It seems that my 2018 Good Friday sermon has attracted more interest among a wider circle of people than I mostly manage to achieve. This includes negative reactions—some of them quite exaggerated—among conservative Evangelicals for whom there is only one way to understand the theological significance of the cross.
During the past week or so I have been misrepresented and potentially slandered online. I have been besieged with extremely rude messages on my YouTube channel. Formal complaints seeking my discipline and/or dismissal have been sent to the Diocesan Administrator. There have been threats of intervention from ‘higher authorities’. Now the emails are starting to arrive. Perhaps soon the letters will come in the post.
I have been described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and an “enemy of Christianity”. I have been handed over to Satan. And more of the same.
What follows below is the text of a response I have sent this morning to one person who contacted me overnight by email to take me to task for my sermon. Anything which might identify my correspondent has been deleted from the text.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns about my recent Good Friday sermon.I am pleased that you took the time to read my sermon rather than simply react to the exaggerated descriptions that have been circulating in particular circles in the past week or so.Naturally I do not accept your evaluation of my sermon, as I would not have preached it had I thought any of those criticisms were true. All the same, I do appreciate the underlying irenical tone of your letter and hope that we might some day have a grace-filled discussion of our different approaches to faith, including the role of Scripture and critical thinking.In case it helps you to appreciate where I was coming from in delivering that sermon, let me observe that my overall goal was to promote a deep appreciation of the death of Jesus as the critical element in our reconciliation with God. However, in making my way towards that goal I also identified and dismissed three common misconceptions about the death of Jesus. It is the third of those misconceptions that seems to have caused concern to you and, from what I hear indirectly via the grapevine, to some other Evangelical clergy in the Diocese of Grafton.Let me simply make the point that I was addressing the historical circumstances around the crucifixion of Jesus. I was not seeking to promote or critique any particular doctrine of the atonement. My sermon was designed more as a reflection on the death of Jesus on that most solemn of holy days, Good Friday. I chose to focus on the faith/faithfulness (pistis) of Jesus, as Paul does in Romans 4.I stand by every comment made in that sermon and do not resile from anything I said.As I mentioned more than once when delivering that sermon, it canvassed a number of substantial theological issues that I anticipate we might explore in more detail in future sessions of the Dean’s Forum.As for people finding spiritual nourishment in that sermon, you will be delighted to know that people far and wide have expressed their appreciation for the sermon and testified to the spiritual blessings they received through it.May God bless you richly today and always.
The Evangelicals just do not get it, do they. It seems to me that they base their faith on a very shaky proposition and are determined to resist all rational arguments and research findings that show how “Scripture” came about. So do not be be deflected; keep up the good work.
Hang in there, mate. I wish conservative evangelicals were able to see what this kind of reaction makes them into. What you’ve said in your sermon takes quite a lot of guts and we really do need this kind of clear voice in Australia about Christianity and within Christianity because most people intelligent enough to understand these ideas cow to the evengelicals and try not to offend them. Unfortunately conservative evangelicals border on being fascist in their response to other ways of seeing and thinking, and refuse to understand the deep hatred they partake in when they block or silence free thought.
Ah Greg, my friend, Your quote of “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” brought back many personal memories. In 1973 while I was in Ballarat (Vic) I was in a newspaper ‘letter-writing discussion’ with an evangelical/fundamentalist colleague. He used those same words of me. (I still have a cutting of the newspaper letter). So welcome to a very special and honourable club. May you remain both strong and courageous. And as always, honest. RAEH
Your attackers are very sad individuals who need security more than they need their daily bread. Their ultimate need is to be RIGHT . . . then they will know that “God is on my side” and “I am saved”. As an older person who has been through various understandings of the Christian religion, I have arrived at the point where I don’t believe we don’t have to be in total agreement on everything . . . given human nature, that just isn’t possible. So, unless you think syllogistically and simplistically, accepting the Lord Jesus . . . leading to . . . ipso facto I am saved . . . doesn’t tell you much at all.
