Editorial by Anthony Woollard
from Signs of the Times No. 42 - Jul 2011

As we look forward to our long-awaited Annual Conference on reading the Bible today, I can report that one of the speakers at that conference, John Barton, has agreed, with enthusiasm, to be nominated at the AGM as our President in succession to Bishop John Saxbee.

As many will know, John is Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture in the University of Oxford, and one of our foremost biblical theologians.

One of the 'gaps'  which a society like Modern Church particularly needs to 'mind', is that between the Church and the Academy.Bishop John magnificently represented our voice on the Bench of Bishops and we had much internal debate about whether, at this time of so much theologically-linked turmoil in ecclesiastical politics, we should look for a similar link with the Anglican power structure in our new President. We concluded however that the time had come to reinstate an older tradition of appointing a distinguished theologian to provide us with a much stronger link with the world of theological teaching and research where at present we are under-represented. Subject to ratification at the AGM, John's appointment should give us many new opportunities.

Some equally if not more obvious 'gaps' are illustrated in this edition of our newsletter.

One is the classic Modern Church concern with the gap between self-styled orthodoxy  and contemporary thought. Graham Hellier is no stranger to these pages, and, both in the article below and in his latest little book referred to at the end of that article, he 'minds the gap' in his own way, attractively in harmony with some predominant strands of thought within our tradition.  To be sure, in his very first words, he makes an assertion about that complex if rather less attractive figure G.K. Chesterton which some might wish to contest; and I for one, whilst impressed with much of his logic, would feel obliged to offer a somewhat different evaluation  of the Augustinian heritage in theology. But if you want to understand one way of 'minding the gap',  go to Graham. And if you want a broader picture of the role of Modern Church in trying to mind it, read Jonathan Clatworthy's article at the end of this edition.

A rather different gap, of a pastoral kind, is analysed in Jean Mayland's article on marriage, some of which has previously appeared in the correspondence columns of the Church Times. She implies a position on church weddings and their liturgies which represents another strong, deeply anti-sectarian strand within Modern Church. That position raises a number of issues, theological, ecclesiological and sociological, to name but a few. Our readers - students of the theology and sociology of marriage and of liturgy, pastors who conduct weddings, and those who are simply Christians in relationships - may want to come back on her quite negative evaluation of the rather confused "Church position" on the nature of 'Christian marriage'. This topic really should start a debate!

Other gaps too are evidenced in contributions to this edition. The book review by Martin Gorick - a sympathizer but not a member of Modern Church - has implications regarding both the gap between worship and theology which some Modern Church members feel, and perhaps also, indirectly, the gap between our modest membership and its many, many sympathizers, the seven thousand in the Church of England who have not bowed the knee to the Baal of fundamentalism.

Then there is the gap between Scripture and intelligent faith. That is what our Annual Conference is all about, and what our North-West regional group have already addressed, in what could be the first  of many spin-offs from the theme of that conference. Offers to organize similar spin-offs elsewhere  in the country would be most welcome. It is also the theme of Helen-Ann Hartley's new book  in our Making Sense of Christianity series (see enclosed flyer).

Behind all these, of course, lies the more fundamental gap - however we understand it - between God  and creation, between faith and secularity, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. It is the nature of this gap, of course, which was in apparent dispute between Augustine and Pelagius (Morien) about whom Graham writes. Similar questions may lie behind the understanding of marriage and the Church's mission in relation to it about which Jean writes. That same issue of 'the gap' - sin, alienation and related ideas - is also at the heart of another new book in the Making Sense of Christianity series, Making Sense of God's Love by Lorraine Cavanagh (again see enclosed flyer). This, along with Helen-Ann's book, will in due course be reviewed  in these pages and readers' reactions will be of great interest. Despite Lorraine's very careful avoidance  of the doctrine of penal substitution in her approach to the Atonement, her argument is in some ways quite Augustinian, and not all will agree with it. But that fact, too, represents a 'gap', or perhaps better a multi-dimensional spectrum of beliefs and ideas, which characterizes Modern Church and which is a large part of our richness in a world and a Church which often appear to prefer the certainties of a monochrome philosophy.

I have recently, somewhat to my surprise, got involved in the Street Pastors movement.  Rather dominated as that is by Evangelical, and in some areas black-led, churches, its members  might be expected to 'mind the gap' in ways that are very different from those that characterize  Modern Church. Yet the movement's non-judgmental ethos seems to relate to some essential Gospel preoccupations, which most of us would be happy to endorse against some of the baleful attitudes characterized by the sort of 'orthodoxy' challenged in these pages. Greenbelt, too - where many of you may be reading this came originally from an Evangelical stable but has evolved into something rich and new which has been a way into real 'Gospel truth' for many.

Maybe God is better at minding the gap than we are?


Anthony Woollard is editor of Signs of the Times. He taught Theology at William Temple College before entering the Civil Service where he spent most of his career in the the Department of Education.