Letter: Truth of the Christmas story and the reality of Hell

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Bishop of Durham is a journalist's delight - a senior churchman apparently demolishing the foundations of the Christian faith. What he is actually doing is bringing into the public domain the debates which have been going on among theologians for decades.

The question at the heart of these debates is: 'What is the nature of the New Testament gospels?' Are they records of what Jesus said and did, or are they theological writings explaining what the early church came to believe about Jesus? Was Jesus conceived in some way other than by sexual intercourse because he was God's son, or did the early church come to believe that he was God's son and make up the story of the virgin conception to support that belief? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead or did the disciples come to believe that he was alive after the crucifixion and therefore conclude that he must have risen?

The gospels are indeed profound theological documents explaining from a range of perspectives who Jesus was, written to meet the concerns of their day and calling men and women now as then to centre their whole lives on him. But Luke and John at least claim that their theology arises from the accounts of eyewitnesses.

If the Christmas and Easter stories are written to give support to faith rather than events from which faith grew, Christian commitment has a very fragile foundation indeed. Is Christmas but the celebration of the theological reflections of the early church, or did God himself become a human being, born in a stable and wrapped in swaddling clothes?

Yours faithfully,

JOHN SEARLE

Anglican Ordinand

Exeter, Devon

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