Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Meanwhile, in Atheist Land

Now that Christopher Hitchens has died and people have ceased to care much about Richard Dawkins's strident atheism, apparently others have decided they need to take up the slack. Thus we are presented, in the NYT, with a fairly tame and tired defense of atheistic morality, courtesy of one Louise M. Antony, who "teaches philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst." She does not give me a lot of confidence in the quality of instruction there, as she skips over the whole 19th-20th century demolition of natural law with nary a mention of so crucial a figure as our old buddy Friedrich Nietzsche. On the strength of this recommendation I've taken up reading Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II by Michael Burleigh, and while I would agree that, thus far, he goes a little easy on the allies (an early section on Churchill leans to the hagiographic) the relentless listing of the atrocity-based methods of Nazi and Communist rule laves me with little doubt about their moral systems. Yes, atheists can be moral, and that's mostly because most atheists in the USA at least take their moral compass from the hands of those Enlightenment moralists who fused Christian and old pagan virtue; one doubts, however, that Marx was enamored of the Stoics. The years passed, and we all saw that, in the end, almost anything could be justified, or indeed justification set aside entirely. Natural law worked only as long as all more or less agreed on its basic principles, and in time, that agreement failed.

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post we have yet another tired atheist trope, this time in the declaration that "Celebration, despite their protests, does not belong solely to the pious." Here the question is why the irreligious should celebrate Christmas, to which this particular pious person must reply, "Madame, you may celebrate, but you do not observe Christmas." We of course must be trotted through all the tired old saws about how it's really a co-opted pagan holiday anyway (which may or may not be true) and how it's about family and stuff, and one longs for Linus to set Charlie Brown straight again for another year. As with nearly everything about Christian holidays, it's all about anamnesis, the annual recollection of the miracle of the incarnation, how God hallowed human flesh to the utmost and set us on the road to Calvary and redemption. All that family stuff is nice if your family is pleasant and hell if they aren't, and giving presents can likewise cut either way depending upon how you feel about shopping. But it's all supplementary to the real observance of the feast. Our atheist is sentimental; we are faithful. There is a great and unbridgeable gulf between the two.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pantheist Broadcasting Service

So here I am in the living room, having made my squash and shrimp bisque (recipe to follow), and I've turned on WETA, the local PBS station. And they're showing Journey of the Universe, which at first seems to be some sort of Grand Science Survey a la Carl Sagan's old Cosmos series. However, the film's thesis, it appears, is founded in an expression of religion: Brian Swimme, the scientist you see on screen, is frequently identified as a pantheist, and the theologian you don't see, at least in the first episode, is Mary Evelyn Tucker, who is strongly connected to evolutionary and environmental theology.

Swimme's earlier book, The Universe Is a Green Dragon, expresses the view that there is a teleology to cosmic history. You can read this excerpt to get a flavor of the thing. What is striking isn't so much the religious spin he puts on the facts of cosmology, but that PBS is so willing to present this stuff in this way. It's hard to imagine John Polkinghorne stood up in front of the camera to present his very Anglican and very Christian view of the same topics, and not just because he isn't as handsome as Swimme, or for that matter as Deepak Chopra, whose Hindu-esque/new-age take on Christianity also saw PBS airtime. It's rather obvious that the public television people are uncomfortable with letting Christianity express itself on their airwaves, except as a historical relic (any number of "historical Jesus" programs) or as the source of aesthetic outpourings (Sister Wendy and various musical presentations). But they aren't uncomfortable with religion when it makes nothing more than impersonal demands which happen to already line up with their subculture's mores.

In the case of the program at hand, those demands are environmentalist, and never mind the irony that Tucker herself admits elsewhere that pantheist religion has a poor environmental record. Environmentalism traces rather plainly into Christianity: it is from thence that the obligation to manage Creation rightly springs, even though the expression comes at a certain distance. It's rather ironic that Swimme's theses can be taken in a decidedly anti-environmentalist direction, considering the emphasis he puts on the inexorability of evolutionary development. It is surely the case that we can screw up the earth enough so that we cannot live on it, but not enough so that nothing can live on it, in which case one assumes that Life will try again and replace us with something which it hopes will be less destructive. Personally I find Pokinghorne's anthropic analysis to make far more religious sense: if the universe "wants" sentient beings, there's no particular reason for it to want them. And there's no strong cosmological argument against the possibility that, absent the Apocalypse, humanity will live and die alone on this planet, with nothing to show the rest of the universe except a tiny handful of space probes which may well travel on into the void unnoticed, and an electronic whisper into the ether that goes unheard before it is silenced. Is that what the universe really wants?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Two Days, One Not Infamous

There's a limit to how much an Anglican should spend on the new Roman mass translation that English-speaking Catholics switched to on Lent 1 of this year. It's not as bad as the old, pedestrian version, with its occasional egregious misrepresentation of scripture, but it isn't good either: nobody noticed that one needs to use English syntax as well as English vocabulary (and never mind "consubstantial"), and the problems with the Latin text are faithfully reproduced. It perhaps represents a break from the ecclesioclasm of a generation back, but to suggest that it is going to break Catholics of rushing through mass as quickly as possible so they can get to their Sunday shopping, or that they are going to start having kids in sufficiency to supply the altar with priests and the schools with nuns: I don't see that happening. An Anglican converting, I suspect, is going to be stuck with most of the same RC theological and practical issues.

My traddie acquaintances are all for it, of course, topped with some degree of longing for Tridentine Latin. Not that they are SSPX/V sedevacantists; they aren't that rebellious. But it is striking the degree to which an anti-establishment contrarianism colors them, and I have to suspect that the fact of them having all been betrayed by the Episcopal Church enters into this. Of course our grip on the establishment was broken back in the sixties, much as we continue to delude ourselves otherwise; we are really incapable of putting pressure on the political establishment anymore, and we have become increasing divided in our subservience to social liberal interests on the one side and neocons on the other. But the liberal capture of church polity continues to make the faithful life difficult, and it is understandable that people give up and go elsewhere.

