we must know Him. The responsibility of nurturing our prayer life and growing closer to God cannot be over-emphasised though I cannot spend much time speaking about it now. I am grateful for the pattern encouraged and developed at Westcott to help me keep going when I didn't feel like it, to slog on when discouraged or depressed.

The clock moves on and I haven't said anything about how we lead worship. One sentence from the Imitation of Christ will suffice: "Consult not your own devotion, but the edification of your flock".

I have said nothing of the place of ambition, of career. We have moved from the Tractarian teaching I was given that one never applied for a job but waited and worked in one's present position until clearly called to another; I have moved from that to my recent experience as a Patron, advertising, sending for references, interviewing, appointing.

So I conclude. The more I have thought about those ideals and habits sown in my life some 40 years ago, the more I have come to doubt my doubts about the fitness of my training. Was it irrelevant? Are the patterns of ministry considered in recent debates and publications any better? I hope that, whatever happens in the future, we shall not shrink into congregationalism. I think there will still be a place for the natural, praying, visiting, reading, learning, caring parson.

Our priesthood is a privilege. We should not be too solemn about it, because joy is the mark of faith. So let us be happy in our faith and in our work. But remember too that we shall be called to account.

At our Ordination we were asked, "Will you accept the discipline of this Church ... ? Will you be diligent in prayer, in reading Holy Scripture, and in all studies ... ? Will you strive to fashion your own life and that of your household according to the way of Christ? Will you promote peace, unity and love ... ? Will you stir up the sifts of God that is in you ... ? And we said, "By the help of God, I will."

The time will come when we shall be asked, "Have you?" Whatever patterns of ministry may be developed in the future may they be such that they will give a priest the chance to answer, "By the help of God, I've tried.

Back to contents

The View from the Vicarage

Jim Bateman

Dear Friends

"Life and How to Survive It" by Skynner & Cleese

Holiday reading is meant to be light and entertaining. Before departing for Corfu, I hastily picked up a book by Robin Skynner and John Cleese entitled "Life and How to Survive It" (Published by Mandarin, 1994). It was entertaining but not light!

This book is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It follows the authors' first book ten years earlier entitled "Families and How to Survive Them". It is the same mix of professional psychiatry and humour, but in conversational style. You either love it or hate it.

The main focus is on what makes for mental health - in families, schools, churches, etc. It is not surprising that common features emerged.

Skynner and Cleese suggest that families and organisations generally operate on one of three levels - chaotic, rigid or truly healthy. Rigidity is better than chaos but health is best of all!

So, what are the marks of an organisation with a high level of mental health?

Skynner and Cleese identify eight.

1)     An "affiliative attitude" (page 104) being translated: A positive attitude to life, warm and welcoming to the outside world, accepting people as they are, giving others the benefit of the doubt, etc. Such an organisation gets the best out of people by seeing the best in people, expecting it and drawing it out. It is truly "a life affirming" approach.

2)     Love (page 112). Meaning both intimacy and separateness.

A healthy organisation gives people independence and seeks to empower them. In an unhealthy organisation, there is little trust and the leadership consequently tries to control everything.

Healthy leadership exercises tight control of the important things with maximum freedom in other areas. General Sir John Hackett apparently used to refer to the chain-of-command in the Army as a chain-of-confidence!

In contrast, Gordon the Guided Missile checks his course every split second and corrects it every other split second.

3)     Clear authority of the Leaders alongside ...

4)     Full consultation (page 120).

Skynner and Cleese take these two together and let one inform the other. The impression is of a leadership determined to use the intelligence of the whole organisation. The motto for meetings is "co-operation between people, competition between ideas". Many a PCC could learn from that.

The approach is to delegate as much as possible because "if you are entrusted with what you can handle, you get a clearer feeling for what is outside your competence - at least for the time being". Be flexible in the use of authority and do not exercise more control than is necessary at any given moment.

5)     Good, open communication (page 126).

Healthy organisations know that there is always something worth talking about. It is important to give people the chance to meet and to mix informally. Personal relationships throughout the organisation are just as important as a means of communication - perhaps more so.

6)     The Three-Ring-Circus (page 130).

Here a sense of freedom and fun, individuality and creativity are all held together. The result is that confidence rises and also the sense of fun.

Akio Morita of Sony has declared, "The human infant is born curious. but that natural curiosity gradually drains away as they grow older. I consider it my job to do everything I can to nurture the curiosity of the people I work with, because at Sony we know that a terrific new idea is more likely to happen in an open, free and trusting atmosphere than where everything is calculated, every action analysed, and every responsibility assigned by an organisational chart". Here is true liberty!

