Sunday, October 30, 2011


Fleming Rutledge, one might expect if you've ever read any of her preaching, is no fan of Marcus Borg. And especially she is not a fan of a catchphrase he has taken up: "Jesus trumps the Bible." Now it may occur to you that she is criticizing this out of context, but, well, let's have it in his own words:
And because Christians find the primary revelation of God in a person and not in a book, Jesus is more central than the Bible. Jesus trumps the bible; when they disagree, Jesus wins. Yet, of course, we know about him primarily through the Bible, and in particular through the New Testament. (The Heart of Christianity, p. 81)
He then appeals to the central modernist paradigm, for the next section of the book begins with an exposition of images of God, taking for granted that a traditionalist image is unacceptable:
The first reason that a historical-metaphorical approach matters is that an earlier image of Jesus and the image of the Christian life that goes with it have become unpersuasive to millions of people in the last century. (p. 81)
And that leads right to the issue I invariably have at this point: why and how should we care about their disbelief?

Here I and Rutledge take a slight divergence, though I think it is one of emphasis rather than a difference of opinion. Her reaction to hearing Borg speak focuses on the problem of actually constructing this alternate image, particularly on the distinction Borg makes between a pre- and post-Easter Jesus. She is absolutely right in denying this distinction, and her grounds for that denial is spot on-- and really, right up the alley that Borg is trying to argue. We don't have any pre-Easter documents about Jesus, not unless you want to work with the Old Testament, which I'm pretty sure contains a lot of the material that Jesus is supposed to trump (and I'll bet that Paul's exposition of sexual morality is another). The gospels, though, are emphatically post-Easter documents, and it is they that we go to for word of the pre-Easter Jesus. Thus we see that Jesus through post-Easter eyes; the texts themselves work against such a separation.

But it seems to me that beyond this, the key phrase is towards the end of the first section I quoted: "we know about him primarily through the Bible." Phrased that way, it carries the implication that there is some other source. But what is that source? Well, there is the church, but given his devaluation of tradition I would say that her teachings aren't what he had in mind. Borg, at least in this book, takes a while to tip his hand, but several pages later, having stumbled over the Chalcedonian problem of the natures of Christ with giving it a mention, he finally get to his new authority, in analyzing the messianic titles and language of Jesus:
First, this language is post-Easter. A strong majority of mainline scholars think it unlikely that Jesus said these things about himself; he probably did not speak of himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Light of the World, and so forth. Rather, this is the voice of the community in the years and decades after Easter. (pp. 86-87)
A quick check in an online bible search discloses that Jesus does say exactly that he is the Son of God and the Light of the World, so clearly we must conclude from this that the wisdom of the scholars, some of the scholars at least, is greater than the text of the Bible. I don't think much of this, and neither does Rutledge: "It has been shown over and over again that attempts to construct a “historical Jesus” or “real Jesus” apart from the faith-based witness of Scripture end in failure because such attempts are grounded, not in the text, but in the bias of those who undertake them." Indeed, that qualifier "mainline" is necessary because a survey shows a distinct lack of consensus on the matter: one could indeed assume that Borg identifies the mainline precisely in its agreement with this thesis.

If an unexamined life isn't worth living (an exaggeration, I would say), then unexamined scholarship is worse than worthless. It's impossible for me to read the "mainline" material and not come away with the conclusion that it's largely worthless because it begs the question. It already knows that Jesus cannot be a miracle worker, cannot be aware (somehow) of his divinity, cannot indeed be divinely born of a virgin. OK, so where's the proof of all these "cannots"? Well, Borg, at least in close proximity to the passages I've quoted, doesn't say, but one gets the sense that the scriptural God is distasteful. But like all good modernists, he fails to put his own predilections on the spot. If the problem with traditional Christianity is that it doesn't "work" for everybody (and within it's own schema, that's not a problem ), the problem with the modernists is that they won't admit that their scheme doesn't work for everyone either, and that the traditionalist scheme does work for probably the majority of Christendom. The relativism that they try to paper over this with doesn't wash: they really believe that the traditional teachings are wrong for everyone. So the big issue in this is really the whole problem of doubt, the unexamined and taken-for-granted doubt that is at the root of the modernist program. It is that doubt which is the true teaching of the moderns, and it is a teaching that does not move me, for I do not doubt, not on their terms.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not That We Work for the Guy

