Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Amazingly Unflattering Ecclesiology

RIchard Kew has a nice post about patience-- one which I wish all those parishes that are bolting ECUSA right now would read. But what's really great about the post is the comments, with jewels like these:

My deeply theological reason for staying is: What the heck? The corollary is: Where else would I go?


When the canon asked the priest why he was coming back, the man replied, "Well, my church might be a whore, but at least she's my church!"

A couple more comments like that and I'll have to style myself "Hosea".

Monday, November 28, 2005

All That Infalliblity and No Taste

Over on Pontifications Fr. Jay Scott Newman weighs in with his theories on how to conduct RC worship. And most of his ideas I endorse.

That's not surprising, because the recommendations are what any middle-to-high Anglican suspicious of versus populi liturgy would say, minus some of what he says about the choir and the singing.

So once again, Rome must come to Canterbury for liturgical instruction. Or more to the point, the National Shrine must come to Mt. St. Albans-- if RC liturgy outside the USA be not as good as it could be, observers seem to agree that it is rarely so bad as RC liturgy in the USA. And if looking at Orthodox liturgy is at all instructive, a lot of the badness in liturgy is part of the tradition.

What with all the talk about doctrine it remains to the Anglicans to have a clue of how to put it into practice in church; if we don't have a clue as to what to worship (which is a lame canard) it's ironic that we have to be the authority on how to worship.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Silly Online Quiz Time

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic




Classical Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Christian Traditions Selector

Percent Rank Item
(100%) 1: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England
(92%) 2: Roman Catholic
(91%) 3: Eastern Orthodox
(71%) 4: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God
(69%) 5: Lutheran
(53%) 6: Church of Christ/Campbellite
(51%) 7: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene
(50%) 8: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.)
(46%) 9: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist
(39%) 10: Presbyterian/Reformed
(32%) 11: Seventh-Day Adventist
(30%) 12: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic)
(30%) 13: Congregational/United Church of Christ

I suspect that the reason I come up Wesleyan on the first one is that there isn't an "Anglican" selection. And what's that "Pentecostal" entry doing in fourth place on the second list??

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Crucial Test

It's obvious, in the current crisis, that Anglicans are going to have to bite the bullet and pin down what must be believed more than is done now. I suspect that, breft of any conservative restraint, the liberals are eventually going to have trouble maintaining any kind of Christian message, and at worse may find themselves put in the position of the Church of Camp-- at this late date, I feel no qualms at all about calling clown masses "campy".

The Ortho-Romish claim is that the only way to make this "pinning down" work is to indulge in dogmatization. and for a few-- a very few-- issues this is probably OK, as long as the consensus on these is truly universal. Mostly this is only going to keep the Spongs in check, but one has to start somewhere. It's the continuing controversies that pose the greatest risks.

In the present controversy there is no doubt in my mind that the "global south" is going to present to the communion a demand to effectively dogmatize various teachings on marriage and sexuality. This is perhaps putting the cart before the horse, but there's nothing to be done for it. And further still? Well, that's the question, isn't it? If the anglicans can limit dogmatism and continue, what does that mean?

It's possible that everyone will take this as the chance to "reshape" theology to their own taste, and therefore leave us with distinct A-C, Evangelical, Central, and Liberal Anglican communions/churches; and the divisions need not stop there. Emphasis of conformity of doctrine will tend to take us this way, and it will surely be the end of a distinct Anglicanism. The other extreme possibility is that conformity will be limited to the few current hot button issues, and that theological latitude will remain the rule beyond this. In this case, Aglicanism will survive.

At the moment it seems to me that things are extremely unsettled. Both sides in ECUSA seem to be (a) going out of their way to make the situation as volatile as possible, and (b) doing everything they can to make everyone mistrustful who isn't a party in one of the extremes.

Is Dogma Daring?

Cantuar's statements at the Global South conference are stirring up a lot of unhappy responses. Well, I suppose liberal dismay that the archbishop won't run things as a fellow traveller shouldn't be surprising, though it has seemed to me from the beginning that their expectations have been methodically dashed by Rowan Williams, both before and after his elevation, at every possible opportunity.

The conservative response is perhaps more puzzling. Cantuar has all but said that he will let the communion as a whole expel ECUSA. In return the Africans and a growing list of American parishes are bubbling over with impatience. The latter I simply do not understand. ECUSA as a whole can do nothing before the next GC-- only six months away-- and it seems to me that ordinations and parishes bolting, for now, are not positive actions.