Again, two things are held in tension - the ability to play and the ability to act decisively, together with the ability to switch between them as appropriate.

7)     Realism (page 133).

Healthy organisations have a good "mental map" of the world, with themselves on it too - in the right place and about the right size. Theologically, this is all about knowing yourself and the world in which we live.

8)     The Capacity to Cope with Change (page 136).

Indeed, more than cope, making change enjoyable and stimulating.

The fact is that most of us are "mid-range" and a bit rigid. We need a jolt from outside to accept a life of constant change. If, like me, you naturally shrink from change as a way of life, this book can help.

"Life" is not a Christian book but it contains profound insights into life and into the health of families and churches. It does not give all the answers but it raises some very important questions. I commend it to you.

Your brother in Christ.

Jim Bateman

Back to contents

The Authority of the Bible

A comparative study of Hans Küng and James Barr.

The Revd Colin Hopkinson, Rural Dean of Chelmsford North


The Bible has always been at the centre of my Christian life. I was "converted" in classic evangelical style as a teenager and was nurtured in what was effectively a fundamentalist youth group and later in a Christian Union. Personally, I experience the Bible as the clearest way God speaks to me and my preaching ministry has always been firmly based on expository preaching. I find few things more exciting than seeking to discern what God is saying by His Spirit through the Bible.

Over time I have moved away from the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible with which I was brought up. I have not moved through any disillusionment with the Bible but through discovering new depths within it. I have found many of the insights of modern biblical criticism to be enormously enriching.

Given the opportunity to prepare a project for a study course it became apparent to me that this was the subject I had to address. I experience this book to be God's Word speaking to me and to the church, but what do I mean by that? To read the Bible as anything other than what it actually is must be to misunderstand and to misrepresent it. So what is the Bible? That is the question that drove me to choose this subject.

I was wisely guided to seek to contain this subject by studying and comparing the views of two leading scholars: Hans Küng and James Barr. What follows is a shortened and selective summary of that study. In comparing their views I have sought to gather material under broad headings which they both address.

B. INSPIRATION: their mutual rejection of "infallibility" and the suggestion of an alternative form of inspiration of the "process" of formation and transmission of the Bible.

Both Küng and Barr are dedicated to historical critical study as the proper way of understanding the Bible. Thus both of them emphasise the Bible's human origins.

Both regard inerrancy as a human rationalistic idea imposed upon the Bible. Neither of them finds evidence in the Bible itself that either claims or supports inerrancy. Because it is a doctrine imposed from outside the Bible itself, which then requires us to interpret the Bible accordingly, the doctrine of inerrancy inevitably distorts the Bible's true meaning. This argument is most developed by Barr and is one of his most telling criticisms of fundamentalism, striking as it does at the heart of the fundamentalist claim to be defending the truth of the Bible.

For both the Bible is a fallible human witness to faith. These are human documents which include errors and there is no reason in principle to exclude the possibility of errors of any kind, including theological errors. We must take the Bible for what it is, as revealed by historical criticism, rather than impose upon it any predetermined ideas of our own.

Both of them appear to accept that there may be divine inspiration of the whole process by which the Bible comes to us.

Küng writes that inspiration is not limited to any specific act by the writer but refers to "the entire course of the origin, collection and transmission of the Word". The Bible is experienced as "interpenetrated and filled with the Spirit ... it is truly inspired" but not inerrant. Küng writes of God working "indirectly" and "covertly", behind the scenes so to speak. God "can reach his goals by way of our humanity and historicity without doing any violence to human beings". Elsewhere Küng prefers to describe the Bible as God's inspiring rather than inspired Word and writes that the Bible is man's word which can become God's word if we submit to its testimony about God. Scripture is not revelation in itself but attests it. It is human testimony to divine revelation.

Küng seems to be arguing that God inspires the Bible at some underlying spiritual level that cannot be clearly defined. This inspiration influenced all the complex processes by which the Bible reached its final form and continues to influence us as we hear the Bible today. The evidence for this is the way in which the people of God over the centuries and today have experienced God speaking to them through the Bible. One implication of this is that historical critical study can reveal divine inspiration in the processes leading to the formation of the Bible and not only in the final canonical form of the text.

