Bishop Richard Randerson Profiled: A devil for the detail

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Later, in his rather spartan office, the bishop says that despite his many scholarly articles people still do not understand his position on faith. Sitting there in a brown v-necked Rodd & Gunn jersey over his purple cassock, and wearing a pair of shoes cleaned so many times the black leather wrinkles like parchment, Bishop Randerson explains he used the word "agnostic" only when debating the theories of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. He was asked if he could scientifically prove that God exists. And he says, "you can't prove God by science."

On the other hand, the bishop believes passionately in God "as in the person known as Jesus Christ. I endorse that 100 per cent. That's what my whole life has been about."

It is Bishop Randerson's careful theology, his dedication to truth and bridging the gap between science and religion that has led him into controversy over and over again. He does not accept the literal meaning of the virgin birth - and many of the other stories of the Old Testament.

"It can be very upsetting for people who think, 'well that's the truth: it's a gynaecological miracle that I believe in'," explains Bishop Randerson. "Yet often in the process of that [belief] they are missing what that story is about - which is that the divine and the human meet perfectly in Jesus. The miracle can distract people from the deeper understanding."


Similarly with the story of Adam and Eve, which he explains away as one of many "symbolic stories" attached to the Bible. "Adam in Hebrew means humankind," he says. "Eve means life. When we're talking about Adam and Eve, we're talking about the generic meaning of life. They're generic stories about the truths of human life."

He has also stuck his neck on the chopping block over gay marriage (he would welcome it if the church did).

The bishop's modern ideas may have an appeal. Holy Trinity still draws 150 to Sunday communion and around 80 to evensong. Although the controversy over their leader's agnosticism may have upset some of his flock, many more "on the margins" got engaged in the argument.

Bishop Randerson's attitudes, delivered in a warm, measured voice, may make the Anglican Church far more acceptable to the educated than insistence on literal, blind faith. As he says, bringing the church into the scientific era has been his life's work. "That's what it's all about - that's what I've had a passion to do ... There are many people who'll say 'if I've got to believe that Jesus was literally born from a virgin I have to rubbish the whole Christian thing just on the basis of that'."

Read the whole thing.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

57 Comments
Posted June 8, 2007 at 4:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Br. Michael wrote:

With due respect the meeting of human and divine meet in the supernatural breakthrough of God in to the world.  That is it realy hapened in a way that natural materialism can’t deal with.  Natural Materialism says such things can’t happen by definition, we say that they can.

June 8, 4:48 pm | [comment link]
2. Philip Snyder wrote:

If you have no trouble believing that God raised Jesus from the dead into resurrected Life, (and how you can be a Christian without that belief is beyond me) then why couldn’t that same God cause Jesus to be born in a very special way?

If you can accept that the Creator of the Universe - the Alpha and Omega - the Great I Am - wants a relationship with you and that the Word of God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, then why could that incarnation come about in a very special way?

Does the Virgin Birth have to be literal history for Christianity to be true?  no.  But you will never prove it one way or another, so why not accept the Virgin Birth as part of what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ?

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

June 8, 4:48 pm | [comment link]
3. Ross wrote:

#2:

If you can’t prove it one way or another, why not simply keep it an open question?

June 8, 5:26 pm | [comment link]
4. Alice Linsley wrote:

The Church catholic does not try to explain the virgin birth, but upholds the tradition that the Theotokos’ virginity was in tact.  Miracles can’t be reconciled with science.  As David Hume correctly states, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.”  Exactly!  How ironic that the “great infidel” should so perfectly define Christian belief touching of miracles.  Miracles such as the virgin birth and the resurrection suspend natural laws, just as in the Eucharist time and space are suspended.  It is exactly in this evidence of the suspension of natural laws, time and space that we are forced to recognize the One who is beyond nature, time and space. Hume goes on to say: “...it is not a miracle that a man, seemingly in good health should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.”  But it has!  That is the testimony of the Apostles and by any standard of investigation, their testimony stands.

June 8, 5:27 pm | [comment link]
5. Milton wrote:

If Jesus was not born of a literal virgin, then Mary was an adulteress, since she was espoused to Joseph, and if she had not been espoused then she was guilty of fornication.  Joseph was about to divorce her, as was his right to do since by all appearances Mary had been with another man while she was espoused to him, which was marriage in all but the future consumation.  It took the angel Gabriel’s message to convince him not to divorce Mary and to endure the shame with her that was part of God’s plan for the Incarnation.

June 8, 5:45 pm | [comment link]
6. Ross wrote:

#4:

But there is a difference between the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth.  If the Resurrection is not true, then Christianity becomes something very different—“our faith is futile,” as Br. Michael just quoted Paul in another thread.

But if the Virgin Birth is not true… then what changes?  Christ may still be the Son of God, may still die on the cross and be raised from the dead, no matter the precise biological circumstances of his birth.

