by Adrian Thatcher
from Modern Believing Vol 53:3

This edition

Regular readers of Modern Believing will recognise familiar names in this edition, devoted to a miscellany of contributions. One article, commemorating the late John Hick, was commissioned. Alan Race, its author, guest edited the edition of Modern Believing devoted to the centenary of the World Mission Conference at Edinburgh in 2010 [51.3].

Richard Truss is our only new contributor. He is a member of the Council of Modern Church, and well known among the membership. His essay on Coleridge (1772-1834) demonstrates how,  over two hundred years, there remains the constant need for Christians to refuse mechanistic and literalistic views of the world and to rejoice in an all-embracing wholeness in which subject and object are united. Christians name this wholeness 'God' or 'Spirit'. Kelvin Randall, who analysed clergy career patterns in 48.4, may bring a smile to the lips of readers. He now finds a group of clergy, fourteen years on, has become less Evangelical, less Conservative and less positively affected by the charismatic movement.

Three of our contributors write coincidentally about the Christian doctrine of atonement. Margaret Rayner completes her trilogy on the influence of Hastings Rashdall (1858-1924). Readers will remember her treatment of his understanding of immortality [48.2and his theology of Church [50.4] . In this edition she describes Rashdall's demolition  of penal theories of atonement. More than a century later there are preachers galore  all over the world still proclaiming this immoral nonsense. Rashdall was a pioneer in recognizing the need for moral integrity in the Church's doctrine, and that need remains. Coleridge and Rashdall suggest fruitful paths for liberal theology  to follow today (and of course to surpass).

Tim Belben has written for Modern Believing about 'Quantum Creation' [51.2] and about 'After life' [52.4]. His interest in the interface between theological and scientific  world views is again apparent as he surmises whether human evolution can help to recast  the doctrine of atonement (among other matters). Christ, he says, is the victim of human ill-will, not of God's anger. Following this Christ entails signing up to an evolving humanity where ill-will is exposed and overcome in love and service. Coleridge and Rashdall would have approved of this. Modern Church was so concerned about immoral accounts of atonement that it devoted a book to that topic in its Making Sense series.1 Michael Marsh, who took apart Near Death Experiences in 52.2, returns to reflect on being disabled. He too points to the suffering of Christ, not as the means of appeasing God the Father  for our death-deserving sins, but as the deep solidarity of God with suffering, conferring upon it both holiness and hope in resurrection.

Modern Believing Essay Competition

But Modern Believing, grateful to regular contributors, needs new authors and new readers, and these will be mainly from a younger generation who think 'modern' sounds passé and 'liberal' too complicated to unravel. They will trust us, despite our quaint titular history, when they learn that Modern Church is no sect within a sect, but an organization of Christians  seeking with God's help to commend the Gospel in an authentic synthesis of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  In order to attract new and theologically talented authors, Modern Church announces the Modern Believing Essay Competition. The rules and details of the competition  are on the inside of the back cover of this edition, and of course on-line. Anyone under 35 can enter. The winner will receive a cash prize of £250, a free place at the Modern Church annual conference, reasonable travel expenses from anywhere within the United Kingdom, a free subscription to Modern Believing and an offer of free membership of Modern Church for one year.  It is a condition of accepting the prize that the winner presents his or her paper, at the next  Modern Church conference. The competition is open now. Competitors have until the end of 2012  to be eligible for the first prize which includes attendance at the 2013 Conference. Please do all you can to make the competition known, and to encourage theologically gifted people who share the aims of Modern Church to enter.

The Anglican Covenant

In my last editorial I expressed the hope that the sterling efforts made by Modern Church to encourage diocesan synods to vote against the Anglican Covenant would sustain their momentum and their impact,  and they did! Our website sustained a record number of 'hits' as unconvinced synod voters looked to us  to provide them with the information they needed to weigh up the case both for and against. This was a remarkable achievement. Members will be proud of the contribution Modern Church made to defeating this proposal.

Bishops and Sex

The Standing Committee of Modern Church has prepared and approved a statement for the House of Bishops' advisory group on sexuality. The statement is uncompromisingly inclusive. While it addresses a very local and denominational context, and shows signs of being written in 'committee-speak', its quiet and affirming tone contrasts with those loud conservative voices struggling with sexuality and projecting their fear of sexual diversity and difference onto others.  Once again the liberal voice of the Church speaks with an authoritative openness. The text of the statement appears here.


  1. Lorraine Cavanagh,  Making Sense of God's Love: Atonement and Redemption (London: SPCK, 2011).

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