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.