A Theological Conversation with Scott McKenna – FULL TRANSCRIPT

The following is a full transcript of the theological conversation between Rev Scott McKenna (Minister, Church of Scotland) and Rev David Robertson, Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and Director of Solas Centre for Public Christianity. The conversation was chaired by the Very Rev John Chalmers, Principal Clerk to, and former Moderator of, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It took place in Mayfield Salisbury Church of Scotland, Edinburgh on 30th September, 2015 at 7:30pm.

My reflections on this can be found here –


Despite written assurances that video and audio footage would be made available, the Church of Scotland has deleted the recordings.

Thanks to Ally Smith for the hard work of transcribing and laying out the full discussion. Please remember that this is a verbatim account of a spoken debate and therefore the grammar etc is not what you would expect for a written debate!

A low quality audio recording of the discussion can be listened to here: http://tapesfromscotland.org/mayfie…


Angus McIntyre: (Session Clerk of Mayfield Salisbury Church of Scotland)

On behalf of Mayfield Salisbury Church I should like to extend our welcome to our audience this evening and to thank you for attending the public conversation featuring the Rev David Robertson and the Rev Scott McKenna.

First, some housekeeping matters. In the event of an emergency there are exits at the front and the rear of the church identified by the green exit signs. After the conversation is over you are invited to join us for refreshments in the upper hall which can be accessed by the door to the left of the pulpit.

Many of you will know Scott already as Minister of this parish church for some 15 years. His biography on the church’s website states that his theology is rational, progressive and pertinent to the 21st-century and he has no hesitation in tackling controversial subjects.

David is the current Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland and has been minister of Dundee’s St Peter’s Free Church for 22 years. The website of the Free Church quotes the former Moderator the Rev David Meredith saying this about him, “David represents so many of the qualities which are central to the DNA of the Free Church: commitment to Bible-centred Christianity, obsessively Christ focused, politically radical and outward looking.”

About to begin
A packed church

We are also delighted to welcome on the payroll this evening the Very Rev John Chalmers, the past Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and principal clerk who will chair the meeting this evening. John is kindly standing in at short notice for the Moderator, Dr Angus Morrison, who unfortunately has lost his voice.
[Audience laughter.]

John Chalmers:

Well these two have not lost their voice necessarily. First of all on behalf of the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Angus Morrison, I’ve been asked to convey his regret that he is not able to be here to participate in this dialogue. The Moderator’s schedule can sometimes be quite gruelling and he’s just come back from more than two weeks visiting presbyteries and excessive non-stop talking and he has no voice left and he needs a few days to recover. So he has asked me to represent him here tonight as the immediate past Moderator and I am pleased to do so.

Mayfield Salisbury John Chalmers nwI am John Chalmers, the immediate past Moderator. I have been a minister of the Church of Scotland for more than 35 years. Half of that time has been in the parish and half of that time has been in the central administration of our church.

One of the privileges that I look back on in my ministry is that I have been the one who has often ministered to other ministers. And as such I would share my spiritual journey with people from every part of the theological spectrum which is represented in our church. In doing so, I have developed an understanding of the breadth of our church and have grown in friendships with people from every part of the church. These friendships have been possible because others have taken the time to understand where I am coming from and likewise I have taken the time to understand where they are coming from. In too much of our contemporary dialogue we do not take the necessary time to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes or even to walk a mile alongside the other person. Now I’ve spent have a lifetime trying to do that.

As Moderator last year it was one of my avowed aims not to be drawn in to battle lines across the usual frontiers but, instead, to try to build bridges of understanding across obvious areas of disagreement. In doing this I spent a lot of time encouraging the concept of “respectful dialogue” and helping to lead such dialogue within and outside of the church.

We applied the practice of “respectful dialogue” to discussions which we held around the referendum and within areas of disagreement on the church policy and on theology.

Such “respectful dialogues” do not mean that one side or another has to sell out or compromise their beliefs but it does mean taking the time to hear what the other has to say and to try to understand how the other has come to a particular understanding and in that spirit you are invited to join this conversation. And in that spirit, I am encouraging David and Scott to offer themselves into that kind of discussion. I invite them and I invite all of you into such a respectful listening and conversing.

And the last thing I would say is that these conversations have a context. This is the context; the spirit of this evening. And they involve people being honest even to the point of exposing their own vulnerability, so we need to respect that and we need to respect and value this conversation in that context.

And with that said can I invite you to prayer? Let us pray.

Almighty God, Who works in and through us even though we are imperfect beings. We ask that in the power of the Holy Spirit you would spend time among us this night. In the presence of Jesus Christ, sweeten our engagement with one another and may the graciousness of His love hold us in the palm of his hand. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

Now, I’ve told you a little bit about myself and my background and I think it’s important that, while we have several topics to tackle tonight in conversation, I think it’s important that you know a little bit about those who are involved in the conversation. So I’m going to invite each of the participants, for four of five minutes, to say just a little bit about themselves and their own spiritual journey to this place where they find themselves tonight. And I’m going to invite David to do that first.

David Robertson:

I’ll remain seated. I’m a Free Church minister so keeping anything to four or five minutes is going to be somewhat difficult. I want just to begin by thanking you Scott for enabling this to happen. We had a conversation at Cafe Musa on the Mound, and I think both our desires is for that conversation to be reflected here. There are all kinds of rumours about this. Those who are from more civilised parts of the country like Dundee and Glasgow have been wondering if this is going to be a wee bit of a rammy and the answer is no, but if you say anything bad, outside afterwards and we’ll sort it out.

Somebody else said, “Oh, are you going to hammer the Church of Scotland?” No, because I’m going to teach orthodox Church of Scotland belief. Basically I’m going to teach orthodox Roman Catholic, and orthodox Orthodox as well as orthodox Protestant belief.

David Sitting 1
Very Rev John Chalmers (L) and Rev David Robertson (R)

The reason why I am going to do that, you’re right, there is a personal story here. I grew up in a Christian Brethren home in the Borders, in Gloucestershire, and then in the Highlands. At a young age in Easter Ross I decided that I would reject the Christian faith, as many, many young people do, and I fully understand why that happens. Then when I was about 15 or 16, much to my annoyance, I was converted. I still, to this day, actually haven’t told my parents. I think they’ve kind of worked it out.

Something happened that was for me amazing. Nearly all my friends thought, “What’s happened to him? He’s gone crazy.” But they were so intrigued that they went to church. And that was the days when most people had some vague kind of church connection. So what they did was they went to the church of their parents. Basically the pattern that followed was this. Those who went to churches which were, in my view, liberal and denied parts of the Bible, not one of them became Christian. And those who went to churches, whatever the determination, that taught the Bible and were evangelical almost all of them became Christians. And that really, really stuck with me. And since I was in sixth year in school I’ve always wanted to stand up and preach the gospel and to defend the gospel. I would argue that I am not a religious person. I don’t particularly like religion. I think it can do a great deal of harm. In fact I like the description that you gave, John, of Scott, because it describes me; I’m rational, progressive, pertinent to 20th-century culture and I’m not afraid to deal with difficult subjects. That’s a self-description that I would like to say as well.

I have been a minister in the Free Church for … Well. I wasn’t always in the Free Church. Actually I was at the Church of Scotland first of all because there were some pretty girls. And in those days there were young people in the Church of Scotland. It was great. When I came down to Edinburgh I went to Morningside Baptist. And interestingly, actually, I decided I would not go to one of the CU churches. I went into a Church of Scotland which shall remain nameless but after 15 minutes I got up and walked out because the Minister was denying what the Bible said and I thought I can’t, as a Christian, cope with that and I can’t be rude and interrupt him. So I went to Morningside Baptist. After being there for couple of years, I ended up going to Buccleuch and Greyfriars Free Church which actually met at West Coast causeway at the time. I went into the Free Church ministry, was in Brora for six years, and have been in Dundee since 1992. I went to a congregation of a handful of people in Dundee, Robert Murray McCheyne’s Church, six or seven people and, for me, today is quite poignant day actually, because tomorrow I will be burying the only elder I’ve got the left from that period. He watched and observed as the church has grown to over 250 and it is my conviction that it is not because of my abilities or anything that we are doing other than preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think that’s what we were talking about so we will continue that conversation.

So that’s where I’m coming from. I’m not interested in denominations. I love Jesus. I love his word.

And I have to say… this is a confession. I am going to make a confession about Scott. When I met Scott… I want to give him enormous credit. First of all, he asked me, which was wonderful, because usually people I disagree with don’t want to meet. So he asked me. And secondly, forgive me for saying this, but I actually liked you, genuinely. So before I burn you at the stake remember that I liked you. I thought… I really, really did want to do this and I pray that God will bless our conversation here, to you and to everyone else listening.

John Chalmers: And Scott….

Scott McKenna: yeah, I didn’t come from a…

Probably I should also say welcome to Mayfield Salisbury. It’s just wonderful to have you here. I’m also delighted that David agreed to meet and then our conversation went extremely well, we had coffee, and therefore this continuing conversation seems to me to be a natural progression. So I’m grateful to David as well.

Rev Scott McKenna

My own background is that I didn’t grow up in a church family. There was no church… certainly for my parents’ generation there was no church connection; still no church connection. My way into the church, if you like, came through the Boys Brigade. I had friends who were in the Boys Brigade and, as a consequence of that, I went along to church and most were there for the Bible study and so on. And that was really the doorway into learning about the faith. And the thing is…I suppose the critical moment was when I was about 18 or 19. I was asked to teach a Bible study, a Bible class. And if you’ve ever been asked to teach something, gosh, do you learn it! So I really did learn very hard and I think that was actually a significant moment for me. So, the Church of Scotland is really indebted to the Boys Brigade as I am. Many ministers have come through the ranks of the Boys Brigade. So that was my way in. I offered myself to the church. They then accepted me, and I went to St Andrews University, which was a very formative time for me. I made some significant friends, I suppose, and also people from different denominations. I came from a very ordinary, let me put it that way, Church of Scotland parish so to be exposed to Anglicans and Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians and so on, feminists, and all these things, it was kind of a whole new world for me and very significant. I’ve been a minister for about 22 years, parish minister for 22 years. My first parish was in Uddingston in the West, famous for its Tunnocks caramel wafers and things like that. I served six and half years and then I’ve been here in Mayfield Salisbury for 15 years.

