In June 2018 the ex-Assembly speaker resigned as an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) after it controversially voted to exclude people in same-sex relationships from membership.
Now a Research Fellow at Oxford University, he is launching a previously unpublished work by famed Irish Presbyterian scholar James Ernest Davey, who had a six-year Fellowship at Cambridge and was awarded four honorary doctorates in theology.
However Davey was also tried on charges of heresy by the Presbyterian Church in 1927 for his liberal views. His unpublished book, ‘Religious Experience: its nature, validity, forms and problems’ contains his final considered reflections.
Both Davey and Alderdice were Ballymena men - and both were sons of Presbyterian ministers.
Launching the book, Lord Alderdice believes it provides “the basis for a new approach to theology and faith”.
He added: “From my reading of Davey, he believed that while people often imagine that doctrinal beliefs, forms of worship and structures of religious authority are permanent, the lesson of history is that they are ever-changing.
“The consistent, primary, and common matter is the transcendental experience of God.”
Davey was acquitted of heresy by a large majority in 1927 and became Moderator and Principal of the Presbyterian Assembly’s College. “But would he be acquitted in the PCI of today? I don’t know. Possibly not.”
Asked if he intended the book to provide a more liberal doctrines on same sex relationships, he said it was not possible to be certain what Davey’s views on this were.
“But from an understanding of his attitude to other issues, I doubt that he would have sympathized with the current approach of the PCI. I would certainly hope that the publication of this book would help remind Presbyterians, and others, that the current public approach of PCI diverges from its much broader and more tolerant historic approach and that it is not necessary to adopt the current approach in order to be a Presbyterian, much less a Christian.”
The PCI and Union Theological College were both invited to comment. The book will be launched on 5 November at 6.45pm from First Belfast Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, with a conversation between William Crawley and Lord Alderdice. It is also available on Amazon.
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