I believe in the Resurrection, but I’m agnostic on the Virgin Birth.

June 8, 5:48 pm | [comment link]
7. Words Matter wrote:

To believe in Christianity without the miraculous is ridiculous, since the basis of Christianity is the incursion of the Transcendant into the Immanent: the coming of God into the world. If you believe that, what’s a little walking on water, or even a Resurrection along the way.

It is, of course, possible to view miracles as expressions of a law higher than physical laws. One theory holds that what we experience as “laws” are really highly probable events. What appears to be their “violation” is just an event outside the usual probabilities.  As a mechanism for miracles, I suppose that’s not a bad notion.  However, it seems to me that miracles are the fulfillment of laws greater than, or perhaps “deeper than”, the merely physical. For example, the Resurrecton fulfills the law of Love, which overcomes death.  Love is a law greater than nature.  In another way, the birth of Jesus to a virgin expresses the Incarnation - God becoming man. To suggest that it wasn’t an actual scientific fact separates spirit from matter; it contradicts the Incarnation.  In fact, it’s gnosticism, not Christianity, which denigrates the physicality of creation and wants to refer events Christians claim are historical to the realm of myth and symbol.

June 8, 5:51 pm | [comment link]
8. Deja Vu wrote:

I saw a television show about the real life police work in capturing a serial rapist in New York state. The rapist’s M.O. was to take girls waiting alone at school bus stops early in the morning. They had an interview with one of the girls, who had been 13, I think, but was now late teens and also the police officer that worked with her on getting details of the attack. It was so touching. She was scared that no man would want her and the police officer assured her she was a virgin. He explained to her that she would loose her virginity when she chose to give herself to a man.
It was really touching. I think there may be a lot of people of strong Christian faith who have come to this sort of understanding of the the virgin birth. It certainly leads to a strong pro-life and pro-family understanding of the nativity. Some people are, of course, scandalized at such a suggestion.
It is a problem if someone cannot believe that God could effect a miraculous virgin birth. But it is also a problem if someone can’t accept that Christ could have been conceived in a rape because it is too lowly.
I think that for women who have been raped, the idea of the Holy Spirit present with Mary at a time of great lowliness has tremendous meaning. So I believe that God has the power to effect a virgin birth, but I also remain open to an understanding of the power of the Holy Spirit to be present with the lowest of the low and so change the world.

June 8, 5:59 pm | [comment link]
9. mathman wrote:

Terribly sorry to throw sand in the gears.
No virgin birth: no incarnation.
No incarnation: no salvation. Jesus must be the Son of Man (descended from David in the flesh) and the Son of God (called into existence by the action of the Holy Spirit) to even be eligible to be the Messiah.
I know that I am stomping on a lot of toes here. But the divine story is either true altogether or a fabrication of the worst sort.
Admittedly it took a while for all of this to sink in, even to the Apostles. The women got it immediately, of course. But the men had to think it all through.
I beg you to think it through. How can Jesus be the heir of all things, and the Judge on the Last Day? Heir has a specific meaning, and I do not believe that in this case it means adoption. How does one who is born of a woman ascend on high and take the place which John describes for him in Revelation?
Read Hebrews. Read it carefully. Think about the Person set forth in that under-studied and under-appreciated book. How can He do that? How can He enter the TRUE holy of holies? We are speaking here of that beyond which there is nothing.
And unlike the Saints, who go to their rest, He ever lives to make intercession for us!
I must channel a little C S Lewis here. Either Jesus was exactly what he claimed, or he was a total nutter, or he was a desperately evil lying impostor. And if He was what He claimed, then He came from the Father.

June 8, 6:08 pm | [comment link]
10. Deja Vu wrote:

Son of Man?

June 8, 6:15 pm | [comment link]
11. Deja Vu wrote:

In the Lives of the Saints sometimes there is a chapter on the miraculous vision that the mother had around the time of the conception of the saint. The mother-to-be will have a vision in which the babies soul enters her body. It might be a light or a jewel or such. The Christian tradition in these Saint’s Lives is that the baby is the physical body and the soul joined together in the womb.

June 8, 6:26 pm | [comment link]
12. Deja Vu wrote:

Ooops, baby’s soul

June 8, 6:27 pm | [comment link]
13. mathman wrote:

Yes, Son of Man.
Jesus consistently referred to Himself as the Son of Man.
The expression has, of course, OT sources. Starts in Ezek 2.1.
Look at Matt 8:20. Matt 9:6. I will not list all the references here. Use your concordance.
Yep. Descended from David according to the flesh. The true son of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And she was in the Davidic line.