John Chalmers: Thank you, so

Interruption from a lady in the audience:

“Excuse me! I wonder if you gentlemen could possibly stand up when you’re speaking. I can’t see a thing. I don’t know whether I’m sitting amongst the tallest people in the church, but I can’t see the table and I can’t see any of you.

[Everyone on the panel talked and agreed to stand when speaking so can be seen better.]

John Chalmers:

Okay… well then… I will ask Scott to stand now because the first topic on which there is going to be some exchange is, our understanding of the Bible. What it is. How we understand it having come for all men and how we read it and what authority we place on it and I’ll let Scott go first.

Scott McKenna:

I suppose one of the things I should have said in my personal journey was when I was about 17 or 18 I was reading the Bible for myself for the first time. It was the Gospels and into the letters. I remember a very profound, powerful experience. I remember it as though it were last week, reading the Gospels for the very first time and Jesus coming alive in my consciousness, in my soul, for the very first time. It was a very, very powerful experience and I suppose everything else flows from that.

So I think the first thing I would say is that, as it says in second Timothy, the Bible is the inspired word of God, breathed out by God and I certainly feel that. That would be my experience of Scripture. And so the first thing is, the Bible is something with which we interact, and it brings you, your soul alive. The Spirit in the Scripture can bring your soul alive and that’s certainly my experience and I suspect it may be the experience of many people here this evening. It’s amazing how powerful it can be. So I have this sense that it is inspired, or God breathed.

And of course, some of my heroes in the 20th century, people like Oscar Romero or Martin Luther King Jr. these are people for whom the Bible transformed their lives and in turn they then tried to transform society around them. So the Bible, first of all, is something which is alive.

It’s also a product of communities. The Old Testament is the product of the Hebrew people. The Hebrew people wrote it. And the New Testament was written by the early church. So the Bible is in a sense, a God inspired human document which has been shaped by the Spirit of God but written by these respective communities. And they were trying to express their faith, their experience of The Sacred, trying to put into words almost that which was inexpressible, and that seems to me what the Bible is about. It brings together mythology, spirituality, liturgy, fragments of history, and they’re all woven together, and biblical scholars over the last 200 years of so have demonstrated that the book can’t be taken apart. It really has to be taken to some extent as a whole. Trying to, for example, get back to the historical Jesus is actually almost impossible. The thing is that, it’s a piece of artwork, it’s crafted, and it needs to be engaged in that way.

Scott Speaking 1
Rev Scott McKenna

One of my favourite stories about approaching the Bible, approaching Scripture, which my own congregation have heard numerous times, is the story of from within Judaism, which is if that you have four rabbis in a room reading the Torah, the Scripture, you have at least six opinions. And that seems to me to be a very, very healthy way of approaching Scripture. And it was the same in Jesus day. People argued about distinctives, and pushed texts around and that’s… I think we’re encouraged to do that today. And I suppose that the Bible is itself an interpretation of God. It requires interpretation. It is subject to misinterpretation. And it is also open to different interpretations at the same time. That is the nature of the book. But I think fundamentally for me, and my experience would be, that it’s a doorway into The Divine.

But I think fundamentally for me, and my experience would be, that it’s a doorway into The Divine.

John Chalmers: David?

David Robertson:

First of all, Scott, I’m glad that you have some fundamentals. You said fundamentally. And I think in some ways we are all fundamentalists in some way about some fundamentals.

I’m also glad that you said you take the whole Bible together. Because I think that’s very important. I think the pick-and-mix view of the Bible is not very helpful.

And I think I would want to hold to the Reformation watchword as well which – having listened to a sermon you gave on “God Speaking” I don’t think you do hold to – is Sola Scriptura. Scripture only. And here’s why. I believe what Jesus said about the Bible; that Scripture cannot be broken. I don’t believe that it is just the product of communities and individuals but I believe what the Bible says about itself; that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Rev David Robertson
Rev David Robertson

And to me the Bible is the living and enduring word of God for today. What God said in David’s day in the Psalms, what God said to Job, or through Job, what God said – Paul writing to the Ephesians – is what God says to us today as well. I think we’re in enormous danger of reinterpreting the Bible so that, as Augustine put it, and as Zwingli backed it up, if we believe in the Bible what we like and leave out what we don’t like it’s not the Bible we believe but ourselves. And I think that, for me, my whole ministry is based entirely on this book being the word of God.

And I do believe that where the church goes wrong, and I’m not meaning particularly you, I’m just thinking all places, including my own denomination sometimes, where people either add to or take away from the word of God. I think we need to hear the words of Jesus when he said to the Pharisees, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures, nor the power of God.”

Now I’m very interested in the six opinions thing because how do we work out what the opinions are?

Because you are, for example, you are a very charming and persuasive person. I am just incredibly charming and persuasive, and gentle as a dove, and, you know, my natural eloquence, good looks and charm could win you over. You could say Rabbi So-and-so says this, or Rabbi So-and-so… I’m not interested in Rabbi So-and-so, and I’m not interested in Scholar So-and-so. I’m not interested in what Calvin says or what Bart says or whoever says.

I’m interested in what Jesus says. And how do I know what Jesus says?

Now some of my charismatic friends would say, “Well, He speaks to us today.” Some of my more liberal friends would say, “He speaks through the community of the church.” And that is how we’ve ended up with so much confusion. There is a sure and certain word. In the past, says Hebrews, God spoke through the prophets in many different ways but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

And how do we know about his Son? Through the gospels.

I was intrigued, and I’d love for you to come back on this, about how we can’t know the historical Jesus. We can’t know the historical Jesus of “The Jesus Seminar” where people vote according to what they think Jesus did or said. I agree with that. But we can know the historical Jesus through his own word. Why? Because he promised the disciples he would have to go away so that he could send the Holy Spirit who would remind them of everything he had taught them and they would write it up. And they would basically teach what… so I believe not in the Jesus of my own personal persuasion or in the Jesus of my church, or, you know, any of that. I believe in the Jesus of the Bible. I believe that Jesus gave us his Word so that we can learn about him. The minute you take away from his Word, in my view, you are taking away from Christ and you are preventing the way to Christ.

I realise that for many people that is a very fundamentalist approach but, as you said, we each have our fundamental beliefs and one of mine is that Scripture is the word of God and, as Jesus said, it cannot be broken.

The minute you take away from his Word, in my view, you are taking away from Christ and you are preventing the way to Christ.

John Chalmers: Scott, do you want come back and expand?

Scott McKenna:

To be honest, I accept what David is saying and I can hear the spirituality and the sincerity. The difficulty, it seems to me, is the issue of interpretation. It is not given to us to be able to interpret Scripture without bringing interpretation to it and having come to different conclusions. For example, the early church fathers had numerous interpretations of passages of Scripture. And even the Reformers, who were great champions of Sola Scriptura, couldn’t agree on passages of Scripture and how to interpret scripture. So, that has continued over the last four or five hundred years.

So it’s actually very, very difficult to get to a pure meaning of Scripture. It always requires interpretation. And the Reformers, and the early Church Fathers, and in the whole of the church’s history there’s been people disagreeing about what passages mean. And I just don’t think it is possible to get to what might be called “the pure meaning.” There are each of us, in traditions throughout the world, and I want to talk about this later, the traditions throughout the word, all have quite different nuanced perspective and even the words of Scripture themselves are an interpretation of Jesus, an interpretation of God. So we cannot escape the wrestling of interpretation.

John Chalmers: So the different lenses through which people interpret the Scripture, David?

David Robertson:

Yeah, but I would argue that there is a Scripture. You see, I would agree about interpretation. But the trouble for me is… what you’re doing is you are saying because we find it difficult to interpret some points, we throw out the whole thing, except what we pick and choose. So our glasses… Instead of the eye or the content becoming what is meaningful, what is meaningful is the way that we see things.

Now I’m sorry but I’ve met people who have had some really nutty interpretations of Scripture and I’m going to say that to them. The reason I can say that is because the best way to interpret Scripture is through Scripture. I accept that Peter talks about how there were some people who would take it that the Scriptures, the writings of the Apostles Paul – and it’s interesting that he called them Scripture – and says that they distort them as ignorant and unstable people do. And there are plenty of ignorant and unstable people. But I am still going to come back and say, yes we will disagree about interpretation but is God not capable of giving us a Word in which he speaks clearly and reveals himself to us? And I think he is. I think the wonderful thing is that he gives us such a variety within that Word that we will disagree about secondary issues but primary issues, fundamental issues if you like, you can’t disagree about. Somebody could say that the Bible says there is no God. Well the Bible does say that. That’s Psalm 14:1, except the first part of that sentence is the fool says in his heart there is no God. That changes it. So I think it’s actually not that difficult to read the Bible.

You said it inspired you and so on. It doesn’t inspire me. Dostoevsky inspires me. JK Rowling may inspire some people. I don’t know, Dundee football club inspire me. Scotland rugby team inspire me to despair. How are we inspired? The Bible says of itself that it is God’s inspired word to us. Not that we are inspired to understand it but that it is sure and certain. And I keep coming back to this. George Whitfield when he came to Scotland used to love the fact that when he was in Scotland he preached to 10,000 people and he would announce a text and he would hear the rustling of 10,000 Bibles. Why? Because people were looking to check that he was speaking the truth. If you don’t have an authoritative Scripture, you actually don’t have an authority to be able to communicate and preach the Word of God and you just end up preaching your own opinions or the culture of the society. And I honestly believe that’s where Scotland has gone wrong in terms of the church. That’s why the church is in so much decline, because we used to be known as the land of the people of the book and now, we’ve just become the land of Rabbi so-and-so says this, minister so-and-so says this. And honestly, young people aren’t interested. Why should they be? We need the Word of God which is the word of Jesus and I believe that’s the Scripture.