Once elsewhere, though, the craziness bursts forth. One of the things that I find striking is how often this sort of conversion is accompanied by an attachment to political revisionism as well, and aside from the occasional Marxist, there seems to be a strong attraction to American right wingery: paleoconservatism, or its cousin libertarianism. And that leads to a striking susceptibility to crank theories. So every December 7th rolls around, and one of these guys puts up his inevitable post advocating the old theory that FDR deliberately provoked the Pearl Harbor attack in order to pull the USA into the war. The centerpiece of this conspiracy theory is Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit, which any genuine historian finds faulty to the core. It's easy to find fault with Stennitt's claims: the McCollum memo does not support his interpretation, and his claims about allied code reading simply are not true. A set of fringe theorists making questionable claims is not good enough reason to abandon the orthodox theory: that while we did put pressure on the Japanese, their military considered us a threat anyway and might just as well have attacked without the pressuring; that the surprise at Pearl Harbor was paradoxically made possible by the fact that the chain of command did not ensure readiness because the expectation of attack was so high, they presumed that obvious preparation would be made; that FDR did want to go to war against Germany, but was surprised that Germany would make this possible by (for once) honoring treaties and declaring war on the US on Japan's behalf.

Not surprisingly, these people don't like JFK and are willing believe in assassination conspiracies about him. The fact, unfortunately, is that JFK was the model of a modern American Catholic, and these traddies are not. Maybe they're conservative, maybe they aren't, but they take the more classically Catholic position that the pope is a point of loyalty, not someone to be obeyed. One also imagines that the average American Catholic is of a more pragmatic view on politics, and is not wedded to the hyper-Enlightenment rationality of libertarianism, which really doesn't take sin seriously enough. It is entirely germane that that the doctrines of American conservatism are more powerful than the teaching of the church, so that when the Vatican insists on the obligations of societies, through their governments, fulfill their obligation to take care of the poor, the traddies go through contortions to push this away from the teaching authority which they would otherwise ascribe to the church.

I've not been able to turn off my Protestantism anyway. But it seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with a viewpoint which is controlled by a doctrine of fringiness.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Glance at the Door

Advent 1 came, and the Roman Catholics switched to their more accurate but excessively Latinate new rite, and we quite predictably started off with Helmsley (warning: way over-the-top arrangement), and for whatever reason did two verses of Veni Immanuel instead of the Kyrie, and truncated the sequence hymn, and finally we got to the prayers. And here I was put on the spot: I was called upon the previous week to chant them, but what I was given was none of the forms from the BCP. It was some text from who knows where, gassy and trite, constructed of theological cliches. It failed to satisfy the rubrics, which specify a list of subjects about which prayers are to be made, and it indulged in the presently fashionable practice of refusing to use pronouns for the Godhead. This at least I dealt with by singing in English instead of Theocant, for which sin I was taken to task at coffee hour by a lay adherent of this practice. There was nothing to be done, however, for the failure to observe the rubrics; I toyed with the idea of inserting some scraps of Form I but decided it would be too conspicuous a demonstration.

I had wanted to avoid participating in this at all, but what with Thanksgiving and the general chaos of my life I never got around to demurring until too late. I did find myself telling my remonstrator that I would not be chanting the text again, not because of the emasculation, but because of the rubrical violation. But an attempt to briefly touch upon why I do not accept the neuterist theory of god-language ended up with the other person gleefully proclaiming herself to be a heretic, and then justifying this with "broad church", as if the label were accurate rather than ironic. For of course, broad churchmanship is that most strongly associated with theological adventurism and an inability to live within the canons.

The priest said nothing to me, but then he and I never talk about anything substantial. It is the first time I have had a priest who made me wary of theological discourse. The search for a new rector fills me with deep unease, as I sense that there is a will to steer the parish further from the Zion of Al Kimel's day, and into the surrounding hills where we can be made safe for Inclusivity. I am also beginning to wonder how much longer I will be able to say the words of the liturgy. I stopped attempting to follow the BCP revision materials because they have been uniformly terrible: simultaneously pedestrian and overwritten, and full of every manner of theological innovation. But we cannot talk about these things in any orderly fashion, for fear of offending someone other than a creedal Christian. Inclusivity means never being able to do theology, because theology is exclusive. It really bugs me that nobody seems to be able to simply do what is before them on the page; if the variety of official rites already weakens the unitive significance of a common liturgy, how much more so when, increasingly, priests present the laity with words which are not ours.

I had started on the road to a resignation that, though there was little hope of reversing the trend towards a fraudulent latitudinarianism, I at least could hope to stay with my church to the end of my days. Now it seems this is not to be. And on top of this, my parish is failing quickly. Attendance is off 40% from a decade ago, and is less than half of our peak in 2007; we have run a deficit for at least half the year. The surrounding parishes are not encouraging, and nearly every problem I've mentioned here is emphasized in The Other Diocese. To no small degree it is bloody-minded loyalty which keeps me in an Episcopal pew, but I have no loyalty to liturgies which are not ours; and I cannot have any loyalty to a bishop who cannot say the creed without crossed fingers and who willy-nilly ignores the canons and rubrics.

And thus, I look over at the door, and contemplate the possibility of passing through that gateway, out of this church.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Time to Quash This

Diocesan conventions are the warm-up for General Convention, at least when it comes to the resolutions. Of late a couple of interesting cases have come up, neither of which bodes all that well.

Down in Atlanta they haven't had their convention yet, so this list of proposed resolutions at least theoretically could go down to uniform defeat. That won't happen: boilerplate in support of suicide prevention, immigrants (legal or not), parental leave, health insurance, and against bad immigration law, human trafficking, and the death penalty are likely to be ineffectual; but if one were to publicly come out against passing them, for whatever reason, it would look bad. It's the second to last proposal, however, that has caught a lot of eyes: the Rev. Benno D. Pattison, rector of Epiphany, Atlanta, proposes to "appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition." Now Pelagianism doesn't have a good rep, even as the various historical revisionists argue whether he actually held the views assembled under that heading. One has to wonder whether this is as much about rehabilitating the heresy as it is pardoning the man. It's easy to ridicule, and the usual places wasted no time in doing so. Update: Over at Catholicity and Covenant it is pointed out that the Pelagians are denounced by name in Article 9.