When I go to the church website, I almost never look at what's on the front page, because 99% of the time my next act is to click on "A-Z Directory" on the way to the "Research and Statistics" subsection. So it failed to catch my eye that this was prominently displayed:

The cadence is that familiar prayer book style, but if you will turn in your 1979 BCP to page 821, you will see that the standard "you/who/do/through" form as shown on the website is missing the last part, for the prayer continues: "through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." Not surprisingly, though, the Forces of Ridicule at StandFirm noticed it. And while I think the "He Who Must Not Be Named" dig is overmuch, one does have to wonder what possessed someone to leave that bit behind when they laid the text on the front page of the website.

Meanwhile, various people can, I suppose, sleep a little more easily, knowing that the Executive Council has rejected the Anglican Covenant and is putting it before General Convention next year, expecting the same rejection. I suppose someone felt that they had to go through the motions, but everyone knew several years back that the the church establishment was never going to submit to any sort of outside discipline, especially since the cause and nature of said discipline has been known since 2003. I don't need to spell out the hypocrisy of it all over again, but it seems to me that there's another wrinkle to it that may not have caught everyone's notice.

At the moment the anti-Lawrence effort is still in some early stage of bureaucratic digestion. I think it would be a very bad thing for Lawrence to be deposed through this process, but if the expulsion were to succeed, and GC specifically denounces the covenant, then the way would be open for deposing every bishop and seizing control of every diocese which signed on to it.

I really do not recall the part where Jesus said to act like this, and I do remember the part where he said not to.

UPDATE: Word came late yesterday that the prayer has been fixed. I still wonder how it was put up wrong, but there is only so much malice one is entitled to presume.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Finding Lawrence a Griddle

Nobody should be surprised that the conservative Anglican blogosphere is ringing with the news that charges have been brought against Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina. The list of charges and evidence runs to sixty-three pages, and much of it is either obviously rubbish or represents a very curious perspective on the accusers. For instance, charges 9 through 11 are basically accusing him of associating with undesirables and holding views not in line with the progressive agenda; there's nothing wrong with this, not considering how the progressives came to power.

The most serious charges are the first five, which step directly up to the polity issues in the church today. These are what manifestly stand behind how many of the liberals understand the issue: they think that Lawrence intends to follow Fort Worth, San Joaquin, and Pittsburgh in leaving the denomination. That seems to me to explain half the reason for the timing of this, the other half being the Title IV changes which took effect in the summer and which set up the process for prosecuting Lawrence. The other half the reason, I am guessing, is that the course of legal decisions in the state is presenting the risk that the hierarchy up north might not prevail in a lawsuit over possession of properties; the strategy for preventing those losses, therefore, would be to place a bishop acceptable to the progressives on the throne preemptively.

The question of strategy inevitably leads to the question of who is pressing the charges, and while this is not being disclosed, all sign point back to the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, an AAC-style parachurch group which has strong connections to St. Mark's Chapel, a extra-diocesan church plant which Lawrence has refused to acknowledge as a mission (that's Charge 8). The congregation was started by a retired priest not resident in the diocese (thus protecting him from Lawrence's discipline), and it's not to hard to figure out that part of rationale is to devil the bishop in some manner, perhaps in the manner of making one of the present charges possible. At any rate there is a great lack of transparency, particularly as to the PB's participation. One of the complaints about the new canon is the poor process it presents, and indeed, if you believe various analyses, KJS is already supposed to have become involved by this point.

But one gathers, based on the history of these things, that process isn't going to matter much. After all, the deposition of Duncan proceeded in the face of lacking the requisite approval of the consulted bishops. Unless there is a major revolt by the moderates, Lawrence will be subjected to something of a kangaroo court and be removed, and the diocese is highly likely to leave anyway at that point. And as a lot of people have said, the church really cannot afford to lose the only domestic diocese that is showing substantial gains in membership and attendance.