Here's to You, Bishop Robinson

This week, a friend and I called at the grave of an Anglican bishop. I cannot say it was pilgrimage, for the prelate in question is one with whom we at Martin Top would have little in common. John Robinson, who was interred at Arncliffe Parish Church in 1983, was very much the liberal. A scholar and theologian, he should never have been made Bishop of Woolwich, a position which rendered his rejection of orthodox Christianity all the harder to ignore.

For a liberal, he rather refreshingly dated the New Testament books within only a few decades of Christ’s life, though his other writings decried basic Christian teachings. He was a universalist, believing salvation was given to all regardless of acceptance of the gospel. He disliked the notion of God being ‘out there’ or ‘up there’, preferring to talk of Him as being an expression of love. I guess this kind of mush felt quite radical and bold in the heady days of the 1960s when all was being questioned and challenged. Now, it all seems a little old fashioned and twee; the empty pews and lukewarm clergy it bred, a rather hollow endorsement of all he taught.

Contrary to expectation, I did not dance upon the grave, nor spend there a penny; Bishop Robinson currently has enough on his plate without any school-boy giddiness on my part. Yet I did reflect that the hand with which he wrote his deceits was there in the ground, rotten, unable to scratch any more words onto paper. Although his body lies a mouldering, his theological repudiation of biblical truth continues to haunt his denomination, resulting, surely, in its current emasculation and demise. The horrid cancer which slew the poor bishop died with him; the intellectual cancer which he promulgated in his writings only went from strength to strength. Indeed, the American bishop, John Spong, who reckoned himself a disciple of Robinson’s, whose writings he claimed changed his own theology, went onto urge Christians to move away from theism itself. Though Robinson’s tongue and hand lay quietly in that pretty Yorkshire valley, his poisonous words continue to echo from pulpits and podia- if any can still be found to listen.