A further clue to Küng's notion of inspiration is found in his proposed alternative to the doctrine of infallibility which he calls "indefectability". He is primarily concerned with this doctrine in the context of its application to the church and the Pope but he consciously extends it to the Bible as well. Thus the church (and the Bible) is infallible insofar (and only insofar) as it is obedient to God. This truth is unaffected by errors in matters of detail.

The point seems to be that because God has promised to hold the church in the truth we can be assured that he will fulfil this promise despite the fact that the church strays from the truth in matters of detail. He calls this either "indefectability" or "perpetuity in the truth". It seems that God achieves this by the same kind of "covert" inspiration of normal human events as outlined above. Thus Küng allows for the church (and the Bible) to make mistakes but nevertheless gives reason for confidence that there will be a fundamental adherence to the truth. The test of whether the truth has been held to seems to be correlation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This message is communicated to us by the Gospels (as understood by historical criticism). The Bible is a reliable communicator of this message but Küng allows for the possibility that not every part is true to the gospel in every detail. Thus the Bible becomes the main source and the normative authority for his theology while still open to historical criticism and to theological criticism where it strays from the gospel message at its heart.

Barr is scathing in his attacks on arguments that use divine inspiration as a basis for biblical infallibility. Furthermore, he shies away from concepts such as inspiration which define the Bible's status in terms of its past origins rather than its future function. He emphasises the orientation of the Bible to the future arguing that the Bible's role is not so much to describe the past as to provide a paradigm for future hope. Despite all this he is not really challenging the idea of inspiration or even of the inspiration of the Bible. What he objects to is the idea that the writing of the Bible was inspired in any special way different from the way God's people have experienced God's inspiration in the past and continue to experience it today.

Whereas Küng's search for biblical authority generally focuses on the search for the original to which the Bible testifies, Barr tends to locate the authority of the Bible less clearly at any particular stage in the development of the text. In his essay in "Christian Authority" he takes this a step further by asking whether the history of the interpretation of a text after it has been written might also be authoritative.

A close study of the history of the interpretation of Genesis (pre NT, in Romans 5 and in later Christian tradition) leads him to conclude that it is actually the tradition rather than the text that governs our theology and our interpretation of (in this case) Genesis. Barr clearly thinks it is important that we are aware of what is influencing us and what the message of the original text actually is. However, once we have recognised all the different strands of interpretation he is content to observe that there are valuable lessons to be learned from many of them which can be appropriately fitted into our theology today.

C. CANON: their views on the canon and the implications of the theological diversity within it.

Küng and Barr agree that the essential point about the canon is that it is an historical fact. It is a "de facto given" per Küng. They agree that any special authority these particular canonical books have today derives from the fact that these were the books chosen by the church (whatever the rights and wrongs of that choice in the first place). However, this assertion gives Küng greater confidence than Barr and causes him to declare the Bible the "norma normans non normata" [ed. "the norm of norms which cannot be normed"] for theology. Barr, on the other hand, emphasises that the Bible is only one of many "nodal points" around which today's theology should be constructed.

Küng examines the theological diversity within the Bible in dialogue with Käsemann and Diem. He agrees that there is such diversity but he parts company with both of them when they suggest that we can be selective within the NT. Käsemann does this in principle by seeking to establish a "canon within the canon", while Diem does it in fact by selecting witnesses appropriate to the "kerygmatic situation" (i.e. selecting those theological emphases most appropriate to the situation into which the gospel is being preached). Küng notes that choosing and selectivity are at the root of the word "heresy" and he argues for a comprehensive or truly "catholic" understanding. To establish a "canon within the canon" means being more biblical than the Bible! It leads to disintegration, while a "catholic" attitude results in an openness and freedom for the whole NT.

Expanding on this theme Küng acknowledges that different testimonies in the NT must be interpreted and valued in different ways. In particular later Scripture should not be regarded as more authoritative (e.g. 2 Peter) as it is likely to be derivative. Derivative testimonies in Scripture must be interpreted and valued as such. All must be viewed from the perspective of Jesus' message and the original focal points of that message. Thus, for Küng, James is derivative as compared with Romans because Romans has a greater objective nearness to the original message even if James is temporally closer.

Thus it seems that while Küng will not allow selectivity within the NT he will allow a certain relativity in interpretation. Thus in later dialogue with Käsemann, Küng is prepared to acknowledge that "Jesus Christ Himself' is the "centre" of the NT and, indeed, the "canon within the canon" (although he regards these terms as misleading). Thus it seems that everything in the NT must be interpreted from the standpoint of the Jesus of history. The relative value of any particular text will be determined by its nearness to or distance from the historical Jesus and the original gospel message.

