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.