Should Christian Unions fight for their rights?

by Bene Diction on December 5, 2006

From The Evangelical Outpost:

Christian students in Britain are facing discrimination for, well, for being Christians:
Thousands of Christians on campuses across Britain claim that their right to freedom of expression is being challenged by student associations attempting to force Christian Unions to allow anybody, regardless of faith, ethnicity or sexuality, to sit on their ruling committees and to address their meetings. The Christian Unions say that they should be allowed to restrict committee membership to those who share their core beliefs.
Perhaps these students should simply turn the tables and fight for their right to rule GLTB groups, atheist associations, and other groups that disagree with orthodox Christian beliefs. It’d be interesting to see if these groups would be as welcoming of diverse opinions as they expect the Christian Unions to be. (HT: Nico Hines)

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Kim 12.05.06 at 8:36 am

The Evangelical Outpost should have a motto: “Open mouth, insert foot”. Its report is a gross over-simplification - and therefore distortion - of the facts. I don’t have the time to go into the details of the matter - or rather matters (for that is precisely one of the points: there are several issues, because several cases, involved), but for a judicious report bloggers should go to (Ekklesia is an independent Christian think-tank which is resourced by both evangelical and catholic traditions.)

The report begins by saying that “There has been significant misreporting in the media of the actual details of the cases [of conflict between Student Unions (SUs) and Christian Unions (CUs)], and the issues involved,” and continues: “Ecclesia’s investigation and research suggest that there is no overriding intent by SUs to ban or suppress Christianity or the preaching of the Christian faith. Many want to encourage CUs to be active and prominent members of student life and engage fully with university institutions. They also seek the protection of Christians, as they do of other religions on campus. Indeed many SUs have Christians on their executives. The real issues are about the extent to which the resources and facilities of SUs should be used to support initiatives by CUs which some students find offensive, but also whether CUs have a right not to hold free and democratic elections to their executives, although they have joined SUs and agreed to abide by their principles” (my italics).

Read on. But, speaking personally, as a university chaplain, my experience with our own CU in Swansea (which at least has had the sense, and the integrity, not to affiliate with the SU) has not been positive and creative - basically because its students are warned off the likes of Richard and myself for being “unsound”. Interestingly, there have been at least three occasions when former CU undergraduates, who stayed on to do graduate work, have approached me with admissions of lost opportunities: that they had been fools not to engage in dialogue and fellowship with Christians whose theologies differed from their own, that they might have actually learned something from the array of traditions represented by the chaplaincy team, that their critical intelligence might have been sharpened rather than stifled - tainted - by them. Youth - it is indeed often wasted on the young (he says speaking from experience - and as an old fart!).


Richard 12.05.06 at 9:12 am

ditto what Kim said.


Wood 12.05.06 at 9:13 am

Kim writes: “Interestingly, there have been at least three occasions when former CU undergraduates, who stayed on to do graduate work, have approached me with admissions of lost opportunities: that they had been fools not to engage in dialogue and fellowship with Christians whose theologies differed from their own, that they might have actually learned something from the array of traditions represented by the chaplaincy team, that their critical intelligence might have been sharpened rather than stifled - tainted - by them.

I was one of those.


Kim 12.05.06 at 9:41 am

Wood, if I may say, is not only one of the brightest, wittiest, ablest young Christian journalists I have had the pleasure to read, he is also a guy who is not only critically and creatively loyal to his own evangelical background, he also has the courage of his convictions to speak his mind in contexts where the prudent might hide their light under a bushel.

By the way, Wood is also the only person who, in almost tweny-five years of preaching, has ever walked out on a sermon of mine. And he had his reasons - and only did what I’m sure a lot of people are thinking anyway!


BD 12.05.06 at 9:55 am

Woods writing skills are so far superior to Joe Carters its not remotely fair to attempt to compare, and as for Wood’s thinking skills, Joe knows better than to engage.

Thing is, Joe Carter is completely sincere in that post; after all he is good at making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability and his US readers will trot along - if they even care.

I rather figured you’d be able to clear things up for him:^)


Kim 12.05.06 at 10:46 am


Sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I wasn’t even thinking about Joe Carter when I lauded Wood. Wood’s merits stand on their own. Conversely - it follows - I wasn’t disparaging Joe. In short, I wasn’t making comparisons.


Wood 12.05.06 at 12:23 pm

Kim writes: “By the way, Wood is also the only person who, in almost tweny-five years of preaching, has ever walked out on a sermon of mine. And he had his reasons - and only did what I’m sure a lot of people are thinking anyway!”

Really? Gosh.

Er. Not that I mean that I expect people to walk out on you. Obviously.


DH 12.05.06 at 3:21 pm

Ditto this: “It’d be interesting to see if these groups would be as welcoming of diverse opinions as they expect the Christian Unions to be. (HT: Nico Hines)”


Wood 12.05.06 at 4:40 pm

That’s actually nonsense.

The “diverse opinions” Carter apparently expects these other groups to tolerate include the opinion that they don’t have a right to exist - which doesn’t extend the other way, notwithstanding what the paranoid might think.

Besides, UCCF is the second largest student society in Britain, second only to the National Union of Students, which doesn’t count because nearly every student in the UK is a member by default. No one’s persecuting them. The issue is simply that Student Unions are disaffiliating UCCF CUs. CUs aren’t alone in this. Any political or religious society that makes such demands on its members aren’t really eligible for membership either.