But then we have Al Kimel's response.

I suggested then that the real problem is Williams’s approach to episcopal leadership. Instead of acting like a bishop, he has been acting like a manager, trying to keep everyone on board through endless dialogue. The problem, of course, is that both progressives and traditionalists have had their fill of dialogue. They want a decision. And it is this decision that ++Rowan is unwilling or incapable of providing.

The problem is that, in a communion which eschews papal patriarchalism almost as a matter of dogma, Cantuar isn't everyone's bishop! And if anyone looks at the process that has been followed, it certainly doesn't look much like "endless dialogue". Indeed, it appears to me that the issue is being forced to a resolution: a commission wrote a document to propose a starting point, and the requests of that document are being almost universally rejected. Perhaps Al looks forward to an emotionalized and unmanaged breakup as a consequence of this, but I don't. And I think that one thing that Rowan Williams is doing right here is acting as the agent of the communion as a whole, rather than merely the exponent of his own views. A bishop who does no more than the latter is just a tyrant, even if his own views happen to be those of centuries of church tradition. So I don't have any problem with management, because it's bloody obvious that all sides of this need to be managed a great deal.

But then Al continues:

Jenson raises a critical point. The dogma of the Church develops because the Church dogmatizes. Theological disagreement and debate is no doubt necessary to the Church’s apprehension of the revelation entrusted to her; but on important matters, the Church has often found it necessary to bring debate to definitive closure, invoking the full weight of her authority. We may raise questions about the timing and wisdom of specific dogmatic decisions, but these decisions belong to the history of the Church and are necessary to the mission of the gospel. We trust these decisions because we believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church and leading her into all truth.

This begs the point in the most blatant possible way. It essentially elevates agreement over truth-- absolutely.

Contrast this with the way things work in the natural science. There is no real closure there, because any issue can in theory be reopened. In practice, most reopened issues are closed right back up again, but there should never be pressure to "close" an issue about which major disputes remain. In practice it happens, because scientists are sinful humans. But in the end, the lack of a final authority-- other than, of course, reality itself-- isn't a problem.

In comparison, the situation in theology looks quite poor. There really isn't closure, because the "resolution" is simply to create enough divisions so that everyone can have their own church with its own-- closed-- theology. Major disputes have persisted for not just centuries, but a millenium and a half; ecclesiastical divisions exist so that the differences don't have to be resolved. The closure is imaginary; it's just a kind of ideological tyranny. Secular intellectuals ridicule this with cause.

In this, Anglicans were weird, preferring union over closure. Clearly this is going to change, and I think that, for practical reasons, division is unavoidable. When theological differences are manifested directly in the rites of the church, it is nearly impossible to forestall division. But this particular failure of unity doesn't imply that dogmatic conformity is therefore good. If there's one thing that Roman theology doesn't take seriously, it's that its processes are carried out by sinners. Failures are therefore to be expected, and the burden of proof must be on those who claim that they are working. Dogma can obviously be put to the very sinful purpose of shutting up one's opponents because one cannot refute them. Surely the standard of consensus for dogma must be very, very high.

And closure need not be an all-or-nothing enterprise. It's one thing to limit constant, high effort reassessment of basic principles. I think by this time we do not have to put the Nicene Creed to the test at every church convention, but I do think the church must have a better counterargument to new challenges to the creed than "It's settled and not up for discussion." If the truth needs that defense, then it isn't truth.

There's nothing daring about dogma.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Growing Up and Out

From GetReligion we have an unconversion story in the form of an article in the NYT by Mark Lilla. (I'm sorry, but the article has now passed into the NYT archives.) It's interesting reading, and in some ways insightful, but in two aspects it seems very naive.

Perhaps the premier myth of the modern times is about growing up, and what it says is that growing up is about putting away childish things and accepting limits. Well, and about accepting sexual appetites, but thankfully we don't have to consider that aspect this time. Childhood is about comfort and illusion; adulthood is about living with the scars of disillusionment. Therefore growing up means growing out of religion, that source of comforting illusions (or so the myth says).

What first strikes me about this is how very much it is not about growth, but about loss. And conversion stories are, by contrast, all about growth and gain. We need only look toward Surprised by Joy or The Seven Storey Mountain to see modern examples of this. And I pick these two because in both cases the real life story didn't end there, and both Lewis and Merton wrote extensively beyond these works. In Merton's case his thought and faith continued to develop, both in ways that exceeded (in one sense) the pure piety of his first book. Lewis went beyond his easier, more palatable works into an inexplicable marriage out of which arose the astonishing power of Til We Have Faces and the astonishing honesty of A Grief Observed.

