Not long after I arrive in Durham in 1990 to begin theological study there I met +David as he had come to St Nick's church to commission a new full-time lay worker. He preached one of the best sermons I have ever heard, on the text Ephesians 4:18-19 (the measureless love of God). Obviously he was a man of high ability even as he was also controversial. His doubting approach to dogma was, in those days, par for the Anglican course: most people believed the creeds but a few bishops and theological teachers here and there were permitted to express almost diametrically opposite views in public without being defrocked. The hoi polloi of Anglicanism had to take it. It was good for us, apparently. We needed to know that our simple, dogmatic faith was actually very, very complex, difficult and out of sorts with modernity.
But was that approach more damaging than helpful? In the end, can we say that +David Jenkins was good for Anglican theology? Commenting from a Catholic perspective, Alexander Lucie-Smith implies a negative answer to those questions:
"Long before the ordination of women, David Jenkins was one of the reasons why many people decided to abandon the Church of England. As one good man, who had spent decades as a Naval Chaplain, and who was later ordained a priest in the Catholic Church, put it to me: “The Bishop of Durham professes the historic Christian creeds, but he also believes he can interpret them as he pleases. This means that the profession of the Creed is now meaningless, because it can mean whatever we want it to mean.” This idea – the malleability of religious truth – is what drove Newman out of the Church of England too.
Everyone agrees that the late bishop was a very pleasant man, and a kind and caring pastor. It is also frequently said that as an academic, he was more used to discussions in Senior Common Rooms, where grandiloquent phrases have their natural habitat. This is something that theologians need to be wary of: we need to talk about God remembering that there is little we can know about Him unless He tells us. We need to contemplate Divine Revelation, not dismiss it."
I largely agree with Lucie-Smith. I suggest historians of Anglicanism will judge the period from the Enlightenment onwards until comparatively recently as a poorly chosen pathway for Anglican theology and theological leadership. We allowed ourselves to emphasis doubt more than conviction, reason more than revelation, common room acceptance more than creedal proclamation.
My own sense - thinking about "a few bishops I have known" here in ACANZP, as well as what I read of bishops in the C of E - is that a +David Jenkins today is very unlikely to be made a bishop. Perhaps his theological controversies represent the end of a trend rather than its beginning.
Incidentally, I have this enduring memory of the (then) internal contradiction of the C of E. So +David Jenkins was this "enfant terrible" of theology, a man of radical questions and willingness to turn creedal conviction on its head. But one day I went to the ordination of a friend in Durham Cathedral. I happened to have a seat with a side on view of +David seated on his episcopal