The fact is that UCCF’s DB (the very existence of which is unBiblical, by the way) is at variance with the NUS’s principles for inclusion, meaning that those CUs under UCCF’s aegis that have signed up to receive the benefits of Student Union membership are acting hypocritically.

A UCCF CU with any integrity should have disaffiliated itself from the Students’ Union, or abandoned UCCF’s DB. It’s a matter of principle.


DH 12.05.06 at 7:21 pm

No Wood, we are just pointing out the hypocrisy of the Student Union in the welcoming of “diverse opinions” whether perceived by some to be intolerant or not. How about the principle of allowing the CU’s to exist within the Student Union when the whole concept of the Student Union is to be open to any group no matter how exclusive the group may appear to some? It seems weird and strange to single out just because of religion just because the groups views are interpreted to be intolerant.

You say “Any political or religious society that makes such demands on its members aren’t really eligible for membership either.” I say they SHOULD be eligible for membership. That is the whole point and shows what Joe and I are trying to point out and they ARE persecuted by the very nature of disaffiliating and being eligible for membership in the first place. That is the point Joe and I are making on this. What is your take Joe? I would be interested in your additional thoughts.


Wood 12.06.06 at 9:17 am

“No Wood, we are just pointing out the hypocrisy of the Student Union in the welcoming of “diverse opinions” whether perceived by some to be intolerant or not.”

Dude, like a US fighter pilot shooting at the Brits, you really know how to miss a point.


BD 12.06.06 at 11:06 am


I think you may be missing the point. While human nature is the same, systems aren’t.

I’m not putting Joe down, I’m pointing out his ’solution’ is very American.
Other countries have other systems and customs and culture - it may not be something you are familar with or comfortable with, but I can assure you the SU’s and CU’s are quite capable of working things out.


Larry B 12.06.06 at 2:59 pm

Interesting how this can parallel other debates. From what I’m seeing here, the general sentiment is that it’s ok for a system (The SU in this case) to set up it’s boundaries whereby benefits are conferred upon groups that agree to abide by those boundaries. However when a group approaches that might violate those boundaries or force change to those boundaries, then it’s right for the SU to hold to those boundaries.

Personally, I agree that there is misrepresentation of the problem here. In most cases here in the US, the Christian groups who don’t agree with the SU policies don’t want to be part of the SU as they consider it being held to standards they don’t agree with and accepting money for such would be a violation of their core prinicples. There have been some nebulous decisions made by administrations recently here in the states that pushed formerly approved groups off of the SU list, which weren’t very well explained and thus caused the media interest and subsequent major focus on the issue, but the overall state of affairs isn’t quite how it’s portrayed in the media.


DH 12.06.06 at 3:43 pm

Larry, my experience from Christian groups is that they DO want to be part of the Student Union system and that it is the responsibility of thre Student Union to allow for diversity no matter how undiverse the group may appear to be. I personally believe this is beyond culture, systems and customs. Wherever you are in the world people should have freedom of religion and freedom of speech and colleges should be willing to show that diversity even if the groups appear to not be diverse. I have a problem with the SU boundaries when it comes to Christian groups and the like.

I put welcoming, being part of the Student Union and the monetary support thereof, etc. all on the same category. So as you can see I don’t “mis the point” I understand it. Therefore my observation based on this further definition is consistent and hopefully puts to rest the perceived ambiguity from myself by others on this thread.

I see no problem with being part of the Student Union, which includes receiving financial support, when it should be the Student Union’s job to get rid of these wacky boundaries with groups on campus. Being part of the Student Union group is awayof legitimizing the group and just because they appear to be intolerent should keep them from being legitimized. I’m not saying there should be standards I just feel the standards in this particular case are way overboard and over the top.


Joe Carter 12.07.06 at 3:20 am

***What is your take Joe? I would be interested in your additional thoughts.***

After reading the comments, I have to say that I was wrong. For some reason I made the assumption that state-funded schools should respect the religious beliefs of their students. I realize, though, that freedom of religion is just a silly American idea and that I shouldn’t assume that other hold such a high view of that ideal.

And, no, I’m not being sarcastic. As BD pointed out, my “’solution’ is very American.
Other countries have other systems and customs and culture.” That is very true.

The UK has become a completely secular country. That’s not a surprise. I’ll admit, though, that I’m rather disappointed in the way that some Christians in the UK become apologetic about other believers who actually want to have their beliefs treated with the respect of, say, a GLBT group. But the decline of British Christianity started long before I was born so it would be a bit late for me to start complaining. Perhaps it won’t be long before the UK becomes like Canada where the French-speaking people consider words like “tabernacle” and “chalice” worse than sexual or scatological profanities.

But back to the problem at hand. I agree that I don’t know all the relevant facts of the case. A reader from England sent me the story to bring it to the attention of an American audience. Perhaps I’m completely wrong about the whole thing, though the impression I get is that BD, Richard, and Kim appear to think that Christians should either be willing to give up their beliefs or disassociate themselves from the SUs. I would agree that this is reasonable provided that none of their student fees or state-funded taxes go to the SUs. If they do, then the Christian students should have the option to have that portion of their tuition refunded. Isn’t that a fair request?


BD 12.07.06 at 7:26 am

I think it was decent of you to post it. If I hadn’t thought so, it wouldn’t be up here.
People who have devoted their lives to the spiritual care of the university community had an opportunity to bask in your opinion.