All of this is a sideshow, for the real menace comes from Connecticut. Its convention seems to have spent less time on fluff self-affirmations and more on administrative housework. But they managed to push through a couple of resolutions that will cause some trouble. You will not be surprised to learn that they now allow clergy in the diocese to act as agents of the state in performing same-sex marriages. It can be assumed that all liberal dioceses will eventually take such action, so it's not surprising that Conn. is taking steps now, though the Usual loud types will go on about it. Far more troublesome is a resolution declaring "a year for theological and catechetical reflection, dialogue, discussion, conversation and listening among parishes of this diocese on “Communion of the Unbaptized” [welcoming all, baptized or not, to Holy Communion]". Readers may remember that the reaction to Derek Olsen's series against this was not all that well-received in some parts. That was simple discussion, but as Rev. Dr. Mom says in Derek's post on the resolution, "dialogue" is a word that should raise a red flag to anyone committed to orthodox positions:
And I’m afraid that you are correct about conversation meaning “we’re going to talk until you see that you’re wrong.” In the forum held the evening before resolutions came to the floor, there were lots of comments that implied that CWOB was a foregone conclusion and we should all get with the program.
It's pretty obvious what the pattern will be, unless the laity step in to quash it: there will be a great deal of talking in which the innovators will use the word "inclusion" in every sentence and utterly ignore the orthodox position; it will be implied that defenders of the orthodox doctrine are hateful snobs; the innovators will declare that the Holy Spirit has moved everyone to a consensus for CWOB; and eventually heavy pressure will be placed upon those upholding the traditional and scriptural teaching on the matter. Even if the laity manage to quash this (because this is the sort of thing that comes out of the clerisy), it's likely to be the case that priests will get away with CWOB invitations, and attempts to discipline them will likely bring us to a Tennis-like declaration that it's not part of our core doctrine.

Somewhere along the line here, the liberals who say they are orthodox are going to have to stand up and be counted. CWOB is so fundamentally opposed to orthodox Christian thinking about salvation, the church, and the sacraments that it has to be stopped. They are going to have to summon up the nerve to tell the radicals that we already have a means to inclusion that we've been given from the beginning. It's called baptism, and for those who never crack a prayer book, it starts on page 299.

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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Ends, But Not the Doldrums

Things have gotten slack in the Anglican blogging world, so that the best I can observe about actual events is that the Diocese of New York coadjutor slate is made up of what seems to be the standard set of candidates for a liberal diocese these days:
It's hard to get excited about it: everyone except the last makes the ritual obeisance to the Spirit of Inclusion, so I would guess that the bishop will remain bishop of where he is now instead of being enthroned in Harlem. I assume if they elect the lesbian that the Stand Firm people will be briefly distracted from the string of neo-con/Libertarian political posts and will make their ritual denunciations, and that the diocese will move on to uncanonically marrying homosexuals out in the open instead of behind church doors (if indeed they are bothering to be so circumspect now). I cannot imagine in any case that much will change, no matter who is elected: numbers in the diocese will continue to decline as before, in a smog of upper-middle self-congratulation.

Meanwhile the ordinariate is receiving a second ECUSA parish. It is simply pitiful to hear the goings-on about this from the traddy Roman side, as though the influx of a small number of Continuing parishes is going to have any effect in the great sea of American liturgical indifference. It is at least encouraging to see new churches and renovations which pay any attention to artistic merit, but the level of churchmanship still seems stuck at "wham/bam/thank you--" well, not "ma'am" but you get the idea. About the only thing I can hope for is that the infection of RC liturgical notions can be halted.

Speaking of which: so here it is Sunday morning, and guitar and hymnal services have been combined for the summer, and the organist can't be there this week. So we sing one of the listed hymns and the doxology, unaccompanied, and then nerve is lost on the final hymn and it gets replaced with a Cursillo thing which most people don't know. And you know what? The congregation sings far more enthusiastically on the unaccompanied hymns than it does on the guitar songs. Now this was trending to an older crowd, but I'm going to guess that if the kids aren't singing the hymns, they aren't singing the guitar songs either.

And thus ends a rather rambling blog post.

Monday, August 22, 2011

On the Other Hand

If I came upon a service in which the "creed" which Bryan Owen quotes here was recited, I'd get up and walk out. Conspicuously.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Can Anyone Say "Credo"?

One should not be surprised to find over at the Episcopal Cafe this sort of routine liberal paean to unorthodoxy, I suppose. Personally I think that someone who is expressing these sentiments ought not to be a candidate for ordination.

Meanwhile (courtesy of Bryan Owen) we have a superb essay from Matt Gunter on the centrality of the creeds and their importance as a focus for Christian belief. I would like to elaborate on two points he raises, and then address one of my own.

First, in answer to the question, But, isn't one's faith about one's relationship with the living God and with God's children. Can’t we just say Love God and love your neighbor and leave it at that? , he writes in part:
It is inadequate to appeal to a simplistic pietism, whether in its more conservative or more liberal versions, that says "Don't bother me with doctrine, just give me Jesus". We have no access to Jesus other than the Gospels which are soaked in interpretation (doctrine) of who Jesus is and why it matters. And the creeds are the Christian guide to understanding God in light of Jesus.
To this I would add two things. The word "relationship" is (as this mathematician constantly finds himself pointing out) only the context of the issue; the need is of course to put oneself into right relationship with God. And if you take John 3:16 seriously, an important, perhaps crucial component of that relationship is beliecing the right thing about Jesus. A Christian needs to be able to answer the challenge "who do you say that I am?" correctly.

