Sometimes, though not often enough, I read something that makes me think, “Oh joy! There’s a bishop doing – or saying – the right thing.” So I was delighted when I read that Bishop Olivia of Reading was making a series of four teaching videos. I have been bemoaning the lack of any real teaching in the Anglican church for many years now. Sermons telling me, week after week, that God loves me are no help at all. I know God loves me. That’s why I’m there. (To be honest, that is why I was there.)
I did think it would have been better to make them ten minutes long rather than just six. These days you have to allow for a woeful lack of even the most basic knowledge in most people because Christian theology isn’t taught anywhere now. How on earth are children meant to make sense of anything when all they get, religiously speaking, is a quick canter through every known world religion, along with a lecture by Mermaids.
In addition, they pretty soon learn that their ideas and beliefs are as valid as anyone else’s and they can also just pick out the bits they like. Mind you, I know plenty of long-time Anglicans who do that,too.
However, as soon as I looked at the Bishop’s video I was puzzled? The Incarnation and the Environment? And in six minutes? And in the middle of increasing pandemic panic? I wasn’t the only one. All sorts of what I think of as ‘quality’ theologians weighed in to question the truth of what the Bishop was teaching.*
What she said seemed more than a little strange. The word, Incarnation, relates to Jesus, the Word made flesh. If you wanted to teach about the environment I think it would be better to start with Genesis and the Garden of Eden and God’s instruction to Adam to look after his world.
And if that wasn’t odd enough Bishop Olivia wandered off down a way that quite definitly smacked of heresy. In my eighties I have forgotten probably more than I now know but I do remember Pantheism. At one time, in my youth I spent some time studying different heresies. By learning what was wrong seemed a good way to help me understand what is right. It’s actually not that complicated. Human Beings are made in the image of God. God made trees, but as trees, not in His own image. Pantheism believes God is creation: Anglicans believe God is the Creator of the Universe.
‘Godself’ is not a word I know, but at the present time, with everyone trying desperately to be one’s own self, to take the perfect “selfie” for example, I think it’s a most inappropriate word to use of God.
Do Bishop’s actually talk to each other, I wonder? Bishop Olivia is a suffregan bishop to Bishop Stephen of Oxford. Not long ago he had a plenty to say about listening and also how vital it was, not to preach, but to get along side people. That is what people have been doing in the most amazing way since the start of the pandemic. Some of the stories told about the recipients of the Birthday Honours were absolutely awe-inspiring. Teaching where people are is much more effective. Quote Scriptures** which describe what people have been doing as a matter of course and they can recognise themselves. And while they are listening and you have their attention you can go on to explain what this Christ-like behaviour can lead to if you have faith.
Too simple? Too naive? If you have only got six minutes take an engineer’s advice. KISS. (Keep it simple, stupid!)
- *Archbishop Cramner and Psephizo, for example
- **Matthew 25 vv35-40 eg