Having said that, your trash talk while the community at Swansea U is grieving Mike’s murder will be treated as such.


James Church 12.07.06 at 12:57 pm

For the past two years, I have been Vice-President and then President of Cliff College Student Union. Consequently, I have taken a keen interest in how the debate between Student Unions and the UCCF Christian Unions has unfolded. Our Student Union made a deliberate decision not to affliliate with the National Union of Students and developed our own Student Union Card and offered membership at a lower cost.

Our founding documents include the Nicene Creed and membership assumes acceptance of basic Christian belief (you would expect nothing less from an evangelical bible college). The executive represented all students (members and non-members to the faculty and college, while some social events were discounted for paid up members of the Student Union).

It seems that there is a clash within the National Union of Students as to whether they are primarily a democratic representative organisation or whether they have a secular agenda to promote. I am happy for them to have a secular agenda, but then they should not receive the financial benefits of a representative organisation (students should be given the right to opt out of membership and other students organisations may have the right to challenge the NUS monopoly).

As for the constitutional issues involved the National Union Students should re-examine their constitution or face a legal challenge- if the NUS constitution (creed) is such that automatic membership means Christians are paying money to an organisation which is biased against their belief or the beliefs of others whom they stand in solidarity with (e.g. muslim, hindu, sikh groups) then they should have the right to forgo membership.

Alternative provision may need to be provided but this would be a political disaster for the NUS and could open the way for further legal challenges across other universities.


James Church 12.07.06 at 1:12 pm

Kim, I will also refer people to ekklesia:

also see:

the second article begins:

‘Anglican bishops became embroiled in legal disputes last night when they told student unions they were acting unlawfully by suspending Evangelical Christian Unions who discriminate.’

despite raising the issue of the rights of non-evangelicals to hold office within the Christian Unions it still highlights the issue over which legal action is being taken which remains:

‘The 1986 Education Act imposes obligations on universities to safeguard the lawful exercise of freedom of speech and a universities’ working party’s guidelines for student unions, published in 1998, state that unions shall not harass, intimidate or threaten any member or group.’

Unfortunately, certain Student’s Unions are in breach of their guidelines!


BD 12.07.06 at 1:26 pm


Thanks. Here is what Kim recommended - United We Stand - (17 pages .pdf). It references the situations in more detail and asks judicious questions. I think in background they make the salient point there is media misrepresentation.

Some blogs like maggie dawn, Dave Walker and 42 have also got some excellent posts up.


James Church 12.07.06 at 2:36 pm

I consider Simon Barrow of Ekklesia a friend and am therefore disappointed to point out inaccuracies in ekklesia’s report - 1. the Christian Union did not join the Student Union constitution (as it stands) many have been members for years (76 in Birmingham’s case), 2. the report makes the fundamental mistake of portraying the NUS as the community of communities rather society with societies (making them the arbitars of free speech and the social identity of groups rather than the law - ironic that this leads to less freedom within the university setting than there is within the country as a whole - see p.9 of the ekklesia report for a clear misunderstanding of the basis of the Student Union), 3. Christian Unions are being forced to forgo their rights elect their own representatives as in the case of Birmingham where the Christian Union is having a non-elected member of its representative body (moreover without a basis of membership nothing is to stop the whole Student Union voting the Christian Unions representatives indeed in some cases troublesome people may attend meetings just to do this) 4. ekklesia suggests that court battles are not going to resolve the underlying issue of religious identity and how groups relate in a culturally and religiously plural (or even unplural or intolerant) society but in the next line suggests that legal action could form an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality clearly forming religious identity which might not be so world affirming or world naive as ekklesias own theological stand point. 5. as for ekklesias assurance that disaffiliation does not amount to a ban the suspension of a Christian Unions bank account is really unfunny, as is the refusal to allow the Christian Union the right to use the university buildings (resulting in Birmingham Christian Union putting up a marquee on the university grounds).

Ekklesia does not deal with the issue of automatic membership to Student Unions (including payment of moneys to a group which is strongly critical of the evangelical Christians own right to identity and ‘otherness’). Hence, it engages in this whole debate on the wrong terms.


Richard 12.07.06 at 3:15 pm

I think you’re getting hold of the wrong end of the stick here James. Local Student Unions are democratic bodies, and as you have shown the local SU does not have to affiliate to the NUS. There really is no freedom of speech issue here at all, however you cut it. CUs exist in every campus that I’ve ever come across, operate very freely and many choose not to affiliate to their SU because they don’t want to live by SU rules. That seems to me to be a perfectly proper, principled decision. Getting involved in court action certainly isn’t going to benefit anyone - except maybe a buch of lawyers.

Joe - forgive me. I’d forgotten that you would have a much greater insight into the Christian life on British university campuses than I do. After all, I only live and work here.


dave williams 12.07.06 at 4:00 pm

Richard. I’m afraid James has very much got hold of the right stick. Interestingly for those who say these things shouldn’t be settled by court battles, note that the Exeter situation allegedly arose from a complaint from an Orthodox Christian who couldn’t sign the UCCF statement of Faith. So he took a Christian Theological Issue and asked the Student Union to get involved in a doctrinal dispute. On principal we really want to put a stop to they type of thing happening!