If you don’t have an authoritative Scripture, you actually don’t have an authority to be able to communicate and preach the Word of God and you just end up preaching your own opinions or the culture of the society.

Scott McKenna: I don’t want to prolong this but…

David Robertson: Please, go on…

Scott McKenna:

For example, when it talks about Scripture being inspired, is not immediately obvious which Scripture it is referring to. The canon that we have in the Protestant tradition really wasn’t closed until long after, for example, second Timothy was written. So what Scripture we talking about?

And then, is it the Scripture of the Calvinist, Protestant tradition? Or is it the Scripture of the Roman Catholic tradition? Or is it the Scripture of the Orthodox tradition? What Scripture are we talking about? This is part of the minefield that we’re dealing with.

David Robertson:

I’ll just briefly answer that. The scripture that we’re talking about is the bible of the Hebrews which is the Hebrew Old Testament. The scripture that we are talking about is what the early church, the Nicaean council, the Chalcedon Council recognised as scripture because the writings were apostolic. The writings were the Apostles’ whom Jesus promised would write down what he said.

And I actually don’t think it’s that difficult. Again the Orthodox, the Catholics… I disagree with the Catholics about the Apocrypha but we can live together with that. I don’t really think that’s a fundamental issue. But throughout the world, throughout history, all Christians have agreed on the Old and the New Testament. The argument has only been about the Apocrypha. And when we hear things like, what about the gospel of Thomas, and all these apocryphal gospels? Those who study history – and I did, I studied history under David Wright at the University of Edinburgh – I’m sorry, but you have to be of the Dan Brown school of history, i.e. thick, in order to say, “Oh there were many, many gospels and the church just chose the Bible in the fifth and sixth century. ” That is not true.

The people you cited, the church fathers, I read the church fathers actually every day, and that’s David Wright’s influence, and I haven’t come across a single church father who did not believe in the full inspiration and authority of Scripture. And I think you should go by the church fathers, and the traditions of the church, which tell us that the Bible is the supreme authority and the Word of God and that’s the only thing we’ve got.

John Chalmers:

I’d like to move this conversation onto perhaps where…. what brought us to this place tonight, onto the nature of the Atonement. I think this is a central issue and David can I ask you to kick off and say something about your understanding of the theology of the Atonement?

David Robertson:

This is actually quite hard for me because this is probably the closest thing that I’ve,… You talked about vulnerability. Well I’m very, very vulnerable on this… and Scott, when I heard you preach on the clip that was on your website, saying that, “Christ died for our sins is awful theology and ghastly,” my heart absolutely sank. And I’ll tell why it sank. It sank for you. Because you are here to proclaim Christ and you’re denying the very Christ you are here to proclaim. Because this is the very heart of the Christian faith – Christ died for our sins.

Now why do I say that?

Mayfield Salisbury David Robertson2 nwThe apostle Paul, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” I’d be very interested to know how you, as a minister of the Scriptures, can then say Christ dying for our sins is ghastly theology. Your view of Scripture must be so far removed that it allows you to completely traverse that.

Isaiah 53 “He bore the sin of many.” John 1: 29 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” Matthew 20:28, “even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I think of someone like Christopher Hitchens who, not exactly the biggest fan of the gospel, said this, “I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven you are not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

Or I think of a theologian whom I wouldn’t agree with because I would consider him to be too liberal, but he’s probably in the middle a bit, Niebuhr, who said this, “ A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.”

For me, the cross is the absolute heart and centre.

Now what did do about the sermon? You said that people nowadays won’t accept that. Someone like Polly Toynbee, for example, is furious about the Narnia films because she said, “I don’t need someone to die for me.” Well, all I can say is this: I know many, many, many people for whom knowing that Jesus died for their sins is the greatest comfort and the only assurance they possibly have. And I am one of them. Don’t ask me to pay for my sins. And you can’t pay for my sins. I follow Jesus who has paid for my sins. And I’m thinking of situations that I’m dealing with right now where I’m dealing with broken people who are heartbroken and filled with guilt about what they have done. And I am able to go to them because Jesus died on the cross for their sins and to say, in the words of Isaiah, your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for. That is the gospel. It is the most wonderful message in the world.

We are going to talk about a couple of issues later on I think, in Christian terms, we are free to agree and disagree on. But to me, this is the heart of the absolute heart of the matter and I would summarise it in this way. I don’t know if you’ve read this book but I would certainly recommend it to you; Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism” where Machen says that when we are talking about Christianity and Liberalism we are not talking about two different theologies within Christianity. We are talking about two different religions.

And, to me, you take away Jesus dying for our sins; you are taking away the gospel. And it’s a different Jesus from the one I believe in.

So, for me, that’s why I wrote the way I did. I appreciate that you contacted me and spoke about it. I still think that. My desire for you is that you come to change your mind and, you know, that you come to see that that can only be your hope as well and the hope of those you preach to. That that really is the heart of the matter.

Scott McKenna:

It seems to me that this is a very complex area and to say that Jesus died for our sins is not necessarily to end up with penal substitutionary Atonement, which was the context of the sermon. So the sermon was actually about penal substitutionary Atonement which is not necessarily to say that Jesus died for our sins. I can say that without endorsing penal substitutionary atonement and it was that criticism that I developed. But I wonder if you want a word, before I carry on, about specifically penal substitutionary atonement.

David Robertson:

Sure Scott. We were getting caught up there a wee bit.

You did actually say, “Christ died for our sins? No. No. No. That is ghastly theology.” Now I realise that within the context of people who believe that Christ died for their sins, there are different views of how the Atonement works so, Christus Victor, other things as well. So, for me, that’s a different discussion. You were absolutely explicit. “Christ died for our sins? No. No. No. That’s ghastly theology.” So, if you coming back from that, fine at one level.

No. No. No. That's ghastly theology!
No. No. No. That’s ghastly theology!


Penal substitutionary atonement for me it’s just simple. I think it was Karl Barth. In fact it was Karl Barth. He was in the United States and a group of journalists were asking him, “What’s the gospel?” Now, Barth’s Dogmatics, they’re just enormous. If you read them then you’re probably going to die before the end because it takes so long. And you know what Barth said. He’s a very clever man. He said, “This is the gospel. Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” and in that same context he suggested that the words of an African American believer summarised it, “He die. Me no die.”

Penal substitutionary atonement is this. I don’t suffer from my sins and I don’t suffer the hell I deserve because Jesus Christ suffered it for me. So I fully and totally and utterly believe that and, in terms of the Bible, I would suggest that …..

[Noisy murmurs and disturbance from the rear hall]

…I would suggest that we go outside and tell the people outside that unless they are quiet they will suffer something themselves… [Audience laughter]

In that context, I would suggest that the whole sacrificial system in the Old Testament, the whole idea of Atonement, the whole concept of forgiveness doesn’t make any sense, in fact, the cross doesn’t make any sense unless it is the Lamb of God slain from the beginning of the world for us, so…

Scott McKenna:

Okay, I think, as preacher to preacher, I would say that the first paragraph of a sermon is not the whole sermon. So, to go back to that particular sermon. Yes, I did say that but read the first paragraph as an introduction to the whole of my sermon. I was talking about penal substitutionary atonement which is the notion that, in order to satisfy the wrath, the anger of God who had been offended by the wrath of God, that Jesus had to die as a blood sacrifice to pay for this sin, in order to satisfy the wrath of God. Now I would be saying that I think this leaves us with a fairly despotic… despot of a god; a barbaric god who is vindictive and immoral.

Scott vindictive quote

Now this is not unique to me. This is not radical theology. You will find this theology in numerous places including a number of evangelicals. You’ll also find it, in terms of the Church of Scotland’s history, you will find it reasonably well within the Victorian period, and we can talk about that if you want. I was criticising that model because, for me, it distorted the image of God. It created God as a vengeful God who needed satisfaction with the blood sacrifice. So that was the context of the sermon.

Can I say that one of the things that is true is the reason I believe, and I think David articulated this, the reason I believe penal substitutionary Atonement is so powerful and so attractive to people is because it really does give a sense of a burden being lifted. And in life many of us carry all kinds of burdens and sores and things that really deform us, to have a real sense of a burden lifted is a very, very powerful thing. So I understand why penal substitutionary atonement is attractive.

But if we step back from that, what is atonement? Before we get to how it is achieved, what is atonement? Atonement is oneness with God; Union with God; Intimacy with the Sacred. That’s what Atonement is and I think that many people with in the church crave that, absolutely crave that. The issue there is how do we achieve that oneness, that intimacy, that union?

The issue is At-One-Ment, how do we achieve that?

And one model, which David has articulated, stands in the Calvinist reformed tradition. That’s one model. Can I just spend a couple of minutes talking about a breadth of the church’s interpretation?

For example, that’s the Calvinist one. Go back to the early Church Fathers, for example, to Irenaeus. Atonement was the incarnation. The moment of the incarnation was the moment of Atonement for Irenaeus, one of the giant, early Church Fathers. He said that, “In the unborn child, in the infant, youth and adult, God was at one with humanity. And not just with male humanity but, by being in the womb, God connected with what it was to be a woman.” So Irenaeus did not have this penal subsidiary Atonement. He held that incarnation was Atonement.

If you look at the other early Church Fathers, for example Origen or some of the others, they understood atonement as Jesus as teacher, or Jesus as healer. So for example Atonement was through the wise teacher. That’s what Origen said, it’s through the wise teacher and we are to learn this wisdom. Not just wisdom for up here but also wisdom for in here. We are to learn it and be changed and transformed by it.

And then others in the early Church Fathers talked about healing. Most of the early Church Fathers believed in our essential goodness but that we were broken people and we needed to be healed. So for example, in the passage in John’s gospel, John chapter 9, the passage about Jesus helping the man who was born blind. And you know the story of how he picks up the dirt and the saliva, and the mud on the eyes – which really sounds actually slightly disgusting or even superstitious – but actually what is that story about? That story is about reconnecting us with the creation narratives in Genesis. We are made from the dirt of the Earth, the dust of the earth. And that story is a re-interpretation of that early narrative. And that is to say that in Christ we are born again, we have new life, we are healed. And healing was so, so important to the early Church Fathers and they understood that to be our Atonement.

