Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Under Threat from the Impoverished Extremes

In spite of erroneously referring to "the Anglican church" (no such entity exists), Adrian Pabst has written a very interesting essay entitled "A New Direction for the Anglican Communion." As an Anglican Centrist, I find that Pabst's analysis of the theological poverty of the extremes of the Anglican Left and the Anglican Right resonates for me. And I think he's correct to suggest that if there is a way forward for the Anglican Communion, it will necessarily require recovering the uniqueneness of the Anglican theological tradition.

Here are some excerpts.

Theologically, Anglicanism represents an authentically reformed Catholicism, true to Christian roots in the Church Fathers and the Middle Ages, which also resonates with important aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy.

But the bitter conflict between liberals and conservatives undermines this uniqueness and the Communion's ability to act as a bridge between Christian churches. ...

It is true that the clash between liberals and conservatives focuses on gay and female bishops. But the trouble is that by reducing these questions to scriptural interpretation and historical precedent, both sides ignore the Communion's formative tradition and sources of authority. It is this ignorance that continues to prevent a proper theological debate between the warring sides.

Conservatives condemn liberals for embracing secular moral norms incompatible with Anglican teachings on ethics and marriage. Liberals accuse traditionalists of intolerance and scriptural literalism at odds with Anglican inclusiveness. Both are right about each other, but wrong about their church.

In reality, liberals and conservatives share much more in common than they are prepared to admit. Both claim a monopoly on biblical interpretation that neither has. Both purport to speak for a majority of Anglicans that neither represents. And both view Anglicanism in partisan ideological terms rather than from a robust theological perspective.

As a result, the deepening divide between liberals and conservatives hides a more orthodox and more radical vision. Such a vision transcends the current divide and situates the Communion alongside the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches firmly within the Episcopal tradition. ...

What is specific about the Anglican Episcopal tradition is that it fuses traditional liturgical and sacramental practices with progressive political and socio-economic ideas .... As such, Anglicanism has always sought to represent a reformed Catholic alternative to both Protestant liberalism and conservative Evangelical fundamentalism.

All this matters today because the integrity of the Communion is under threat from the impoverished extremes of liberals and conservatives. If liberals want to broaden the priesthood to include women and gay bishops or if conservatives want to oppose any such development, then they must produce theological arguments from within the Episcopal tradition. Both must also respect the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury as "first among equals." Otherwise, liberal and conservative bishops would depart from Anglican orthodoxy and loose their own legitimacy.

It is hard to see how the conflicting visions can be reconciled. But in order to reunify the 80-million-strong worldwide Communion, Anglicans could do worse than recover Anglican theology.

Read it all.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bishop Gray's Statement to the Windsor Continuation Panel

My bishop, the Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray III, said these words at the Lambeth Conference today before the Windsor Continuation Panel.

My name is Duncan Gray from the Diocese of Mississippi in the Episcopal Church. I have been nurtured and shaped by the evangelical tradition of my church. Most importantly, that means that the ultimate authority of Holy Scripture and the necessity of an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ are foundational and non-negotiable components of my faith.

Within my own province I voted not to consent to the election of Gene Robinson for reasons both theological and ecclesiological. I have followed both the letter and spirit of the Windsor Report – before there was a Windsor Report.

For my faithfulness to this Communion I have been rewarded by regular incursions into our diocese by primates and bishops who have no apparent regard for either my theology or ecclesiology. I have made some peace with this reality preferring to think of the irregularly ordained as Methodists--and some of my best friends are Methodists!

What I cannot make peace with is the portrayal of my sister and brother bishops in the Episcopal Church, who disagree with me, as bearers of a false gospel. That portrayal does violence to the imperfect, but faithful, grace-filled, and often costly, ways in which they live out their love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, I am in serious disagreement with many of them on the very critical sacramental and ethical issues about which the Communion is in deep conflict. Are we sometimes, at best insensitive to the wider context in which we do ministry, and at worst, deeply imbedded in American arrogance – absolutely! And for that insensitivity and arrogance we have begged the Communion's forgiveness on several occasions.

But do I see the Church in them? (as the most serious question at the last hearing asked). As God is my witness, I do. Despite my profound disagreements I continue to pray "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism". We continue to reaffirm the creedal faith together. We continue to gather round the Lord's Table together, bringing the brokenness of our lives into the healing embrace of our Lord who sends us out together to the poor, the weak and the hopeless. And, in the midst of our internal conflicts, they show me Jesus.

There are dozens of bishops like me in the Episcopal Church. We are not a one, or even two-dimensional church. We are a multitude of diverse theological, ecclesiological and sacramental perspectives. And the vast majority of us have figured out a way to stay together.

How is this possible? I think it begins with the gift from St. Paul who taught us the great limitations of even our most insightful thought or theological certainty. We do, every one of us, "see through a glass darkly." And none of us can say to the other, "I have no need of you."

One day, St. Paul says, we will see face-to-face the glory that we now only glimpse. One day, we will know fully, as we have been fully known. But in the meantime, as each of us struggles to be faithful, may each of us – the Episcopal Church and the wider communion – find the courage, and the humility to say to the other, "I need you. I need you for my salvation and for the salvation of the world.”

33rd Mississippi Conference on Church Music & Liturgy

Calling all church musicians, choristers, and clergy who want to have a great time singing and learning about liturgy!

It's time for the 33rd annual Mississippi Conference on Church Music & Liturgy. It starts tomorrow afternoon (July 29) and runs through Sunday, August 3. The conference meets at the Duncan M. Gray Center.

I've participated as a conferee for the past three years, and this year will be privileged to serve as chaplain for the conference. We draw church musicians and choristers from all over Province IV and beyond (as far away as New York, Nevada, and California). And we always have an excellent faculty.

You can learn more about the conference and this year's schedule by going to the website.

Here's a teaser of what we'll be about this time:

Transforming Your World as Peformer, Teacher, Pastor, and Prophet

Liturgy is integrative of many, if not all, of the aspects of being “church.” It has been said that liturgy is the Anglican tradition’s primary theology – that is, people know what we believe and how we are informed and compelled to act in the world by listening to what we pray and experiencing how we worship. Liturgy is the place where we dare to bring together all that is of ultimate significance to us in the way of scripture, music, proclamation, spirituality, ethics, and pastoral concerns. It can summon and sustain the most basic and profound longings of people to be drawn into the heart of God. Liturgy provides the space in which the dynamic drama of our lives in relation to God and each other can unfold. It has the power to express and shape our realities and the power to create and transform individuals and communities. Through it the transcendent is made immanent, and we are called to new lives of service by our participation. The question becomes, as church musicians, what are our roles in this particular drama, to what godly service are we being called?

