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Sunday, 4 November 2012

A Tale of Two Bishops - Part 2

Dagenham bishop number 2 is, of course, Archbishop George Carey. George Carey was born in 1935 at 68 Fern Street, Bow, London E13.  Shortly before the war his family moved to 103 Woodward Road, Dagenham; a three bedroom house on the sprawling Becontree Estate.  At five George started his education at Monteagle School in Burnham Road. At eleven years old, having failed the examination that would have given him a place at Dagenham County Grammar School in Parsloes Avenue, George began his secondary schooling at Bifrons School in Bromhall Road.  Around this time the Carey family moved to 198 Reede Road near Dagenham East.  Although George was not born in Dagenham his formative years were spent here; so we can say that in a very real sense he was made in Dagenham.


In his autobiography George speaks of attending the youth group at the old parish church of St Peter & St Paul.  As time went on he settled into church life and felt comfortable with its open and evangelical style. After national service George started to feel "the call of ordination".  Despite some discouraging responses George threw himself into gaining the necessary preliminary qualifications.  Encouraged by the vicar George attended an ordination selection conference and shortly after he was recommended for training for ordination.  George opted to receive his training at the London College of Divinity at Northwood to the north west of London.

George was committed to the evangelical wing of the Church of England but became concerned at the dangers of a narrow or partisan tendency.  Although committed to the authority of the Bible he was unable to accept "narrow theories of inerrancy, in which the Bible was held to be historically accurate as well as literally 'true' in every detail....I did not require a book devoid of human error, corrupted texts or mistakes" (Know the Truth p48)  So for George Carey acceptance of Biblical inerrancy is not necessary to grasp the story of the drama of redemption.

In his studies he came to see that Biblical texts were written primarily as theological works.  Biblical scholars have often stressed the value of understanding the diverse theological agendas of the Biblical writers to grasp the import of the different presentations of similar materials found in the Scriptures.  George came to see this point with reference to the "profound differences" between the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles.  It is possible to recognise these profound differences and see beyond the texts to the glorious God glimpsed by the writers.

Many ministers feel that they cannot truthfully teach their congregations about the existence and significance of divergent accounts in the Bible. Perhaps they feel it would disturb the faith of the simple believers.  However Dagenham boy George found grappling with such anomalies challenging but ultimately faith strengthening.  As he wrote in 2004, "To this day I remain dismayed that many evangelical clergy seek to shield their congregations from critical scholarship.  It need not disturb trusting belief - on the contrary, it will often lead to the strengthening and maturing of faith."

Going back to the first post on this blog, many Christians have found that their faith is enriched by being open to the three major traditions that contribute to the dynamic conversation within the Church of England.  The critical scholarship here praised by George Carey often finds its origin in the willingness of more liberal scholars to ask challenging questions and use all the resources that God has made available to them to seek truthful answers.  The truth will always strengthen honest faith.


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