Can we have doc­tri­nal preach­ing?

The Church of England - - LETTERS -

Sir, I agree with John Richard­son’s ar­ti­cle (28 Fe­bru­ary) on The Dearth of Doc­tri­nal Preach­ing but, as he points out, of­ten­times it has been di­vi­sive. As a prime ex­am­ple, given the cen­tral­ity of the atone­ment con­sider the fall­out fol­low­ing Chalke and Mann’s (2004) ar­gu­ments against the ex­pres­sion of pe­nal sub­sti­tu­tion. One out­come seems to be that Steve Chalke has been la­belled apos­tate by some and one of my evan­gel­i­cal lay-preacher col­leagues con­curs. So how and what do we in­struct new min­is­ters and CoE read­ers and oth­ers: don’t touch the Atone­ment? But the atone­ment of Je­sus for sal­va­tion and for­give­ness is largely what de­fines the Chris­tian mes­sage. The fol­low­ing para­ble, pre­sented as an ex­am­ple of a pos­si­ble teach­ing aid for for­mal (or in­for­mal) the­ol­ogy stu­dents, could be tried out to see how much ac­cu­racy and agree­ment there is in co­gently ex­plain­ing the atone­ment:

A young boy was told re­peat­edly not to kick a foot­ball near the old man’s house in case he broke a win­dow. Sure enough, he dis­obeyed one time too many and he broke the bed­room win­dow. But his older brother see­ing what had hap­pened, said a quick prayer, picked up the ball and turned to face the owner. The an­gry old man didn’t just blis­ter his ears but gave him a clip round the head as well. An hour later, the fa­ther of the two broth­ers re­turned to pay for the win­dow. Fi­nally, the next day, the younger son came round to tell the old man that his brother was not re­spon­si­ble but he was, and he apol­o­gised. The old man hes­i­tated but then ac­cepted the apol­ogy with­out fur­ther ado.

Stu­dents are to sub­mit a 2,000-3,000-word es­say show­ing how this para­ble helps to ex­plain the atone­ment and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the fol­low­ing guid­ance. Your es­say should make clear the dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing re­spon­si­ble, and as­sum­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for im­moral acts. You should make clear to whom rec­om­pense and apol­ogy are due and why, and whether ret­ri­bu­tion is suf­fi­cient for jus­tice. What do you think are the lim­its of the para­ble for your ex­pla­na­tion of atone­ment? Stu­dents may be marked down if they use words like ‘mys­tery’ or ‘mys­ti­cal’ as part of their ex­pla­na­tion.

(Send an­swers to your the­ol­ogy lec­tur­ers, not to me. I lec­tured in geoar­chae­ol­ogy and the chronol­ogy of hu­man evo­lu­tion (semi-re­tired)).

Dr Alf Latham,

Liver­pool Univer­sity

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