The 2008 Mississippi Conference theme, “Transforming Your World as Performer, Teacher, Pastor, and Prophet,” will explore this question. Through singing, praying, reflecting, sharing, and celebrating together, we will look at our vocation as church musicians who perform, teach, pastor, and offer a prophetic voice to the particular worlds of our influence, and to the larger world, all in great need of our ministry. Together with the faculty and staff we will address the nuts and bolts of these roles and bring plenty of ideas and resources to the experience. Please join us to examine how we might claim our ministry to offer liturgy powerful enough to transform our world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beware of the Trojan Horse

An excerpt from an essay I wrote shortly after General Convention 2003 entitled "Beware of the Trojan Horse" first appeared in Episcopal Life under the heading "Beware of congregationalism." It was later published in full in the September 19, 2004 issue of The Living Church.

Since that time when I wrote in the heat of 'original passion,' I continue to be fascinated by the comments on my essay over at Kendall Harmon's TitusOneNine, and I remain particuarly grateful for Dale Ryle's comment on that website ("Has reading become a lost art in America? It might be nice to react to what somebody actually says ..."). Talk about a foretaste of what it's like to be a blogger!

Almost five years later, I'll be the first to admit that parts of this essay are (rhetorically speaking) "in your face" in a way that I've very consciously moved away from since I started blogging back in 2007. If I were writing about this today, I would not assume that kind of rhetorical posture.

On the other hand, given all that's happened in the meantime - the fudging by the Left and the Right on "Windsor compliance;" the growing power of that "Instrument of Communion" called the Primates Meeting; lawsuits, depositions, and defrockings; the meeting of GAFCON before Lambeth (which some see as an attempt to erect an alternative "Instrument of Communion" that collapses into a performative contradiction); and now, the meeting of the Lambeth Conference (which some say was designed to avoid the elephants in the living room) - I think that the core of my piece has been at least partially vindicated.

And so it seems appropriate to offer this piece again to the readers of this blog. I'm genuinely curious as to your thoughts in the light not only of what I first wrote almost 5 years ago, but also of what you think is unfolding now.

As we live more deeply into our post-74th General Convention era, it’s crucial that we clarify what’s really at stake in our ecclesial culture war over homosexuality. We need to make a distinction between the moral and pastoral dimensions of homosexuality on the one hand, and the political dimension on the other.

As a moral and pastoral matter, homosexuality warrants clarification, debate, and pastoral care.

There is a legitimate role for moral inquiry and discourse on these matters. For many, the moral and theological standing of homosexual practice is not a black-and-white matter. Persons of good faith and Christian integrity draw different conclusions from the same evidence. We must acknowledge and address the hurt and rejection that many faithful gay and lesbian Christians feel in the Episcopal Church. And we must also acknowledge and address the very real pastoral crisis that Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s consecration has created for many of our brothers and sisters.

But as a political matter, the “homosexual issue” is a Trojan horse. It functions politically as a wedge issue that stirs up passions, circumvents reason, blinds us to what really matters, and divides us from each other. The effect is to open back doors for political opportunists to seize power and consolidate control in the Church.

The real issue is polity — and the power, authority, and accountability that go along with it. It’s no accident that extremist groups are advocating non-compliance or even rebellion against the authority structures of the Episcopal Church. Some even openly exhort their followers to violate national and diocesan constitutions and canons. And they support undermining the authority of bishops.

So you don’t like the teachings of scripture or tradition? Then go with something you like better. Let’s call it morality du jour. Witness General Convention’s arrogant disregard for nearly 2,000 years of moral theology.

You don’t like the liturgies in The Book of Common Prayer? Then use something from another prayer book. Or write something yourself. Let’s call it liturgy du jour. Witness the unauthorized use of liturgies from sources like the New Zealand prayer book.

You don’t like your bishop? Then find one you like better. Let’s call it the bishop du jour. Witness laity and clergy lobbying for realignment with bishops they like and with whom they agree. And witness canonically illegal confirmations in places like Ohio.

You don’t like everything about the Episcopal Church? Then find or create a church you like better (while, of course, proclaiming yourself “Anglican” and “orthodox”). Let’s call it the body of Christ du jour. Witness the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP). Witness the phenomenon of withholding pledges to threaten and punish in the attempt to buy the policies and doctrines we like. And witness bishops whose consent to the blessing of same-sex unions in their dioceses signals a blatant disregard of the Anglican primates’ plea “not to act precipitately on these wider questions” (letter dated Oct. 16, 2003).

With extremists on both the conservative and liberal sides of the Church, we’re witnessing the rise of factional groups who elevate subjective, personal preferences over the mandates of biblical morality, the precedents of tradition, church unity, and the authority of bishops, constitutions and canons.

And to whom are the leaders of these factional groups accountable?

To no one but themselves.

Let’s not be naïve. The ultimate goal of most extremists is to destroy and replace the Episcopal Church. If we allow activist groups to continue trampling on our polity, they’ll turn it upside down, leaving us with the empty shell of a three-fold order of ordained ministry without the substance. Bishops will exercise as much authority as the British monarchy. The real locus of power will be with congregations and the individual leaders whose views they happen to agree with. If we keep going down this road, we may even see the day when diocesan conventions can fire their bishop(s) and when congregations can fire their clergy. We’ll be Baptists who dress in drag. Either the Puritans will finally win the day, or we will be completely assimilated to the warm and fuzzy “helpful hints for happy living” of American cultural Christianity. By remaining fixated on the wedge issue of homosexuality, we will have aided and abetted the cause by committing Episcopalian-assisted suicide.

Perhaps no more telling metaphor for this is the fact that many “conservatives” in our Church blacked out the qualifier “Episcopal” on church signs, letterheads, etc., after General Convention. This is a perfect illustration of what’s really going on — blacking out or eliminating the authority of bishops, constitutions, and canons in favor of like-minded constituents.

Our times call for vigilance against the enemy of creeping congregationalism. Extremists on the left and the right are launching (when they must) a surreptitious and (when they can) a frontal assault on episcopal polity. Our very identity as Episcopalians versus congregationalist Christians is what’s really at stake in our ecclesial culture war. And the “homosexual issue” is a strategy – a smokescreen – for competing wills to power.

My plea to faithful conservatives and liberals in our Church is simply this: It’s all about polity. And for that reason, it’s about power — who has it and who exercises it. The Trojan horse of the “homosexual issue” or the “Gene Robinson issue” (whatever you wish to call it) is really about destroying the identity and meaning of “Episcopal” as a substantive qualifier for “Church” from the inside out.

Many liberals and conservatives are actively cooperating with strategies they know will destroy our Church. Others, acting out of principle and/or anger, are serving as pawns in a political game of which they sadly remain unaware. If they do realize how their good intentions are being used against them and against the Episcopal Church, we have real hope of drawing back from the brink of schism.

So be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. Beware of congregationalists in Anglican clothing. And don’t be fooled by the smokescreen of “homosexuality.”

Beware of the Trojan horse.