Therefore, it isn’t possible for there to be a Christian Church where everyone holds the same beliefs . . . unless those who run it (dogmatic clergy?) behave like George Orwell’s thought police . . . which is an invitation to those broad thinkers within the group to be dishonest and not admit what they really think.
The people of Grafton are indeed fortunate to have you there to present to them different points of view . . . in fact you assume that they are adults in faith, and can decide for themselves what they believe or not, I think that the most important thing that Jesus taught was the need for loving relationships between people and people. The people who have, as you said, run the “heresy meter” over your sermons, have lost the plot . . . they do not want a loving relationshipp with you . . . they just need to be RIGHT . . . thus earning brownie points with God. This is really a very childish perspective.
Best wishes and hang in there . . . Robert Moore.
Dear Greg, This is to let you know that your recent sermons have been more than nourishing for me, especially the Good Friday one.I hold you in my thoughts as you receive so many negative responses and pray that you will go on sending your sermons to people like me. Blessings on you, (Rev’d Dr) Sue Emeleus
It is sad but not surprising that there have been so many negative responses to your Good Friday sermon. As a retired clergy person in the UCA, I have come to the realisation that the same blindness and unwillingness to let the light of new insight shine into closed minds has always been and will continue to be the part of humanity that desparately needs the healing touch of the risen Christ. Jesus tried and a few caught the vision of what he lived and died for. The Spirit of Truth is still trying to set people free from fear of change. It seems to me that far too many Australians would prefer to be locked behind the closed doors of conservatism than think for themselves. One day the power of love and forgiveness will have its way and the reign of the God of Jesus will come to those who now cannot or perhaps, will not see it. I read your sermon on a daily blog I follow and was so impressed I have subscribed to your site. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.Shalom. Margaret
Sent from my Samsung GALAXY S5 on the Telstra Mobile Network
What a refreshing and stimulating sermon. Thank you, Dean Greg. We shall be following you in future. Frank and Susan Hooke
Dear Greg –
May I simply and my voice to those of your many friends and followers and say that your sermons are a weekly source of spiritual nourishment, inspiration and strength.
I look forward to each one and always come away from reading them with faith and hope renewed.
May God continue to bless you and your ministry.
Brian Armstrong Saint George’s College Class of December 2015 email@example.com
Greg, I regret not having met you while you were in Jerusalem. What a gift you were to St. George’s College! Since we have become e-mail friends, I have wished I could sit down with you and thrash out our theological differences! I know I would learn as I have done from your posted sermons since you returned to Australia; in particular, your Good Friday sermon which, while it may not have drastically changed my thoughts about the Crucifixion, it made me THINK. When I read the one example of the reaction to that sermon I was appalled that some of my fellow Christians could stoop so low. Now you have brought your gifts to Grafton – how blessed they are!
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Wow! I learnt so much from your sermon and you have opened my eyes and mind to the deeper meaning of the cross and the purpose of Jesus’s death. When you got to point three a line from one of my favourite hymns just got blown out of the water. “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, My sin not in part but in whole, is nailed to His cross and I bear it no more, … ” ! What that will do to a great many hymns in fact. I can live with it. What your sermon has done has supported what my lecturer at Trinity College Theological School in Melbourne tried to help me understand in a unit a few weeks ago. There goes the remnants of my Presbyterian upbringing. Thank you.
Dear Frances, I am glad you found the sermon helpful. It was by no means a definitive or final statement on the atonement, but simply an invitation for people to let go of the idea that our (their) personal failings (sins) were what caused Jesus to be crucified. That strikes me as a form of emotional abuse by clergy and church officials. It is designed to cultivate an excessive form of piety and an exaggerated personal sense of guilt. On the other hand, I have no objection to the idea that my/our sins were nailed to the cross or otherwise obliterated by God’s love in response to the faithfulness of Jesus. Whether God actually required such a death in order to forgive sins is an idea that I think needs to be reconsidered, since the broader biblical view — and especially the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer — says otherwise. I think we have become confused by the difference between intention and consequence, as I discuss briefly in my follow up blog piece.