Last week, the Anglican Centre in Rome announced the appointment of the Very Rev. Dr. John Shepherd as temporary director of the Anglican outreach to the Roman Catholic pontiff at the Vatican. This caused a major scandal, since Shepherd has denied the historicity of the Gospels and suggested that he does not believe in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a cornerstone of Christian and Anglican doctrine.
“The Resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality,” Shepherd said in a video message for Easter in 2008 unearthed by David Ould, senior associate minister at Parramatta Anglican Cathedral near Sydney, Australia. “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’s earthly body.”
Shepherd went on to say that “the Gospel accounts are not historical records as we understand them. They are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.”
While the Gospels do record Jesus’s body as supernaturally powerful after the Resurrection — He could pass through walls and disappear — the books also emphasize the physical nature of this Resurrection. Not only did the Resurrection leave the tomb empty, but Jesus told the Apostle Thomas to feel the physical wounds in His flesh.
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 15 grounds each Christian’s hope in their own bodily resurrection in the Resurrection of Jesus. While there is a spiritual transformation, it revives and transforms the physical body, like a seed growing into a plant. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is shown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body,” Paul wrote (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
Furthermore, the Apostle Paul wrote that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ. … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:14-15, 17).
Shepherd’s teaching did not just cut against the Bible, it also violated the Christian tradition, from the Apostle’s Creed to the Thirty-Nine Articles.
The fourth of the Thirty-Nine Articles directly involves the Resurrection: “Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.”
This mismatch has inspired a great deal of controversy.
“It is not sensible to appoint a representative who does not share the core beliefs of the group he ostensibly represents,” Jeff Walton, Anglican program director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), told PJ Media in a statement Monday. “The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is a core belief of Anglican Christianity and is taken seriously by the vast majority of the 80 million plus Anglicans worldwide.”
Furthermore, doubting the Resurrection “ties directly to a key question: is the Bible trustworthy?” Walton added. “The Gospel writers and the creeds clearly state that Jesus died, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven. If we cannot trust scripture on this important claim, then our faith has nothing to stand upon.”
Walton called for Shepherd’s speedy dismissal from the Anglican Vatican office. “Shepherd should be quickly replaced with someone who can faithfully represent Anglican Christianity and spearhead ecumenical relations with the Roman Catholic Church,” the IRD program director said.
Gavin Ashenden, a missionary bishop to England who rejected his ordination in the Church of England (and his position as honorary chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II) but kept his connection with the global Anglican Church, called on Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, to ask for Shepherd’s resignation. He did not expect the archbishop to actually do that, however.
“For Welby and his progressive fellow travellers, Jesus has been re-imagined from Lord and Saviour into guide and therapist. Instead of wanting us to be holy, Welby’s Jesus wants us to be happy,” Ashenden charged.
The reason Shepherd disbelieves in the Resurrection has nothing to do with historical evidence, but his own ego, the missionary bishop suggested. “It’s what happens when the reality the Gospel accounts describe collides with the prejudices or preferences of the human ego and will. Where they differ, reality (as the Gospels describe it) takes second place to whimsy. The universe that God made is changed to reflect the terms and conditions of the individual.”
Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a brief comment to PJ Media about this Vatican controversy.
“Lambeth Palace would simply say that Dr. Shepherd is a priest in good standing in his diocese and due diligence was paid in appointing him to what is a temporary role,” Alisa Anderson, a spokeswoman for the palace, told PJ Media. For any further comment, she directed PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil to the Anglican Centre in Rome.
The Anglican Centre did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
By denying the historicity of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Shepherd does not just reject Anglican doctrine. He also rejects a central doctrine of Roman Catholicism, the faith to which he represents the Anglican Church. His very public rejection of this core teaching makes him a bad fit to represent Anglicans, and also a bad fit to liaise with Roman Catholics at the Vatican.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.