And then I suppose if we carry on to, say a thousand years later, to Anselm of Canterbury, we get into a situation where he was wrestling with this word ‘ransom’. He thought it didn’t make sense that the ransom was paid to the devil. He was uncomfortable with that so he came up with a new model of Atonement which is very much based on a Lord and vassal, Lord/slave model and the slave is to honour the Lord. This was a completely new model again and he’s to honour the Lord. The problem perhaps with Anselm’s model of Atonement is that where Jesus said,” the father is in me and I am in you” there is oneness, there is union, there is intimacy. Whereas Anselm’s model was of a Lord and vassal and so there is an issue there.

And then we come to the Protestant Reformation, and we have people like Calvin. Now Calvin was a lawyer. Had he been a physicist or a psychiatrist I suspect we might have had a different theology from him. But he was a lawyer so he understood things in contractual terms, paying debts and that sort of thing. And he applies that kind of mind-set to Atonement and we end up with the kind of penal substitutionary atonement that I was criticising because I believe that it leaves God looking horrible.

I want then to look at a couple of passages of Scripture, if I may. I realise that were running out of time, but a couple of passages of Scripture. In the gospel of Luke, for example, the parable of the prodigal son. This is a son who has gone off and done all kinds of terrible things and he comes back. And his forgiving father welcomes him. He won’t even let him kneel down. He welcomes him. And in that story, he welcomes the elder brother as well to the table. No one is sacrificed. And the father’s love is unconditional. He welcomes him back. He welcomes the righteous son. Neither of the sons are killed. In Jesus’ own teaching it seems that God is able to forgive without a blood sacrifice in Jesus’s own words.

And then when you look at the end of the gospel of Luke, say on the road to Emmaus; Cleopas and his friend. What is obvious about that story is that they don’t understand why Jesus died. Penal substitutionary atonement was not obvious to them. And then Jesus the risen Christ appears to them and he explains Scriptures to them and what he talks about is the suffering servant; suffering and death. And I would say that that doesn’t actually take us to penal substitutionary atonement either.

So here in Scripture itself, we have different understandings and different models, and in church history, different models, but they don’t all take us to penal substitutionary atonement. And one of the things I think that is a scandal about the gospel, and Paul echoes this when he talks about Jesus being cursed of God, is that context is everything and in the first century, God’s were with the powerful, with Caesar, with people of wealth and status. And here – this is the scandal – is that God was in the criminal and in the person who was crucified. And Jesus is “the cursed of God”, that means he’s outside the covenant. Not just a Gentile, He’s outside the covenant. So anyone, the marginalised, the poor, the sinners, everyone. So when we say Jesus died for all, the gospel means not just for Caesar and his friends but for all of us. And that’s the scandal of the gospel.

I realise that we are really running out of time now here actually. We should have had about six nights on this. There are real issues about words like ‘ransom’ and ‘sacrifice.’ There were plenty of ways in which people could have their sins forgiven without a blood sacrifice. Most of the sacrifices at the Temple had nothing to do with sin. Nothing to with sin at all. And Jesus teaches his own disciples. He says to them forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. No blood sacrifice. He taught his disciples that you can have your sins forgiven by prayer, by penitential prayer, by repentance, by acts of charity. So there are alternative models available.

My point is that David’s view – the Calvinist reformed view – is there and that’s fine. But there is a whole spectrum of other views within the church. There are 300 million Orthodox Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and on the whole they do not subscribe to penal substitutionary atonement. They don’t look at the doctrine of The Fall the way that we do in the West. So I think that 300 million probably outnumbers the Free Church and the Church of Scotland by quite a way.

So there is a lot of different perspectives on Atonement and I think Atonement at the end, and I’ll finish with this, at the end is all about our union and intimacy with the Sacred. God is able to forgive without requiring a blood sacrifice and the prophet said that,” I don’t want your blood sacrifices”

I could go on for another hour but let’s go.

John Chalmers:

Now David, can I ask you to respond and can you live with those differences of view on the nature of the Atonement?

David Robertson:

No. And the reason for that is very simple.

Mayfield Salisbury David Robertson nwI actually do know the early Church Fathers and I thought that what you did there, Scott, was a little bit unfair because, for example, saying about Calvin being a lawyer. In your sermon… You now say that penal substitutionary atonement is Calvinist. In your sermon you said it was from Anselm, whom I doubt could be classed as a Calvinist. Calvin… it wasn’t because he was a lawyer, it was because he believed the Bible and actually was far more influenced by Augustine who was a degenerate student when he was converted. So I don’t accept that.

I don’t accept that Irenaeus said that Atonement is just in the incarnation. He did say it was in the incarnation, but the point of the incarnation was that someone came to die.

Also Origen, in terms of healing, it was Origen who gave the whole ransom thing about the devil, and so on.

I think it’s selective choosing of Church Fathers.

Also the number, I love the number…300 million to whatever it is in the Free Church. Well the Free Church, first of all, is not the only group that holds to an orthodox view of the atonement. And secondly we don’t decide doctrine by majority vote. And thirdly, I know many, many Orthodox people who haven’t a clue what the Bible teaches, and Orthodoxy is largely cultural and tied in with Putin in Russian Orthodoxy, and so on. I know many Orthodox, who are spiritual Christians, who would disagree with what you have just said about the Atonement.

Of more concern to me than that though is the Scripture.

The Prodigal Son… Jesus told the story of the prodigal son. Well how stupid must Jesus have been to have gone to the cross as he said to give his life as a ransom if he thought that God was just going to forgive people anyway? That doesn’t make any sense. And I think what you’ve just done is a classic example of reading a 20th-century Western liberal theology back into a Scripture which is contradicted by the very Jesus who tells the story.

Secondly, Luke 24. That one absolutely amazed me because I wondered where you were going to go with that. “How foolish you are, he said, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” They didn’t see the Atonement because they were foolish. And that’s basically what you’re saying. You’re saying we don’t see the Atonement because we’re foolish.

And he went on, “’Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ and beginning with Moses and all the profits he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (including the Atonement sacrifices). Then he opened their minds to understand what Scripture said. Incidentally, Jesus himself doesn’t agree with your view that the Scriptures are too difficult to interpret. If Jesus opens your mind you can understand it. He said “This is what is written. The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. And repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.” Now these were disciples who knew Isaiah 53. The passage that teaches atonement more than any in the Bible is Isaiah 53. So it seems to me that what you’re doing is picking and mixing.

And here’s where I’m really going. The scandal. Your point about the scandal.

The scandal is not that Jesus says, “Oh, God will accept everyone, isn’t that scandalous?” I will go out on the street and ask anybody, “Do you think God will accept you?” “Oh, yes.” I’ll tell you what the scandal is. The scandal is that God won’t accept you unless your sins are forgiven through the death of his son Jesus Christ on the cross. That’s what they hate. They hate the theology of the cross. They hate those who follow them. I remember a debate which took place in the McEwan Hall between Christopher Hitchens and John Lennox. I knew John very well and we were talking about it beforehand and I said to him, “Mention the resurrection. Mention the cross and watch what happens.” Bang. That’s the scandal. It’s not a scandal to say that God will forgive you. That’s his job. That was Rousseau’s point. That’s what God does. The scandal is that God forgives by giving his son to die for us. The scandal is that my sin and your sin is so bad that no one atones.

And perhaps I’ll finish with just suggesting this because you raised a very interesting point. 1 John2:2 “At-One-Ment. I have to say, the Bible was not written in English. So Atonement/At-One-Ment is a neat kind of Sunday school thing but is not the Greek. And the Bible was written in Greek.

And this one; if we do really want to be in union with God. Paul speaks of it as union with Christ. Union with Christ comes through the cross. I’ll tell you what stops me having union with God and it’s the same thing that stopped everyone else. My sin; because God is pure and holy and cannot look upon you.

And this is what John says. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you may not sin. But if anybody does sin we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Please do not believe the lawyer – the French lawyer – Calvin is the source for the doctrine of the atoning sacrifice. It came from Christ’s apostles who were inspired to teach what he himself taught.

For me, what you’ve done is you have taken bits and pieces here and there from a Bible that you said that you can’t really trust or you’ve got to pick and choose, and you’ve ended up with something that is not radical to your congregation. It’s something they can all go, “Oh yes, it’s unbelievable and God loves me and God forgives everyone and that’s sensational and now let me get on with my life.” Whereas the real gospel says, “Unless you repent you will perish.” For God so loved he gave … That people should not be condemned, but if we don’t believe we are condemned.

John Chalmers: Okay, I’m going to move the conversation towards its end…

Scott McKenna: Which one… which one of the two subjects? Which one of the two …

David Robertson: I think the last one because I think it’s important. I think it’s why we’re here. The future of the church…

John Chalmers: OK…

David Robertson:… And well… it’s me. Okay we’re going to talk about the future of the church in Scotland. Please understand…

John Chalmers: no it’s not you…

David Robertson: … It’s not? Okay, Scott, you go first…

John Chalmers: Scott, take this one; the future of the church. Where is going to end?

Scott McKenna:

It is a statement of the obvious to say that the church is in difficult times. That said I do believe that with the right kind of leadership in the church can make an impact. And we see that thankfully with people like Justin Welby and Pope Francis. The Pope’s visit to the United States really was quite an incredible thing. The commentators in America are talking about the shyness?[word unclear] and almost the reverence that surrounded this man and the impact that he had. What a wonderful thing to stand in the Congress and to say to Congress you need to stop the death penalty. That’s an amazing and powerful thing for spiritual leader to do that, and have the courage to do that.

But I suppose for me, some of the themes that the church in the 21st century would be things like intellectual integrity. In other words, a theology which is fit for purpose.

