Last week I was talking with a brother minister in a nearby town. I found him writing an appreciation of Bishop John Robinson’s book Honest to God because, he said, he had “long been troubled by the out-of-date vocabulary we so often use to describe our faith.” I had three things to suggest to him: the popular picture of the faithful old bishop disturbed by intellectual doubts is a false one; the “new morality” for which the bishop pleads would open the door to gross immorality and make it respectable; the bishop is not putting old truth into new language but is repudiating the basic doctrines by which our church lives.
This colleague of mine is a big, hearty fellow, a powerful preacher, the possessor of a Th.M. degree. Young enough to have been thoroughly exposed to “contemporary theological thinking” in recent seminary years, he has survived all that. He is typical of so many fine men in the church, a healthy-minded soul who finds it next to impossible to believe anything but the best about anyone. Least of all would it occur to him to doubt the bona fides of a bishop.
Men like my friend easily accept the picture emerging from the veritable welter of reviews of Honest to God—a picture of the good bishop as an honest laborer toiling away in his vineyard beside the Thames, while beset with gnawing doubts as to God’s whereabouts, whether to look up, down, or within. (The bishop seems to have ended halfway between “down” and “within,” without shedding any particular light on the problem of how to express the idea of transcendence.)
The real trouble is that this simply is not a true picture. It fails to do justice to the scope of Dr. Robinson’s rather considerable abilities. Dr. Michael Ramsey, whose office as Archbishop of Canterbury ...1
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