June 8, 6:44 pm | [comment link]
14. Alice Linsley wrote:

Words Matter (#7), that is an interesting and insightful perspective.  Kant attempted to show that God will act justly on the Day of Judgement by showing that all people in all times and places have an innate sense of duty and therefore have received moral guidance.  (As Cicero said, “There is not a moment without duty.”)  Hume’s point was that unless this claim can be shown to be universally true, it can’t be regarded as reliable.  (Here we see Hume arguing for the development of the social sciences, especially psychology and anthropology.)  Hume believed that just because the laws of nature have been consistent, we cannot assume that they will always function as they do.  It is a perfectly rational argument.  Hume therefore allows for the possibility of a “singularity” and therefore, (again how ironic!) leaves room for the miracluous, for miracles are singularities.

June 8, 6:50 pm | [comment link]
15. Alice Linsley wrote:

Mathman, It is true that Mary is in the Davidic line, but even more interesting, she was of a family that never left Judah, while Joseph’s family was taken into captivity in Babylon. This means that the prophecy in Genesis 40:50 that “the scepter will not depart from Judah” is literally fulfilled in Mary.

June 8, 7:08 pm | [comment link]
16. Alice Linsley wrote:

Sorry.  I meant to type Genesis 49:50.

June 8, 7:09 pm | [comment link]
17. JAC+ wrote:

For those of you who find the Virgin birth optional, or are otherwise agnostic toward the doctrine:  which of the other phrases of the Apostle’s & Nicene Creeds can we view optional as well?

June 8, 7:19 pm | [comment link]
18. MargaretG wrote:

What about Richard Randerson? The comments seem to have forgotten the topic

June 8, 7:20 pm | [comment link]
19. Ross wrote:

#9 mathman says:

No virgin birth: no incarnation.

I don’t see why that follows.

Maybe we need to break down the “Virgin Birth” concept a little.  I think we can make a series of distinct claims which are traditionally bundled together into the Virgin Birth:

1) Jesus was conceived in Mary by a miraculous action of the Holy Spirit, without the assistance of a male human being.  To me, this is the key claim—the “gynaecological miracle” that Bp. Randerson refers to above—of the Virgin Birth.  I’m sure God could have done it this way.  But I’m equally sure that God could have conceived his son if a man were involved in the usual way.

2) Mary was a virgin when this happened.  This seems likely enough, although we can’t know for sure.

3) It was necessary for Mary to be a virgin when this happened.  To put it another way: suppose it had happened that Mary had been a married woman and had already had two or three children, and then Jesus was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit without Joseph’s help.  Would Jesus still have been Jesus?  I don’t see why not.  Even if it had happened that Mary had “known a man” before marrying Joseph, that’s something the two of them would have wanted to have a long conversation about; but I don’t see why it would have been a barrier to her carrying the Son of God.

4) Mary remained a virgin her entire life.  If you buy the RC take on things, that is.  There has been a strain of Christian thought going back at least as far as Augustine that sex—even between a husband and wife—is always and inevitably tainted with sin; and so Mary, being the purest of all women, could not have allowed herself to be polluted so.  I consider this a downright pernicious doctrine, and for both Mary and Joseph’s sake I hope they were able to be husband and wife to each other in all ways, including that one.

June 8, 7:27 pm | [comment link]
20. Words Matter wrote:

it is also a problem if someone can’t accept that Christ could have been conceived in a rape because it is too lowly.
I think that for women who have been raped, the idea of the Holy Spirit present with Mary at a time of great lowliness has tremendous meaning.

I quoted this whole passage because it is a lovely, poignant notion. Yes, of course, it would be a wonderful testament to the power and love of God that overcomes even the horror of rape.  However, since the apostolic writers did not otherwise clean up the other story lines to match general notions of respectability, why would they have cleaned up this one? If it had happened, there is no reason they would not have told it.

June 8, 7:28 pm | [comment link]
21. Alice Linsley wrote:

This is about Randerson, Margaret.  “As he says, bringing the church into the scientific era has been his life’s work. That’s what it’s all about - that’s what I’ve had a passion to do ... There are many people who’ll say ‘if I’ve got to believe that Jesus was literally born from a virgin I have to rubbish the whole Christian thing just on the basis of that’.”
The problem is that Bishop Randerson isn’t a very good scientist because he hasn’t pursued all the data.

June 8, 7:29 pm | [comment link]
22. Dave B wrote:

The problem I have with Jesus being born to other than a Virgin is the Old Testament prophecies. To me the Old testment and the New Testment hang together like an intricate tapestry.  People that want to deny this or that about Jesus seem to be picking at knots to loose threads to unravel the truth so they can weave a tapestry that they like better.  God foretold these things so when they happened we could believe.