I’m thinking of things like science. Science is not to be feared but we do have to learn. And in an evolutionary universe there is no point in banging on about the concept both of understanding the concept of the fall or original sin as previously understood because evolution has a direct impact on that. Therefore the church needs to evolve its theology. It’s always done that. It needs to evolve its theology and be confident in that exercise. So we need something of intellectual integrity.

I also think it’s important for the church throughout the world, in Scotland, and in Edinburgh for us to be able to have discussion about faith and theology without excommunicating one another. I feel this with David and I’ve said this before, a real love for Jesus which I certainly share myself. I see it in him and I hope that we are able to share that love, and speak about that love and work together while recognising that there are differences. Now the Reformers didn’t agree and some of them killed each other. We are not going to do that. We really need to learn to live together with difference, and do so with respect. So that would be another indicator.

I think that, you know, a church which was ethically more inclusive would be, for me, very important.

And I was also really, really moved and impressed. Both the Pope and Justin Welby when they took office, each said their first priority was prayer. And I think that actually this is something I feel that, in Scotland, I feel we need to do more on. Obviously not just….developing a sense of the presence of God with us. I don’t mean talking at God. I mean learning the practice of silence and stillness and being aware of the presence, and being present in the presence. I think it’s so important that we learn a language of spirituality rather than doctrine, rather than trying to bang someone over the head with doctrine. Actually people want experience, an encounter. And I think that, for me, meditation, contemplation, silence, the practice of silence is a way forward.

And it really is an irony that I was an event during the referendum in which there were business leader, lawyers all kinds of people there talking about the referendum. And towards the end of the event, one of the chaps there who described himself as an executive coach, and he said that he teaches people leadership – and he said the companies you’ll all recognise – and then he said that the game changer is mindfulness. What is mindfulness if not in part, it’s the ancient practice of stillness and meditation and contemplation. And I think, I feel, and I’m speaking of our tradition, that the church has lost confidence in that, lost our language. And yet here, in the secular world they are picking up something of it. And I think, for me, part of the future is the church learning that language and being comfortable with silence again.

Social work of course, church does that particularly well. The social work needs to carry on.

And I think also a theology of the church which is more creation centred, almost to go back to the Celtic church which was more creation centred, which recognises that the Earth itself, the Word made the Earth. The earth was made through the Word. And that God is in all things, in and through all things. So a more creation centred spirituality seems to me important for the future.

And the final thing to say probably is that I think we need to learn, secure in our love of Jesus, we need to be able to learn to walk side-by-side with people of other faiths and to honour that. That seems to me to be an important dimension for the 21st century.

panel 1

John Chalmers: David, the future of the church.

David Robertson:

Okay. I’m a Scottish Calvinist so I’m not nearly as optimistic as has been suggested by Scott! I think in the words of Private Fraser, We’re doomed, doomed, we’re all doomed.

This burdens me, actually a lot. This burdens me enormously.

I think the church in Scotland is dying. I go round the various evangelical churches and so on. I go out other churches.

I think the Church of Scotland is dying and one of the worst things that is going to make it die is people refusing to face up to that. I think in my own city a church has closed every single year that I have been in Dundee, and it wasn’t me. Every single year a church has closed. I think of a lady minister who told me that her congregation was 1100 and she would be the last minister. Why? Because her attendance on a Sunday morning was 100 people and 80% of them were women over 70 or 80. That’s literally dying congregation.

And I think we need to wake up to what is going on in Scotland. 95% of people don’t go near any church whatsoever. You’ve got 30,000 students at the University of Edinburgh, my daughter just having become one of them. How many of them? If even 10% were in church on a Sunday what a difference that would make. I think we’ve got to face up to facts.

And in the Free Church we have had to face up to that as well. In my view, the Free Church in the 1990s was dying. And I honestly thought that by the first decade of the 21st century…well, churches would still be here, we’d still have the buildings, we’d still have the relics of the past, we’d still have investments and we’d still have some elements of Christendom. But Christendom has gone. Scotland has secularised faster in the past 10 years than any other nation in history. And the remnants of establishment Christianity are just crumbs to be picked off the floor. I don’t want that. I want the full gospel feast. And my heart breaks for the people of Scotland, the vast majority of whom have never heard the gospel.

Now here’s an interesting thing. I do a lot of work with journalists. I did an interview with a journalist and we talked for about an hour, and then he switched off his… I’m not going to say his name because he switched off his recorder because he obviously didn’t want this… And he said to me, “David,” he said, “you are very, very, very unusual because I interview lots of church leaders and from beginning to end all you’ve done this talk about Jesus. You know what church leaders talk about? They talk about the work are doing for the poor, and this and that and all the other stuff.”

And I said, “Well I agree with doing that.”

“Yes but,” he said, “as somebody who’s disillusioned with the church, I don’t want to hear about the church doing social work. We don’t need the church to do that. I want to hear about God and what the Bible says.”

And I’m telling you this: the churches that are growing in Scotland today, and going with young people, are those that teach the Bible and teach the cross and do so in a contemporary way – there are some that are doing that that are not growing – but I can take you to churches in Edinburgh that are packed with young people because they are teaching the cross.

And I agree so much with what Scott said about we need to be, you know, intellectual integrity. I totally agree with that. We’ve got to look at things in that way. I agree about science. We have Scientists in Congregations group in our church. Actually through one of their meetings, Prof John Haldane came and spoke in the Free Church, a Roman Catholic, and he spoke about his Free Presbyterian grandfather. I told him we were going to convert him back. Well, it almost worked because he’s off to teach in a Baptist seminary in the US. We’ll all pray for him. That’s a step in the right direction. He will soon come into the pure Kirk. I do have a prayer for you as well Scott but the interesting thing about that was, there was a scientist at that talk, someone who wasn’t a Christian, who last Sunday became a member with us. Do you know what he told my elders when he was being interviewed? What is the gospel? The gospel is that Jesus Christ died for my sins and I trust him. That’s all he needed to say. We didn’t need to know all the details of his theology.

And I agree so much about praying as well but it reminds me a little bit… You maybe won’t know this but I was seriously ill for a while and should have died and didn’t die. When I got out there was a whole bunch of cards for me and one, in particular, I loved because it was from two atheists saying, “Dear David, we are praying for you.” It was about the only card I responded to because I just wrote back to them and said, “To whom?” And that’s exactly what I would say to you. When you are praying, who are you praying to? Because I’m praying to the Jesus who died for my sins. I’m praying to the God who so loved that he gave his son. And I don’t think he’s just going to forgive me because that’s his nature. His nature is that he loved and he hates sin and he hates the evil that’s in the world and he dealt with it.

So here’s where the heartbreak comes for me for you because you said about excommunicate. Well I’m not going to kill you because I think that’s probably unbiblical. I’m still working on that one, there’s stoning. As Bob Dylan said everybody’s going to get stoned.

I’m sorry. I would have to say this.

I would excommunicate you.

I’m sorry. I would have to say this. I would excommunicate you. Because, we are going to sit at the Lord’s table and you’ve got to recognise the body and the blood of the Lord and the body and the blood of the Lord is that which was sent as an atoning sacrifice. And I would welcome anyone into my church, but I would not welcome anyone to become a member and to sit at the Lord’s table who didn’t recognise the body and blood of the Lord shed for them.

It’s like my Roman Catholic brothers. I understand completely why a Roman Catholic would not allow me to take mass, and to be honest I wouldn’t want to take mass with them because of the theology that they have about it. I still recognise many of them as Christians. Not all. And there is plenty of people within the Free Church that are not Christians as well. It’s not your denomination that saves you. It’s what connects you to Christ.

For me, I’m not bothered about whether you or I are in communion. That’s not the issue. I’m bothered about whether you or they are in union with Christ, and with which Christ? And it seems to me that our fundamental difference here is that we are speaking about different Christs. You talked about intellectual integrity. I couldn’t in spiritual integrity say, “Well, I recognise you as a Christian brother when you believe in a different Christ.” That, for me, is the nub of the matter here.

Now, there are lots of secondary issues that we can disagree about, but this is the very, very heart of the Gospel. And it actually upsets me to say that. It really upsets me to say that. And I don’t say it to, “Oh. I want this wee exclusive sect.” You know the joke about the Free Presbyterians in heaven. If any of you are here, fine, welcome. You get to heaven and there is a big wall and somebody asks Peter, “What’s the wall for?” and he says, “Well, the Free Presbyterians I have are behind that. They think they are the only ones here.” I’m not saying that about the Free Church. I’m saying I stand in the Catholic, Apostolic, Protestant, Reformed current tradition of which Liberal Protestantism is the exception. I’m not the exception here. Liberal Protestantism is the exception and ironically, what church is collapsing? Liberal Protestantism! And if the Church of Scotland or the Free Church, we could do it, anyone, chooses to go the liberal route, I can tell you this; you’ll die… because nobody has any interest in that. Nobody! It’s just a historic…It’s like these great cathedrals. You go into them and they are wonderful, fantastic buildings but there is nobody there except tourists, and clergy, and to me that’s not the church. The church is the people of God. The church is the 100 million Chinese Christians, many of whom don’t have buildings. The church is the 300 million African Christians growing phenomenally. The church is, you said the poor, it’s the poor in South America as well.

I’m looking at our situation in Scotland and I would say this. Unless we repent and return to the Lord and to the Scriptures then we are going to find ourselves dead and gone. I’m hopeful for my own denomination; I have to say that, because we’ve had a revolution in the past 10 years. But again, it’s not enough. I want a whole lot more.

And my prayer is… Thomas Chalmers once said, “Who cares for the Free Church compared with the Christian good of Scotland?” I would say this: Who cares for the Church of Scotland or the Free Church or the Baptists or the Catholics compared with the Christian good of Scotland? And if the Lord has to destroy our churches in order to rebuild then so be it. I would be happy with that because I’m interested in Jesus not denominations.

John Chalmers:

I think it falls to me to see a couple of things.