And where do we get the answers to that question? Well, the church remembers them. I seemingly cannot emphasize the centrality of anamnesis enough in this: the church is our conduit back the the historical truth of Jesus. The creed, besides its own content, stands as a synecdoche for the recollected truth of the Church. The all-too-obvious problem with a lot of the doubting is that it reflects listening to what the World says about Jesus. And not just the World, but a world which has turned away from Jesus and rejects Him, that is, the world of modernist, Enlightenment-driven skepticism. It doesn't seem reasonable to me to prefer a voice which has rejected Jesus over that which is specifically commissioned to recollect Him.

Second, he raises the question, "But isn’t the language of the Creed poetic, rich in metaphors?" I would like to rephrase his answer more forcefully. Some of it is metaphorical, but some of it is not. He says:
To say that all language about God acting in history, e.g., the virginal conception, the incarnation, and the bodily resurrection as historical, physical events, is metaphorical and only true in some spiritual sense is to try to be more spiritual than the God we know though Jesus has deigned to be.
I would put this more strongly. Those who first said the creed did not mean anything in the least bit metaphorical when they said that "Jesus[...] was crucified, died, and was buried." If a person says otherwise, they are not telling the truth. So if we say those same words, but mean them "poetically", we deny that Jesus was so executed; we essentially falsify them. So we move to the surrounding words. Nobody at Nicea held that the statements in Matthew and Luke concerning the Virgin Birth to be metaphorical in the sense that they accepted the assertion that Jesus was born through the normal biological processes in which some actual human male fathered him. Nobody then understood the phrase "rose from the dead" as implying that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the gospels didn't relate an encounter that was physical in the only sense that matters. (Indeed, the passages in John seem specifically intended to argue against any such interpretation.)

Metaphor is not a "get out of meaning free" card in any case. The utility of figures of speech presupposes that some figure conveys the meaning adequately, and that others do not. But the intent, after all, belongs to the speaker. Gnosticism may have been fading by the 400s, but there is not any doubt that the bishops were intent on excluding gnostic readings of scripture. No bishop at Nicea, not even Arius, wanted to leave open the possibility that Jesus remained dead or that he had an ordinary, earthly, biological father. Saying the creed "metaphorically" so as to assert those things is an act of intellectual dishonesty: it proclaims a unity of belief which the creed's formulators absolutely rejected. Not only that, but the need for metaphor is entirely lacking. One does not need figures of speech to relate the heterodox theories about Jesus, so one might as well speak what one believes in a manner which does not invite the false interpretation that one accepts the orthodox interpretation.

Finally, my own point: there isn't anything unreasonable about the expectation that people who cannot say the words ought either to find another job (if they are clerics) or another church (if they are not), or they should allow themselves to be instructed by the church and fix the defects in their theology. All of this is very much about the church as an institution, and it seems inevitably to trace back to power, and thence to politics. In my own church the creeds are connected directly to sacramental participation (as the Apostle's Creed is prerequisite to baptism) and to sacramental order (as the Nicene Creed appears in the order for consecration of a bishop). They are what we, individually and corporately, believe. Liberals within the church have long looked to the institution as a source of moral authority to push moral causes; but regardless of the other reasons why that authority has been eroded, the fundamental hypocrisy of clerics standing up and saying, "we believe, but I do not believe," also weakens the church's authority. A reasonable person, a not especially sophisticated reasonable person can see that the emperor lacks clothing: such a cleric does not teach with the church's authority, but only with his own. One can readily progress to the inferred teaching that the church has no real authority in the first place.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Blue Pencilling the Creed

From a comment in the Lead:
Today, in a class that explores our faith and our ministries, I gave the class a copy of the Nicene Creed and a pencil. The directions for the exercise: draw a line through any part of this creed you do not believe. Not a single person failed to strike out about a third to half. One left only, I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, and I believe in the Holy Spirit. The composition of the group: a retired professor of theology and church history, 2 clergy, 4 Episcopalians, 2 ELCA Lutherans, 1 Presbyterian. The simple fact is, that on any given Sunday, if you asked a congregation how many present believe the entire Nicene Creed as it is written, my best estimate is fewer than 25% would say so.
I really think that a deacon should not be encouraging people to strike out portions of the creed; or at least, if he do so, then he ought to be challenging them as to why they think they feel entitled to reject them. Well, since he's in another diocese and a deacon to boot, I don't suppose I have to worry about refusing communion with him.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not a Prophet

I am not a prophet. I am sure that most of you already knew that, but I just wanted to get that straight from the start.

Harold Camping is not a prophet either. For those of you who may have forgotten him, or who have never heard of him, he was the radio preacher who predicted that the world would end on May 21st. He had also predicted the end would come in 1988, and in 1994, and now he has moved the date to October 21st. After three failures I think it is safe to say that he is not a prophet.

Hananiah, in our first lesson, was a false prophet. Some people claim that Harold Camping's stroke which he suffered about three weeks ago is akin to Hananiah's fate, but since I am not a prophet, I cannot offer an opinion on that. Jeremiah, in this long passage of which I have subjected you to as little as I thought would make sense, has put on himself a yoke at the command of the LORD, as a symbol of Nebuchadnezzar's subjugation of Judah, a yoke which will eventually be broken, but not yet. We do not know why Hananiah takes it upon himself to say otherwise, but his words, his acts do not prevail against the true word which comes of God.

Prophecy is repeating the word of God; false prophecy is daring to speak in the name of God, but putting your own words in His mouth. There is an appalling lot of the latter going about. Either that, or we've gotten extremely fortunate: when I was writing this I typed “prophetic voice” and “episcopal” into Google, and it told me it had found fifty-four thousand results. And just for fairness' sake, I put in “catholic” instead of “episcopal” and got two hundred and eight thousand. The new version of the church calendar that has gone into trial use seems to identify political activists as “prophetic voices”, or in the case of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, unabashedly designates them as “liberators and prophets”. Personally, I am skeptical. However worthy the cause, I am not convinced that all who uphold it do so as messengers of God.. Our allies are not all Balaam, driven by the LORD to speak His word and to lay blessings upon Israel.