As far as Political Societies and affiliations. It’s ten years since I ran one -but back then you could affiliate quite easily. It would be sad if that has changed Restrictions are accepted for sports and arts societies on the basis of talent. Some University SUs distinguish between different types of society and affiliation. Note that the issue isn’t just about money from the SU (personally I would prefer CUs not to take it) but freezing bank accounts, limiting use of venues etc is an issue.


James Church 12.07.06 at 4:29 pm

Thank you Dave- I agree with you personally I would prefer CUs not to accept money from the SUs but then I would prefer a SU system that did not receive money directly from Universities but from students opting into membership- some wil say that all students benefit from being represented by the Student Union to the Faculty etc. but other arrangements could be made for representative counsel without that being tied into the management of university facilities or judgements regarding the extent to which free speech is granted to SU affiliated or even non-affiliated organisations on the campuses!


dave williams 12.07.06 at 4:52 pm

Ah -I remember well the “Last Closed Shop” campaigns of the 90s. The problem is that Student Unions are odd beasts, not sure what they are, service providers there to rob students of their little cash, political campaign groups (shouldn’t be if they are charities), pastoral care or …


DH 12.07.06 at 6:26 pm

Yeah Joe, it is amazing how around the world freedom of religion gets put aside like you said. Even though you said you were being sarcastic, how you said what you did sure sounded sarcastic. If it was sarcastic I definitiely appreciate it because if money is set aside for clubs by the university then the funds should go to all clubs beyond a certain attendence level or no money for clubs at all should be given. My view is beyond American but what is fair for all clubs, SU’s and CU’s.

Either everybody or nobody when it comes to funding and support is my motto for these type of situations.


Kim 12.07.06 at 7:05 pm

Just a few comments.

(1) Joe is right about the advanced secularisation of British culture, which is lamentable, but if there is an implicit suggestion here about “God bless America”, which though grammatically a prayer is always intoned as a fact - well, I’m not sure whether to laugh or puke. So much (not all, but more than enough) American evangelicalism only goes to prove the old Latin saying that the worst is the corruption of the best.
Oh, and can’t you just count on Joe’s tabloid blogging: by all means mark me down as one who regards it as a live option that Christians should give up their beliefs.

(2) Why should there be a problem with Christian Unions calling themselves Evangelical Christian Unions? Why not put on the label what’s in the tin? CUs, as they stand - the Nicene Creed alone is not sufficient for them - should be charged under the Trade Descriptions Act. From their insistence on keeping the name as it is, I can only deduce either megalomania or unscrupulousness. Mind, I do love one howler in their doctrinal statement: it refers to “The Bible, as originally given”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? As if there were some archetypal manuscript lying around in some desert cave in Palestine!

(3) Quite apart from whether or not CUs have a point in all this hoo-ha, does anyone else smell the rather unpleasant stench a rather adolescent martyr complex? Status confessionis, anyone?


dave williams 12.07.06 at 9:04 pm


A number of reasons why they shouldn’t call themselves “Evangelical Christian Unions”

1. Most people know what the Christian Unions are about -it’s a well known trade mark -start adding to the name and it sounds like a split off -people will start looking for the “CU”
2. The Nicene Creed was a creed dealing with issues at that time -the UCCF Doctrinal Statement deals with issues at our time. It is right and proper to go back beyond a formula from a few centuries in to the original church documents and I am surprised that people have a problem with the UCCF insistant on scriptural authority but want Nicene credal authority
3. Many people sign up to Christian Unions who fully agree with the doctrinal statements but do not own the Evangelical label -e.g. a lot of Charismatics prefer that label before Evangelical now, e.g. 2 I know plnty of churches where the Bible is treated as God’s word but the church never talks about being Evangelicals.
4. The term Evangelical is one that some people feel is using its content as a definition -so it would be better just to keep running with the knowledge as has always been the case that we know that UCCF and affiliated CUs operate in a particular way -SCM based organisations another.
5. It’s lovely to go around insulting students because we are older and wiser and more cynical and less believing isn’t it. It was the Gnostics who sat around smugly and complained about the martyr complex of the orthodox churches in the 2nd Century -well look what happened to them!


dave williams 12.07.06 at 9:07 pm

And for the record there’s some shocking examples of American Fundamentalism around -but lets stop our smugness and recognise the fantastic contribution of many American Evangelicals to International Christianity. Not least Billy Graham without whom a lot of Bristish Christians wouldn’t be around, theologians and preachers like Piper, Van Til, Machen, Frame, Schaeffer, Carson, Gavin McGrath, Grudem who have contributed significantly not just to Evangelicalism but who the wider theological scene is benefiting from


Richard 12.07.06 at 10:12 pm

DH - you’re right that there are places in the world where there are great restrictions on freedom of religion. But any suggestion that Britain is one of them are just silly.

Kim - I wish that CU’s would change their name too, since they exclude many (most?) confessing Christians. But adding Evangelical wouldn’t make the title any more accurate.

Dave - the Nicene Creed is just a little bit more important than you suggest. And the UCCF db goes much further than you’re implying. It is written in such a way that it specifically excludes people and carries more than a hint that those who can’t or won’t sign it are not pukka Christians. Kim is big enough (and ugly enough!) to speak for himself, but he most certainly does not go round insulting students. Actually, i can think of a number of evangelical church leaders locally who are much more likely to impose their greater age and wisdom on the students in their churches.