The Road to Nicaea

John Anthony McGuckin is an Orthodox priest and the Ane Marie and Bent Emil Nielsen Professor in Late Antique and Byzantine Christian History at Union Theological Seminary. He's written a very interesting essay for Christianity Today entitled "The Road to Nicaea." Here's the opening:

Graffiti emblazoned on walls, a vicious war of pamphlets, riots in the streets, lawsuits, catchy songs of ridicule … It's hard for modern Christians to imagine how such public turmoil could be created by an argument between theologians—or how God could work through the messiness of human conflict to bring the church to an understanding of truth.

To us, in retrospect, the Council of Nicaea is a veritable mountain in the landscape of the early church. For the protagonists themselves, it was more in the nature of an emergency meeting forced on hostile parties by imperial power and designed to stop an internal row. After the council, many of the same bishops who had signed its creed appeared at other councils, often reversing their previous decisions according to the way the winds of preferment were blowing. They found themselves less in a domain of monumental clarity and more in a swamp of confusing arguments and controversies that at times seemed to threaten the very continuity of the Christian church. To understand the significance of the Council of Nicaea, we need to enter into the minds of the disputants and ask why so much bitterness and confusion had been caused by one apparently simple question: in what way is Jesus divine?

Of course, like many "simple" questions, this was a highly complex and provocative issue. Theologians of that era were almost beside themselves when they found that Scripture often gave very different-sounding notes when they applied to it for guidance. The disagreements this "simple" question provoked made many of the greatest minds of the era wonder to what extent the Christian doctrines of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit were coherent, and even to what extent Christians could trust in the canon of sacred text (which had hitherto seemed to them sufficient as an exposition of the faith).

In many ways, therefore, Nicaea reminds us of the present era. Rather than being a symbol of clarity, peace, and order, it was a call to a difficult focusing of mind across a church that was often as muddled and confused as ours seems still to be.

Read it all here.

I think that Fr. McGuckin does a nice job of suggesting how the confusion and turmoil of the 4th Century Church mirrors much of what's afoot in our own time. We aren't unique. The issues may have been different back then (or even the same, depending on your perspective), but in terms of conflict, we've been here before. We, too, engage in "a vicious war" - not with pamphlets - but most definitely via the Internet, special interest groups, and the establishment of alternative "instruments of communion." And answers to seemingly "simple" questions coupled with appeals to the "plain meaning" of scripture don't seem to be solving much of anything today anymore than they did back then. In our tendency to want a quick fix to what ails us, perhaps we could learn a thing or two about perseverance, patience, and humility from the 4th Century.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blogging Rest & Strawberry Swing

Taking a few days off from blogging, I'm heading out with the family on a vacation trip to Atlanta. After that, it's off to Gray Center in Canton, MS for the 33rd annual Mississippi Conference on Church Music & Liturgy. This year I'll serve on staff as the conference chaplain.

In the meantime, I just can't get this song out of my head ...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Anglican Beard Enthusiasts

The explanation on the Facebook page says it all:

This group is dedicated to the appreciation, examination, evaluation, and propagation of tremendous facial hair on Anglicans, particularly clergy.

The name of the group, however, should lead none to believe that we are only interested in beards. In fact, all forms of facial hair are applauded, including disgusting mustaches, unconsciousable sideburns, and that most prolific of Anglican facial hair: the overhanging eyebrows.

Just as Thomas Cranmer surely stroked his navel-length beard as the first edition of The Book of Common Prayer flowed from his pen, so too do we seek to celebrate and cultivate similarly inspiring beards on all Anglicans such that they might truly be a light to all the peoples of the world.

Check it out.

My Appointment Calendar Will Not Permit It

Eugene Peterson offers some crafty counsel on how pastors can make their lives less busy and hectic. It's counsel that could work for the laity as well.

The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. It's a gift of the Holy Ghost (unlisted by St. Paul, but a gift nonetheless) that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching, and listening. It is more effective than a protective secretary; it is less expensive than a retreat house. It is the one thing everyone in our society accepts without cavil as authoritative. The authority once given to Scripture is now ascribed to appointment calendar. The dogma of verbal inerrancy has not been discarded, only re-assigned.

When I appeal to my appointment calendar, I am beyond criticism. If someone approaches me and asks me to pronounce the invocation at an event and I say, "I don't think I should do that; I was planning to sue that time to pray," the response will be, "Well, I'm sure you can find another time to do that." But if I say, "My appointment calendar will not permit it," no further questions are asked. If someone asks me to attend a committee meeting and I say, "I was thinking of taking my wife out to dinner that night; I haven't listened to her carefully for several days," the response will be, "But you are very much needed at this meeting; couldn't you arrange another evening with your wife?" But if I say, "The appointment calendar will not permit it," there is no further discussion.

The trick, of course, is to get to the calendar before anyone else does. I mark out times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for the silence and solitude out of which creative work - prayer, preaching, and listening - can issue.

I find that when these central needs are met, there is plenty of time for everything else. And there is much else, for the pastor is not, and should not be, exempt from the hundred menial tasks or the administrative humdrum. These also are pastoral ministry. But the only way I have found to accomplish them without resentment and anxiety is to first take care of the priorities. If there is no time to nurture these essentials, I become a busy pastor, harassed and anxious, a whining, compulsive Martha instead of a contemplative Mary.

A number of years ago I was a busy pastor and had some back trouble that required therapy. I went for one hour sessions three times a week, and no one minded that I wasn't available for those three hours. Because the three hours had the authority of an appointment calendar behind them, they were sacrosanct.

On the analogy of that experience, I venture to prescribe appointments for myself to take care of the needs not only of my body, but also of my mind and emotions, my spirit and imagination. One week, in addition to daily half-hour conferences with St. Paul, my calendar reserved a two-hour block of time with Fyodor Dostoevsky. My spirit needed that as much as my body ten years ago needed the physical therapist. If nobody is going to prescribe it for me, I will prescribe it for myself.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (1989)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Green Orthodoxy

Some brief thoughts on creation and environmental ethics from the Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, a Greek Orthodox theologian who teaches at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and serves as a theological advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch (a.k.a. the "Green Patriarch"):

"What the Orthodox icon does in space and matter, the Christian Orthodox liturgy effects in praise and time: namely the same ministry of reconciliation, the anticipation and participation of heaven on earth. If we are guilty of relentless waste, it is perhaps because we have lost the spirit of worship. We are no longer respectful pilgrims on this earth; we have been reduced to mere tourists..."

"The truth is that we respond to nature with the same delicacy, the very same sensitivity, and exactly the same tenderness with which we respond to any human person in a relationship. We have learned not to treat people like things; we must now learn not to treat even things like mere things. All of our ecological activities are measured ultimately by their effect on people, especially upon the poor. And all of our spiritual activities are judged by their impact on our world, especially upon the environment..."