No, I do not think we have entered a new age of prophecy; I think we have entered a new age of hubris. God seems to have an awful lot to say about politics, and especially about the economy and about taxes and regulation and public policy. It cannot all be true, and I am inclined to believe that little of it is true. “Render unto Caesar what is due Caesar,” Jesus said, referring to a denarius with Caesar's profile upon it, and yet he did not say whether that very denarius truly belonged to Caesar. If Jesus could be so cryptic, how plain-spoken are those who claim to follow him.

And last week you heard an anthem to the trinity; but what only we in the choir saw was that there was a second set of words, words which did not pray to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. They could not bring themselves to say “Father”, so they addressed their first prayer to the “Creator”, setting themselves against the ancient judgement that creation was the act not only of the Father, but was accomplished through the Son and the Spirit as well, Just as redemption comes from and through all three persons of the Godhead. But this refusal to say the words of scripture is also a kind of false prophecy, speaking our words rather than His.

Now, I do not number myself among those conservative Protestants who hold that there is no new prophecy. But I myself am not a prophet, nor even a dresser of sycamore trees (as Amos said of himself). I am a man, baptized, who sings in the choir and who has been allowed to speak a sermon. God does not dictate these words to me in the night. Perhaps they are spoken in accordance to His will, or perhaps not; that is why I pray as I do before I preach. I believe that I have been called to speak to you; I have believed so for some decades; but the words are mine. And I am given to assume that this is true of most preachers, and of political activists, and of all the rest who speak in the name of the Godhead or in the name of the truth which is His being.

And yet Jesus in today's gospel also speaks of prophets. He speaks of the grace which those who repeat his message pass on to those who heed them. Jesus says these words to the disciples, in preparation for sending them out to preach among the Jews; earlier in this chapter he gives them instructions, and then teaching and advice for their journey. In this passage we must remember that the prophets and righteous ones being welcomed are the disciples themselves. He reassures them, and he reassures us: the disciples, and those who speak the Word in this age, but also those who hear them, and in hearing them hear God. When we speak the Word, we speak for the Word, and those who hear that Word hear the Word Himself, Jesus the Christ. And those who uplift those who speak that word are blessed, because they welcome the Christ as they welcome his ministers. And therefore we must hold ourselves open to hearing that word, and open to those who bring it to us. Though we must turn a deaf ear upon that which is false, we must not shut ourselves off entirely.

So keep a glass of cold water at hand for Christ's ministers-- or better still, welcome them by keeping your pledge up-to-date for the summer!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Third Time the Charm

Word has reached me that Al Kimel has been ordained again, this time in a complicated three-way arrangement between the OCA, ROCOR, and the Antiochians, the latter being where he is going to function as a western rite priest.

His second ordination hurt, and though he had cut off communication between us, word did get back to him and he eventually published an apologia if not an apology. Now, I have little use for the argument he made, and if I have not formally forgiven him, time has put the hurt in the past. But it is all vacated, so that when he said
I have never, of course, denied the presence of God within Anglicanism nor have I denied God’s use of my priestly ministry during my twenty-five years as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I rejoice that many of those whom I have been privileged to serve testify that I have been a vessel of God’s love and holy presence in their lives. It is unfortunate that Charlie has interpreted my conversion to Catholicism as a denial of such grace. Perhaps even more unfortunate is his apparent misunderstanding of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church on the reality of God’s grace within the Churches of the Reformation.
... my unwillingness to rely on his exposition of that "authentic teaching" is now made all the more easier by his abandonment of that authority for yet a third church. I've said it so many times, but it bears saying again: there is something fundamentally Protestant, and deeply unfaithful, about wandering from church to church based on one's own theological discernment. I regard this as one of the most spiritually dangerous practices out there, and I've seen so many people who have been deeply hurt by it, some to the point of apostasy. ECUSA may be the Whore of Babylon, but she's my whore, and I was called to her; I may eventually be driven elsewhere, but it won't because I went church shopping, nor because I divorced her in favor of another.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Moral Perils of the Consumer Church

The stuff appearing in The Lead on the Episcopal Cafe is often mostly useful in tracking clericalist interest in (a) homosexuality and (b) making sure that the rest of the communion can't tell them what to do, but other little tidbits do manage to squeeze their way in. So in a collection of various links they come up with the following story from the Financial Post: Fair-trade coffee producers often end up poorer.

What's going on here? Well, here we have upper-middles, SWPLs if you like, who want to make sure that they aren't exploiting anyone in the addiction to caffeine, nor contributing to world pesticide and fertilizer usage. So we have all this certification corporate bureaucracy to assure them that their choice of Organic Gumutindo from Uganda is more virtuous than (say) Maxwell House or Safeway store brand grown who knows where. Well. Really poor farmers can't afford pesticides or fertilizer, so what they grow is organic by default. They also can't afford the certification fees required so that they can get that all-reassuring claim to be organic. Meanwhile the fair trade label typically involves membership in a cooperative or some other corporation whose administrative mouths need to be fed too, thus siphoning off profit which otherwise could go to the farmer. And you should not be surprised to learn that the certification and cooperative organizations are not free of corruption. The upshot of this is that on the average small farmers who stay away from the whole fair-trade/organic market are actually seeing better income than those who participate.

So in the end, what we have here is a little industry whose whole purpose is the assuage the guilty consciences of the exploitative classes--by exploiting the very people that are supposed to be helped by the program! It's like a Marxist parody made real. It's also a testimony to the upper-middle worship of credentials, but that's a whole 'nother class of sinning.

