The Great Bible Theft by the Rev’d Dr. Peter Sanlon. Credimus Press, 2019.
It is no big surprise that Anglicanism is in crisis. The Communion is in a state of slow motion schism. Anglican churches across the world are hemorrhaging communicants at an unsustainable rate. The Mother Church of England is a shadow of its old self.
In the midst of this crisis, Dr. Peter Sanlon calls us back to what matters. In a series of sermons preached at Tunbridge Wells, he recovers some fundamental truths about the crisis we find ourselves in today and how to get ourselves out.
In the first sermon, titled “Loving Clarity to A Confused World,” Dr. Sanlon explains what the issue is. The Church, and the world remain bewildered on the issue of sexuality. Anyone who has paid attention to the Anglican Communion does not require an in-depth history lesson. The issue will not go away. We may be uncomfortable. We may think we can simply speak of other things and avoid it altogether. This is all nonsense. The issue will continue to force itself due to human nature itself. Dr. Sanlon calls for for the Church to be clear-eyed about the conflict ahead. It is unavoidable.
The reason why we need to be clear about the issue of sexuality is not because some sins are worse than others or due to our own inclinations, preconceived notions or even potential prejudices. We must be clear because the Word of God is clear. Dr. Sanlon notes:
The Bible is clear on what God says about this topic of homosexuality as it is on any other topic of the Christian religion. It really is.
To illustrate this, the first sermon provides an accessible exegesis of Romans 1. While someone looking for a more thorough apologetic may find it to be a bit short, it still gets the job done. The first chapter of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans could not be clearer. To further demonstrate his point, Dr. Sanlon goes to observe that even progressive theologians like Dan Via or William Loader agree with him on this point. The debate is no longer what the Word of God says but whether or not we will heed to it.
As the sermon titled, “Contend for the Faith,” points out, what is at stake is not trivial. It is not an issue of what hymns we sing, where the vestry will meet, should we update this or that pew. It pales even in comparison to the great doctrinal battles between orthodox Anglicans both high and low. It is for nothing less than the Faith itself. To deny the obvious meaning of God’s Word is not simply to make a political point but cuts to the very heart of the Faith. Dr. Sanlon points out:
The Faith is not something that can be changed. Lots of people say that the Faith evolves…Not so. In the Bible the Faith was ‘once for all entrusted,’ which is a very strong phrase. The Faith was given. It is the shape it is and it can never be changed.
This can seem daunting. The world sometimes seems set against us. The Church hierarchy can seem lackadaisical or even contrary. Yet Dr. Sanlon encourages us to have heart in his last sermon in the book, “Only the Weak Can Win.” In moments like these is when God moves in great ways through our own weakness.
Dr. Sanlon goes on through the sermons to offer a number of diagnoses of our modern predicament, ranging from cultural cringe to a fundamental misunderstanding of what love truly means. He thankfully also offers a number of solutions. Some could be more developed than others, such as how to talk to Christians who themselves have same-sex attractions, however, he does refer to literature from faithful Christians on this subject. Thankfully, Dr. Sanlon’s best solution is his simplest and comes back to his core theme: We must go back to Scripture. We cannot simply do with our own notions and our own impressions. The church leadership cannot hope the issue blows on by, leaving their flocks unaffected. We must equip the Church for this fight with nothing less than the Word of God. To be loving and to be charitable is to be rooted in Truth, otherwise, we have nothing left. The Bishop of Liverpool, J. C. Ryle put it best:
Beware of manufacturing a God of your own: a God who is all mercy, but not just; a God who is all love, but not holy; a God who as a heaven for every body, but a hell for none; a God who can allow good and bad to be side by side in time, but will make no distinction between good and broad in eternity. Such a God is an idol of your own, as truly an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple. The hands of your own fancy and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and beside the God of the Bible there is no God at all.