I’ve been amazed over reading about the story of Richard Holloway, former leader of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, who suddenly (it seemed at the time) resigned his position and became an outspoken skeptic of the Church and of Christians. He released his autobiography, “Leaving Alexandria,” recently and I’ve been reading the reviews in order to learn a little bit more about how a major church leader could go from spiritual father to spiritual critic. I must confess that I have not yet read his book, so his exact words do not stand in his defense nor clarify his beliefs in my mind. I only have the input of others about Holloway, a few quotes by him from his book, and a newspaper article I read two days ago written by him (slamming religion). Interestingly, Holloway happens to be the chair of the Scottish Arts Council, which makes him an even more important person to learn about.
Based on the evidence so far, I have seen two major changes in Holloway’s mind and heart that led him to resign as Bishop of Edinburgh and turn against his own church. Those two changes ate away at his foundation of faith and he had nothing left to stand on. They concern General Revelation and Special Revelation. Theological terms aside, he basically stopped believing that God created the universe as the Bible said and that the Scriptures contain the very words that God spoke to mankind.
General Revelation is the knowledge of God that can be gathered outside of any specific moment of enlightenment. It is primarily a knowledge of God’s existence and His attributes that can be gained from observing His creation and searching one’s own heart. It is Romans 1:20, which says that “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” In other words, some pygmy in South America knows that a powerful, intricate, beautiful divine being exists whether or not a missionary has come to tell them the details. Richard Holloway struggled all his life, he says, with the teaching of evolution and the creation teaching of the Church. As an adult he believed evolution but had to publicly suppress his beliefs. I have not read his book but it seems that He believes the creation story is either allegory or myth that science has long disproved. Whether or not he is a “theistic evolutionist” remains to be discovered. He may believe that God exists and got the “ball rolling” in the evolutionary chain. Or maybe not. Other amazing scriptures describing General Revelation are Psalm 19:1-6 & Psalm 8:1-4.
Special Revelation happens when God specifically reaches down into time and communicates something. Think “Bible.” When God shares something about Himself or His will we know more about God and can follow Him with more certainty. The Gospels, for example, are the specific revelation of the person of Jesus Christ and His work on earth. Ever since the days of the apostles, the Church has held the writings of the Hebrew Bible and the writings of the apostles and their scribes to be the divinely inspired word of God (Heb 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:16-21). God has spoken through the apostles, wrote Clement and Ignatius and Polycarp, disciples of apostles Paul and John. But a wave of theology started to work its way through the 2nd Century church that taught that some of the stories of the Bible were allegorical, including some major ones (like the flood). In the age of the Enlightenment (1600s-mid 1800s) great philosophers like Descartes, Locke and Hume started to teach that the Bible was allegory or, even worse, myth. It had a purpose other than divine mandates. It was here to guide mankind on his quest for enlightenment. Suddenly the decider of truth switched from God to man. During his life, Richard Holloway stopped believing the Bible was the literal word of God and should be seen more as myth. Stories made up by people. Christians don’t understand how to handle myth, he wrote, and reject it because it doesn’t fit into their religious systems.
Two foundations of Christianity (Islam and Judaism, too) are General Revelation that includes creation by God and Special Revelation that includes the specific communication between God and man. When those two pillars disappear into doubt, a Christian cannot stand. And Richard Holloway couldn’t.