Kim 12.07.06 at 10:38 pm

Uh, Dave, where to start - you lead with so many chins. But let’s just take number 5.

Where exactly do I insult students? My accusation of megalomania? But what else is it when one branch of Christianity acts like it’s the only true faith, especially such a recent upstart as conservative evangelicalism? Or is it the charge of “unscrupulousness”? If it is, I will add the charge of disingenuousness. I’m a university chaplain, and I could give you chapter and verse on the way CUs exploit the the “C” to unsuspecting first years: for example, a display board of “Christian Churches in Swansea” - but, mirabile dictu, not a Catholic or Anglican church among them.

And who is insulting whom? Why do you call me cynical? And to call me “less believing” - well, with this self-inflicted wound you rather prove my point about megalomania. Thanks! And if the gnostics did complain about a martyr complex of the early orthodox Christians - well, the orthodox church replied with more blood. You reply with - “We’re being bullied by SUs!” Bit of a difference there, don’t you think? Ah, now I get it - it’s the “adolescent” bit. Well, in my usage the term does not refer to age but mind-set


Kim 12.07.06 at 10:58 pm

I take your point, Richard, about “evangelical”. The problem is the way this term has been comandeered by some folk (rather like the expression “born again”). I’d be happy - and accurate - to describe my self as both evangelical and born-again, as I’m sure you would too. But the terms have become shibboleths and therefore virtually useless for generate light rather than than heat. Then again, the same goes for the terms “orthodox” and “catholic”. What a Babel!


James Church 12.08.06 at 10:29 am

Kim, I’m sure that sarcasm and counter claims count as argument in your book but in mine you have put a little more thought in - fact the early church used creeds to exclude some groups who did not adhere to doctrinal orthodoxy. As for your quip ‘we’re being bullied by the SUs’ its not very funny- Protestant evangelical, charismatic, or liberal, Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist should all be respected. I am just as angry about the restrictions being placed upon CUs as I am about the current debate about the freedom of Muslim women to wear the naqab.

In the spirit of dialogue and humility I ask you to forgive the elements of my writing that seem polemic rather than nuanced. I agree that terms like evangelical, liberal, and ‘born again’ are confusing and often unhelpful for dialogue (as I have never met a archetypal liberal or evangelical for that matter). - it does however leave the problem of the SUs and the CUs.

Perhaps, the way forward for this discussion would be for us to articulate how the CUs should be treated rather than apportioning blame according to who is right (CUs, SUs, etc.) and who is wrong and who is mistaken (or holding the wrong end of the stick).


dave williams 12.08.06 at 11:03 am

Richard and Kim,

As for insulting students…I can only judge by what I see here -enough said!

As for the Nicene Creed it is both as important and no more important than the fact that it is a historic Church document. It neatly sumarises important doctrines it is not exhaustive and it is not scripture

As for the UCCF statement I am interested as to what people cannot sign up to, I know plenty of Christians from diverse backgrounds that have done

Kim “You lead with so many chins” nice comment -but I note that you simply didn’t respond to my points. Grow up have a civilised debate!


dave williams 12.08.06 at 11:27 am

And now to respond to the arguments made

1. Is conservative evangelicalism so new? Well the label is new -but the thought stream isn’t that new is it. You can trace it back from the reformers, through Anselm, through Augustine. Anselm was clear that Scripture was the higher authoriy, Irenaeus was clear in his arguments with the Gnostics -their views were not backed up by the Apostolic texts.

2. Meglomania -only if they are wrong really! This is typical of contemporary debate. In the past the issue would have been to see if they were right. Now to make any claim to rightness or truth must be attacked.

3. No I’m not saying that the blood of the Martyrs is comparable. I’ve just been listening to the Principal of Ugandan Martyrs Seminary, I have strong links with China -so I wouldn’t attempt to compare like for like. But the issue is not about a different category, it’s about a different intensity. It is still about attempts to control and to silence….and its not only CUs that have had these problems with SUs. When it is up to an authority outside of Christianity to take the decision about what we are called and what we believe then that becomes a significant issue that has wider implications, todays SU leaders are sometimes tomorrows legislators and we are already seeing how the subjective language of 1990s SU regulations is finding its way into national legislation.


Kim 12.08.06 at 11:44 am

Hi James.

There are, of course, limits to acceptable diversity within Christianity. The Nicene Creed (which, by the way, didn’t so much exclude heterodoxy as define orthodoxy amidst a welter of competing convictions) is the church’s classical document enshrining these limits. And it has proved acceptable to the vast majority of Christians - except for the Western church’s decision to insert the filioque clause, which has been an ecumenical disaster. A disaster not only because the Western church’s action was peremptory and unilateral, but because the filioque clause unacceptably narrowed the boundaries of theological negotiation.

I consider elements of the CU’s doctrinal statement - in particular, those on the Bible and the atonement - to constitute a similar unilateralism and narrowing, canonising a univocality that, ironically, denies the rich diversity of both scripture and tradition, meanly obviates a “generous orthodoxy” (a phrase, by the way, that goes back beyond McLaren to Hans Frei), and indeed, in practice, unchurches other Christians (who, in Richard’s phrase, aren’t “pukka” enough) with sometimes lasting pastoral harm.

