Because I have received so many messages from Christians who are thankful for the time and detail I have been putting in these posts I am going to continue. Sadly far too many Christians are struggling because their pastors, who are meant to be their undershepherds, are not protecting them from the wolves who seek to ravage the flock. (others have those who are doing what they can to protect the flock by showing them the errors that destroy). I realise that for many people even writing this is outrageous. My only plea is ‘what if it is true? And I also have to ask if I have got this completely wrong and am in fact being used to attack the Lord’s work. The only way to find out is to continue to examine what we are being told in the light of God’s word.
The responses to the sermon that everyone is talking about keep coming. On the one hand there are evangelicals who are largely enthusiastic – for example this one from Wesley Hill – Our friend Cranmer continues his increasingly bizarre and frantic posts, this time comparing Curry’s sermon to Paul’s in Athens (the fact that Paul challenged the idolatry, worldview and inadequate understanding of the Athenians would suggest at least one difference!).
Then there are those who continue to see it as heresy and dangerous – like this excellent post on Patheos from Will Bassett.
Some of the most critical messages I have received concern my statement that this sermon has exposed a fault line in evangelicalism. I think the three articles above indicate that my analysis is not without merit! One evangelical leader wrote me;
“You are so right that the various reactions of Christians are evidence of a deeper division that has existed for some time and left unchecked will drag us away from the truth into some kind of sentimentalism masquerading as love (to use someone else’s words from many, many years ago).”
But there are a significant group who take the middle road. On the one hand they think that the sermon lacked some things and that because of his actions and status, Bishop Curry should not have given the sermon. On the other, they think that the sermon whilst lacking a great deal was nonetheless good and has provided plenty of opportunity and so should be welcomed. The great advantage of this middle way is that it seems so nice and balanced and loving and Christian. On the one hand it avoids the charge of supporting false teaching, on the other it avoids the charge of nasty, Pharisiaical intolerance. It’s a nice kind of love. The middle of the road is a comfortable place to be…(until a truck comes along!).
The best example of this middle road that I have come across is Glen Scrivener and this wee video. It’s superb. As with all Glen’s work it is humorous, well made and contains much that we can agree with.
But…and this is difficult for me because I love Glen and his work and feel pained that I have to disagree with him on some major things that he says in the video – I hope he will take it in the spirit in which it is meant. Here are some of the things that Glen says.
- Much of the reaction followed what people already thought of the Episcopal Church. That was certainly a factor for those of us who were aware of the incongruity of having a Bishop who is suing his fellow Christians speaking of ‘sacrificial love’. But it was largely a minor factor and was probably countered as much by those who were prepared to give Bishop Curry a free pass for other reasons. Most of the reaction is actually to do with the content of the sermon.
- Incomplete, wrong in a 1000 ways – but more theological than most of the sermons I hear from evangelical pulpits. My first thought about this is to feel a level of sympathy for Glen if the evangelical churches he experiences have less theology than Curry’s theology lite sermon. Maybe it’s true that the word ‘evangelical’ has just come to mean ‘informal’?
- Of course there was theology in the sermon – but that is not necessarily a good thing. Food is great – except when it has gone off and become poisonous. Theology is great – except when it has gone off and become poisonous. Many evangelicals seem to be arguing that because you there are some good things in the sermon, (it quoted the bible, mentioned the love of God and the cross of Christ) then it would be churlish and wrong not to welcome such a sermon. But that is not how the Bible sees false teachers, false prophets and how to deal with them. I’m sure Jezebel had good things to say to the church in Thyatira (and would have mentioned Jesus, the Bible, the cross and the love of God), but Jesus was furious with them for their tolerance of her and the way they sought to take something positive! ”I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. “ (Rev 2:20). Do we critique Jesus for not seeing the good that could come from Jezebel’s teaching – even if much of it was wrong?
- God has used it for immense good. This is one of those statements that I simply have to ask – where is the evidence? At the moment I am struggling to see any good…never mind the ‘immense’! My view is that God can use this as he can anything – but I also believe that the devil can use it. This sermon has done and will do a great deal of harm.
