The Inclusive God

Shakespeare, Steven & Rayment-Pickard, Hugh
SCM, Canterbury Press (2006)
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The objective of Inclusive God is to show that Christianity is a special but not exclusive route to God and that, within it, there are no grounds for excluding people because of who or what they are. The agenda is ostensibly wide ranging but the 'presenting issue' of sexuality and Christianity dominates. It opens with a parable by Rev. Giles Fraser about the impact of Jesus on a poor and divided community, far more effective than any of the subsequent theology. The book begins with its purpose of linking its title with the Inclusive Church campaign: "The church should be inclusive because God is inclusive" The main charge against 'liberals' is that they are simply reflecting post enlightenment cultural values; and they have been trapped by their liberalism into tolerating opponents. The inclusive theologian, looking back to John Robinson, regards theology as adventurous and risky whereas neo-conservatives are cautious and defensive; the liberal regards theological mystery as "incommensurable" - i.e. it cannot be expressed simply - and this requires "hermeneutic humility". Reducing scriptural truth to a set of doctrines is an act of vandalism because history shows that Scripture is capable of multiple interpretations. David Tracy's describes The Bible as a "Christian classic" which means that its contents transcend history and invite multiple readings which means that it forms the basis for conversation.

Inclusivity is most evident in our feeling of commonality with all humanity in God's manifestly "good" creation, a position contested by Gnostic dualism which tends to divide people between good and bad; but as we are all 'fallen' we are in no position to divide or judge. The basis for such arrogance is the belief that Scripture is the route to doctrine rather than encounter.

"Incarnate truth (is) the nub of Christian inclusivity", lived and taught by Jesus. The diverse Gospels do not define Jesus, they are a starting point but this open-endedness is a threat to institutional religion which has turned Creeds into weapons; but no church owns Jesus whose non judgmental witness culminated in the Crucifixion for which 'Penal Substitution' can only be a metaphor not an explanation. Rather, we might consider Rene Girard's theory that the Crucifixion put an end to the need for us to appease God with sacrifices in order to be accepted. The Cross breaks with religions of control and purity. Subsequently, the Resurrection restores a non-violent, inclusive community in line with God's initial creation. Church is provisional but it is becoming defensive and therefore more centralised (vide The Anglican Covenant).

The Church is not the goal of God's creative process. Baptism should be provisional. Eucharist has become an excluding club for the pure; but are we not all sinners. Ministry should be re-assessed and open to all. Theology is a listening process and a journey as is our relationship with God.

The arguments are emotionally compelling but, as with many polemics, the arguments against opponents are more coherent than those of the proponents; nonetheless, any Christian who is worried by fundamentalism should read this ostensibly simple book.