June 8, 7:52 pm | [comment link]
23. Rev. J wrote:

Phil, I think you hit the nail on the head! There is such a disrespect in today’s world for the “HOLY”, and a very widespread lack of reverence for anything, most especially, the Almighty Creator and Redeemer of everything that ever was, is and will be.  There is no understanding that in an instant, we could vanish as quickly as the snap of one’s finger.  I think one cannot appreciate the HOLY unless one has had a profound experience of it, a humbling and awesome knowing of the Creator and Redeemer through the Holy Spirit.  A few weeks ago, a lady asked me after a healing service, why it was so “emotional”?  I said, that when the presence of God is manifest, it is always an overwhelming experience for me.  It is a way that we “KNOW” He is there and present, and HE can do nothing but leave you in AWE and profound thanksgiving and peace!

June 8, 8:00 pm | [comment link]
24. Ross wrote:

#22:

I don’t know Hebrew or Greek, so I welcome correction from those more knowledgeable than I—but I’ve been told that the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14 actually just meant “a young woman,” but was translated into the Greek Septuagint version with the Greek word for “virgin.”  The Septuagint would most likely have been the version Luke was familiar with when he wrote the birth narrative.

June 8, 8:01 pm | [comment link]
25. Alice Linsley wrote:

Dave B and Rev. J, God bless you for your faithfulness!  You both nailed it.

Ross, the Bible from beginning to end presents archetypes that point us to the True form. Abraham’s sacrifice of his son.  Moses leading the people out of bondage. Throughout the Old Testment, there is talk of the virgin daughter of Zion who brings praise to God.  Mary is the fulfillment of that.

June 8, 8:08 pm | [comment link]
26. Dave B wrote:

(Sarcasm turned on) Gee how prophetic, “a child shall be born of a young women”  That sure does narrow the search! (sarcasm truned off)

June 8, 8:12 pm | [comment link]
27. Alice Linsley wrote:

Dave, you kill me! LOL

June 8, 8:31 pm | [comment link]
28. Dr. Priscilla Turner wrote:

The great miracle is the Incarnation. Virgin conception is the corollary. No way could two sinful human beings have got together in the usual way and produced the sinless Son of God, Who would be “God with us”.

Incidentally there is no prophecy of a virgin conception in Is. 7. There is a statement that a young woman, probably Mrs. Isaiah, is pregnant. And it is extremely unlikely that this is the point of Matthew’s quotation in his first chapter. His point is the same as that of Is. 7 and the following chapters which form the larger context, the with-us-ness of God in judgement and mercy. Isaiah’s son on this occasion as on others is to bear a symbolic name. The ‘fulfilment’ is typological rather than predictive, as in other ‘fulfilment’ contexts in Matthew.

June 8, 8:34 pm | [comment link]
29. Robert Easter wrote:

One point that might be easier for some than for others to really take hold of:  It’s in the blood! Traditionally, the blood comes from the father (as a person may say they have Smith blood, Swedish blood, etc…) and the blood shed for our sins in His sacrifice had to be “pure and without blemish (sinless).”  So God “made a Baby,” (actually only He can!) with Mary’s freewill offering of her own life and body in the face of His freely-given offering of His own life into human flesh.  So then Jesus began as well as ended His Earthly life as fully divine as He was fully human.  Jesus did not simply become indwelt by God at some point.  That would have not been sufficient in His role as either the perfect High Priest or Sacrifice.  Our salvation is not simply a side interest for God:  He is fully involved, and fully invested from the beginning!

June 8, 8:36 pm | [comment link]
30. john scholasticus wrote:

I don’t really understand why the Virgin Birth has to be a litmus test for whether or not we are ‘genuine’ Christians. It is a minority attestation in the New Testament. There is no reason to believe that it was held to be of great importance in the first century - the time of the eye-witnesses etc. You can argue that it protects the Incarnation (Prisca above). You can equally well argue that it demeans it (I would). Those first-century Christians who did not attest it (and in most cases presumably did not even know of it) still affirmed the Incarnation.

June 8, 9:34 pm | [comment link]
31. MargaretG wrote:

Perhaps I should make my earlier comment clearer on what about Richard Randerson.

It seems to me, and I would be interested in the views of others, that Richard Randerson is very much a man of his generation. The things that he speaks up about (virgin birth, symbolic Adam and Eve stories, gay marriage, his mother being very bright but only a aty-at-home mum, social justice) far from being “careful theology” as they are portrayed in the article are in fact parroting of the kind of liberal agenda that a person of his age would be expected to follow blindly (as he shows every sign of doing).

It seems to me that far from being a prophetic leader (as implied by the article) he is rather an unthinking follower.

June 8, 9:46 pm | [comment link]
32. Robert Easter wrote:

John S., the “modern” line that this or that is a “minority attestation:  How many times must it be repeated before we are willing to notice it?  Do you insist on having seen 15 speed-limit signs before checking your speedometer?  For that matter, of the thousands of verses in the Bible one could (foolishly) claim anything it said to be a “minority” statement!

