Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Richard Dawkins: devil’s advocate or phantom menace?

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

I’ve just watched Richard Dawkins The God Delusion on the Mo’ Fo’ channel. Last week we had his Faith School Menace; he’s on a roll!

As a Christian in the liberal tradition I believe we need Dawkins. We may often accuse fundamentalists and biblical-literalists of shoddy thinking, but Dawkins is consistent in demanding reasoned answers for all of religion’s claims. In the same way that the traditional process of declaring a person a saint in Catholicism has used a devil’s advocate to ask hard questions to cut through the wishful thinking and groupthink, Dawkins, rather than being feared or scorned, should be appreciated as one who splashes some cold water on the face of sleep-walking religion.

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Doing liberal theology well

I once thought that many theological positions can be grounded in Jesus’ life and teaching, even fundamentalist ones, but that one could never call Jesus liberal. I thought that because I misunderstood liberalism (and perhaps fundamentalism too). I had thought that liberals were those who make the Bible say what they want it to say by twisting and manipulating God’s words. Of course, they are morally corrupt too. And it’s almost generous to describe this position as wishy-washy.

Of course, liberals don’t want to listen to the criticism. It’s far too easy to retort ‘Pharisee’ than begin the painful task of removing the English oak rafters from our eyes. From bishops to Sunday school teachers, convenient claptrap is peddled because it’s easy to digest. They are the fast food snacks of theology: McDoctrine. It’s a McDoctrine to explain away difficult gospel passages by saying that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said, as is introducing a discussion on church teamwork by describing the Trinity as Team. These things are superficial in that they have no place in the Christian tradition, biblical interpretation or rational understanding. Saying that God’s love is your first and last principle is good and right, but the theological imperative from this is not one to cosy niceness. Continue reading


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Establishment and the Church of England

Yesterday I spent the day in Oxford for Affirming Catholicism’s The Established Church: Past, Present, Future conference. The speakers were Nigel Biggar (Oxford professor of moral and pastoral theology), Matthew Grimley (Oxford tutor in 20th-century British cultural and religious history), Mark Chapman (Oxford reader in modern theology), Judith Maltby (Oxford reader in church history), Elaine Graham (Manchester professor of social and pastoral theology) and William Whyte (Oxford lecturer in modern history).

Of these, only Biggar and Graham entered into explicit arguments in support of the establishment of the Church of England, and perhaps did so because they alone specifically dealt with the future of our establishment arrangements. Biggar presented a clear and concise argument for establishment based on political and moral philosophy, while Graham presented a compelling version of the sociological argument from localised social capital. Continue reading


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Ad fontes of Christian humanism

I’ve recently updated my What page, so I thought I would also copy it here as a post for comment.

GarshuniAd fontes is a Latin phrase meaning ‘to the sources’, a favourite motto of Renaissance humanism. I am particularly thinking of Erasmus of Rotterdam with this phrase, recalling his invaluable biblical scholarship. Renaissance humanism both laid the groundwork for the Reformation and re-engaged with the writers of the early church.

The term ‘humanism’ is only applied retrospectively to this movement. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest meaningful occurrence in the French humanisme of 1765, with the meaning of ‘love of humanity’, with a German reference to Humanismus from 1808 being used to describe the classical syllabus of the gelehrten Schulen (‘learned schools’, grammar schools). Our universities’ humanities divisions and faculties are named after this understanding of humanism. It didn’t take long for the term to acquire two more widely applied senses: the intellectual movement of the Renaissance and a philosophy oriented toward the human. There are a few sparse uses of the term ‘humanism’ to refer to a doctrine that Jesus Christ has a merely human nature (adoptionism, ebionitism and perhaps unitarianism), and Schiller used the term as a name for pragmatism; these are not my doctrines, nor my intended meaning. Continue reading