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Lost Certainties is a sequel to A Faith Unfaithful, Brian Wilson’s previous collection of broadcasts, sermons and addresses. In this new publication, through the medium of essays and letters to friends, he seeks to give an account of the evolution of his own faith and explores the dilemma, which he shares with many modern Christians, of how to reconcile a rational and educated modern mind with the largely mythological faith still propagated by the traditional Church. He makes no claim to having the answers. But he firmly believes that if those who are sympathetic to the Christian faith can bring themselves to recognise those elements of faith which modern scientific knowledge and biblical scholarship have rendered untenable to the modern mind, it will help them to rediscover the true value of teaching of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, who was transformed by centuries of theological argument into the Christ of Faith. Religion, he argues, is not just an intellectual construct; but without a solid rational basis, it is as a house built upon sand.
With two archbishops, a bishop, and a monsignor in his immediate ancestry, he has found it as difficult to abandon the faith of his fathers as it is to accept the traditional teaching of the Church in the face of what we now know of Biblical scholarship, the early years of Christianity within the Roman Empire, and what modern science has tell us about creation, and the evolution of our species. We are not fallen angels, he argues, but risen apes. He has found many friends and colleagues, both in his own teaching profession and further afield, who have had similar problems of belief. This book contains a selection of his essays and letters written for them.
Brian Wilson is classical scholar of Christ’s College, Cambridge, for whom theology has been a lifelong interest. He taught in several leading independent schools, (Radley College, King’s Canterbury, and Eastbourne College), before becoming Headmaster of Campbell College, Belfast during a challenging period of educational and civil disturbance. He has been a guest speaker for Swan Hellenic on Mediterranean cruises, an A Level examiner in Latin and Ancient History, the co-author of several ancient history source books, a religious broadcaster, and served for a time on the joint Central Religious Advisory Committee of the BBC/ITV. The evolution of his increasingly radical view of the faith of his church will disturb traditionalists, but may encourage those of a more progressive disposition, who like him still wrestle with their faith.
REVIEW by Roger Harington
Do you think the Bible is literally the Word of God? Do you think Jesus is literally the Son of God? Do you think that this is what Christians should believe? And must they also believe in the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection? Brian Wilson says no. He says these beliefs are a product of their time. They’re the kind of thing people said 2000 years ago when various other heroes could be called sons of God and Roman emperors could be called divine. Of course at that time people used that kind of language to illustrate the importance of Jesus. But it’s no longer the language that we should use. It no longer makes sense. And the Doctrine of the Trinity? Well what do you expect if the Church allies itself with power and allows an Emperor to call the tune? Consensus became more important than truth.
And Mr. Wilson argues that this has continued to be the case. That the Church has failed, again and again, to allow new understanding of the world and human experience to have any effect on its teaching. Or at least on what it allows the laity to be taught. One of his main complaints is that the clergy are often aware that the Bible is not the Word of God, that Jesus is not divine etc etc but dare not rock the ecclesiastical boat by sharing their knowledge with the laity. Result? A church that has refused to grow up.
This book is a very enjoyable collection of lectures, articles and letters covering similar themes. It is very clearly written...with various entertaining asides...and this reader finds the case the author puts completely persuasive. Mr. Wilson frequently admits to not being a Theologian. But as a teacher of Latin, Greek and Ancient History he has considerable knowledge of the period when Christianity began.
But if it’s true that the Church has not grown up what can be done about it? Jesus remains for Mr. Wilson as someone to follow and be inspired by. But he thinks the Church should be disestablished. Teaching must improve. Completely new ways of expressing the faith need to be found. The Eucharist should be there for those who value it but it shouldn’t be the central act of worship as it demands membership/Confirmation before you can fully participate. We shouldn’t be so hung up on doctrine. Right living is more important than right believing.
These and other ideas may well be attractive to many. But they clearly will offend many others. They are not ideas that a Church of England is going to acclaim as central to its existence any time soon. So the question for Mr. Wilson and those who agree with him is this: why stay in the C of E? If you try and get the C of E to follow what you say will you for ever be battering your head against an extremely solid dogmatic wall? Do you want to do that? Or would you be better off starting something new?