I would not go so far as to say that disbelief in the Virgin Birth disqualifies a person as a Christian- that would be both uncharitable and unbiblical.  I would say that, as we become more willing to acknowledge God’s right and ability to do things outside of our own expectations or experience, our hearts and minds become more aligned with His, and things that made little sense begin to make perfect sense, and vice-versa.

June 8, 10:06 pm | [comment link]
33. Words Matter wrote:

</i>I don’t really understand why the Virgin Birth has to be a litmus test for whether or not we are ‘genuine’ Christians. </i>

No one said it was; this discussion is theological, not personal.

It is a minority attestation in the New Testament.

Only if you argue from silence.

There is no reason to believe that it was held to be of great importance in the first century - the time of the eye-witnesses etc.

We are not in the first century, but the twenty-first. You answer to the attack.  Anyway, you again argue from silence.

You can argue that it protects the Incarnation (Prisca above).

Yes you can. Several here have done so.

You can equally well argue that it demeans it (I would).

Really? Talk about a minority attestation! Would you care to advance that argument for discussion?

</i>Those first-century Christians who did not attest it (and in most cases presumably did not even know of it) still affirmed the Incarnation.</i>

And these were who? Your source for this claim, please.

June 8, 10:14 pm | [comment link]
34. Words Matter wrote:

Ok, bad formatting… but you get the idea.  raspberry

June 8, 10:16 pm | [comment link]
35. Pb wrote:

I agree with Anselm. I believe in order that I might know. Unbelievers have real problems. Nicky Gumbel tells a wonder story about an intellectual scoffer he and a friend encountered. After being challenged by a barrage of questions. the friend asked “if I could answer all of your questions would you consider becoming a Christian?” The answer was no.

June 8, 10:27 pm | [comment link]
36. Dr. Priscilla Turner wrote:

There may not be much explicit attestation of the virgin conception in C1 Christian sources, but there are no denials either. Jn. 6 hints at something odd about Jesus’ origins. But everything hinges on whether we think of Jesus as just slightly superior to most of us, in which case he, or someone similar, could have happened any old time.

About Matthew 1 I said in a paper recently delivered at Trinity Western U. in the context of a conference which was part Septuagint Studies, part Comparative Religion:—

In no case after ch. 1 does Matthew mean straight predictive fulfilment. For that he has other expressions.  He means rather that there is a deep correspondence, sometimes termed typological. It is reasonable to suppose that the same is meant in the first instance. I see therefore no reason to suppose that our first ‘fulfillment’ example is any different from the later ones: what is meant at the very least is that Jesus will be ‘God with us’ as a completion of the deeper meaning of the Isaiah passage: this child will not merely bear the name, but embody the reality of God with us. Quite possibly ‘fulfillment’ of the whole context of chs. 6-10 is meant. That of course includes more than one vision of an ideal king of David’s line; one explanation of what appears to be Joseph’s genealogy at the start of Matt. 1 is that it establishes the legal claim of his adopted son to Davidic lineage. Certainly Matthew invokes Scripture only at turning-points, points which incidentally usually involve human judgment of Jesus, a judgment which recoils upon the men who make it. Most significantly, the expression τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα … occurs only in connection with the Birth narrative and with the Passion narrative. I am thus prepared to propose that Ἐμμανoυήλ at 1:23 is programmatic, and that καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ͗  ὑμῶν εἰμι at 28:20 signals the end of the drama.

June 8, 10:29 pm | [comment link]
37. DavidBennett wrote:

The bottom line is that the Church, East and West, has consistently held the Virgin Birth to be dogma. Classical Protestantism does as well. The Apostles and Nicene Creeds affirm that Mary was a virgin when she had Jesus. I can understand personal doubt on the issue, but I have real trouble with bishops who are supposedly catholic, and who are called to teach catholic doctrine, dismissing the Virgin birth. I also take issue with those who say the creeds weekly and can’t really affirm most of what is being said.

When I was in grad school I met a lady who said she became Episcopalian because even though she quit believing in stuff like Jesus’ deity or his birth from a virgin, she liked singing in the local Episcopal parish choir. I gave her credit on one point: she did not recite the creeds because she didn’t accept their content. If only church leaders were so genuine.

June 9, 12:31 am | [comment link]
38. azusa wrote:

Randerson represents pretty much standard 60s’ theology, which lives on in the atrophied Anglican Church in New Zealand and elsewhere. How he imagines that kind of somniferous and etiolated Christianity will become ‘hot’ again totally escapes me. His cathedral is said to pull in 150 of a Sunday, which for a city of a million+ isn’t saying much. Auckland has plenty of independent charismatic churches (and Anglican ones, like St Paul’s Symonds Street) that are much larger, teaching a very different message. He is perceived as an agnostic in the city, and whether he really believes in the physical resurrection of Christ is very unclear (as it was for David Jenkins, the unlamented bishop of Durham). Auckland is receiving many immigrants from Asia and some people at least are attempting to reach them with the Gospel.