Barr also finds the term "canon within the canon" to be unhelpful. He is more comfortable with the notion of a "material centre" which defines the uniting reality of the Bible rather than emphasising certain "bits" of the Bible over and against other "bits". He speaks of central organising themes like justification and resurrection and he acknowledges that there is some underlying theological structure to the Bible. In this respect he seems close to the ideas of Käsemann discussed by Küng. However he observes that the centre may change with new perceptions and situations (which sounds closer to Diem) and shares Küng's wariness of elevating any perceived "centre" above criticism. Like Küng he observes that different theologies and confessional stances focus around different selections within the canon (e.g. Calvin and Luther emphasised Paul while the liberals emphasised the Synoptic gospels) but he seems less offended by this practice than Küng. This may be due to his generally less focused approach to theology, allowing for a multiplicity of "nodal points" around which many types of theology can be built.

In his attacks on Childs' "canonical criticism" (which claims that the final form of the books of the canonical Bible, and the canon viewed as a whole, are what is authoritative for theology and the church) Barr argues that the NT is not interested in a doctrine of Scripture. The NT uses Scripture as evidence but not as the ultimate criterion of Christian truth.

NT Christians certainly regarded the OT as the Word of God but it was not the communicator of salvation. That was the oral gospel which did not require a NT Scripture and certainly not Scriptural control. For Jesus and the NT Christians the authority of the Old Testament was relative to the supreme authority of Jesus Christ himself. Even 2 Timothy 3:16 (the Bible's most overburdened text according to Barr) affirms inspiration but gives only a low key application. Scripture is "useful" for practical purposes rather than the foundation of faith or the ultimate criterion of truth. For NT Christians there is a useful body of (ill-defined) Scriptures but there is no controlling Bible.

Barr argues that if we take our doctrinal starting point as a completed and authoritative Scripture we will inevitably misread Scripture because we are reading our principles into the text rather than allowing the texts to shape our principles. He contrasts this kind of "deductive approach" with his own preference for an "inductive approach". A "deductive approach" (like fundamentalism or canonical criticism) deduces (on other grounds) that the Bible must be authoritative or inerrant and then proceeds to the Bible itself. An "inductive approach" (like historical criticism) starts by looking at the Bible itself and then asks what it is.

D. HISTORICITY: the importance of "the historical Jesus" for Küng and Barr's approach to the Bible as "history-like story".

It is in their views on the significance of the historicity of the Bible that Küng and Barr contrast most clearly.

Both are committed to historical critical method. They agree that texts can only be properly understood by careful, delicate and unbiased study. Both are also cautious in accepting the latest findings of such study and recommend only those conclusions that have been carefully researched, argued and established.

Küng places the historical Jesus in the place of central importance for his theology. Following examination of many other good religions and ways of life Küng asks what is special and distinctive about Christianity. He concludes that the answer is Jesus himself. The diversity within the NT and in the history and traditions of the church is unified by the memory of Christ. It is essential to Küng that this Jesus is not a mythological figure but real and historical, existing in time and place. It is this historical Jesus who is the ground of authority for Christianity today and so it is vitally important that we are able to know about him. The only significant source of information we have about the historical Jesus is the NT so it becomes essential to Küng that we can know about the real historical Jesus through study of the NT.

Küng is confident of the ability of careful historical criticism to reveal the historical Jesus although he notes that only a greater or lesser degree of probability (as opposed to certainty) can be achieved. He notes the need to distinguish between the Gospel writers' redaction, the interpretations of the early Christian communities and Jesus himself. At the same time he observes that the historical Jesus had many common features with primitive Christianity and even non-historical sayings put into Jesus' mouth can be authentic to him. It is possible to discover the historical Jesus, Küng claims, because there is real continuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

Barr argues that the Bible should be regarded as "history-like story". He notes that narrative is very important in the Bible and that this narrative is history-like in the way it is presented. However, for Barr. this is just its literary form and this does not mean that it is real history. There is a mix of myth and actual history in the telling of the story. This is appropriate because the narrative is seeking to achieve a theological purpose rather than historical accuracy. Thus the OT narrative in particular is not motivated by interest in past events but by the desire to give its readers patterns for future hope.

It is, perhaps, significant that Küng's treatment of the Bible focuses almost exclusively on the NT while Barr's arises mainly out of his OT specialisation. It is much easier to argue for the relative reliability of the NT, with its relatively short history of formation, than it is to argue the same line on the basis of OT books (e.g. Exodus) which have gone through many centuries of development and contain a multiplicity of strata.

