The internet forgets little, not even a Easter talk. An old message by Australian Anglican leader John Shepherd, who has just been appointed as Interim Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome – a sort of “embassy” for Anglicans to the Vatican – brings back uncomfortable memories.
Shepherd was formerly the Dean (senior minister) of Perth’s St George’s Cathedral. Back in Easter 2008, he released a video on the resurrection – Jesus’ rising from the dead. In this message, Shepherd appears to deny the physical resurrection of Christ.
“The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality,” Shepherd says on a video released by the Perth cathedral. “It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body.”
He insists that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ appearances after his death may not be historically true. “Jesus’ early followers felt his presence after his death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts.
“But they’re not historical records as we understand them. They are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.”
Anglican Blogger David Ould has tracked down the original video – so readers can assess Shepherd’s message for themselves.
The physical resurrection of Christ is a key Christian belief and gospel accounts emphasise the physical presence of the risen Christ (although, as Shepherd says, Jesus is in a transformed body).
One key account is John 20: 24-29 (NIV): “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In an earlier incident when Shepherd made similar comments to The West Australian, he met a strong response from the (then) Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Glenn Davies. “When asked to comment by a journalist from The West Australian, Bishop Glenn Davies said the comments represented ‘an extreme form of liberal Christianity that has been endemic in the churches for the last 200 years’,” sydneyanglicans.net reported.
“Christians who appeal to the Bible as their authority will recognise that liberal Christianity is a negative force and one which is too prone to be influenced by the culture of this age,” Bishop Davies told the newspaper.
“We [evangelicals] have a much better story to tell than Dr Shepherd does, not least because it is true.”