June 9, 1:25 am | [comment link]
39. Ross wrote:

#28 Priscilla Turner says:

The great miracle is the Incarnation. Virgin conception is the corollary. No way could two sinful human beings have got together in the usual way and produced the sinless Son of God, Who would be “God with us”.

Why not?  If God can be incarnate in a sinful world in the first place, then why not through sinful human beings?

Or, if you like the Immaculate Conception idea which makes Mary free of original sin, why could her hypothetical partner not also be granted an Immaculate Conception?

My point is not that I believe Mary was or was not a virgin, or that I think the conception of Jesus was or was not a “gynaecological miracle.”  I just don’t see that it matters that much.  Jesus was the Son of God.  Does it matter how God pulled off that trick?

June 9, 2:21 am | [comment link]
40. azusa wrote:

# 39: “Jesus was the Son of God.  Does it matter how God pulled off that trick?”
A rather slighting way to talk about our Creator. But, yes, it does. ‘Son of God’ by itself does not denote personal divinity or deity, since the Davidic king was styled ‘God’s son’. Denial of the VB nearly always leads to adoptionism. (Not in Pannenberg, but i think he is inconsistent here.)

June 9, 2:57 am | [comment link]
41. Robert Easter wrote:

Dr. Turner,  it sounds almost as if the “gynecological miracle” term is throwing you off!  grin  In all seriousness, the fact that God did something miraculous in the very depths of Mary’s femininity shows His affirmation of our humanity female and male.  Born male, yet born of “(the seed of) the woman:”  Not of a man and a woman, or that would have given double credence to the masculine at the woman’s great expense, but as God first made us in His (Trinitarian) image male and female so He came among us affirming and sanctifying both male and female.  Without the Virgin Birth we not only lose sight of the unique divinity of Christ, but we assume a diminished view of women in general that God would bless male-ness twice in elevating a nameless lover to sire His Son (so cuckolding God?) while making Mary a mere surrogate at best, or, worse, a promiscuous teen who “got caught.”  If this were the case, the Muslims are right.  Yes, the Virgin Birth is both necessary and, thanks be to God, entirely true!

June 9, 3:09 am | [comment link]
42. MattJP wrote:

I think it’s the height of arrogance for someone who wants to be a part of the Church to decide that they are so much more enlightened than all of the great saints and teachers of the church, including two of the gospel writers that they can choose to reject a central doctrine of the faith. I think it’s a prime example of Lewis’ “chronological snobbery.”

June 9, 4:41 am | [comment link]
43. Philip Snyder wrote:

I think one of the problems that the Virgin Birth shows is that we still want to take God on our own terms, not on His terms.  We still want to dictate to God what we will or will not believe.

The Virgin Birth is part of the basic statement of the Creeds and has been taught by Christianity (and Islam!) for almost 2000 years.  In my tag line is my reasoning for accepting the Virgin Birth.  I believe (=faith =trust) that it is true in order that I might understand it.  I do not have to understand it in order to believe it. 
I urge those who do not believe it to question why they don’t believe it.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

June 9, 9:24 am | [comment link]
44. saj wrote:

Deja Vue—- Mary raped?  This is a new one for me! It might be comforting to a young woman who has been raped—but “truth” is not about comfort.

June 9, 10:53 am | [comment link]
45. john scholasticus wrote:

#33
</i>I don’t really understand why the Virgin Birth has to be a litmus test for whether or not we are ‘genuine’ Christians. </i>

No one said it was; this discussion is theological, not personal.
It’s perfectly clear from the thread that for some it is such a test.

It is a minority attestation in the New Testament.
Only if you argue from silence.
So it’s attested, even when it’s not?
There is no reason to believe that it was held to be of great importance in the first century - the time of the eye-witnesses etc.

We are not in the first century, but the twenty-first. You answer to the attack.  Anyway, you again argue from silence.
You don’t answer the point. No new evidence on this question has accrued since the first century.
You can argue that it protects the Incarnation (Prisca above).

Yes you can. Several here have done so.
I don’t deny it. I even (clearly) think it is a reasonable argument.
You can equally well argue that it demeans it (I would).

Really? Talk about a minority attestation! Would you care to advance that argument for discussion?
Yes. The Incarnation is (obviously) a very difficult doctrine. But if Jesus is fully human (as orthodoxy states), then there is a case for arguing that he should be conceived in the normal way and that if he isn’t it infringes his full human-ness. This is my view. I haven’t the least objection to others holding the other view.
</i>Those first-century Christians who did not attest it (and in most cases presumably did not even know of it) still affirmed the Incarnation.</i>

And these were who? Your source for this claim, please.
Start with Paul and every NT writer except those who attested the Virgin Birth, i.e. Matthew and Luke (though this is disputed).