One, I’m not sure if it was a good idea to allow these preachers to stand up when they spoke. In some ways that’s the problem. That, in some ways, just maybe changed the dynamic of the conversation but we quite take the point. But I think more than that I want to thank both David and Scott for being here tonight along with you, and being able to be so frank. And just once in a while actually utter the words, “I agree with you about…” Whether that went far enough for any of you is by the by. Thank you for sharing with us. Thank you for being vulnerable. And thank you all tonight for coming and joining us. I’m going to invite us to stand…

David Robertson:

Before that can I just take this opportunity because I probably won’t be here again a) I work on Sundays, b) my son preaches at Chalmers Church and c) my daughter attends St Columba’s and I’m a member of the Free Church so I probably wouldn’t be coming here but I do want to express my thanks to you for allowing me to come here and allowing us to share. Please forgive my passion. It’s not about you. For me, it’s what I believe about Jesus and maybe it helps that you understand that as well. I promise you this. I have a prayer app and you are on it, so you come up about every week, and given what you’ve told me tonight you’re going to come up every day from now on.


  1. In terms of persuasiveness, clarity, doctrinal faithfulness and historical accuracy David ‘wins’ this argument hands down. Scott was all over the place and no wonder they didn’t want it going public. The silence from the CofS establishment is deafening and can only lead to the conclusion that Scott’s completely unbiblical views are now perfectly acceptable within that church. Tragic.

  2. Hello David,

    I think you are fighting a losing battle, my friend You are being left behind as you continue to insist on idolizing books about god. God is in the people holding the books, not within the books themselves, and god need no defense.

    All imo

    Changing Christianity

    1. Tara – so iyo do you think it is impossible for God to reveal himself through his Word? And I don’t know anyone who idolises books about God – do you?

      1. For me God reveals himself in the world he has created. That is you, I…and Scott Mckenna. When I see the ‘hateful’ speech (imo) of Christians rushing to defend the Bible, while trampling over Scott in the process…..it makes me sad.

        I don’t know much about the Brian McLaren (video I linked) but I enjoyed his take on the rapid changes we are now witnessing in Religions . Scott Mckenna is but one drop in the ocean of what is happening worldwide. I hope you take the time to watch it and consider what side of history you want to be on.

        Always, imo
        Love and Light,

      2. I love it how people who complain about ‘hateful’ speech (which I have not yet seen) use language which could itself be described as hateful (always using ‘love and light’)….who ‘trampled over’ Scott? Is it ok to lie in order to get across your point? And of course it is ‘imo’ but then that means there is nothing can be said against it – because ‘imo’ tops everything.

        I do know about Brian McLaren…and I do know about the changes in religion (plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!)…as for what side of history I want to be on – you will forgive me saying this (and not accuse me of hate speech) but what a daft statement. As a historian I know that history does not have sides…

        Love and light xxx and all the other meaningless cliches you can manage to fit into one non-hate filled speech!


      3. Tara

        We are all of course free to believe what we wish – a freedom Christians champion. To believe what you appear to be saying you believe (that God’s supreme and saving revelation of himself is found in creation) is not Christian. In fact, it puts you in direct conflict with Christ who saw the only full revelation of God in himself. He, not creation or anything else, is the way (to God) the truth (about God, man and salvation) and the life (from God). According to Christ he is the only means of knowing God, the Father. The church has always (rightly) affirmed this as foundational in faith. Christ and followers of Christ have always had controversy with any who denied this. Controversy is not necessarily a bad thing. It is inevitable and necessary where opposing views exist. It is neither unloving or hateful.

        When I say to you that your beliefs ( at least as I understand what you have written) are not Christian and are in fact opposed to Christ I am not being uncharitable or unkind. I am simply observing what is true. And love prompts me to say it. Not hate. Not intolerance. Love, because, if Christ is the only authentic way to God, truth about God, life from God then those like you who believe something else are deluded and in danger. You are on the losing side of history for Christ is the one who will bring world history to a conclusion and a conclusion where he and all who stand with him win and all who stand against him lose.

        Of course, all this assumes Christ is who he claims to be. That is for you to decide. The only way to do so is to read the record about him (the bible) and see if he is trustworthy.

    2. “What can wash away my sin?
      Nothing but the blood of Jesus
      What can make me whole again?
      Nothing but the blood of Jesus”
      That’s what I was singing by the end of reading this debate

      1. I’ll add to the playlist, because this is what was on the radio while I was digesting the previous blog entry – Amy Grant’s “El Shaddai” (a goosebumper of a song):

        Through the years You made it clear,
        That the time of Christ was near,
        Though the people couldn’t see
        What Messiah ought to be.
        Though Your Word contained the plan,
        They just would not understand
        Your most awesome work was done
        Through the frailty of Your Son.
        El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
        El-Elyon na Adonai,
        Age to age You’re still the same,
        By the power of the name.

  3. I don’t have a horse riding in this debate but the transcript is interesting. Your opponent address the issue as a lecture. You, much much more than him, addressed him and his beliefs and attacked him for them.

    I wonder if playing the man rather than the ball is the best technique.

    1. Thanks Douglas – that is an interesting observation. Given that it was supposed to be a conversation, whereby we address and answer one anothers points, I have no problem with my address not being a lecture…I was interacting with Scott. But I don’t think I was playing the man – I was trying to deal with his arguments. There is a difference. I find the personalisation of all discussion one of the most infantile things of modern discourse!

    2. Douglas,

      I’m at a loss to know what you understand by “attacking”.
      If one party in a debate explains what he thinks is wrong with the other’s position, is that now an “attack”?

      1. If you so a search term “you” in the transcript it reveals that when Rev Mckenna uses it, it is mostly a general/neutral/all-encompassing “you” or a benevolent one “you believe that and that ok” type thing. When Rev Robertson uses it, it is quite lot more directly aimed at Rev McKenna, usually followed by a negative statement of some type. From an outsiders point of view, Rev McKenna addressed the topic as a difference in theology whereas Rev Robertson addressed it Rev McKenna really needing to know that he as a person is wrong.

        Thats what I mean.

      2. Douglas – when I have a conversation with people I like to talk to them and I tend to use ‘you’…not sure what you use. I also like honesty, not faux pas niceness. Scott thinks that what I believe is ghastly theology. I think what he believes is. The difference is that I will say it to his face. And yes – I am far more concerned about Scott and his soul, than I am about winning an argument!

    3. Douglas, I wouldn’t make this personal about David. In my experience this kind of approach is common with perceived wrong within evangelicalism.

      In the case of “Christ died for our sins” being a “ghastly ” theology, David is appropriate to be corrective.

      Sometimes there are different approaches an one context being better for one than another. It’s always uncomfortable to have one’s beliefs challenged but it is normal, natural and how one’s horizons are broadened.

      I would assume you would wouldn’t hold, say to the belief that Jews are vermin and the final solution to the Jewish problem would have been the Natzi death camps would have been an ok belief?

      1. Godwins Law already? Really? Problem is of course I don’t equate following one type of Christianity with the mass murder of 6 million people. And it is one type. The Bible is a text that has layer upon layer of theology and interpretation upon it. As a non-believer I get the idea of a God and a prophet but I think faith is on a sticky wicket when it based on structures, theology and instruction from the writings of people born over a thousand years later. But as I said, I have no horse in the debate but I always think that we trying to debate people it is better to question evidence rather than attack people.

        It is totally possible to challenge the theology a person follows by questioning the theology without even mentioning the person. Otherwise it looks (and reads) like my Christianity is better and more accurate than yours in the tone of a school ground argument.

      2. Douglas – would you like to give one example where I attack ‘Scott’. The irony is that you are attacking me in order to complain about people attacking people…and not even with any degree of truth! Given that Scott and I were talking to and about one another it seems highly unlikely that we could have done so without talking to one another! Unless this is some kind of middle class parlour game that I don’t know about!

      3. Is doctor wrong to expose a quack as a quack when he prescribes a sugar pill for a heart attack? No he is doing the only responsible thing. The matter is too serious and urgent for anything less. The quack and his solutions must be exposed for what they are or the patient dies.

        Mere abstract debate and philosophising is fine when nothing is at stake. It is criminally irresponsible when truth really matters. Charlatans are dangerous.

  4. Thanks again for taking a stand for Christ David. The transcript certainly shows that in contrast to the accusations of arrogance etc, you showed real concern for Scott McKenna’s soul and his eternal destiny. Surely that is the heart of the Gospel. Sadly Scott McKenna and his fellow travellers just don’t get it, having been blinded to the truth by their own egos. However, for me, the greatest tragedy of this entire business is the fact that the challenge to liberalism in the C of S had to come from the Moderator of the Free Church, and not the denomination’s own Moderator who claims to be an evangelical!! I fear the C of S is headed for oblivion.

  5. Two, no three comments:

    First, on May 11th 1959 C. S. Lewis spoke to the theological students at Westcott, Cambridge. For those seeking to comprehend how the Rev. McKenna has ended up where he has then this essay is well worth reading. In contains this phrase, “That then is my first bleat. These men (the liberal theologians) ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.”


    Second, the late Francis Schaeffer (Christian philosopher well known to my generation) had a phrase, “semantic mysticism” by which he meant the use of biblical words or concepts, but cut off from their original biblical meaning. Thus a liberal may use (as did Rev. McKenna) such words as “atonement”, “spiritual”, “prayer” (which he interprets as silence) – and in doing so he sounds Christian and religious, BUT because he has severed the biblical roots of these words he can interpret them in any way he likes – and still sound “spiritual”.


    Thirdly, on reading this transcript I actually felt quite patronised. I have been studying the bible for more than 50 years, yet apparently I need an “expert” like Rev. McKenna to explain to me what it really means (in today’s society obviously). But, as they, say the definition of an expert is someone who is wrong, but with authority!


    1. goodfeltg,

      I regard CS Lewis fondly and Francis Shaeffer sounds as thought he has some things to say to. However an argument from authority is a logical fallacy.

      I partake in Christian Meditation as part of the World Community for Christian meditation. The activity in this group sounds similar to the ““spiritual”, “prayer” (which he interprets as silence)”. the practice originates form the desert fathers, a contemplative approach that is very much in need of having influence in contemporary church.