"Humanity, we now know, is less than humanity without the rest of creation. We may go further than this and declare that this world too is much more than a mere reflection or revelation of heaven; it is a fulfillment and completion of heaven. Heaven is less than heaven without this world. The earthly liturgy is not merely a con-celebration, but a completion of the rest of the heavenly dance. Just as we are incomplete without the rest of material and animal creation, so too the kingdom of God remains -- daring and scandalous as it may seem -- incomplete without the world around us. Not because of some inner or innate beauty and sacredness in the created world; but simply because that is how God chose to share the divine beauty and sacredness. How could we ever thank God enough for such a gift?"

John Chryssavgis, Light Through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition (Orbis, 2004)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Prayer by Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thoughts in Solitude (1956, 1958)

The Serenity Prayer

If you’ve ever attended a 12-Step meeting such as Alcoholics Anonymous, you’ve probably heard the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Although one of the shortest of prayers, it’s also one of the most powerful. It covers pretty much everything we face in our lives. And it rightly balances our need for acceptance with the need for courage to make changes informed by the discerning wisdom that only God can give us.

And actually, the Serenity Prayer is longer in its (purportedly) original form. Here’s the whole thing:

God, grant me serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that you will make all things right
if I surrender to your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

I’ve always been told that the great 20th Century Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer (or at least the first part of it used by 12-Step groups). But according to Laurie Goodstein at The New York Times, the prayer’s authorship is receiving renewed attention that calls the prayer's attribution to Niebuhr into question:

Generations of recovering alcoholics, soldiers, weary parents, exploited workers and just about anybody feeling beaten down by life have found solace in a short prayer that begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

Now the Serenity Prayer is about to endure a controversy over its authorship that is likely to be anything but serene.

For more than 70 years, the composer of the prayer was thought to be the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, one of modern Christianity’s towering figures. Niebuhr, who died in 1971, said he was quite sure he had written it, and his wife, Ursula, also a prominent theologian, dated its composition to the early 1940s.

His daughter Elisabeth Sifton, a book editor and publisher, wrote a book about the prayer in 2003 in which she described her father first using it in 1943 in an “ordinary Sunday service” at a church in the bucolic Massachusetts town of Heath, where the Niebuhr family spent summers.

Now, a law librarian at Yale, using new databases of archival documents, has found newspaper clippings and a book from as far back as 1936 that quote close versions of the prayer. The quotations are from civic leaders all over the United States — a Y.W.C.A. leader in Syracuse, a public school counselor in Oklahoma City — and are always, interestingly, by women.

Some refer to the prayer as if it were a proverb, while others appear to claim it as their own poetry. None attribute the prayer to a particular source. And they never mention Reinhold Niebuhr. ..

The precise origins of the Serenity Prayer have always been wrapped in a fog. Even in Niebuhr’s lifetime, his authorship was challenged. His response was typically modest. He was quoted in a magazine article in 1950 as saying: “Of course, it may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don’t think so. I honestly do believe that I wrote it myself.”

Read it all.

As interesting as all of this is, whether or not Niebuhr actually wrote the Serenity Prayer is ultimately irrelevant. For regardless of its true author, the Serenity Prayer will continue to provide the comfort, guidance, and connection to a Higher Power that millions of persons deeply need.

And speaking of Niebuhr, you can watch a Mike Wallace interview with him from 1958 here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

175th Anniversary of the Oxford Movement

On Sunday, July 14, 1833, John Keble preached a sermon at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England that launched a catholic revival within Anglicanism that would be dubbed 'The Oxford Movement.' Keble's "Assize Sermon" was published under the title of "National Apostasy."

Here is a bit of historical context for Keble's sermon:

The Oxford Movement began as a struggle for inner renewal, for reform, and for the freedom of the church by men who were already bound in close association at Oxford by their "High Church" or "Anglo-Catholic" views - notably John Keble (1792-1866), Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-82, Regius Professor of Hebrew and the principle leader of the movement after 1845, so that it was also frequently called Puseyism), John Henry Newman (1801-90, the leader until his entrance into the Roman church in 1845), and Richard Hurrell Froude (1803-36), who along with Robert Isaac Wilberforce (1802-57) was a pupil of Keble at Oriel College.

The immediate occasion for a public call to action was the Church Temporalities Bill of 1833, introduced by the new Whig administration. Its specific provisions were innocuous enough, involving a badly needed reorganizationof the Irish church, for example, suppression of ten sees and the redistribution of revenues. But in the immediate background were the acts of 1828-29, relieving both Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholics of many civil disabilities and thus constituting the first step in limiting the remarkable privileges that the Church of England had possessed. Further, the Reform Bill emerged in the context of the Benthamite liberals' general overhauling of the political and social structure of the nation (which would include of course the church, as the religious aspect of the nation). There was talk of far-reaching proposals: that the Church of England should include every form of Christian creed and practice followed by Englishmen (except the Roman Catholic), that drastic liturgical reforms be made and that the church be disestablished.

The "calamity," as Keble called it, of the 1833 act was the principle that underlay both it and the other unrealized proposals - that a secularized government should act as if the church were one of the several departments of state. "National Apostasy" is not too hard a term, Keble said in the sermon of that title (which Newman accounted the true beginning of the movement), to describe the present scene of "the growing indifference, in which men indulge themselves, to other men's religious sentiments," of "scornful impatience ... when Christian motives are suggested and checks from Christian principles attempted to be enforced on their public conduct," and of "infringement on apostolic rights." That the church, even in matters of its own organization, should be at the mercy of a legislature whose members might be non-Christian! Against this the church must declare her rights and independence - and many of the early tracts were but manifestos and assertions of a long familiar claim that now required new acknowledgment and obedience [Claude Welch, Protestant Thought in the Nineteenth Century, Volume I: 1799-1870 (Yale University Press, 1972) , pp. 209-210].

And here's an excerpt from Keble's "Assize Sermon":

What are the symptoms by which one may judge most fairly, whether or no a nation, as such, is becoming alienated from God and Christ?

And what are the particular duties of sincere Christians whose lot is cast by divine providence in a time of such dire calamity?

The case is at least possible, of a nation, having for centuries acknowledged, as an essential part of its theory of government, that, as a Christian nation, she is also a part of Christ's Church, and bound, in all her legislation and policy, by the fundamental rules of that Church - the case is, I say, conceivable, of a government and people, so constituted, deliberately throwing off the restraint, which in many respects such a principle would impose on them, nay, disavowing the principle itself; and that on the plea that other states, as flourishing or more so in regard of wealth and dominion, do well enough without it.

Under the guise of charity and toleration we are come almost to this pass, that no difference, in matters of faith, is to disqualify for our approbation and confidence, whether in public or domestic life. Can we conceal it from ourselves, that ever year the practice is becoming more common, of trusting men unreservedly in the most delicate and important matters, without one serious inquiry, whether they do not hold principles which it impossible for them to be loyal to their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?