But neither of these latter works is about adulthood, per se. One must remember that the narrator of Til We Have Faces looks back on a long life now converging on its end. Both books are, in a way, about leaving adulthood, for death.

I did not know adulthood myself as loss, but as gain. My schooling was very difficult, and its story is one that I think might gratify my old teachers. For came upon the end of high school as an experience of coming into my powers, and came to college not a man (for technically I was underage anyway) but the growing shoot of a man. What I put away of childhood was very different from what the myth would have me put away. Pain was given to me and innocence taken away from first grade; the rest of my growing transcended that.

The other thing that struck me were the numerous blanket statements made about what teenagers do or think:

All teenagers are dogmatists; a teenager with a Bible is simply a more intense teenager.

But one of the dirty little secrets about adolescence is that the young fear the very freedom they crave. They intuit the burden of autonomy and want, quite literally, to be "saved" from it. That is no doubt why, as researchers tell us, the average age of conversion is in the early teens.

It took years to acquire the education I missed as a young man, an education not only in books but in a certain comportment toward myself and the world around me. Doubt, like faith, has to be learned.

I think all of these statements are untrue. Or at least, they are too broad. The vast spectrum of temperament, if nothing else, overwhelms any teenage tendency to dogmatism, fear of freedom, or faith. I would indeed say that what is striking about teenage expressions of all these things is how impermanent the expressions often are.

But I do think I know why teenage conversions are the most common. After all, I am a teenage convert myself. And the obvious reason for this has to do with a phenomenon seen over almost all of Western Christianity-- and Judaism, for that matter. It's called a bar mitzvah in one place, and confirmation in another, and believer's baptism in yet another. All of these connect to the notion that a teenager is old enough to take responsibility for his own religion. The custom of the ages leads one to expect commitments to religion at this age. And who knows? Perhaps the Spirit seizes upon this age as one in which to make Itself known. At any rate, it should not be surprising that when teenagers take up responsibility for their own faith, their first act is very often to redirect it from its childhood course.

And speaking of ages, I also note that Mr. Lilla's whole faith history took place three decades ago. Time has turned his complains about the intellectual ghetto of evangelical Christianity upside down. This is not to say that there does not remain an evangelical shallow end; but such lack of depth can be found almost anywhere. (Liberal "intellectuals" can get it on public radio and TV.) Liberal religion is in denial as to the vast armies of reasserters (to use the phrase popular in Anglicanism now) arrayed against them. Crossover between evangelical and Catholic and Anglican writings is par for the course; the very Anglican Lewis has become a very evangelical prophet.

I'm closing in on the 25 year mark on my own teenage conversion, so I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on Mr Lilla. Given teh coming Anglican crisis, reassessment may well be in my future, after all.

Job's Waiter

The biblical Job, that is.

Waiterrant has produced another one of his searing religious posts, this time about the suffering in New Orleans. And I can sympathize with his choice of Bonhoeffer's answer. But I think I am pulled to Philip Yancey's answer in Disappointment WIth God. He summarizes the book in this sermon and interview: where is God in this? God is suffering too, on the cross.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Roman Sect

Maybe I shouldn't hammer on Al Kimel so much. But after years of watching the Anglican-to-infallibility conversions I've gotten really tired of the same old contradiction.

In his latest "burn my bridges behind me" attack on his old church, he ends by calling Anglicanism a "sect". Well, shucks. According to the dictionary, the Roman church is a sect too-- which it is. Schism on the basis of theology breeds sects, and there is nothing more within the catholic tradition than breeding those sects. Somewhere along the line one has to grow up and admit that dogmatism leads to division-- and that this is neither good nor bad, but just the way things must be.

Or must be, if we cannot all agree. That's the rub. The hardest fact for the Catholic position is that the big differences (with the conspicuous exception of Arianism) are not going away. One would expect that if human mental effort were even relevant to the matter, one would see the "faulty" positions fall away; but they do not. Instead, Catholicism-- even the word itself-- is coupled to strategies of escaping from the intellectual criticism of one's opponents.

