“Nothing short of a thunderbolt striking York Minster [cathedral] can stop the consecration of the bishop of Durham taking place.…” So said Richard Harries, dean of London’s King’s College, during a BBC Radio talk.

Harries was referring to the appointment of David Jenkins as the Church of England’s fourth most-senior bishop. A former Oxford don, Jenkins’s doubts concerning basic Christian beliefs had been widely covered in the British media.

Much to Harries’s astonishment, lightning did strike York Minster—England’s largest medieval cathedral—but it was three days too late to prevent Jenkins’s consecration. Fire caused by the lightning gutted the cathedral’s 750-year-old south transept. Some speculated that the fire might signify God’s hand of judgment at work.

The 59-year-old Jenkins was a little-known professor of theology when he was chosen in March to succeed John Habgood as bishop of Durham. But within six weeks he was making national headlines. The controversy began when he was questioned about the divinity of Christ on a national television program. He told an interviewer that he was “pretty clear” that the Virgin Birth was “a story told after the event in order to express and symbolize a faith that this Jesus was a unique event from God.”

In addition, he said the Resurrection was not a miracle. “It doesn’t seem to me that there was any one event which you could identify with the Resurrection.” He said Jesus’ miracles do not represent “the literal truth today,” nor was it necessary for a Christian to believe that Jesus was God made flesh.

Those assertions outraged many in the Church of England, especially in its Anglo-Catholic and evangelical wings. A petition signed by 12,500 churchgoers urged the archbishop of York to ...

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