One thing I fully agree with you about: the importance of discussions between CUs and SUs. But what about discussions between CUs and ecumenical chaplaincies, like the one we have here in Swansea? The CU avoids us like the plague. Why? The short answer is fear. The deeper answer is unfaithfulness. As Paul DeHart puts it: “Faith and theology too often scurry under some false shelter of certainty to avoid the dialectical, the slippery and self-subverting character of every human witness to God in Christ.”


Kim 12.08.06 at 11:54 am

Hi Dave.

Sorry I hadn’t seen your most recent post when I posted the above response to James. I hope it goes some way to advancing the civilised debate you are seeking.

With infantile and barbarous regards,


dave williams 12.08.06 at 12:08 pm


Thanks, I agree that there should be the discussions you seek between chaplaincies and CUs. Some work better than others no doubt depending upon the people involved on both sides.

It seems that the crunch with the UCCF statement is immediately on its view of Scripture. I guess you will have to unpack your complaint a bit more. We certainly see in the Council of Trent an equalising of the Tradition and of Scripture. But is that an acceptable move? What exactly is this tradition we are discussing and how does it really relate to Scripture?

Do we define Christianity by what people who claim to be Christian believe -so the content is broad? Or do we define who is a Christian by what Christianity is?

Would the Nicene Creed have been as it is today if the drafters had known what the issues would be today? The point is that they don’t get into a debate about scriptural authority -it’s assumed. The Creed is a response to scripture. But if they’d known we would be arguing about it then they would have wanted to define it as an issue of orthodoxy.


James Church 12.08.06 at 1:21 pm

Dear Kim,

you write:
‘which, by the way, didn’t so much exclude heterodoxy as define orthodoxy amidst a welter of competing convictions’

You are right the creeds did define orthodoxy among the competing convictions of early churches context (gnostisim, arianism, etc.), they are therefore the product of a certain context and period of time. However, it seems a weak assertion on your part to say that the creeds did not so much rule out heterodoxy as define orthodoxy as much of the debates surrounding the wording of the creeds were around how to exclude particular heterodox views (Arianism for example).

It is clear that because the creeds were formed to define orthodoxy as opposed to particular heterodox views that they cannot not necessarily address our contemporary debates- surely? It was expected that orthodox Christians and churches could sign up to and recite the creeds - the Nicene creed established the heterodoxy of Arianism! Moreover, the creeds were derived from Scripture and find their final authority in the Bible (and do not stand alone).

I know that Hans Frei adopted the term to move liberals and conservatives past the impasse they had found themselves at and I share Frei’s desire to move beyond liberal and conservative, however, SCM exist holding beliefs I profoundly disagree with and yet I respect their right to hold opinions different from my own (but respect must go both ways and the existence of plausibility groups –a term that finds meaning in Newbigin, MacIntyre, and Hauerwas- on both ends of the spectrum must be tolerated). None of us would say that a group must only hold a view that is accepted by all people, or that the limits of belief are the limits of the objections someone can level at your group (such a view is patently ridiculous).

I am sorry but the lasting pastoral harm that I have seen done is by those who have no creed, deny the place of evangelism, criticise the authority of scripture, intellectually undermine the average Christian with an abuse of authority, refuse to accept the conclusions of rational debate, at times censoring the Bible, and denying the calling of the church. It is these people who have this week caused serious pastoral harm to a friend of mine by telling him that God does not intervene in the lives of humans and that he should reconsider his call (such a position is clearly against even the early church creeds). – I do not want you to think that I hold you accountable for such opinions or believe you to be responsible for teaching these views but those without a creed do untold harm and often go without criticism because how do you engage intellectually with a creedless person or group?

You write:
‘the CU avoids us like the plague. Why? The short answer is fear. The deeper answer is unfaithfulness.’

I think you find yourself avoided by the CU for very good reason if you intend on teaching your theological opinions without regard for the breadth of the Christian church or the right for those other Christian organisations to exist as recognised entities (presumably there are other Christian Unions or organisations who recognise you on campus and who might not be so hospitable of Ian Paisley) – admittedly I would prefer you to be given an audience even if you were requested not to teach from the CU platform on issues such as human sexuality or other issues the CU does not consider you to be Biblically justified on (it is to confuse the issue to appeal to tradition here- as we know that there are many traditions – some which are extremely barbaric).



Kim 12.08.06 at 1:42 pm

Hi again, Dave.

Four points about scripture.

(1) In his comprehensive study Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, James Dunn concludes that it is evident “that there was no single normative form of Christianity in the first century.” Indeed in effect, Dunn suggests, the NT canonises diversity - and in a way that is crucial for ecumenical dialogue: it acts as “a standing corrective to each individual’s, each church’s more limited. more narrowly circumscribed perception of Christianity.” Dunn is an Anglican but the great Catholic NT scholar Raymond Brown - he speaks of fruitful “tensions” - and the equally outstanding Lutheran NT theologian Ernst Käsemann concur, the latter writing that “Though it might be an exaggeration, it would not be a baseless one if we were to postulate that the canon as such is the foundation not of the unity but of the diversity of the Christian churches.”

(2) The catholic church has always known that you cannot interpret the scriptures “neat”. You mention Irenaeus. This great church father himself, the scourge of the gnostics, witnesses to the fact that in the early church scripture was always read through the lens of the regula fidei. As John Barton writes, “This rather than Scripture itself was the ultimate ‘canon’ according to which all teaching had to be assessed. To quote von Campenhausen: ‘The one rule and guideline, the only “canon” which Irenaeus explicitly acknowledges, is the “canon of trtuh”, that is to say: the content of the faith itself, which the Church received from Christ, to which she remains faithful, and by which she lives.’”