So now we have two big infallible sects: Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. And you know, I don't care. Al says:
One of the reasons I became Catholic was the ability of the Catholic Church, as expressed in Lumen Gentium, both to assert her exclusive catholicity and to affirm the catholic elements found in particular Churches and ecclesial communities outside her canonical boundaries.
But every sect has that ability. It's the plausibility of the assertion that counts, and plausibility is, by its nature, subjective.

The biggest hole in all of this is the amnesia of our many personal histories in this. Since Al is now denying that, by virtue of his priestly office, I ever received grace from his hand, I'm faced with, on the one hand, his and my apparent faith, and its central role in motivating any positive relationship with any church, and on the other, his adoption of a theology which denies efficacy to that faith. It's the same old story I've seen dozens of time: in order to protect his personal judgements from his old church, he picks a new church under whose infallible aegis he can tuck his old faith. The only defense it then requires is that of ratifying his rejection of where he was, a defense it provides by virtue of its claims to infallibility. But what good is one's personal rejection anyway? Catholically, none at all. If the only intellect that can be trusted is that of the magisterium, then they have nothing to say to me. If the only intellect that can be trusted is that of the church fathers, then they have nothing to say to me. Argue with me, and you have conceded some efficacy to my intellect.

In comments to Al's article, one Perry Robinson said:
Going from last to first, the branch theory is implausible because it is ad hoc.
That's about as reasonable as saying the same thing of natural science (and in the latter case, it is an accurate "criticism"). If the church is real, then surely really touching it, hearing it, seeing it, and knowing it trumps ecclesiological theorizing about it. My big problem with Anglicanism is that, after seemingly touching the church in it, I now find big problems in it myself. But what the Catholic position is telling me about my life thus far is self-refuting. If I never touched the church where I was, then I'm basically forced to the conclusion that there is no church, because in the Roman Catholic Church I personally do not touch the church.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Family Under the Lasch

Salty Vicar points to an article in Policy Review reflecting on some of the writings of Christopher Lasch, most famous as the author of The Culture of Narcissism. I was not familiar with his work, but as it turns out it is accessible in small doses and reasonably available on the internet.

A convenient example is an article and some responses which originally appeared (in part) in Tikkun. The irst article, while titled as if it were an attack upon the right's view of the family, contains a pretty potent criticism of the left's expansion of the word into "non-traditional" territory. One Lillian Rubin responded specifically (and from a feminist posture) to that critique, prompting a further response from Lasch titled "Why the Left Has No Future". It is a blissful relief to read such discourse (even as much as I disagree with parts of it) after all the positional posturing which is the standard mode of argument in the blogosphere.

I tend to prefer his positions to those of Ms. Rubin in the exchange, if not always for exactly the same reasons. I am struck by his references to "capitalism" in his responses, and I think there is a certain weakness in his position in these references. For example, he says

Professionals, [Moynihan] observes, have a vested interest in discontent, because discontented people turn to professional devices for relief. But the same principle underlies modern capitalism in general, which continually tries to create new demands and new discontents that can be assuaged only by the consumption of commodities.
This is true, but it is looking at the wrong end of the transaction. Professionals become so through investment in education, and they need to make that investment pay off. Even if one eliminates the financial cost of education, the learning of a trade is going to lead someone to exercise it, if only as a matter of personal pride. And if these people didn't study to become therapists of some sort or another, what would they be doing? Lasch exhibits a certain nostalgia for the self-supporting homestead, but the reality is that civilization practically exists out of the creation of commerce to allow the household to rise above the treacherous life of subsistence agriculture or hunting. It's not so much capitalism as it is economy that produces the pressures which Lasch decries.

On the positive side, however, Lasch puts enough difference between himself and the economy to be able to make social criticism about how it is managed. In contrast, the existing left and right forces in politics manifestly lack that distance. The official right effectively denies that such criticism has any merit at all. This is a philosophy for the wealthy and privileged, and it's only made plausible to the masses (a) by their longing to become rich, and (b) because the official left wraps itself up in equally implausible social positions and is in reality also tied up in wealth and privilege.

There's a strangely Panglossian strain to both sides: everything in their subculture is the best of all possible worlds. And the same strain can be heard in Christianity. The last thing either side is willing to admit is that people do not espouse a consistent set of principles and then act accordingly. And yet that's the first thing one should conclude from the Judaeo-Christian recognition of the sinful state of mankind. Thus it's odd, in the middle of the current Anglican crisis, for someone who is a supporter of the leftist program of the church hierarchy to appeal to Lasch, who seems to me (particularly in the article I cited) to be a determined opponent of that program.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Validity of Orders

Back over in Are Anglicans Really Catholic? Al Kimel made the following observation:
I was only noting that for both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, the question of validity of their Orders is simply not a question for them. Why? Because they “know” that they are the catholic Church and therefore they know their ministerial Orders must be valid.