And so here we are, expected to "seek and serve Christ in all persons", to "strive for justice and peace among all people," and to "respect the dignity of every human being," in short, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and instead we get a program which isn't about that. It's about reassuring us that we are good people, or at least superior to the Baptists. Our church doesn't really have a place for the poor and troubled but it's oh so easy to find room for fair trade programs and other "think locally, act globally" ineffectualities. Lawrence Solomon writes above of trying to explain to the representative of some church group how the fair trade certification doesn't really help the farmers, to no avail:
After a long pause, the church official replied something like: “I still think the parishioners would feel better knowing that they were drinking fair-trade coffee.”
Yep, feeling better about yourself: that's what loving your neighbor is all about.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Redde Mihi Stolam Immortalitatis

For the most part the Bad Vestments blog is a testament to I don't know what, some hideous convergence of bad taste and slovenliness and maybe color-blindness. This one, however, defies easy categorization.

Easter Sunday, in the Episcopal cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the canons was vested thusly:

And lest you think this is a stunt picture having nothing to do with the liturgy, you may see her again at the left edge of this picture taken during Easter Sunday's baptismal rite:

Honestly, I cannot fathom this. Does anyone have any good explanation?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

1979 and All That

Between the approach of Easter and the general slouch of the national church towards diminution and "inclusion" (which is to say latitudinarianism) there has not been the juxtaposition of motivation and time which leads to new posts. Moreover we are in mid-rector-search, and no man's parish is safe while that is underway.

At this point the various Anglican divisions in the USA seem set, modulo the tiny trickle in the Ordinariate (and all evidence is that it will indeed be tiny, and certainly not the revitalizing force which various RC traditionalists wish for). And for the most part, the liturgical dividing line will be between 1928 and 1979, with the various missals around the fringes.

Those of us who have been around long enough and have paid attention long enough will remember Peter Toon's various denunciads on behalf of the Prayer Book Society, and while in some respects he moderated his views, he nevertheless represents the party rejecting the books many innovations.

And innovations, if that is the word one wants to use for changes, are there in abundance. It is ironic, however, that the chief of all the changes, the restructuring of the Eucharist liturgy, has proven to be the most enduring feature, and that subsequent revisions, when they do not simply dismiss the book entirely, hew to the 1979 structure with almost no deviation. What happens instead is that people pick at the words. And here I see a parallel between Toon's program and the revisionists: there's an awful lot of claiming about what the 1979 words say that simply isn't there in the text.

Toon was certainly right to call attention to the various heretics wandering around in the ECUSA hierarchy. But he consistently missed the most obvious sign: that there were and are increasingly many clerics who will not say the words of their own prayer book. Five years ago the Office of Women's Heres-- er, Ministry put out a liturgy for discussion, and as I noted then, there was a lot of theological change hidden in the very many changes, little of which had to do with gender neutrality. It's hard to say that it has gotten better, or worse, or even different, but the inability to say "it is right to give him thanks and praise" persists.

Toon's argument was always that the differences between 1928 and 1979 wording lent themselves to various heretical interpretations. In my opinion, he was wrong about that. Certainly someone like Pike had no trouble interpreting 1928 in an unorthodox manner, and following him, Spong held to beliefs that could not be reconciled to the texts he mouthed on Sunday. Conversely, as I said above, the pressure to rewrite the words indicates that, if heresy is the intent, the current texts do not express it sufficiently.

But beyond that, there was another paradigm operating. Toon, it always seemed to me, operated from the assumption that the 1928 book represented a standard of orthodoxy. And therefore, it also always seemed to me that he assumed that the intent of pretty much any difference between the two books represented an intent to deviate from orthodoxy on the part of the 1979. Now I never used the 1928; I went directly from the services of the Green Book to the 1976 Proposed rites (which differed only in small ways). For me, therefore, taking the catholic stance of accepting the church's book, the standard of orthodoxy is 1979, not 1928. And since I do not participate in all these various heresies (and indeed see many beyond-1979 changes that explicitly encode some of these heresies), it is "obvious" to me that the texts do not imply what Toon would have them saying. And I think it is my view that is most prevalent, and that at least a few decades back that is how most people looked at 1979: they gave it an orthodox reading.

And furthermore, some of what he objects to could, I think, be defended. The most conspicuous case, also mentioned by Fr. Jonathan, is the "baptismal covenant".Here is where, in fact, I think we see the 1979 text in its most conservative and Anglican. It is inaccurate to say that its text turns away from a catholic and orthodox doctrine of the atonement: as Fr. Jonathan says, Prayer C, the most modern of the Eucharistic texts, hammers on it the hardest. What is novel is not this at all, but rather the acknowledgment that there is more to the Christian life than personal rectitude. And that realization is nothing more than say 150 years of hard-learned lessons about what the second great commandment entails. Respecting the dignity of every human being, striving for peace and justice: these are no more or less than what "loving your neighbor" demands. there is no reason for this to be controversial; nor am I constrained to interpret them to mean specifically the socialist program beloved of many church liberals.

and again, the tell-tale issue is that the pressure for change is on 1979's quite orthodox understanding of the need for atonement, redemption, and repentance. In that respect Toon was to some degree right in seeing 1979 as a step on the way towards corruption; but actual corruption has in practice brought forth an increasing mutilation of the 1979 text, so that now 1979 stands as the monument of orthodoxy against which the revisionists rail. Likewise, using the 1928 now doesn't mean for us what it did in 1928. It's a specifically reactionary and rebellious act.

Finally, Toon's line of argument reflects what I see as the most common error of liturgists: the notion that they can somehow control the faith of the church through these words. Fr. Jonathan assesses Toon's readings as "strained", which I would agree with; but insofar as such readings can be adopted, most laymen don't adopt them, and if it has gotten worse, I think it was not so long ago that the vast majority of ECUSA clerics also adopted straightforward, orthodox readings. The problem is not in the text, but in the readers. the best that one can hope for in a liturgy is that it encourages an orthodox and catholic reading; but one cannot write a liturgy that forces such a reading.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Not That Kind of Relationship

The Underground Pewster nails everything that is wrong with "dialogue" about sexuality: a hypothetical conversation between Bishop Waldo and a simple pewsitter.