The surest way to uphold or restore our endangered Church will be for each of her anxious children, in his own place and station, to resign himself more thoroughly to his God and Saviour in those duties, public and private, which are not immediately affected by the emergencies of the moment: the daily and hourly duties, I mean, of piety, purity, charity, justice. It will be a consolation understood by every thoughtful churchman, that, let his occupation be apparently never so remote from such great interests, it is in his power, by doing all as a Christian, to credit and advance the cause he has most at heart; and what is more, to draw down God's blessing upon it.

These cautions being duly observed, I do not see how any person can devote himself too entirely to the cause of the apostolical Church in these realms. There may be, as far as he knows, but a very few to sympathize with him. He may have to wait long, and very likely pass out of this world before he say any abatement in the triumph of disorder and irreligion. But if he be consistent, he possesses, to the utmost, the personal consolation of a good Christian: and as a true churchman, he has that encouragement which no other cause in the world can impart in the same degree - he is calmly, soberly, demonstrably, SURE, that, sooner or later, HIS WILL BE THE WINNING SIDE, and that the victory will be complete, universal, eternal [quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), pp. 67-69].

You can read all of Keble's "Assize Sermon" here.

And you can read more about the history of the Oxford movement here, and more about the 175th Anniversary of the start of the Oxford Movement here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Interesting Augustine Quote

In this brief excerpt from one of his sermons, St. Augustine makes an analytic distinction I'm quite sure I've never seen before:

"For the ears of the booty you have open, seeing that you hear the words which were spoken; but the ears of the heart you have still closed, seeing you understand not what was spoken."

St. Augustine, Sermon 82 on the New Testament
Translated by R.G. MacMullen

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Episcopal Church Website Affirms Orthodox Christology

I see that The Episcopal Church has a new website. It certainly looks better than the older version, and it’s easier to navigate.

One of the things I find interesting about this new website (and perhaps this was already there before the makeover – I don’t know) are some of the things you can read in the Visitor’s Center section about Jesus. That part of the website is entitled "A Basic Introduction to Christianity." What we find there about Jesus is all the more striking in light of charges that the Episcopal Church is heretical and/or apostate. I’m thinking in particular of the charge that the Episcopal Church rejects the uniqueness and the divinity of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Here is what our Church’s official website says about Jesus in a section entitled "The Story of Jesus, In Brief" (I’ve highlighted the parts that stand out for me):

… three days after he had died and been buried, he came back to his disciples, resurrected—fully and physically alive. For another forty days, Scripture says, he spent time with his disciples and commissioned them to continue in his teaching and miracles, and spreading the good news of his life, work, and resurrection to others. Finally, according to the Bible, he returned to Heaven—body and all—to be with God, where, Christians believe, he lives on and continues to be present with us forever.

That's a strong affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Then there’s this from a section entitled "What Makes Us Christian":

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was, at the same time, completely human and completely God, all in one person. This idea was articulated and adopted to address variants to Christian theology (known as “heresies”), which arise from time to time throughout history. One heresy has claimed that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross because he wasn’t really human. An opposing heresy claims that he was really just an important guy with some great ideas, and that he wasn’t really God.

Here we have an affirmation of the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon's definition of the union of the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ (one of the classical affirmations of Jesus' uniqueness as Lord and Savior), as well as rejection of heresies such as Arianism, Docetism, and Gnosticism.

And there's more:

Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth died completely on the cross, that he was buried in a tomb, and that on the third day, he was raised physically again to life to return to his disciples.

Again, here's an affirmation that Jesus really and truly died on the cross (it wasn't just some sort of Gnostic make-believe), and that he really and truly was physically (i.e., bodily) raised from the dead.

The official website of The Episcopal Church affirms the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It also affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It characterizes these beliefs as "hallmarks that distinguish Christianity from all other, similar or not-so-similar, religious sects." And it even uses the word “heresy” to talk about beliefs that are not acceptable in light of these hallmarks of the Church’s faith.

Sounds like orthodox, creedal Christianity to me.

[I've also posted this piece over at The Anglican Centrist where there is a more extensive comment thread.]

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Intolerant Jesus

Leading Morning Prayer today, I was struck by the Gospel reading. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, the Daily Office lectionary plows through the 23rd chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. And in that chapter, Jesus lays into the scribes and Pharisees hard. The repeated refrain is "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" with Jesus spelling out the many forms of their hypocrisy. Jesus' confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees includes a litany of blistering criticisms and withering judgments.

Here's the verse that really got my attention this morning:

"For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (v. 15, NRSV).

How utterly and completely intolerant of Jesus to call anyone - even the scribes and the Pharisees - children of hell! But there it is. (There are other examples of Jesus' intolerance, but this one is perhaps one of the most striking.)

Perhaps part of the dissonance in all of this is that Jesus' verbal assault doesn't sit well with the Gospel of Tolerance/Inclusiveness preached by so many today. From my perspective, the motive driving the Gospel of Tolerance/Inclusiveness is the laudable desire to fulfill the second part of the Great Commandment by loving our neighbor as ourselves as well as an attempt to fulfill our Baptismal Covenant promises to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and to "respect the dignity of every human being" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 306). But perhaps, in light of today's Daily Office reading from Matthew, something is missing.

In her book Entering the Household of God: Taking Baptism Seriously in a Post-Christian Age (Church Publishing, 2002), Claudia Dickson writes: "In our time, tolerance is the ultimate virtue. And being perceived as intolerant is an unforgivable sin. Yet we have confused tolerance with love. When we love someone we take them seriously enough to speak the truth to them" (p. 43).

No doubt about it, Jesus speaks the truth to the scribes and the Pharisees by confronting their behavior, naming their hypocrisy, and taking them to task for its consequences. Jesus loves them enough to tell them the truth. And just three chapters later, one of the consequences of acting on this love is Jesus' arrest, torture, and crucifixion.

I think that passages like today's Daily Office reading from Matthew challenge a one-sided Gospel of Tolerance/Inclusion. There's more to love than mere "tolerance" or "inclusion." As Jesus shows, sometimes love takes the form of confrontation and judgment. Writing in The Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1978), M. Scott Peck puts it well: "Whenever we confront someone we are in essence saying to that person, 'You are wrong; I am right.' ... To fail to confront when confrontation is required for the nurture of spiritual growth represents a failure to love equally as much as does thoughtless criticism or condemnation and other forms of active deprivation of caring" (pp. 150 & 153). So perhaps the Gospel in its fullness entails a paradox: both tolerance and intolerance, both inclusion and exclusion.

Too Many Books

A fine piece taken from the Transfiguration A.D. 2008 issue of The Anglican Digest about a crucial but much-neglected Anglican discipline: the Daily Office.