June 9, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
46. JAC+ wrote:

John #45
Belief in the Virgin birth is necessary in order to be baptized in TEC as the question is asked “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and the response needs to include “He was ... born of the Virgin Mary”.  It would be disingenuous to say it but make it mean something different than what the Church intended.

June 9, 5:03 pm | [comment link]
47. john scholasticus wrote:

#46
People handle these things in their own ways. Ask among your own congregation: I’d be astonished if you didn’t find some who had great difficulties with the Virgin Birth.

June 9, 5:37 pm | [comment link]
48. Deja Vu wrote:

For me, the jury is still out on this, so I am going to present some arguments in favor of the position I presented in my #8. I am not convinced of it, but not unconvinced, either.
#41 says:

Without the Virgin Birth we not only lose sight of the unique divinity of Christ, but we assume a diminished view of women in general that God would bless male-ness twice in elevating a nameless lover to sire His Son (so cuckolding God?) while making Mary a mere surrogate at best, or, worse, a promiscuous teen who “got caught.”

My #8 is not about a nameless “lover” or a “promiscous teen”. The Gospels do seem to leave open the possibiloity that Mary was a devout young teen who had been raped.
How could Christ be born from such a situation? Why can we believe in a God who makes a virgin pregnant, but not a God who transforms such a tragic, lowly situation for a woman into the most Holy of all?

#43 Yes, Islam needs Mary to be a virgin. They still stone to death young girls who has been raped, don’t they? They make no distinction between lovers and rapists, assault and promiscuity, because it is all about the preservation of the geneology.

June 9, 5:44 pm | [comment link]
49. Philip Snyder wrote:

Deja Vu (#48)
What holds you back from trusting God and trusting the Body of Christ on this issue?  What are you not willing to surrender to God and why aren’t you willing to surrender it?

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

June 9, 5:50 pm | [comment link]
50. azusa wrote:

# 45: “The Incarnation is (obviously) a very difficult doctrine. But if Jesus is fully human (as orthodoxy states), then there is a case for arguing that he should be conceived in the normal way and that if he isn’t it infringes his full human-ness. This is my view. I haven’t the least objection to others holding the other view.”
Well, thank you very much for allowing the rest of us to believe the Nicene Creed.

John, what you may not realize is that those who deny the VB usually end up denying the Incarnation as well - maybe not straight away, but in time the logic of heterodoxy kicks in. And it *is heterodox. No Christian (other than the sectarian Ebionites) ever denied the VB before modern times; ditto for the resurrection, when ‘resurrection’ was transformed into a symbolic myth by modernists, instead of its historical meaning as the revivification of Jesus’ flesh to eternal life. If you choose to accuse the Gospel writers of teaching a fraudulent or confusing doctrine, the problem is yours, not theirs. But you cannot be a catholic Christian and reject the VB.

June 9, 6:00 pm | [comment link]
51. Deja Vu wrote:

#49 I’m sorry if it seems like I am pushing a weird unorthodox position.
I have been wondering about this because:
1) the news stories these days about honor killings in Muslim countries bring to mind the OT exhortations about stoning non-virgin brides,
2) the televsion show I describe in #8,
3) the common understanding now that the original word meant unmarried young woman, which was synonymous with virgin, given the cultural circumstances,
4) the Magnificat and Mary’s experience of lowliness in Luke,
5) women I have met who were pretty orthodox, but seemed to harbor this belief privately,and
6) I am wondering if many reject this idea because they have a revulsion toward a raped woman.
So, I am fine with it being wrong because it doesn’t fit the texts, but I’m concerned if it is wrong because we really don’t believe God could work through something so lowly and messy.
God who heals the lepers and forgives the prodigal son surely could be born in a such a lowly way and still be God. Right?
I think this way of understanding could be meaningful for all sorts of people who need to know God is with us even in the worst moments. And His name is Emmanuel.

June 9, 7:16 pm | [comment link]
52. Dr. Priscilla Turner wrote:

Little Brother, #41,

I am not thrown off by anything. Luke we have believed had it from Mary, and anyone who doesn’t believe Mary is a fool. Matthew we have believed had it from Joseph. Apart from the ethics of a falsehood, on the part of a lady chosen to bear the Lord, to cover up the fact that she had actually got out and slept with some tom-cat, what a tall story, to put it mildly! Almost as tall as the Resurrection!! As they said, in the Panthera tradition. I AM saying, as has also always been the catholic position, that the Virgin Conception is a corollary, not a proof. That Justin Martyr and Jerome had it wrong has something to do with ignorance of Hebrew, and in Jerome’s case a difficulty about sex-experience as virtuous.