Well, not exactly. Catholics must also "know" Orthodox orders to have been valid because there is a sense in which Catholic orders, springing as they do from a common origin, are dependent in the past on Orthodox orders. In that sense, it's not hard to take the same analogy over to Anglican orders...

...if you feel so moved. Because, again, the ultimate test of validity of orders is whether they "work". Having come into the Episcopal Church without subjecting it to any theological criticism whatsoever, I found myself simply excepting the validity of its ministers, because they were my ministers. It never occurred to me to question, when I changed parishes, whether the sacraments of the rector of St. Mark's Highland were valid: I was an Episcopalian, and St. Mark's was (and is) an Episcopal church, and he was then an Episcopal priest, and where's the problem?

The problem now is that this priest was the Rev. Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., the author of the above quote. And his writings here are not so much renunciations of his old orders, as denunciations. My credulity simply will not stretch as far as this. I received the body and blood from his hands, and as far as I'm concerned, that's better evidence that the Roman theory of Anglican invalidity is horsehockey than any amount of theologizing can produce.

And now that Al has another post on the matter, I must step up to that word "catholic". Here we get caught in the question-begging titular usage of the word by the Roman church, which for sake of any kind of intellectual honesty must be set aside. "Catholic" doesn't mean simply being derivative of what is now the Roman church, and the Roman church will admit this when backed into a corner. To say that the Roman church is Catholic is only to say that it has certain properties.

But again, this falls down into "where I am, there is the church". I spent a decade in a Presbyterian church saying that I believed in "the holy Catholic church", which of course I assumed meant in some sense my own church. After all, as this Wikipedia article points out, mainline protestants of all sorts were saying the same thing in church. What they meant by it, on one level, was faith in the unity of the church through space and time.

These days it seems to me that those who started using the word meant what the Eastern churches today mean by it, and not what the Romans mean by it. I say this only because those who use the term don't have as much control over it as they might think. But what's more striking is the observation that the word was from the beginning used not to include, but to exclude.

Catholicity is ultimately not about who's in the church, but who is outside the church. Its meaning ends up being subjective because it means "what is sufficiently alien from my church as to be excluded".

Going back to the Wikipedia article again, the author goes on to identify a subclass of catholicism in which certain attitudes about sacraments, ecclesiology, and praxis are shared. This is where the problem becomes acute because Anglicans as a rule share views with the Roman and Eastern churches on this set of points, while disagreeing with other views shared by the latter two groups. And on this set of views, they diverge from the other protestants, to the point where some are reluctant to even consider them protestant. But either way Anglicans are going to mean "catholic" in a way that reflects their history.

And we as converts can be suspected of our usage reflecting our personal histories. With respect to someone theologically rejecting Anglicanism for the Roman church, "Catholic" can be taken to mean "not Anglican". Taxonomy is overwhelmed by politics.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

When Primates Meet

Fr. Jake, commenting on Barry Wales evaluation of the primates' meetings:

As I have said previously, I think the issue of authority is emerging as the primary concern in discussions within the Anglican Communion.

Authority is not the problem. Discipline: that is the problem.

See, the problem with a polity that allows almost anything is that it allows actions which "break" that polity. This is reflected on both sides of the current struggle. Ordination of women, Piko-Spongian apostasy, and the current changes in the sexuality teachings of the church all took advantage of the inability of conservatives to bring the polity of the church to bear, both in General Convention but also in ecclesiastical trials which ruled, in essence, that the denomination has no theological limits. A tradition of theological tolerance meant that the conservatives could not preserve their own positions, because they were forced to tolerate liberal positions being increasingly being written into the canons.

And now the same process is being used against them. The lack of any kind of reciprocal control over the various churches means in effect that the communion churches are empowered to act in concert to change that. It's impossible to stop the primates from seizing power, because there is no power there now with which to stop them. As the primates are independent agents-- at least, independent of each other's churches-- there is nothing stopping them from changing the basis of the relationship except the power that each church has over its own primate.

And that explains the actions in Nigeria. That church is being freed internally to make whatever changes it may decide are required externally.

American liberals do not want to be subject to the discipline of a larger communion which disapproves of their actions: that is what the maneuvering around the Windsor Report comes down to.