The Stoic author Seneca (a contemporary of Saint Paul) did not approve of reading many different authors and books - or rather, the practice of not reading them, but skipping from one to another, "making flying visits to them all" but never "acquiring an intimate acquaintance with any one great writer." "Food that is vomited up as soon as it is eaten" (a deplorable habit of Roman gourmands), "is not assimilated into the body and does not do one any good; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent changes of treatment; a wound will not heal over if it is being made the subject of experiments with different ointments; a plant which is frequently moved never grows strong. Nothing is so useful that it can be of any service in the mere passing. A multitude of books only gets in one's way." His advice: "always read well-tried authors," "writers whose genius is unquestionable," "and if at any moment you find yourself wanting a change from a particular author, go back to the ones you have read before."

It is very good advice. I can't say that I live by it. I like nothing so much as acquiring more books, and find it very difficult to get rid of any. And I do skip from book to book. It is deplorable. There are exceptions to my biblio-gourmandizing, and those are the Bible and the Prayer Book. When I began to be serious about the Christian religion, it was impressed upon me very strongly that I should take up the discipline of Morning and Evening Prayer every day (the daily "office" or duty of a priest), and with the usual wobbles I have done so ever since.

This has meant not only reading the psalms and prayers in the Prayer Book, but also reading the Bible in a systematic way over the course of each year, according to the lectionary (schedule of readings) printed in the Prayer Book. ...

Like any discipline, it can be a bit of chore, and sometimes leaves me bored or confused. Yet like any discipline, the fruit it bears is undeniable. When I first began reading the Bible, I often found myself puzzled and confused. It seemed rather strange and sometimes indigestible, a kind of wilderness in which one could get lost. There are still times when I feel that way! But I have also seen this wilderness turn to paradise. For an Episcopalian, I have a fairly well stocked memory of Bible passages, which I can refer to without much trouble. Much more strikingly, I notice the slow growth of understanding. Passages that initially struck me as strange or opaque or puzzling now speak to me clearly and powerfully. In the filling of the memory and the illumination of the understanding, the foundation is laid for the purification of the will in prayer, which is the whole point. As Cranmer said, "In reading of God's Word, he most profiteth not always, that is most ready in turning of the book ...; but he that is most turned into it, that is most inspired with the Holy Ghost, most in his heart and life altered, and transformed into that thing which he readeth."

To that end, Seneca adds this further counsel for our reading: "After running over a lot of different thoughts, pick out one to be digested thoroughly that day. This is what I do myself; out of many bits I have been reading I lay hold of one." What Seneca describes is the process of meditation, authorized [for Christians] by the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who "kept all these sayings" concerning her Son "in her heart," "and pondered them" (Luke 2:19, 51). In selecting this "thought for the day" from the reading or hearing of the daily office, we choose the scriptural word to which we will return over the course of the day through memorization, meditation, and prayer. "Lord, what love have I unto thy law! All the day long is my study of it" (Psalm 119:97). By this process, the fruits of reading the Word of God in the daily office are multiplied, and our own souls and lives conformed more fully to it.

The Rev. Gavin G. Dunbar
St. John's, Savannah, GA

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Heart of Christianity

Thomas Merton understood it well:

The Resurrection of Christ is ... the heart of the Christian faith. Without it, the death of Jesus on the Cross is no more than a tragedy of an honest man - the death of a Jewish Socrates. Without the Resurrection, the teaching of Jesus is simply a collection of incoherent fragments with a vague moral reference: the Gospels lose most of their meaning.

The teaching and the miracles of Christ were not meant simply to draw the attention of men to a doctrine and a set of practices. They were meant to focus our attention upon God Himself revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. Once again, theology is essentially concrete. Far from being a synthesis of abstract truths, our theology is centered in the Person of Jesus Himself, the Word of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. ...

Without the Resurrection, there is no sharing in the divine life. The death of Jesus on the Cross expiated our sins, but it was only after He had risen that He breathed upon His disciples, giving them the Holy Ghost with the power to forgive sin, to baptize, to teach and preach to all nations and to renew His life-giving sacrifice.

If Christ is not risen from the death then it is futile to say that He lives in His Church and in the souls of all Christians. For when we say that Christ lives in us, we do not mean that He is present in our minds as a model of perfection or as a noble memory or as a brilliant example: we mean that by His Spirit He Himself becomes the principle of new life and new actions which are truly and literally His life and His actions as well as our own. It is not metaphor for the Christian to say with St. Paul: "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20).

But in the mind of St. Paul the Resurrection of Christ demands our resurrection also, and the two are so inseparable that "if there be no Resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again" (I Corinthians 15:13). It is clear then that the general resurrection is so fundamental a doctrine in the Christian faith that no man who does not accept it can truly call himself a Christian. For St. Paul adds: "If Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain" (I Corinthians 15:17).

If our whole faith rests on the Resurrection of Jesus, if the Holy Ghost comes to us only from the Risen Christ, and if the whole of God's creation looks to the general resurrection in which it will share in the glory of the sons of God, then for a Christian the "common good" is really centered in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Anyone who wants to penetrate into the heart of Christianity and to draw forth from it the rivers of living water that give joy to the City of God (Psalm 45:5) he must enter into this mystery.

No Man Is An Island (1955)

I Love the Episcopal Church

This was shared with me by a clergy colleague. In the midst of conflict, disagreement, and division, it's a gentle reminder of the many ways in which we Episcopalians have received a precious gift. I pray that we will be wise and prudent stewards of that gift, that a new generation may also fall in love with it.

Dear Friends in Christ:

An old friend recently sent me the article reprinted below, which was written years ago and continues to reflect the passionate love for our Lord and the Episcopal Church that burns in the heart of many of us. I offer it to you, slightly edited, as a witness to the enduring spirit of this Church, to the sure truth that as some things change much remains the same, and in hopes that it will bring a smile to your face.

I love the Episcopal Church, and in spite of the desirability of modern ecumenism, perhaps I secretly hope that I may die in her arms. I love her not conditionally or with calculation, not with careful reservations, but freely, joyfully, wholeheartedly.

I love the stone-and-brick stateliness of her old city parishes, even when they get down at the heels because “the neighborhood has changed.” And her tatty little small-town churches, smelling faintly musty and damp, kept going somehow in the face of great challenges by devoted, self-giving souls. And her gleaming, spanking-fresh suburban churches too, whose modern architecture speaks of the unending creativity of the Spirit.

I love her high-church places with their clouds of smoke from the incense pot and their chants. And no less do I love her low-church parishes, all furniture polish and gleaming brass and memorial tablets, some still with the restrained but curiously exuberant dignity of choral Morning Prayer.

I love her Book of Common Prayer, her firm doctrine and emphasis on sound learning, her devotion to scripture and tradition, and the glorious cadences of her language. But I love too the freedom that she grants her children, her openness to the new, her breadth of humanity, her expansive love, learned at the feet of Christ.