The imago Dei has not classically been understood to have anything to do with physical sex. God is not male and female, or divided into a male god plus consort sitting on some celestial love-seat. He MADE sex-difference, quite a different point. The imago Dei has been classically understood to mean that EACH sex bears the divine image IN ITS ENTIRETY. See Augustine De Trinitate on the subject.

June 9, 7:36 pm | [comment link]
53. DavidBennett wrote:

#46
People handle these things in their own ways. Ask among your own congregation: I’d be astonished if you didn’t find some who had great difficulties with the Virgin Birth.

I would say this is definitely the case. However, #46’s point was that if you do indeed have issues with the virgin birth then it is clearly disingenuous to publicly affirm that you believe in it. I would suggest the honest thing would be to simply not publicly affirm it. Personally, I would not publicly affirm something I did not believe; I would instead join a church that didn’t expect me to believe in the Virgin Birth.

June 9, 10:24 pm | [comment link]
54. Words Matter wrote:

#45 -
You don’t answer the point. No new evidence on this question has accrued since the first century.

My point was that the notion of the virgin birth wasn’t under attack in the 1st century as it is today.  Thus everyone and their dogs were’nt bound to write about it. Most of your comments are arguments from silence, which is not an argument at all. That Paul didn’t write about the VB says nothing. Homosexualists like to argue that Jesus, being silent about same-sex issues, would accept same-sex couples.

Yes. The Incarnation is (obviously) a very difficult doctrine. But if Jesus is fully human (as orthodoxy states), then there is a case for arguing that he should be conceived in the normal way and that if he isn’t it infringes his full human-ness. This is my view. I haven’t the least objection to others holding the other view.

Thank you for your tolerance.  grin  And thank you for advancing an actual argument, rather than an assertion. This claim is, of course, been around for awhile and suffers the problem it seeks to solve. If you are going to make Christ’s full humanity dependent on a normal conception, then you have to address the other side of the question. He was also fully God. How does that happen? I think you are left with adoptionism, or perhaps some gnostic-like “spiritual” event.

JS originally wrote:

Those first-century Christians who did not attest it (and in most cases presumably did not even know of it) still affirmed the Incarnation.

I replied:
And these were who? Your source for this claim, please.

To which JS responded:
Start with Paul and every NT writer except those who attested the Virgin Birth, i.e. Matthew and Luke (though this is disputed).

I left this whole interchange in as it demonstrates the problem with the argument from silence. It’s absurd to suppose Paul didn’t know about the VB, given his association with the Twelve, not to mention Luke. 

To summarize:  I would agree that the event of the VB didn’t become a “doctrine” immediately. It is, however, attested in the Creeds, which developed very early for the specific purpose of protecting the Faith of the Church from corruption. You have presented no evidence that any apostolic source rejected the doctrine. In fact, the problems with the VB are modern problems: things like that just don’t happen. Miracles don’t happen. The Laws of Nature are absolute and supreme. As some in the thread above have noted, from St. Joseph on, the VB has been a shock and a bit of a scandal. Perhaps I am jaded by a religion degree from a Methodist (read: modernist) university, but my observation is that the Virgin Birth and the Incarnation are inextricably linked to Christology.

June 10, 8:55 am | [comment link]
55. john scholasticus wrote:

#54
I have tried several times to respond to you and have kept getting ‘wiped’. Sorry. I tried.

June 10, 12:22 pm | [comment link]
56. libraryjim wrote:

If there were no virgin birth, Jesus is just a Man like any one of us, and therefore not preserved from the sin nature, and his death on the cross was meaningless.  He would be, as Eastern religions hold, merely a man who came closest to accomplishing Christ-consciousness. or as JW’s speak of it, an exalted human, but a human none-the-less.

In order for the incarnation to be fully conceived (pardon the pun), there had to be something unique about the conception and birth of Jesus.  Matthew and Luke ( a physician) spells it out clearly,  and John poetically refers to it as “The was with God and the Word was God and became flesh, and we beheld His glory, the Glory of the only begotten of the Father”.  3/4 of the eyewitnesses who recorded the events make mention of something unique about the nature of Jesus. Even Mark calls Jesus the “Messiah, the son of God” in verse 1.

Yes, it is a benchmark test of being a Christian, since if Jesus was just a man, he was not God incarnate, and the religion based on his words has no more power than that based on Buddha, Confuscius, Mohammad, etc.

June 11, 5:30 pm | [comment link]
57. libraryjim wrote:

The was with God and the Word was God
I left out a ‘Word’.  “The Word was with God”

Sorry about that.

June 11, 5:33 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): Movie recommendation: Waitress

Previous entry (below): Kelvin Holdsworth Blogging from the Scottish Episcopal Church General Synod

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)