Numbers with noughts on the end seem to entice us to look backwards, whether it's the year 2000, a 10th anniversary... or just the 40th number of Sea of Faith magazine. So we've been blowing the dust off some of our earliest issues to remind ourselves what we were saying and doing in the days of our youth. Here we publish excerpts from the first ten numbers (Spring 1990 to Summer 1992), which were edited by Clive Richards.
My own part in the SoF story began in November 1983 when I had business with Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and met its dean. Previously I had only glanced at one of his books but the encounter with this kind and pastorally-minded priest encouraged me to spend a book token, early in 1984, on his Taking Leave of God. I was thrilled to find that the spirituality and theological position of this book articulated something I had been slowly moving towards over many years.
Unknown to me, in the summer of 1984, another priest in the Leicester area was writing to him on similar lines. Don put us in touch and we met for talks at my rectory at Thurcaston. That autumn, The Sea of Faith appeared as a book and TV series.
[By April 1985 what was to become the Sea of Faith Network had five members. By 1987 this had doubled!]
At Cambridge [in December 1987] Don had shown me a wooden box containing letters received in response to his books and TV series. He offered to compile a first mailing list from them. Soon 143 names and addresses arrived. It happened that at the time of our first mailing the Post Office was using a controversial postmark paid for by an evangelical businessman, and so it was that our envelopes were heavily overprinted with the uninterpreted slogan Jesus lives! By now our leisurely pub- or vicarage-lunch discussions were over and our informal group had hard-working evening meetings planning the [first] conference... Dennis Nineham was persuaded to be a main speaker... Eventually SoF 1 happened in July 1988.
A radical Christian, being an intelligent, modern, thinking person, finds no need for any supernatural notions, actions or events...; accepts no explanation for the coming into being of the universe... other than those rational explanations offered in terms of scientific laws and processes...; does not entertain any notion of a soul or spirit or other non-physical entity... and denies the possibility of any form of survival after the death of the body...; does not suppose that there is a God or any Supreme Being...; recognises that all religion is Man-made...
A policy and task-setting meeting was held in October 1989 and sixteen people... began to tackle the question, What next?. It was here that the idea of SoF as some kind of movement was displaced by what was felt to be a more appropriate characterization as a network for exploring and promoting religious faith as a human creation.
My chief concern [is] that our fledgling movement might get off to a bad start if it attempts to formulate any kind of creed and so end up with a kind of neo-dogmatism - to be a radical Christian you must believe this and this but you cannot possibly believe that... What bothers me about Spurgin's list is that it does read, despite his disavowal, like a creed... It may well be that God is a human construct and does not exist in a realist way as either a personal being or as the ground of being. Certainly Don Cupitt has argued his case very persuasively, but I for one wish to remain an agnostic on this point... Lets keep radical Christianity free, lightweight and ever moving forward. At all costs we must avoid the mistake of defining our beliefs. It would be perverse indeed if radical Christians were to allow insufficient space for doubt and uncertainty.