Archive for October, 2016

Poor Bill Dumbrell

Posted: October 11, 2016 by J in Church
Tags: , ,

bill-dumbrell.jpgBill was a Christian man, I don’t think he’d be that fussed about dying.

What would have really upset Bill is the outpouring of Platonic theology that his death has triggered.

Listen to a few examples:

“A great saint has entered glory” – Archbishop Glenn Davies, Sydney Anglicans Website

“Moore Veteran called home” – Sydney Anglicans headline

“Dr Bill Dumbrell was called home into the presence of the Lord” – Moore College Website, Mark Fairful

“Bill now enjoys the presence of the Lord he served throughout his life.” Mark Thompson

“The great Bill Dumbrell has gone to Abraham’s side” – John Dickson, fb

Bill would be turning in his grave. That’s because he spent his entire career trying to teach people a different story about the Christian faith.

Not the ‘dying and going to heaven’ story, where eschatology is individualised, escapist, and death-centred. Not the story where our real home is elsewhere, and we get to go there as a spirit creature when we are finally released from the shackles of our human flesh. Not the story where the moment of death is the moment of achieving glory in the presence of the Lord forever, in heaven.

Bill devoted his public life to proclaiming a gospel different from this greek cosmology. More than any other figure from the Sydney Diocese, Bill insisted on an eschatology that was corporate, creation-focussed, and resurrection-centred. In the story Bill told, the presence of the Lord was something we would only enjoy when Christ returns. That would be the moment of glorification for believers. For Bill, our only home is planet earth, and its renewal is our only hope. Read his published works and search for any hint of the other story, the one quoted above – you won’t find it.

What you’ll find again and again is an eschatology that arises from Bill’s understanding of biblical theology, rather than from c.19th children’s hymns. He always had his eye on the big storyline, and when he thought about goals, it was the goal of that story that interested him.

Consider these quotes from Bill:

… In the epistle to the Hebrews… we refer here to the striking way in which the epistle takes up the biblically pervasive notion of “rest” as the goal towards which the faith of believers… is directed. This dependence upon the total harmony projected for the entire creation, as bound up with the notion of rest developed from Genesis 2, cannot be missed. Such references point to the establishment of the rule of the kingdom of God over an ordered creation     The End of the Beginning, p.192

Through reaffirmation of the believers hope in heaven, 1 Peter encourages resistance to the persecutions experienced by scattered congregations… The prospect for those who persevere will be the crown of glory at the manifestation of Christ.     The Search for Order, p.317

We still search for the city whose maker and builder is God. The primary eschatological event, the death of Christ, has placed us in the last days, which will be brought to a close by the return of Christ. At that time the cosmos will be changed, Christ will reign over his enemies, and believers will enter into their promised inheritance.   The Search for Order, p.326

At the end of the canon, we have returned to the beginning with an overplus… Through the sacrifice of the Lamb believers will rule, taking on the role that Adam had forfeited… For they have seen the face of the Lamb, the image into which they have been transformed, and they will be eternally in his presence. The history of salvation has ended.     The Search for Order p.346

We could go on, he said the same thing over and over. This biblical eschatology preoccupied Bill throughout his writings.

As for the other story of dying and going home to glory, Bill literally had no time for it. Never mentions it.

How sad, then to see his former colleagues foisting this other story onto him, fresh off the pages of Plato, after he is dead and can’t complain!

It’s a kind of betrayal, in effect covering over his life’s work as though it never happened. To speak of him like this is to silence the challenge of his scholarly voice. It is to say, we learned nothing from you, Bill.

These are the same colleagues who professionally ostracised Bill for so many years. When was the last time Moore College invited this ‘dear brother’ to speak at one of its meetings?

That’s fair enough if you don’t like his views. But to speak as though he didn’t hold them shows a lack of respect.

Contrast the acknowledgement outside Sydney, from another Aussie scholar, Mike Bird:

“Vale Bill Dumbrell. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

That’s at least a prayer Bill could recognise and relate to.

As for his Sydney colleagues, they’ve sent him off to some other-worldly paradise where I imagine he would not feel in the least ‘at home’. He certainly never looked forward to it while he was alive.

That’s why I say poor bloody Bill Dumbrell.

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