Paul Barnett (Photo: Sue Careless)
By Sue Careless
FOR ALMOST a decade Mere Anglicanism has attracted clergy and laity alike for thought-provoking presentations and glorious choral worship in the community that has been dubbed the Holy City because of its many spires.
About 280 people gathered at the eighth and largest annual Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, Jan. 24th-26th to hear stimulating talks on the theme: “Behold the Man!: The Person and Work of Jesus Christ.” While it was mostly theologians who spoke from the podium, the audience they were addressing was not predominantly academic so their talks had to be clear and concise.
Two scholarly bishops addressed the gathering. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Barnett, an historian of ancient history and a former Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Australia, said “I could not reject the historical reliability of the New Testament, even if I wanted to.” (See page 6 for part of his talk.)
In his Eucharistic sermon, Bishop Barnett challenged the congregation: “Let us learn from Judas who loved money more than God; from Peter who loved man’s approval and praise more than God’s; and from Caiaphas and Annas who loved power more than justice. The sins of them live on in us; the same foibles beset us.”
The Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, the Pakistani-born former Bishop of Rochester in England and a frequent speaker at Mere Anglicanism, spoke on “The Unique and Universal Christ” which is also the title of his 2008 book.
His remarks were as wide-ranging as they were insightful. Speaking without notes, he addressed topics as diverse as the Insider Movement (of secret believers) and whether it should be encouraged in evangelism; the “cycle of virtue” as seen in India and Latin America; how discrimination against Christians differs in North America and Britain; and the Christian meaning and symbolism within the Coronation ritual – to name but a few.
He gave two striking examples of the “cycle of virtue” and how Christ can act as the transformer of a culture. Over the last 150 years in the caste system of India, many Dalits or Untouchables have become Christians and some of the higher castes now come to them for education and health. In Latin America, Nazir-Ali believes Pentecostalism has brought about more widespread socio-economic change in families and communities than Liberation Theology was able to achieve.
The bishop said that in China, Christianity is a real challenge to Marxism; in Islamic countries Christianity is a challenge because it is the only other major missionary faith; and in North America Christianity is a direct challenge to Secularism.
When asked why Buddhism was so popular today in Western culture Bishop Nazir-Ali said, “The Dalai Lama doesn’t demand anything of you,” but to be careful because Buddhism denies the human individual so that emptiness, nihilism and violence can follow.
British theologian the Rev. Dr. David Wenham answered those like Karen Armstrong and Philip Pullman who claim that Jesus was merely a good Jewish prophet who never claimed to be divine and that it was St Paul who created the cult of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Did Paul create a new religion on the basis of his Damascus experience?
Certainly Paul’s letters are very different in style from the synoptic gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke. There is hardly any mention of Jesus’ birth or of any of his parables or miracles (aside from the greatest – the miracle of his Resurrection) in his epistles.
Wenham stressed that while Saul/Paul was persecuting the early Church in Jerusalem, the Church under Peter and James was already fully proclaiming Jesus as risen and divine, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. The idea did not originate with Paul; he only expounded on it. Nor could a recent convert and outsider like Paul (who was never part of the Jerusalem Church leadership) create a new religion.
Most scholars recognize that Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, would have been Paul’s companion and would have taught him in detail about the Virgin Birth and the life and death of Jesus.
Paul’s letters are very different from the gospels both in style and content. But that is because Paul is “trouble-shooting” in his epistles, addressing particular problems and issues that have cropped up in various churches. Jesus and Paul were teaching the same basic message, but in very different contexts. Jesus was ministering primarily in rural Jewish Palestine while Paul was addressing pagan urban societies, translating Jesus’ message into their culture. Did Paul get Jesus right? “Yes!” unequivocally, said Wenham.
The final speaker, Eric Metaxas, was the only non-academic. But like the other speakers, he has several books to his credit. He is best known as the author of the New York Times bestseller, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, which was the official companion book to the 2007 feature film also titled Amazing Grace.
Metaxas spoke about the 20th century hero who is the subject of his latest book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. It is the first major biography in forty years of the young German theologian who refused to sit safely in America when Hitler came to power in his homeland, but returned to Nazi-Germany to take part in a plot to assassinate the Fuehrer. Metaxas draws on previously unavailable documents: personal letters, journal entries and first hand accounts to tell the courageous story of the young German pastor that Hitler had executed.
The book also tells for the first time in narrative form of Bonhoeffer’s romance with Maria von Wedemeyer. Metaxas was able to interview Maria’s two surviving sisters and drew on Bonhoeffer’s correspondence with her which was published in 1992 as Love Letters from Cell 92.
Metaxas quotes from most of Bonheoffer’s 16 volumes – including such classics as Letters and Papers from Prison, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together – weaving them into his captivating and yet harrowing tale.
Next year the theme of Mere Anglicanism will be “Science, Faith and Apologetics.” Keynote speakers will include Alvin Plantinga of Notre Dame University in Indiana, described by Time Magazine as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God” and John Lennox of Oxford, a British mathematician and philosopher of science who has publicly debated two of the New Atheists: Stephen Hawkings and Christopher Hitchens.
Interest in the conference has grown steadily over the years so those wishing to attend next year Jan. 16th - 18th should probably book early. CDs for the 2013 conference are available at www.mereanglicanism.com TAP