I particularly loathe the phrase "living in relationship", which sits between "dialogue" and "living in community" on my Shelf of Theological Vacuity. Every two people live in some sort of relationship; the important thing is pinning down what that relationship needs to be like, and you know, God/people (your choice) invented these things called "rules" and "laws" to help us through this. "That kind of relationship" is discussed at length in scripture, and besides it doesn't take a lot of observation to realize that (a) long-term monogamy is what works best, and (b) "relationship" is a word which means "letting your sexual appetites and the drudgery of everyday life dictate your behavior."

At any rate, it took about thirty seconds for "not that kind of relationship" to become the new catchphrase in the Wingate household.

Friday, March 04, 2011

HarperCollins and the Velvet Elvis

The Christian and especially Anglican blogosphere is echoing now from the responses to the promotional campaign for Rob Bell's latest book. OK, so if you are a typical church-going Episcopalian, and you through some horrific accident stumbled upon this, you are wondering, "who in the heck is Rob Bell, and why should I care?" Well, you should care because Bell is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church, one of those gratingly hipster "emerging" churches, located in this case in Grand Rapids, which also happens to be the home of Zondervan and Eerdmans, the biggest evangelical publishers (Eerdmans also publishes a lot of Anglicana).

I suppose I shouldn't let my personal prejudices get in the way of all this, but I see Bell and think, "isn't time he grew up?" The guy is in his forties and he is trying to look as if he's twenty-five; yes, he has young kids, but he had them almost as late as I did. If his first kid had been born when he was 25 instead of almost 30 he would have a teenager now, and everyone knows that parents of teenagers cannot be hip. And probably wearing vestments isn't hip either, though one sees a lot of failed attempts to the contrary in the Episcopal Church. Vestments demand dignity, and what looks merely casual in hipster shirt-and-jeans (the shirt, of course, isn't tucked in) looks hopelessly undignified in vestments. (Vestments that are trying to look hip are grist for the Bad Vestments mill, which ranks lower on the scale than merely "undignified".) Yet there's a lot of wanabee Anglicanism (which is to say, Protestant Catholicism) on Mar's Hill's website, such as their recco of doing the Office, for which they link directly to an Episcopal Church site.

What I don't see is much Anglican influence in Bell's ideas. It's not clear how much the church's website reflects his personal views, but what he has written thus far reflects either an immersion in modernist theology, or at least a rediscovery of the same principles on his own. The example which everyone points to first is a passage from one of his early books, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith:
What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and the Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if you discover that in the first century the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at the time, the word virgin could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being "born of a virgin" also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? (p. 26)
I remember discussing all of these things (except the last, which is a new one on me and of course he doesn't cite anything) back in high school sacred studies and then again in college religion courses, thirty years ago. We are right in the middle of modernist country here, and it might occur to you that a leeettle bit of theological discussion may have happened since then, and not only that, but for decades and decades prior to that. And you would be right, except that somehow the modernists never seem to be able to hear the criticisms of traditionalists and even mainstream theologians. But to continue, Bell back in 2006 was still in the mode of actually answering his own rhetorical questions. He frames this whole thing in a metaphor in which his new system is likened to a trampoline, which he characterizes creedal faith in this manner:
It hit me while I was watch that for him [a creationist] faith isn't a trampoline; it's a wall of bricks. Each of the core doctrines for him is like an individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble. It appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole thing is in danger.
Now, as usual, the deck is rigged by picking someone whom even most traditionalists outside of a subsection of radically conservative Protestantism think is quite wrong. And nothing is more bricklike than Roman Thomist or hardline Calvinist theology. But even ignoring that the history of theology shows that this claim isn't true, and that plenty of people are able to rebuild their theological edifices when parts of them are damaged in one manner or another, the real message here is based on the hipster values that trampolines are Cool and that brick walls are utterly UnCool. I suppose that means they never sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God", but really this is a pathetically lame basis for a theology. But never fear, he goes on to realize the similes and give a reason for preferring one to the other:
I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. [....] But if the whole faith falls apart when we examine and rethink one spring, then it wasn't very strong in the first place, was it?
Well, obviously it's going to depend on the spring, and Paul of course gives an absolutely contradictory answer. But like most modernists, Bell seems to have a problem with Paul. And in any case, as a thought experiment this runs up against the reality that one of my college classmates raised: nobody is ever going to come up with a strong disproof of the Virgin Birth, and we are always going to be forced to rely on believing the sources (scripture and the church) or not believing them. In the meantime, this has been discussed endlessly, but apparently not to Bell's satisfaction, so he has a new book coming out, and the emphasis is on raising questions again. Well, not really: at the moment, based on his promotional YouTube video, it's all about universalism. Not surprisingly, this set off a huge fight. Traditionalist altar-call Protestants simply aren't going to accept his answers, nor are traditional catholics. Equally unsurprisingly, the Episcopal "cool kids" love him. I suppose the fight is good publicity, just as "a Bishop rethinks" probably sold a lot of Spong's books, and I see that Bell has advanced from the unhip Zondervan to the with-it HarperCollins, the preferred publisher of the fashionably controversialist.

But I, personally, prefer to remain an agnostic on this at least to a point. Jesus and scripture spend too much time on the subject of damnation for me to dismiss the possibility that some people, maybe most people, end up there. Hell may be empty, but I'm not counting on it and I'm certainly not going teach that. On the other hand it's patently obvious from scripture that altar-call salvation is inadequate; behavior is important to salvation. There are people out there (for instance, Eugene Peterson) who are trying to find a better route between these Scylla and Charybdis of heresies, but this, I do not think, is going that route. Instead, what I see is that this fits into the Emergent path already trod by the likes of Brian McLaren of reinventing if not adopting the classic modernist errors of rhetoric and reasoning. There is a LOT of theology out there, and the reaction against (a) the Catholic Church or (b) fundamentalism or literalist evangelicalism is the erection of a strawman. There are and have always been other possibilities; if you look at a classical Anglican such as Lewis, for instance, you will find someone who not only does not adopt but actively avoids either position. Nobody who is going to make this kind of pronouncement should be doing so without at least surveying the literature, and Bell's writings seem to be those of someone who has taken a survey of the modernists and nobody else. I notice that his church commends Chesterton's Orthodoxy but I really don't see anything in his theses consonant with that book.

