On leaving Zambia and settling into a town in southern England I quickly found myself attending a Methodist church that was just round the corner from the digs that I rented a room out of.
This was the late 1980s and it wasn’t long before the then Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins would hit the news headlines with comments calling into question the reality of the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Instead he said that Jesus lived on in our hearts and minds as we continue to remember him and his life.
I was stunned. How could a Christian say this? Let alone a Bishop! It was absurd to me that anyone who was a Christian leader could believe and teach anything other than these facts as they were reported in the bible. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and his physical body as a man was only a temporary home for him. His birth was a miracle, born of a virgin and his death was foretold, along with his resurrection. This resurrection is necessary for the salvation of our souls. To deny both these facts of his life is to deny his divinity. You may as well ditch the whole thing if you can’t believe those.
Why on earth would a bishop deny such things? It made no sense to me at all. To be a bishop you had to be a Christian and to be a Christian you had to believe those two events were real historic events, as written down in the bible. Only an atheist would voice doubt about those.
The complicit Minister
My confusion would only get worse.
Two weeks later I was at a home group meeting, which just so happened to be at the house of the Methodist minister for the church I attended. The subject of Bishop Jenkins and his remarks came up, of course.
Instead of reassuring us all, as I expected, the minister simply confirmed the comments made by Bishop Jenkins. Stating that he was right, Jesus lives, but only through us.
I was speechless, my mind was doing summersaults, how could this be so? I struggled awfully with the concept of what I was hearing to the point where I was unable to voice my thoughts, so I said nothing for the rest of the evening and just absorbed what was being said.
One lady, an older lady who I would have said was in her late 40s / early 50s, was obviously having the same trouble I had but had found her voice. She was visibly shaken, but was able to blurt out that she took these facts as literal and had always been told that, throughout her life. Now here she was being told that was all wrong and she really struggled to comprehend it. She kept repeating that they were supposed to be true facts.
I can’t really remember much more of what was said or discussed that evening and when I left I still felt heavy hearted and dismayed. I really did not know how to respond. I liked the minister very much, he was a gentle and caring man who always had a warm smile and something wise or amusing to say. But today I was struggling and I didn’t know how to explain the deep discomfort that I felt.
It would be about a year later that I left that church. For practical reasons reason more than anything else. I moved to a new rented room which was the other side of town so started attending the Anglican church that was closer to me.