A Church of England Dean will tell a BBC Radio 4 audience this evening that traditional teaching of Christ’s crucifixion is both “repulsive” and “insane.”
The Very Rev Jeffrey John is an openly gay Dean who was forced to step down as a candidate for bishop after a row about his sexuality.
Traditionally, Christian theology has taught that because humans have sinned, God sent Christ to suffer and die in our place.
He is expected to say in the Lent Talks broadcast that clergy who preach that Christ was sent to earth to die in atonement for the sins of mankind are “making God sound like a psychopath.”
“In other words, Jesus took the rap and we got forgiven as long as we said we believed in him,” Mr John says.
“This is repulsive as well as nonsensical. It makes God sound like a psychopath. If a human behaved like this we’d say that they were a monster.”
Mr John argues that too many Christians live their lives without realising that God is about “love and truth”, as opposed to “wrath and punishment.”
He suggests an alternative interpretation, that Christ was crucified so he could “share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us.”
Church figures have expressed concern at his comments.
The Rev Rod Thomas, of the evangelical group Reform which represents 600 clergy, accused Mr John of “attacking the fundamental nature of the Gospel.”
He told The Telegraph that denying the “wrathful” nature of God was an attempt to play down the importance of sin and allow a more tolerant approach to sexuality.
The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accused Mr John of denying the fundamental message of the Gospel.
He said: “He is denying the way in which we understand Christ’s sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life,” he said.
Bishop Wright hit out at the BBC for allowing a primetime slot to be given to such a controversial argument.
He told The Telegraph:”I’m fed up with the BBC for choosing to give privilege to these unfortunate views in Holy Week.”
Mr John, who is the Dean of St Albans, was forced to withdraw as the Bishop of Reading in 2003 after it emerged that he was in a long-term same-sex relationship.
PinkNews.co.uk reported in August 2006 that the Dean entered into a secret civil union ceremony with another member of the clergy, on the basis that the partnership would not be consummated.
The couple held a low-key ceremony wearing their clerical collars, with a small number of witnesses in the audience.
St Alban’s local paper, The Herts Advertiser, ran a poll shortly afterwards asking readers if they approved of clergymen entering into that sort of union.
Opinion was split down the middle with 49% stating it was a personal choice and 51% insisting it was inappropriate.
Lent Talks will be broadcast at 20:45 on Radio 4 this evening.