(3) You also mention Augustine. Most conservative evangelicals, I think, would not be happy with a lot of the Bishop of Hippo’s exegesis, particularly his acknowledgement of the crucial role of the reader - and the community as reader - in the interpretation of scripture (not to mention his deployment of allegorical strategies!). More importantly, at least in practice, they often seem to ignore Augustine’s fundamental “rule of charity”, his insight that the core of the “rule of faith” is agape, and that biblical readings that do not issue in compassionate behaviour are intrinsically flawed. I do not take the shunning of other Christians because of their theological views to be compassionate behaviour. And then there is our ongoing problem over some conservative zealot(s) repeatedly tearing down chaplaincy LGCM posters, which I’m sure you will agree is a complete dis-grace.

(4) Finally, you mention the Reformers: they too agree that to say - as many CU members do - that “The Bible says” is a vacuous way to begin - let alone conclude - a theological conversation. They knew that everything in the Bible is not God’s word tout court, and thus made the fundamental hermeneutical move of distinguishing between gospel and Bible. This, however, is a distinction that many conservative evangelicals seem to be unable to make.

Yours in good faith,


Kim 12.08.06 at 1:59 pm

Damn! This time I missed you, James!

I’m sure that you, like me, have to get away from our blasted screens. So let me end on what I hope is an eirenic and personal note. I’m glad to hear you like Newbigin, MacIntyre, and Hauerwas - me too. Add some large doses of Barth, Yoder, and Rowan Williams (I could go on), and you’ll have some idea of where I’m coming from. And this: most of the theology that comes out of SCM (the student organisation, not the press) I consider woefully thin and banal - what Barth would have called “flat-tyre” theology. I’ve got a feeling that we are not the chalk and cheese which some of our blogging seems to suggest.

Take care,


dave williams 12.08.06 at 2:21 pm


It’s going to be difficult isn’t it! We are not even going to agree on some basic historical points! Read The Bondage of the Will and you will get Luther’s view on Scripture -then come back to me. My comments about the long tradition was not a “we agree on everything” come on Evangelicals don’t claim to agree on everything. You quote John Barton’s comments on Irenaeus -personally I think they are quite banal -there is a huge difference between saying that there are rules about how we approach Scripture and about Scriptures authority. That was the point at hand there -again not saying that we all approach it in the same way.

As for James Dunn his views there are in the same line as Walter Bauer’s thesis which is hollow and discredited thesis(see for example I Howard Marshall Marshall, I H. “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earlier Christianity” Themelios 2 (1976-77): 5-14). There is a clear unity, defintion of faith and oppostion of heresey running through the New Testament. Dunn is mistaken simply to see it as only challenging each churches limitations. Sure we are all challenged -but that doesn’t change the fact that there were those who left Christianity, preached another gospel, became involved in sinful practise.


Richard 12.08.06 at 4:11 pm

This thread has moved a long way from the issue that started it — which is, of course, fine by me. But I think I’m going to pick up some of these things in a new post.


Kim 12.08.06 at 5:10 pm


You are simply being mischievous if you suggest that the authority of scripture is under question - at least it is not from me. It is the nature of that authority, the hermeneutics of reading scripture, and the relation of scripture to tradition - these are the questions, real questions, which do not admit of easy answers, but, frankly, mention these things to most CU students - or their authoritarian pastors -and the response is dismissive, if it is even intelligible.

And, please, don’t patronise me about Luther. Luther, of all the Reformers, knew that God’s word could not be identified with a book. Indeed, Luther regarded the Bible as basically an emergency measure, though essential of course, lest the oral gospel, which for Luther was the real word of God (the church is a “mouth-house”, he declared), be distorted. In On the Bondage of the Will, Luther certainly refutes Erasmus’ sceptical biblical epistemology by asserting the perspicuitas of scripture. However this “clarity” does not reside in this, that, or the other passage (scripture, he famously said, is a “waxed nose”), but in what he calls the res scripturae - which turns out to be more or less what the early fathers understood as the regula fidei ! It is on that basis that Luther notoriousy called the letter of James an “epistle of straw” (in my view wrongly, but that was because of bad exegesis, not a wrong hermeneutic). Nor, of course, was Luther dismissive of traditon as such - again, he knew that the Bible cannot be read “neat” - but of the abuse of tradition.

And, pardon me, but Dunn’s thesis - which is a separate issue from Bauer’s project - is not “discredited”, though of course scholars will disagee with it. But it’s interesting that you mention Marshall, who has lately lost some cred with mainstream evangelicals due to his more recent work on the biblical over-egging of the cross in doctrines of justification, not to mention his refreshing hermeneutical explorations. Indeed at a recent lecture of his at Swansea University the puzzled look on some faces was unmistakable.


dave williams 12.08.06 at 5:41 pm


1. You will see that it is Bauer that I refer to as discredited! But I would say that there is a strong link in terms of where Dunn is following
2. I refered you to a paper not a person! So what if some mainstream evangelicals disagree with IHM on certain issues -of course we do! He is human! Again you are using an irrelevant argument in an attempt to point score. It seems that rather than discuss the issue properly you want to say “I can claim a few famous names on my side and that makes me right.”