I love the bright young families proudly ranged in their pews on Sunday morning, and the elegant elderly who have seen it all, and the sparse little congregations on weekdays whose hushed devotion to their Lord is an almost palpable radiance. And her old priests whose eyes show the compassion taught them in a lifetime, and her young priests who are so sure that the world can be won in five years at the outside.

I love the names of her heroes—Cranmer, Hooker, Julian, Pusey, Gore, Underhill, Lewis, Seabury, Breck, DeKoven. And a hundred others, including some private ones of my own.

I love the letters to The Living Church that begin, “Dear Sir: It is high time . . ..” And the solemn verbiage with which the Executive Council launches a new project, the billowing sleeves of the bishops’ rochets, and the whole mad range of possible headgear that clerics can wear. I even love the battered Prayer Books in the pew racks that are sometimes confused with Hymnals.

I love the eccentric ladies in city parishes who dress in liturgical colors. And the uproarious stories about departed dignitaries that are told whenever the clergy gather and have time for small talk.

I love the Holy Communion, and the beauty of holiness, and the hands of young and old reverently raised to receive the sacrament.

I really can’t help it. I don’t know if everybody ought to be an Episcopalian; it may be that other people feel as strongly about their Churches as I do about mine. I do know that I love the Episcopal Church and that I am sworn to her, forsaking all others.

I’m glad of it. And it isn’t denominational loyalty or sectarian spirit or party fervor or naiveté about her imperfections. It’s love.

Written originally by the Rev. James Pearson, edited by the Rev. Don Henning, and further edited by yours truly.

With every blessing for your many ministries and a refreshing summer,

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Anglican Ecclesiology

In an essay published at Anglicans Online, the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon (Bishop in charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe) makes the case that while Anglicanism has never formally defined a specifically Anglican ecclesiology, there are nevertheless five enduring features of a distinctively Anglican understanding of what it means to be the Church. These five features are:
  1. The yearning for unity

  2. Comprehensiveness

  3. The patristic principle lex orandi lex credendi

  4. The simultaneous appeal to antiquity (the early Church) and to contemporary scholarship

  5. Viewing one's Church as the Church of the nation
"These perennial features of Anglican ecclesiology," Bishop Whalon writes, "arguably result from the attempts of Anglicans to wrestle with the absurdity of being a fragment of the Church that should be whole and yet is not. It could be said that the overarching biblical metaphor for the way Anglicans live this is found in the parable of the wheat and the tares." And he continues by noting: "These various elements of Anglican ecclesiology are being sorely tried today. People from all sides, driven by their own agendas, want to prematurely separate the wheat from the weeds. The future work of the Communion, hopefully enabled by a consensus of bishops at Lambeth, will be to re-commit to, re-assert, re-work, re-define this Anglican ecclesiology in their own contexts."

Read all of Bishop Whalon's essay here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Collect for Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 242

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Declaration of Theological Independence

I’ve written before on how N. T. Wright, bishop of Durham in England, is an Anglican Centrist bishop. And in a previous posting I’ve also noted that his response to the recently released final statement from GAFCON was quite balanced.

That doesn’t mean, however, that an Anglican Centrist can’t take off the gloves when he/she deems it necessary. Today, for instance, I see that in a BBC interview, Bishop Wright’s criticisms of GAFCON are far more pointed than in his original statement. Here’s what he said to the BBC:

Dr Tom Wright, a traditionalist himself, said Gafcon's plans to let parishes break from liberal bishops were ridiculous and "deeply offensive". …

"The coalition of Gafcon is a very odd combination of hard-line evangelicals, who would never use incense in a communion service, who would never wear Eucharistic vestments, along with Anglo-Catholics from America for whom those things are absolutely de rigeur.

"You've also got people who are totally and passionately opposed to the ordination of women, and others who are not only happy with it, but promoting it. That's not a coalition that's going to last very long, to be honest.

"For me this is particularly frustrating. I spend 90 to 100 hours a week doing the work of the gospel and the kingdom of God in my diocese and around the place.

"And to be told that I now need to be authorised or validated by a group of primates somewhere else who come in and tell me which doctrines I should sign up to is not only ridiculous it's deeply offensive.

"The idea that they have a monopoly on Biblical truth simply won't do and we must stand up to this, it's a kind of bullying. 'We're the true gospel people, therefore you must listen to us'." …

"When one finds people coming high-handedly, who don't actually know what's going on, and say, 'We've now drawn up this list of 14 points and you've got to sign up to them and then we'll authorise you and you can be part of our club, and if you don't then we're going to sweep you aside'... anyone has a right to feel angry when faced with that kind of thing."

In response, one conservative commentator accuses Wright of “mouth[ing] revisionist slogans,” suggesting that he “certainly seems to have a problem with reading/comprehension,” and concludes by saying that “his responses and general attitude toward evangelicals more conservative than himself has been both irrational and graceless.”

That’s pretty tough stuff to say about one of the most respected orthodox Christian theologians and biblical scholars working in the world today. But such may be the price to pay for declaring one’s theological independence from the agendas of both the Anglican Left and the Anglican Right.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Kingdom Come

In an article about the public meaning of the Gospels published in the June 17, 2008 issue of The Christian Century, Bishop N. T. Wright once again demonstrates his status as an Anglican Centrist bishop. Here's a teaser:

In his new book, The Great Awakening, Jim Wallis describes how as a young man growing up in an evangelical church, he never heard a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount. That telling personal observation reflects a phenomenon about which I have been increasingly concerned: that much evangelical Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic has based itself on the epistles rather than the Gospels, though often misunderstanding the epistles themselves.

Indeed, in this respect evangelicalism has simply mirrored a much larger problem: the entire Western church, both Catholic and Protestant, evangelical and liberal, charismatic and social activist, has not actually known what the Gospels are there for.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all in their various ways about God in public, about the kingdom of God coming on earth as in heaven through the public career and the death and resurrection of Jesus. The massive concentration on source and form criticism, the industrial-scale development of criteria for authenticity (or, more often, inauthenticity), and the extraordinary inverted snobbery of preferring gnostic sayings-sources to the canonical documents all stem from, and in turn reinforce, the determination of the Western world and church to make sure that the four Gospels will not be able to say what they want to say, but will be patronized, muzzled, dismembered and eventually eliminated altogether as a force to be reckoned with. ...

The Gospels have thus been seen either as a social project with an unfortunate, accidental and meaningless conclusion, or as passion narratives with extended introductions. Thus the Gospels, in both popular and scholarly readings, have been regarded either as grounding a social gospel whose naive optimism has no place for the radical fact of the cross, still less the resurrection—the kind of naïveté that Reinhold Niebuhr regularly attacked—or as merely providing the raw historical background for the developed, and salvific, Pauline gospel of the death of Jesus. If you go the latter route, the only role left for the stories of Jesus' healings and moral teachings is, as for Rudolf Bultmann, as stories witnessing to the church's faith, or, for his fundamentalist doppelgängers, stories that proved Jesus' divinity rather than launching any kind of program (despite Luke 4, despite the Sermon on the Mount, despite the terrifying warnings about the sheep and the goats!).