      I’m not coming out in support of McKenna, and there is synchronism in the CofS (as there is pride in the FCofS), but I do think the battle at it’s core is not political between determinations or sides of a theological spectrum. Rather that it is at core in defense of the kingdom suffering violence, something that is heavenly and above human categorisations into denominations or political persuasion.

      If you are curious about Christian Meditation, there is a web site. http://www.christianmeditation.org.uk/

      1. Adam, would you mind if I asked you some questions concerning the World Community for Christian Meditation?

        The WCCM is based on the teaching of the Benedictine monk John Main. Are you aware that Main was taught to meditate by the Hindu swami, Satyananda, who taught him to substitute the names of Hindu gods with a ‘Christian’ mantra. This form of meditation does not originate with the desert fathers, though that would by no means automatically make it Christian. Surely the question is whether it aligns with the Word of God. Where in Scripture is there an example of God’s people being taught by those of a false religion how to worship God?

        You mention syncretism; I wonder if you are aware that the Dalai Lama is a patron of the WCCM? Have you considered why a ‘Christian’ organisation would ask the Dalai Lama to become one of its patrons and what possible example in Scripture could be given for this?

        According to the web site of Christian Meditation in the UK we are told to “Let go of all thoughts and imagination, including religious thoughts. Meditation is not about thinking but being.” Where in Scripture are we taught to empty our mind of all thoughts, including thoughts of God, when we pray?

        Fr Laurence Freeman, director of the WCCM, says the following in his ‘A Pearl of Great Price’: “The attitude of Christians to other faiths is, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, undergoing an historical shift today. Christians no longer arrogantly reject other faiths but are able to revere what is good and holy in them” May I respectfully ask what there is that is holy in other faiths and where in Scripture does God say that these other faiths, who worship false gods, denying the Triune God, are holy?

        Freeman goes on to say: “it can be a rewarding practice to make contact with other religious groups locally and sometimes to have an interfaith meditation evening together.” Where in Scripture is there an example of God’s people praying/meditating with those who worship other gods? (And I mean an example where they are not rebuked by God!)

        Freeman states “Like other great teachers of the Spirit in all traditions, Jesus lived what he taught and taught by the example of his own behaviour.” What great teachers of the Spirit were/are there in false religions?

        Many people have no idea what contemplative prayer/meditation actually is, I didn’t when I first came across it. I assumed it was Christian because it was practiced in Christian circles. It’s not.

      2. Certainly, I am happy to answer questions about Christian meditation.

        First I have question for you. Do you believe that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon was a servant of the Lord when he took Israel into exile?

        The practice of Christian Meditation is about sitting in silence in the presence of Jesus, the aid to this with reciting the Aramaic word “maranatha” meaning “come Lord” . Thoughts other than that are considered to be distractions. It requires compassion for distracting thoughts and discipline to stay centered in Jesus. It’s simple but not easy.

        The meditation begins with an opening prayer, about opening hearts to the presence of Jesus. It ends with a closing prayer about encountering God’s power to open hearts of men and women to God, and each other, in love and peace.

        The ego is naturally attracted to happiness and adverse to suffering and focused on self. The ego (whilst necessary for survival) needs to be surrendered to Jesus in order that one may lose one’s life for Christ sake in order to have life in it’s fullest. Christian meditation is one way of actively surrendering the ego.

      3. I note that you chose not to answer any of the questions I asked regarding the WCCM. However, in answer to your question, yes, I do believe that Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant as it is stated in Jeremiah. The passage makes clear that his service was not as a worshipper of God but rather that he served God as an instrument of God’s wrath, executing God’s anger and judgement on the people of Judah. One reason for God’s anger against His people was their repeated refusal to turn from syncretism and indeed their flagrant worship of other gods. If you are suggesting that the Hindu swami, Satyananda was a servant of God in the same way that Nebuchadnezzar was then that’s really very interesting!

        ‘The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates.’ Deuteronomy 12:29-31

      4. You are right to say I didn’t answer your specific questions Angela. As stated before, I am happy to answer questions about Christian meditation. However your questions were not an inquiry, rather questioning the validity of Christian Meditation which you already had concluded as “not” Christian. In ding so, they were an accusation and an affirmation of your presupposition about Christian Meditation. I reject your conclusion.

        This is the second occasion I have shared here of my Christian walk recently. First in that I had found a church where I can connect with Christ and have a sense of belonging and feeling at home. On this occasion comments were made with rhetoric that implied a likening to being a radicalised terrorist member of ISIS. Second of a sharing in participation with a Christian spiritual discipline, again with a connection with Jesus and the power of his Spirit to open up the hearts of men and women to each other and to God.

        The accusation on this occasion have been that this is “not” Christian.

        Angela, you picked up on synchretism but not on pride before. This betrays your prejudice. I don’t use the term “prejudice” pejoratively, everybody has prejudices. Just as Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light with synchretism, so he can appear as a roaring lion with pride, ready to devour his prey. Therefor as the kingdom sufferers violence and violent men take hold of it there need to be strategies for engaging in battle in whatever way the enemy attacks.

        It is obvious that saying “come Lord” in silence with other thoughts being considered as distractions is a surrendering of the ego and consistent with Christ’s teaching about losing you life for his sake in order that you may have life therefore for you to say this Christian spiritual discipline is not Christian is a lie. When a Christian sister (or brother) lies about a fellow Christians conduct, they are not longer acting in keeping with Christian practice but the are in league with the accuser of the brethren. Since the only thing the enemy understands is being strong in the Lord putting on the armour of God, standing and resisting then I will be prepared in future to be stronger with you and you should be prepared for that. As you will know – resist the devil and he shall flee. As you will be aware, Satan was expelled from heaven for the sin of pride

        You mentioned before about anger. You will be aware of the scripture that says “be angry but in your anger do not sin”. Can I suggest with respect and in love that whatever it is you feel on reading this that you ensure that consider mastery over emotion and not emotion be the master. Please give the passing of time and the easing of emotion before drawing further conclusion

        You had a chance to experience something of the kingdom but I award you zero points for your responses. I didn’t deserve to be spoken to that way rather. An appropriate response would have been (in taking the risk to be vulnerable in sharing with my Christian walk) to honour that journey and be edifying with regard to the Christian discipline of meditation taken. Given this, I will make this my last comment towards you on this thread.

        Nevertheless you appear to be sincere and Christian sister. If I am right in my understanding of that then whatever you express won’t change you being my sister in the Lord. Therefore I pray for you. May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Spirit be with you now, and always.

        In the name of Christ, Amen.

      5. Adam, I don’t intend to give a response to all of your reply, your abusive and vitriolic gibberish doesn’t deserve one. I replied to your comment out of a concern for people, yourself included, who are being enticed into pseudo and insidious Christian practices. My intention was to give information on the origins and beliefs behind contemplative prayer in general and the WCCM in particular, both of which you were promoting.

        It’s entirely your choice whether you continue with this practice; however, if you do you will not be doing so in ignorance but rather in the knowledge of the WCCM’s roots, beliefs and associations. Furthermore, I will not honour your journey when that journey includes a practice that I believe is dishonouring to God.

        Contemplative prayer often seems to be the first step into a deeper syncretistic, contemplative spirituality which has no basis in scripture. Scott Mckenna’s church recently went on retreat to a centre near Perth called The Bield. It describes itself as a Christian retreat centre but in reality runs courses which teach Buddhist meditation and claim that Zen meditation can complement our Christian way of life. Other courses teach that ‘The Compassionate One’ attained enlightenment and can be found in most faith traditions. An interfaith minister who co-lead one course claims to combine his ‘desire for quiet mystic contemplation with the third way practices of eastern Buddhism’. In 2013 an exhibition was held at the Bield by a self-professed witch who gave spiritual tours of her work. Next month sees a retreat lead by a Lutheran pastor who uses Tarot cards as a means to fellowship with God.

        If anyone is interested in finding out more about the Bield, which is used by churches across the denominations, then with David’s permission I would be happy to pass on the information. Clearly, just because something is labelled ‘Christian’ it doesn’t make it so.

      6. Angela….thanks for the info re the Bield. And thanks for your responses to Adam. I’m afraid that he won’t listen to you because everything is based upon what he feels at any particular time – so you will get nowhere. I’m afraid that he sends me so much stuff that I cannot let it all on my blog (he could after all get his own!)…but much of it is as you describe…

      7. Thanks David, I agree with what you say re not listening; I had a feeling from the start that that would be the case. I’ve viewed this as a good opportunity to let folk in general know what CP/meditation actually is, so thanks for allowing me to comment here. Would you mind if I emailed you the information I have on the Bield? I always prefer to give evidence of what I’m claiming and as the Bield is on our doorstep it might be of interest.

  6. Scott McKenna’s denial of penal substitutionary atonement is not surprising when you consider his involvement with other faiths. The ‘Minister’s Message’ on his church’s web site states, “The Sacred can be encountered in numerous ways: within the rich traditions of Christianity; along the spiritual paths of other world faiths..” . Mayfield Salisbury is an associate member of Edinburgh Interfaith Association. McKenna’s is a syncretistic, panentheistic philosophy that is becoming all too common in the church today. Astonishingly, the rolling images at the top of the church’s home page include a photo of a church tapestry (?) depicting the third eye (the third eye is a Hindu symbol of higher consciousness/enlightenment). The latest edition of the church magazine includes a photo of the Hindu god Shiva. In answer to the question on the future of the church, McKenna promotes contemplative prayer, a practice that has absolutely no basis in scripture but rather has its roots in Buddhist/Hindu meditation; it’s a practice that’s now increasingly found in many churches across the denominations.

    The main obstacle for those seeking the grossly unbiblical practice of interfaith ‘fellowship’ and ‘worship’ is Jesus Christ, the biblical Jesus Christ. They rename God as the ‘the Absolute’, ‘the Divine’, ‘the Presence’, ‘the Sacred’ etc., however, to claim that the ‘Sacred’ can be encountered in other faiths requires abandoning the teaching of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, that Christ died for our sins and that He is the only way to God. Scott McKenna has done this and he has done it by proclaiming that scripture is mythology, by denying Sola Scriptura, by stating that we can “re-imagine” who Jesus is and by claiming that “literalism [in the reading of scripture] is a protestant disease and we must free ourselves from it”. (all views found in his church magazines).