And also one again we see the essentially oppositional character of the Emergent movement, even if they don't see it themselves. One of the big issues that continues to plague the modernists is that they are stuck in eternal combat with the fundamentalists and Thomists and Calvinists and other hardline systematic traditionalists, but this century-old fight is completely irrelevant to my theology, and I say, a curse on all their houses. Too many Emergents are obviously in rebellion against American evangelicalism, and they show all the same traits of exaggeration and grandstanding and oversimplifying the field. Likewise, the whole hipster ethos is a rebellion against an earlier generation that should have ended a long time ago in an anamnetic religion. If there's one thing that should be learned from the history of 20th century theology, it's that reinventing theology is the fastest route to heresy and to that religion so memorably damned by H. Richard Niebuhr: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

Addendum: I commend to the reader this extended review of Velvet Elvis by an Orthodox Presbyterian minister.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

How Odd I May Be

It occurs to me that my wife and I may be the first couple to be married in our parish and raise a child to adulthood in decades. I'm not entirely sure but we may be the only family at present who were married in the parish and have children of our own.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Does This Mean Anything?

Courtesy of Stand Firm we have an address by Walter Brueggemann as reported by ENS:
Walter Brueggemann told the opening session of the 41st Trinity Institute Jan. 20 that 21st century Christians need to stop being mired in old quarrels over scriptural interpretation and instead approach the Bible as "an intricate set of symbols and signs and signals that are arranged in a certain imaginative, artistic configuration that yield a new kind of reality."

Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar and professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, said that such an approach can help Christians engage with the Bible in a way that avoids pre-packaged interpretation. Instead, he said, Christians and the churches to which they belong need to engage with the Bible in a way that gives them a place to stand in their lives and their faith in the midst of "the power of nation states, the reductionisms of scientism and in the capricious power of the marketplace."
One is foolishly tempted to ask what much of this means. But the point of course is that it not only means nothing in particular, but it is a sort of word smoke screen that is supposed to make something profound out of the reactive antipathy to established theological tradition.

And it's easy to guess which tradition is the target:
"There is an enormous appetite for an authoritarian approach to the Bible," said [Mary] Gordon, adding that "a sense of certainty in God" can be lost in the sort of interpretation Brueggemann suggested.

"There's a reason why fundamentalists are doing better than the likes of us," she said.
Well, part of the answer may be in their use of simple, declarative sentences. Look, as an Anglican I don't read scripture with the kind of point-to-point reading that characterizes a lot of the most authoritarian theologies. But this kind of burbling obscurity seems intended, for the most part, to escape from the wrong problem of scripture: not that it is difficult, but that a lot of it isn't difficult. Or to be more precise, the problem of the bible for today, for intellectuals, is that they come to it with a lot of manufactured difficulties arising from their unearned alienation from the text.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Communion Worth a Bath?

Derek Olsen is out tipping over modernist sacred cows again, this time in a three part attack on the latest ECUSA liturgical innovation, Communion Without Baptism (or CWOB, if you like). (Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.) You can read the postgame show here.

I would say the most succinct response came from Benjamin Guyer:
If I may propose that your problem – your frustration – is the same as those which many of the rest of us have: trying to hold theologically serious conversation within the Episcopal Church (USA) is simply impossible. “Radical openness” is not a theology, but a flight from intellectual rigor, just as it is a flight from genuine political engagement and genuine moral commitment. It is, in other words, an “anything goes” system.
But I am also beginning to consider that there is another, more malign element here. I suspect that one reason why CWOB is being pushed is precisely because it is offensive to people who have theological standards, and especially traditionalists. Set beside the theological laxity has been a program of increasing political rigor: we are not allowed to hold anyone to any traditional theological standard, but we can't leave either, at least not without abandoning everything. I have to suspect that the time will come when clerics can be disciplined for refusing communion to unbelievers. But then, after all, only Pharisaic right wingers would ever do that.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

All Over?

Word has come that the bishop of Massachusetts celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name by marrying two of his female clergy. It's hard to imagine a much more definitive statement that any moratorium on same-sex unions is over.

Update: Peter Ould has a discussion of the changes made in the 1979 liturgy in order to accommodate this rite. Besides the, um, curious second reading (well, at least it wasn't from the Koran, but then, I suppose it wouldn't be) I note a comment made by one Michael Harnois: "Here in the Diocese of Massachusetts I haven't heard about anyone who plans on rewriting the BCP marriage rite for straight couples, although I could have missed something, I suppose." Well, consider the Office of Women's Ministry rewriting Rite II in the interest, of course, of avoiding what male-favoring language there is in the 1979 language. I noted at the time that many of the changes could not be explained on the basis of their program, and that therefore there had to be larger theological pressures in play. I have to expect that the pressure on the marriage rite will be to make one unified form regardless of the sex of the participants, opening up the current rite to other modifications. And those modifications, I would expect, will go beyond neutering the references to brides and grooms. I expect the SCLM to promulgate some liberal (that is, unorthodox) theory of marriage, because historically they have preferred questionable rites. And it will be difficult to suppress whatever heresies they set forth because Justice will preempt the application of any kind of theological standard.

It is easier for moderates to tolerate same sex rites when they are merely an aberration which they can ignore because it happens in another parish, or at least at services which they do not attend. Changing the marriage rite as a whole is a far more significant issue, but I think it is a very safe bet that changes are in the works. The biggest threat that social liberals pose to the church is their poor record in keeping the Unitarians and other heretics out of power. The danger is very real, in this case, that they will allow the emasculation of the marital rite because they need the heretics to maintain the political weight keep the conservative troglodytes at bay.