E. THE BIBLE AND THEOLOGY: Küng's "normative authority" and Barr's "classic model".

There is something of an irony in reading the Roman Catholic Küng pleading for the Bible to be given normative authority while the Protestant Barr pleads for tradition and other influences to rank alongside the Bible. It is clear that both of them are largely motivated to write by what they perceive to be faults in their own traditions. It is interesting that this eventually leads to both of them advocating positions more usually associated with the other's tradition. However, this may mislead us into thinking that Küng and Barr are further apart than they really are. The emphasis in what any author writes will be shaped by the positions he is determined to oppose and may give a slightly unbalanced picture of his true position.

Küng argues that as the particular record of the original Christian testimony acknowledged by the church the Bible has permanent normative authority for the church and for theology. It cannot be displaced by later authority. The Bible contains a particular record of the original testimony to Jesus Christ. This has been acknowledged by the church in formation and recognition of the canon (above). He is appalled by what he regards as the gulf that has developed between Roman Catholic dogmatic theology and historical critical exegesis of the Bible.

When he establishes two "poles" for ecumenical theology - present day experience and the norm of the Jewish Christian tradition based on the gospel of Jesus Christ - he makes it clear that it is the second of these poles that should have the normative authority. He accepts that the Bible comes from a past world that no longer speaks to us and needs to be mediated to us anew so that the gospel can be heard afresh in our age. However, he declares that when biblical and contemporary experiences fundamentally contradict it is the biblical experiences, the gospel and Jesus Christ that must prevail.

Barr does consider the Bible to have a special and even unique authority although he does not grant it normative authority above all other sources as of right.

While Barr rejects what he sees as the excessively high views of the Bible found in fundamentalism, canonical criticism and Barth's "biblical theology" he also rejects "cultural relativism". This questions the status given to the Bible and places the emphasis on decisions made now, which should only be influenced by and not governed by past tradition or the Bible.

For Barr cultural relativism displays too high a confidence in the church's ability to decide without norms. He agrees that it is good to challenge simplistic ideas of biblical authority but cultural relativism is too extreme and too vague about the foundations upon which modern theology can be built.

The point at which the Bible is introduced into a theology will vary but it is necessary for Barr that it is introduced at some point. He affirms that Christianity is a faith in a particular God uniquely expressed in the Bible. While calling for an openness to a multiplicity of theologies Barr notes that there must be restrictions if a theology is to be called Christian. Jesus Christ must be central and it must be compatible with the God known in Israel. Theology must have some relatedness to the Bible because the Bible is the church's "classic model".

Christianity is based on the basic model of God first worked out in the OT and then the NT. Later Christianity does and must relate to this model. Barr describes this as the "classic model". The status of the Bible is established by the decision made by the church to give it special status (i.e. the fixing of the canon) and by its congruence with the structure of the Christian faith (i.e. to be Christian it must relate to Jesus and the God of Israel testified to in the Bible). The Bible has been fixed as a "sufficient" testimony. This does not mean that it is complete or unerring. Tradition preceded the Bible as well as following it but the biblical writers wrote at a pioneering stage which gives them a special place.

Considering the term "authority" Barr notes that there are two views of authority. The "hard" view is predetermined before any interpretation and is general in application (e.g. the Bible is the supreme or sole authority). The "soft" view discerns authority after the interpretive process has been completed and is limited to where any authoritative effect is found. This soft authority is clearly Barr's preferred view and this explains his reluctance to define the Bible's authority relative to other potential sources. He would rather that all relevant information on any given issue were gathered together and considered. Only then can it be decided what source should be accorded the greatest influence. The Bible will always be influential but not necessarily normative.


As I write this summary I am returning to a study that I did a year ago. At that time I felt much more sympathy for Küng's views than Barr's. That may be because so much of what I read of Barr seemed to be couched in negative terms. I remain more convinced by Küng. Nevertheless, as I have engaged in the usual round of Bible study and sermon preparation I have found that Barr's positive ideas of the Bible as "history-like story" and "classic model" have resonated with me as I have sought to interpret and apply the Scriptures.

At one point Barr observes that the Bible's value for the church is far greater than just theology. Apart from its role in theology it has a direct religious impact. Its many sidedness makes it very suitable for preaching and devotional use. In any event (according to Barr) most preachers are not sufficiently competent to do their own theology without the Bible! On that basis, if on no other, the Bible will remain central to my ministry!

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