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Leaps of faith

Thirty years ago, David Jenkins, then the Bishop of Durham, caused controversy by casting doubt on the physical resurrection of Christ. According to a recent survey, such views are now more widespread among Britain's Anglican priests.

Eighty-three per cent of clergy told YouGov that they believed in a personal God, but two percent said that 'I am not sure "God" is more than a human construct.' (Three per cent said 'There is some sort of spirit or life force' and nine per cent said 'No-one can know what God is like'.)

Clergy were significantly more likely to hold unorthodox beliefs the older they were and the longer they had been in the ministry. Nearly 90 per cent of those ordained since 2011 believe in a personal God compared with only 72 per cent of those who became priests in the 1960s, the research discovered.

David Paterson, a retired Church of England priest, says there is no conflict in preaching while being unable to believe in a personal God. 'Within my congregation I would take the line that how you feel about God is not in the least dependent on whether you think God exists or not. I preach using God's terminology, but never with the suggestion that God actually exists ... Once you have accepted that religion is a human creation, then it is like art and literature and things like that. They are an extremely valuable way to understand yourself.'