    David, I fully understand your anger that these destructive heresies are being preached. Contrary to what some in the church seem to feel, I hope that Christians never stop being angry at the twisting of God’s Word nor stop speaking out against it.

  7. I listened to the recording but I wanted to check my impression of it against the transcript, because it’s certainly possible in tne heat of the moment to take something up wrongly. The 2 guys who said they were praying for you because you “excommunicated someone who wasn’t even in your own church” – maybe that was genuinely what they thought they heard, who knows??

    Not trying to set you up for the temptation of pride, David, but you spoke very, very well! I don’t know that there was a single thing that could have been said better. May God apply it to tye hearts of us and all who heard, or will hear, or read. Blessed be his name that he has not yet abandoned Scotland to its own way.

  8. I think the transcript conclusively demonstrates how David Robertson demolished a very poor speaker (Scott McKenna) who was all over the place theologically and clearly is utterly unfit to be a pastor of a church. Only David used the Bible and only David held to Christianity. The attempted stitch-up by McKenna and Chalmers to delete the tapes just demonstrates how dishonest and morally bankrupt these characters are. Thank God that we still have people like David Robertson and others who are prepared to publicly “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints”.

    1. you were not redeemed with corruptible things ,like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers , but with the precious blood of Christ , as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through him believe in God , who raised him from the dead and gave him glory , so that your faith and hope are in God .
      Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in the sincere love of the brethren ,,love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again , not of corruptible seed but incorruptible,through the word of God which lives and abides forever.
      All flesh is as grass,
      And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
      The grass withers ,
      And the flower falls away,
      But the word of the Lord endures forever.
      1 Peter 1 v 18 to 25.

  9. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53: 5-6.

    This says it all.

    One of McKenna’s main arguments is that only a despotic God would meet out such punishment on his Son. This of course ignores the wonderful truth of the complete unity of the Trinity in all God’s loving purposes; God himself, in Christ, as the God/man, went to the cross for us and so God willingly became the sacrifice for our sins. We must never separate the persons of the Trinity as if one were against the other.

  10. Since long-tiered replies are not working:

    “Scott, when I heard you preach on the clip that was on your website, saying that, “Christ died for our sins is awful theology and ghastly,” my heart absolutely sank. And I’ll tell why it sank. It sank for you. Because you are here to proclaim Christ and you’re denying the very Christ you are here to proclaim. Because this is the very heart of the Christian faith – Christ died for our sins.”

    This is a theology. Why link it to the man?

    “So here’s where the heartbreak comes for me for you because you said about excommunicate. Well I’m not going to kill you because I think that’s probably unbiblical. I’m still working on that one, there’s stoning. As Bob Dylan said everybody’s going to get stoned.I’m sorry. I would have to say this. I would excommunicate you. Because, we are going to sit at the Lord’s table and you’ve got to recognise the body and the blood of the Lord and the body and the blood of the Lord is that which was sent as an atoning sacrifice. And I would welcome anyone into my church, but I would not welcome anyone to become a member and to sit at the Lord’s table who didn’t recognise the body and blood of the Lord shed for them.”

    Again the theology. Religious denominations are all based on differing interpretations of things. Was that not what created your church in the first place? Or created the Church of Scotland to look at it another way. Differences in theology. So why threaten the excommunication when you believe different things. Why attack the man and his faith when they are different to yours. And they are. They have been since 1843.

    1. Why link it to the man? Because you don’t do theology in a vacuum and I was talking to the man! Thats what conversation is!

      Again the theology! Yep – thats what we were doing – discussing theology. Its clearly a theology you don’t understand…but then you seem to have changed – I thought you were accusing me of attacking the man not the theology?! Make your mind up….

      1. The theology and person who promotes it cannot be separated. If someone advocates racism he is a racist. We are responsible for what we say. In fact, unless someone promotes an ideology it has no power, no reality, no existence.

        The issue was not over a differing theology between the FC and the CofS. The historical belief of both churches in this matter is the same. It is Scott McKenna who is apostatising from the beliefs of the church of which he is part.

        Re the bible, different interpretations do not carry equal credibility. If I say secularism means that State and Church should be one or that atheism teaches that there are many God’s not just one then I am giving interpretations but anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of secularism and atheism knows theses ‘interpretations’ are widely off the mark. They are spurious and misleading. The same applies to Scott McKenna’s ‘interpretation’.

      2. David you rightly have been corrective about “Christ dying for our sins “. I fully support you with that and correction about syncretism in all it’s forms.

        You mention that you are open to being told where you are wrong. Therefore I will say this, you are wrong to talk about ex communicating. The individual concerned is not under your spiritual authority. If you wish to break fellowship with him then that, of course is your perogative.

        I trust that you are equally as willing to address pride that you talk of in the free church as you are of syncretism elsewhere.

      3. Adam, Sometimes you get really tiring! Please don’t play the game of equivalence…I often address pride in the Free Church….that does not justify other sins elsewhere – nor should it cause us to be quiet.

        and just in case you didn’t listen to the debate I did not excommunicate him – I said if he was a member in my church he would be excommunicated – which meets your criteria. Please take time to read things before commentating so quickly.

      4. One more thing brother, from the transcript you said “I’m sorry. I would have to say this. I would excommunicate you.” This is not what you claim “I said if he was a member in my church he would be excommunicated ” therefore what you claim is a misrepresentation and therefor a lie and you comment towards me was unbecoming of any Christian and more so with one with leadership responsibility. We know that to one who has been given much, much is expected.

        I reject your rebuke, I affirm that form the moment a least you are in league with the accuser of the brethren, the father of lies, Satan and with all due res pct and Christian love I suggest maybe you shouldn’t judge other people by tour own standards.

        Nevertheless whatever you comment you are my brother in Christ. I pray got you. May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always,

        in the name of Christ Amen.

      5. Adam,

        Please don’t play those kind of games with me. Selective quotation out of context is dishonest. When I said that I said if he was a member of my church he would be excommunicated I was giving an accurate summary of what was said. The phrase I would excommunicate you is clearly qualified by the following “And I would welcome anyone into my church, but I would not welcome anyone to become a member and to sit at the Lord’s table who didn’t recognise the body and blood of the Lord shed for them.” I am not in league with the ‘accuser of the brethren’…indeed it appears that you are the one who seems to be constantly accusing. As I said..it does get tiresome. Even with the pietistic good wishes at the end. If you really wanted the peace of the Lord Jesus to be with me, perhaps you wouldn’t lie about me and then accuse me of being in league with the devil!

    2. news for you and a few other people, Douglas – at least, you give the impression it will be news:
      “IF you were in my church I WOULD excommunicate you” is in no sense of the word a threat.
      Grammatically, the construction is known as a conditional. It describes a hypothetical situation, ie, one that is not in fact the case.

  11. @John Thomson

    “Mere abstract debate and philosophising is fine when nothing is at stake. It is criminally irresponsible when truth really matters. Charlatans are dangerous.”

    Only one side claims that so it presents the image of attacking. As I have said, this is all theology as every side has an interpretation of the book at the centre of this. One side takes a different view and is happy to let the other have their own view. The other only wants one point of view accepted. Now, as a humanist, I think both sides are entitled to their views and as I said I have no side to take. Looking at it from an outsiders point of view, one side was looking at theology and the other was attacking a person, as you have called him, as a charlatan. There is nothing criminally irresponsible in Rev McKennas theology and his truth is no different from Rev Robertsons in that the same bible is used and an interesting range of theologians are quoted. Both sides have a different point of view but that has been the case in Christianity since the bible was written. If the theology followed by the Free Church of Scotland is the only correct one then why do so many around the world not see this?

    1. But that’s just it Douglas. You react as you do because you think the issues don’t matter. David’s response is based on his belief that they do matter.

  12. Utter confusion…neither could tell me what Baptism for the dead is in Corinthians for instance,

    How did our Lord guarantee his revelation…he commissioned a teaching Church for all time ( see last verse of Matthew’s Gospel); Knowing that satan would sift even the Apostles he made one confirmer of the brethren ( lukje 22)….one whom he designated as rock and key bearer.

    God bought the Church with his precious blood and will not let it be of no avail one his revelation revised or corrupted. Either Christianity is true or a Jewish hellenised heresy.

  13. David,

    This event has made it all the way down here to Oz.

    I think you summed up the main issue with these words:

    “it seems to me that our fundamental difference here is that we are speaking about different Christs”

    Although I am an Anglican Minister, I did a two year stint after Bible college of serving as Youth Minister with the Church of Scotland, and I still have a real love of Scotland (not hard when one is a Scaussie). It is very exciting to hear about what the Free Kirk is doing.

    Prayers from Oz.

  14. Thank you for sharing this transcript. Those who wrest scripture can be hard to deal with if you don’t understand what they are really saying. By sharing, you also share your experience.

  15. Brilliant. Uncompromising, bold and forth-right for the truth. John Knox would have been proud!

  16. Although this is a number of years old, the problem is still a reality in many churches. As a Presbyterian minister in South Africa, we have our fair share of this kind of unhealthy liberalism. I’m so glad I found this article. I hunted high and low for information about it, after seeing the video of Mr McKenna and his atrocious pronouncements. What struck me was your quoting of scripture throughout, whilst he did not. This is very telling. Would I be too optimistic to assume Mr McKenna was eventually excommunicated?

  17. Although this is a number of years old, the problem is still a reality in many churches. As a Presbyterian minister in South Africa, I can say that we have our fair share of this kind of unhealthy liberalism. I’m so glad I found this article. I hunted high and low for information about it, after seeing the video of Mr McKenna and his atrocious pronouncements. What struck me was your quoting of scripture throughout, whilst he did not. This is very telling. Would I be too optimistic to assume Mr McKenna was eventually excommunicated?

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