by Adrian Thatcher
from Modern Believing Vol 53:2

This edition

The six articles in this edition are arranged in three couplets. The first couplet consists of two major papers from the Modern Church conference last July. How is our Bible reading able to be enhanced by the deep engagement of the imagination? Gerard Loughlin and Christopher Rowland help to answer that question in their articles on 'The Bible and Film' and on 'William Blake and the King James Bible'. The second couplet consists of critical commentaries on a pair of dubious ecclesiastical ventures. Justin Lewis-Anthony demolishes 'Ministry Development Review', exercising wit and wisdom in equal measure. His essay reminded me of Stephen Pattison's devastating critique  of managerialism, The Faith of the Managers: When Management becomes Religion (Cassell, 1997). Jonathan Clatworthy continues a run of articles against the proposed Anglican Covenant,  taking up and refuting the Thatcherite tactic of claiming 'There Is No Alternative' ('TINA', she used to be called, as readers will remember). There is an alternative to the Covenant, and it can be read here.

The third couplet consists of two contributions from Baptist ministers and scholars  on the 2011 conference theme, 'Reading the Bible Today'. John Henson and Ray Vincent attended the conference. John describes and illustrates his remarkable translation of the New Testament,  Good as New (O Books, 2004). Ray Vincent develops the argument of his book Let the Bible Be Itself, (O Books, 2008) in which the 'death' of the Bible in the wider secular culture is allowed to shape a deeper appreciation of how we might read it now. By a remarkable coincidence, three of the contributors to this edition are O Books authors. This publisher may not be well known among all our readers, and its Managing Director, John Hunt, is an undoubted friend of liberal theology. So I have asked him to tell us about O Books and he has done so.  We also carry an advert for some of the liberal publications on the O Books list. Conference attenders  will recall Averil Stedeford's poem, also published here, for its discomforting treatment  of Abraham's discomforting willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen.22:1-19).

Finally, reviews and editing. The quality and range of our reviews rivals those of any comparable journal. The last edition held 34 reviews; as does the present one. Our reviews editor, Michael Brierley, does a remarkable job in maintaining the flow of copy,  and arranging it thematically. He has the wise knack of matching reviewer with the reviewed most effectively. It has been a pleasure also to work with the new Editorial Assistant, Caroline Major. Caroline's minute attention to detail, organisational skills and helpful advice are invaluable. I am delighted to be working with such a team on the journal. Standing Committee has recently acknowledged the great value of the reviews section and agreed that up to half of the journal's content be devoted to them.

Next Editions

Our July edition (53:3) is now full. I am pleased to announce that the October edition (53:4) is a joint venture with the Lincoln Theological Institute, Manchester. The Institute is holding a theological conference on 'Patriotism' on Saturday 19 May, in Manchester. There is an impressive list of speakers, and most of the papers will be published in Modern Believing 53:4. This edition will enhance the journal's proud record of achievement in social and political theology. Volume 54:1 will be full of papers from the 2012 conference,  'By Whose Authority? An interfaith look at women and religious authority'.

'Honest to God' 50th Anniversary

The response to my suggestion in the last edition that we celebrate the 50th anniversary  of the publication of Honest to God in March 1963 has been fruitful. It is likely that there will be a day conference in the South West, and papers published in 54:2.

The Death of John Hick

Modern Church members will have been saddened to have learned of the death of John Hick, aged 90, on 9 February. Our former President, Bishop John Saxbee, wrote a fulsome obituary in the Church Times of 24 February. Alan Race has kindly accepted my invitation to contribute an in memoriam article which will appear in 53:3. Perhaps you were a colleague, a student, a co-minister, a friend, or simply a grateful reader, of John's,  and you have a particular memory or reflection that you would like to share? If so, please write to me  (not more than 500 words) and some of these reflections, if they arrive, may be published with Alan's article, in July.

Bishops and Sex

The Church of England has set up yet another advisory group to advise the House of Bishops about sexuality. Were you amazed to learn that this group comprises four male bishops, and a male retired civil servant? The terms of reference are 'to draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality', and 'to offer[ing] proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process'. It was not clear from various announcements that submissions to the group were invited or welcomed.  They are. They should be sent by 31 May to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Modern Church is preparing a submission. I mention this troublesome matter to encourage readers to consider submitting material on their own behalf.

The Covenant - again

At the time of writing there appears to be panic among supporters of the Covenant in the face of its rejection by an increasing number of dioceses. >The official material shamefully presents only one side of the case.  Modern Church, and Jonathan Clatworthy in particular, deserve much congratulation for providing material which puts the case against it so convincingly. Diarmaid MacCulloch has said it 'offends every canon of Anglican history',  and calls upon 'those bishops who back this ill-thought-out and potentially disastrous measure' to 'let the Covenant quietly subside into the swamp of bad ideas in Anglican history'. (Letter to Church Times, 24.02.12) Let us hope that Jonathan's 'Instead of the Anglican Covenant' in this edition is widely read and sustains the momentum against it.

Essay Prize

Several attempts to increase the readership and circulation of Modern Believing can be expected in the next year. One of these is the joint venture with the Lincoln Theological Institute. Another is the Modern Believing Essay Prize. A cash prize will be awarded to the best essay  on the theme of the annual conference, together with a free place at the conference to present the essay findings. It is hoped that the Prize will encourage postgraduate students and other prospective authors  to write for the journal, and research supervisors both to commend the journal to students and to encourage them to write for it. The prize will remain for five years.  Further details will be published in 53:3 and on our website.

Editorial Board

The list of members on the inside cover has shrunk considerably. A review of the membership is being undertaken, and some members have indicated they did not wish to continue. We lost touch with some of the more distant members. A new Board will be in place by the end of the year. This is an opportunity to reach out to a younger generation of readers. Please write to me if you have any membership suggestions.

Modest Changes

Readers will have noted some small changes to the layout of the last edition.  A new sans serif font was used throughout. There was a strap line under the cover title 'The Journal of Theological Liberalism'. Both these small innovations will remain, at least for the next few issues. Guidance notes for authors  have been fully updated and re-written. These appear in full on our website. The current edition presents a small change to the layout. Each article begins on a new page  in the hope that increased clarity of presentation will outweigh the small additional cost incurred by a slight increase in the number of pages. The titles of reviews will appear in bold.

From the next edition, 53:3, all articles will be preceded by abstracts and keywords.  This change will enable the abstracts to be stored in appropriate databases, while the keywords will make on-line searching easier, especially for readers searching the ATLA Serials data base, where Modern Believing and the great majority of previous volumes can be found. There is a mix in the present edition, the last in which the provision of an abstract and keywords is optional. The current edition also introduces annual cumulative pagination. This is standard practice among journals like ours, which have 'volumes' and 'editions', as we do. The new practice  should also make the task of compiling the annual index a simpler one.


Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.