3. Luther’s refutation of Erasmus in Bondage of the Will is very clear and indeed his point is very strong that he cares more for Scripture than for any person in between. Again the point is this he trusted Scripture as God’s word to be accurate and authoritive.

4. I wonder why you raise the comment”clarity doesn’t rely in this or that passage” maybe you are misunderstanding the Evangelical position on Scripture which certainly is about understanding passages in the context of the whole revelation, redemptive history, context, literary genre etc etc.

So come along let’s talk turkey -what is your understanding of the UCCF DB on this issue -what is the faulty hermeneutic here and remember you are talking to me now, not your authoritarian pastors and CU members in Swansea.


Kim 12.08.06 at 6:34 pm

Dear Dave,

We’ve really got to stop meeting like this! Besides, you do seem wilfully to be misreading me. You refer to my point-scoring with an irrelevant argument. What agument would that be? You say this in connexion with my mentioning Marshall, but that’s just an aside, not an argument. And you’re not another one of these guys who gets nervous when one appeals to significant theologians to help make and support a point - and then launches the desperate charge of name-dropping - are you? And my excursus on Luther is simply to counter your over-simplification of this complex and nuanced thinker. Isn’t that too rather obvious?

But the thing that really cracks me up is your “remember you’re talking to me now.” Makes you sound like Robert De Niro! Anyway - to cut to the chase - let me refer you to two posts I did for Richard back in November 2005, one on November 21st, the other, quite lengthy, specifically homing in on the virgin birth - very seasonal - on November 30th. There are a shed-load of comments, including my own in response. So I’m not running away. Beisdes, I know you’d track me down and “get” me!


dave williams 12.08.06 at 7:06 pm


I’m not sure who is misinterpreting who! My point is very simple -I’m not one of these guys in Swansea -so have a conversation with me not them! It seems to me you are having great difficulty with this! If you’re comment about Marshall was an aside then forgive me for a misunderstanding but it looked very much like your concluding point.

And come on -there you go again with your “And you’re not another one of these guys who gets nervous when one appeals to significant theologians to help make and support a point - and then launches the desperate charge of name-dropping - are you? ” -what sort of a point is that? I’d happily discuss the merits of different theolgians with you till the cows come home -but that’s not what you were doing with the Marshall comment was it? Nor indeed was it with the other guys -it was the assumption that you could throw a few quotes in from a few guys and treat that as evidence but they weren’t -you didn’t quote any argumentation or any evidence, just the opinion bits. So how does that support your argument?

Throw in the links for your articles and I’ll have a look!


Kim 12.08.06 at 7:32 pm

Sorry, Dave, but I’m an IT ignoramus and don’t know how to do “links”. Just go to Connexion’s side-bar and click on Previous Posts November 2005 - you’ll find the stuff easy enough.

PS: I’m still unclear about this name-dropping. Perhaps you are referring to my citing Irenaeus, Augustine and the Reformers? But I don’t just drop their names, I actually spell out what they say - their opinions are evidence - in order to add to the mix about the nature of scripture and its interpretation against an over-simplified biblicism. It’s not rocket science. Beside, we stand on the shoulders of these giants of the faith. Respect.


dave williams 12.08.06 at 8:14 pm


Sorry -it wasn’t your citing Augustine etc -that after all was our discussion about what those guys said and meant. It was more things like the John Barton quote and people like that that you dropped in -but we might want to critique them and see if their assessment is right -just as once we get agreement on what the great Giants thought, we still would then want to discuss if they were right or not.

You see my take would be that when we talk about the regulai fidei -then as with the Nicene Creed are we talking about something independent or does that itself actually draw on Scripture. You see, if I’m looking at something then an important test is is it internally consistent -so when Luther says he doesn’t like James he is saying he doesn’t think it is consistent with the rest of the NT -but I agree with you there that it was bad exegesis.

I think the problem you maybe have…and maybe others too is that you’re talking about this “over simplified biblicism” that of course comes out when people show a lack of sensitivity to Scripture but isn’t actually what the UCCF Statement is arguing for. I’m sure your well read enough to know how much detail the Chicago statement on inerrancy for example. I’m sure also that despite your dismissive comments earlier about “the original documents” that behind the bravado you recognise that this is a reflection of the wider Evangelical position that distinguishes it from a kind of fundamentalist “The King James version is the preserved Scripture” rather being aware that infallibiliy is a statement about God’s truthfulness and trustworthiness in first giving his word and then preserving it faithfully -so that whilst you may get errors between copyists and translator’s hiccups we can through textual work have a good accurate understanding of God’s Word.


DH 12.08.06 at 9:02 pm

I think you misunderstood me Richard. I was more focusing on how fair the Student Union is toward the CU’s and that it isn’t fair to give funding to one group and not another based on a particular view within a particular group. When I said this “Wherever you are in the world people should have freedom of religion and freedom of speech and colleges should be willing to show that diversity even if the groups appear to not be diverse. I have a problem with the SU boundaries when it comes to Christian groups and the like.” I was referring to freedom in the same line as “fair”. The funding of the groups within the Union should be distributed rather than dictated who gets NO funding whatsoever and thereby has NO legitimacy within the SU community. The CU’s are free to congregate but funding to the individual groups shows a sense of legitimacy that is important and having CU without this legitimacy is terribly unfair.

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