Appeals for an integrated reading have met stiff opposition from both sides: those who have emphasized Jesus' social program lash out wildly at any attempt to highlight his death and resurrection, as though that would simply legitimate a fundamentalist program, either Catholic or Protestant, while those who have emphasized his death and resurrection do their best to anathematize any attempt to continue Jesus' work with and for the poor, as though that might result in justification by works, either actually or at the existentialist meta-level of historical method (Bultmann again, and Gerhard Ebeling and others).

The lesson is twofold: (1) Yes, Jesus did indeed launch God's saving sovereignty on earth as in heaven; but this could not be accomplished without his death and resurrection. The problem to which God's kingdom-project was and is the answer is deeper than can be addressed by a social program alone.

(2) Yes, Jesus did, as Paul says, die for our sins, but his whole agenda of dealing with sin and all its effects and consequences was never about rescuing individual souls from the world but about saving humans so that they could become part of his project of saving the world. "My kingdom is not from this world," he said to Pilate; had it been, he would have led an armed resistance movement like other worldly kingdom-prophets. But the kingdom he brought was emphatically for this world, which meant and means that God has arrived on the public stage and is not about to leave it again; he has thus defeated the forces both of tyranny and of chaos—both of shrill modernism and of fluffy postmodernism, if you like—and established in their place a rule of restorative, healing justice, which needs translating into scholarly method if the study of the Gospels is to do proper historical, theological and political justice to the subject matter.

It is in the entire Gospel narrative, rather than any of its possible fragmented parts, that we see that complete, many-sided kingdom work taking shape. And this narrative, read this way, resists deconstruction into power games precisely because of its insistence on the cross. The rulers of the world behave one way, declares Jesus, but you are to behave another way, because the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. We discover that so-called atonement theology within that statement of so-called political theology. To state either without the other is to resist the integration, the God-in-public narrative, which the Gospels persist in presenting.

Read it all.

Nonviolent to the Core

In actuality everything the Gospels say depends on the fact that here a person appeared who himself was completely free and did not need to see anyone as his rival; a person who permitted every other person his or her own freedom and exercised no compulsion on them. Because he was nonviolent to the core, he could speak with absolute truth and no deception, of God as his father, and leave a transformed world along the way he trod. Only because people instinctively knew that no one had anything to fear from him could they abandon their own security and allow those otherwise suppressed possibilities in their hearts to bloom.

Norbert Lohfink, Church Dreams: Talking Against the Grain (1999)

Committed To An Absurdity

The blogosphere is buzzing with responses to GAFCON's final statement. They range from affirmation to excoriation.

Citing an assessment from the Rev. Dr. Leander Harding (Professor of Theology at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), Cotton Country Anglican describes the statement as "a very good beginning" and expresses the hope that "the orthodox leadership ... [will] immediately pick up the torch that has been ignited at GAFCon and carry it high and always forward and, for the immediate future, directly to Lambeth" that "the light provided by the GAFCon torch [may] illuminate the minds and hearts of many of the Anglican bishops that will be assembled at Lambeth and who have been lulled into a sense of complacency. "

By contrast, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori slams it, characterizing the final statement as an expression of "the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel."

Fr. Jake joins the fray, characterizing the GAFCONites as "folks claiming to be Christians" and concluding that "The evidence suggests the possibility that you may be simply scoundrels dressed up in fancy vestments justifiying your theft of other people's property."

There are also centrist responses, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' measured but critical response, as well as a balanced response from Bishop of Durham N. T. Wright. Tony Clavier's take is also worth a look. As is Graham Kings' perspective.

Scott Gunn tries to turn the tables, saying that the GAFCONites are just as revisionist as any of the progressives - that they're basically reinventing and "redefining the very core of our Anglican identity."

Fr. John D. Alexander questions whether or not GAFCON's rejection of the necessity of Canterbury's recognition for Anglican identity constitutes schism.

And Bishop Alan says: "Very few faithful Anglicans will disagree with anything positive the statement affirms. It's pretty much what we all thought we were doing anyway. What disturbs is its claim to have the exclusive franchise on 'orthodoxy' and what this implicitly denies about those it tars with the 'heterodox' brush. Powerful Conservative instincts don’t equal truth."

For even more perspectives and analysis, check out the GAFCON roundup over at TitusOneNine.

Here's an excerpt from one of the more interesting negative assessments of that part of the GAFCON final statement called "The Jerusalem Declaration." It's by The Anglican Scotist:

Authority is a mark of the catholic church: if X is a church, X has authority, and if X has no authority, then X is not a church. It follows if TEC is a church, TEC has authority, and if TEC has no authority, it is not a church.

But it is permissible to deny that TEC has authority only if TEC has no authority. That is, anyone wrongly denying the authority of TEC ought to say otherwise. Since (13) [in the Jerusalem Declaration] commits GAFCONites to denying the authority of TEC, and presumably the GAFCONites mean well, it follows they are committed to TEC not being a Christian church as a condition of the permissibility of their denying TEC's authority.

But the Episcopal Church is a Christian church; the members of TEC are Christians who ordain and are ordained, who baptize and are baptized, who give thanks in the Eucharist and most importantly, in their worship they accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. Moreover, by remaining part of the Anglican Communion, GAFCONites remain members of an organization that recognizes member provinces--still including the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church--as Christian churches. If they disagree with that assessment, it would seem GAFCONites would be obliged to say so; they would be obliged to say the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are not Christian churches. But they have not said so. Sure, they have come close, but merely coming close does not count.

So on the one hand, by denying TEC's authority, GAFCONites are committed to TEC not being a Christian church, but on the other hand, TEC is a Christian church, and the GAFCONites' continuing membership in the Anglican Communion confirms their agreement with the claim the TEC is a church and is Christian. That is, the GAFCONites are committed to an absurdity: TEC is a Christian church and it is not a Christian church. The same goes for the ACC.

That absurdity is manifest in the praxis promised by the Declaration: border crossing treats the Episcopal Church as no catholic church should be treated. The Declaration's pet praxis denies in action what GAFCONites have committed themselves to in words by their allegience to the ancient creeds. In effect, the Declaration rationalizes sin against the Holy Spirit--as the creeds name the Spirit as the agent of ecclesial catholicity--in the name of the Holy Spirit: perilious indeed.

While I sometimes disagree with The Anglican Scotist's take on things, and while I would not go so far as to charge the supporters of GAFCON with sinning against the Holy Spirit, I'm afraid he's right that there is a performative contradiction at the heart of "The Jerusalem Declaration."