- Glaring lack in the sermon was of how love goes wrong – I agree that this was a big lack. But there were others even more important. The most important of which is that Bishop Curry did not speak about the love of God, as defined by John in 1 John. This is what the bishop said about his own sermon: “‘if we could just harness the real power of love we could actually change and transform this world. That is was what was driving me. I’m convinced this is the case. That is really what Jesus of Nazareth was getting at and was willing to die for.’ Did Jesus die so that we could harness the power of love?
- Love we prize does not come from us, it comes from God. But that is not what the bishop said. His message was largely ‘God is love’, but because of the lack of definition, it might as well have been ‘love is God’. The most horrifying thing for me is the way he denigrated the cross to be nothing more than exemplary. I do not believe a single person at that sermon would have gone away thinking ‘I can’t love because I don’t know God’. They are much more likely to say ‘I love…therefore I must know God – whoever he, she or it is’!
- Prefer to hear about the steps that we must make rather than hear about God. Glen gets this one badly wrong. It’s a caricature and a false dichotomy. I don’t know anyone for whom it applies. I would prefer to hear about God. What I heard from Bishop Curry was the steps we need to take to be a better society…most of them political. There was very little about the nature, character and work of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. Love, love, love (57 times) is not really telling us about God.
- You cannot draw a straight line from popularity to unfaithfulness, nor the other way. Sometimes the Gospel is wildly popular – it’s called revival. The first sentence is correct. But the second is historical nonsense. There has never been a revival which did not result in severe opposition and attacks from the world and the church. For example when there was a revival in my own church, St Peters, under the ministry of Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, The Times and The Scotsman both attacked it. Jesus’s warning is absolutely apposite – ““Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”(Luke 6:26). Instead of crying woe to you….evangelicals are saying ‘good for you because everyone speaks well of you, we need to get on the bandwagon so that we can take these opportunities for the Gospel…woe to those who are ‘carping and complaining’!
- It wasn’t Christianity Lite – the false gospel of secular humanism. The good substituted for God. The love of God is Christianity lite…don’t want Christianity heavy. But as I keep pointing out – the bishop was not talking about the love of God. He was talking about our love as being equivalent to the love of God. This was the love of God lite. And I do want Christianity heavy because in the bible heavy means glory – and I want people to see and know the glory of God. Glen is right that secular humanism is a false gospel where the good is substituted for God. But Bishop Curry preaches secular humanism – there isn’t a single thing that a liberal secular humanist would not have said amen to (hence the plaudits from The Guardian, BBC, ABC, Sydney Morning Herald etc.). The only slight difference is that the Bishop substitutes the love (human) for God.
- Tar every other Christian as though they must be undiscerning or deceived. Maybe they have discerned the errors and still are happy to see the love of God preached with passion. I don’t think that every other Christian is undiscerning or deceived, but we need to have the humility to allow for the possibility that we may be. If it is true that people have discerned the errors (major and Christ denying as they are) but nonetheless are happy to see the love of God (even though it is not the love of God has given to us in the Bible) preached with passion. This was heresy preached with passion…and just because it was passion, evangelicals basically are saying, ignore the heresy – or at least lets call it something else.
- Maybe the world is more willing to hear preaching than we are to preach. Maybe our congregations are more hungry for food than we have been offering. That’s our fault. The world generally regards preaching as foolish. I think that the world in this case were very happy to have their fundamental beliefs reaffirmed in such an entertaining way by someone who ticks every one of their virtue signaling boxes. The idea however that our congregations were longing for a sermon like this is deeply disturbing. Are we that desperate that we think our congregations are hungry for junk food like this – however well presented? What has happened to preaching if this is the case?
But I will end on a note of agreement. Yes we need more fervent and passionate preaching with conviction. As long as it is fervent, passionate and conviction about the person of Christ. We preach Christ crucified, not Jesus of Nazareth who was a really lovely guy who did a really lovely thing so that we too could be really lovely people.
“What these last few days since the wedding have shown is that the evangelical church in the West is sinking under the water of the world and many of us are enjoying to paddle in it. When what we really need as the Church of God in this present moment is to cast ourselves on Christ and call on him to calm the storm. May he hear and answer this prayer.” Will Bassett.
I have also just been sent this excellent article from Stephen Kneale-