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.


Sibyl said...

I disagree; do not see the GAFCON Statement/Jerusalem Declaration as a declaration of *theological* independence, rather one of declaring independence from heretical apostate influence and governance. There is a great deal of difference.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for your comment Sibyl.

My point in this posting is not about the GAFCON statement but about N. T. Wright. In his comments to the BBC, Bishop Wright is declaring his theological independence from the agendas of both the Anglican Left and the Anglican Right, including especially GAFCON.

Perpetua said...

Well, he has lost his cool, that is clear. Directing words like "ridiculous" and "bullying" at people who clearly intended to set down the tenets of orthodoxy and set up a fellowship for orthodox believers is way over the line.

If he doesn't want to join this fellowship of orthodox Anglicans, that is fine. But why be so arrogant as to say those who do are "ridiculous" and "bullying"?

I think this sentence is the most revealing:
"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."

Perhaps this is the arrogance of the colonialist mind -- "How dare those (inferior) African leaders assert such a claim to potential authority over me?"

Bryan Owen said...

Listening to the interview when he said those things, he sounded quite calm and collected actually. Not at all like someone who's lost his cool, but rather like someone who knows who he is and what he stands for, and who - for theological and bibical reasons - stands firmly against what he sees as something that's gone too far.

I find it so very interesting that fellow conservatives are so quick to throw stones at Wright. How dare he not tow the line!!

I admire Wright more and more ...

Perpetua said...


Whatever +Wright's tone of voice and outward demeanor, his use of the words "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive" reveal his inward state (like +Schori using the word "emission").

When I say +Bishop Wright was over the line, I don't mean he should "tow the line" and sign the petition. I mean he has crossed over the line of common courtesy into the realm of discourtesy by using the words "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive" to characterize the thought of himself signing up to something under the leadership of these primates.

Bryan Owen said...

I disagree. Insofar as Wright used those words to express his views about ideas and actions rather than persons, he's quite within the lines of civil argument. If he had called specific individuals "ridiculous" and/or "deeply offensive," that would be another matter entirely.

By contrast, to characterize Bishop Wright as someone who might "have a problem with reading/comprehension" is at best a borderline ad hominem statement.

Perpetua said...

I'm not sure what you mean by ideas and actions. +Wright used those words in discussing a specific scenario of interpersonal relationships:
"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."

He finds it ridiculous and deeply offensive that he should be in a subordinate position to these religious leaders. What is he implying if not that he thinks they are his inferiors? If he thought they were his equals, he might reject the idea, but not with such strong language as "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive".

This reminds me of a story a black Roman Catholic priest from Africa told me. He said that the Roman Catholic missionaries in Africa used to think it was ridiculous and deeply offensive to imagine a black African bishop. They even dressed up a monkey in bishop's vestments as a joke and said that was as absurd as thinking of a black African bishop.

Sibyl said...

Here's a quote: "When reforms are needed, and the folks in power refuse to take action, they sometimes get way more revolution than is actually needed. ... In world wide Anglicanism, the powers that are won't deal with the problems that are. +Tom and ++Rowan are smart cookies. They know perfectly well just how derelict the EO is. They could have wrapped up the whole mess a couple of years ago, but didn't. "


There's a mile high and century deep pile of dark smelly fudge in the AC.

Perhaps there is a problem inherent in British thinking...Here's another quote (Chesterton) on the problem inside British minds: "Most Englishmen say that these anomalies do not matter; they are not ashamed of being illogical; they are proud of being illogical. ...They boast of our anomalies; they boast of our illogicality; they say it shows what a practical people we are. ...When people have got used to unreason they can no longer be startled at injustice. When people have grown familiar with an anomaly, they are prepared to that extent for a grievance; they may think the grievance grievous, but they can no longer think it strange."

This ability and willingness to accomodate mental incongruities, cloudiness, illogic, and opposing viewpoints may be why the pile of fudge has accrued and why it is tolerated masked with 'English good manners' and the pretense of dialogue and communion."

Captain Yips promises to point out the problems with Wright's theology soon. I've read number of rather disturbing quotes from his books, enough to believe he is closely linked to Williams theologically as well as politically.

I believe +Wright's and +Williams' strange disregard and lack of alarm at the heresies and apostasies of the Episcopal and Canadian churches' wrongdoings is much like that of the codependent in the family that has grown used to tolerating, minimizing, and excusing Dad's drinking until they also become dysfunctional and even dependent upon that environment and its unhealthy relationship.

Bryan Owen said...

"+Wright used those words in discussing a specific scenario of interpersonal relationships."

Precisely! That goes to my point - he's not naming individual persons and saying they are ridiculous and deeply offensive. He's saying those things about how he understands what they're saying and doing - about the specific scenario of actual and/or particular personal relationships as they are or may be shaped by the consequences of acting on the GAFCON statement.

BTW, I think you're reading way too much into Wright's statements by suggesting colonialism and even racism. Those are deeply serious charges to level against anybody, but especially someone of Wright's stature within the Church. It behooves persons making such strong and serious charges to lay out concrete evidence for those charges beyond disappointment or disagreement with the positions a person takes or the words that person uses in response to the words and actions of others.

Perpetua said...

From the Ruth Gledhill article:

Canon Cameron said: "The dark side to the life of the Anglican Communion is that too often the theological graduates of the seminaries of the NATO alliance do unconsciously adopt an air of educational superiority, while many American church leaders do not even seem to notice, even while they often unconsciously rely upon, the implicit obligations which they place on the recipients of their largesse."

The +Wright sentence I am pointing out rings in my mind with this "air of educational superiority" by using the words "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive". It sounds to me that he finds the thought of being ranked under the authority of these people "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive", so I conclude that he feels his superiority is obvious and profound.

But maybe I am wrong. If it is not that he feels obviously and profoundly superior, why does he use the words "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive"? Can you give an alternative scenario that would justify the use of these words?

Perpetua said...

Ooops, the link to the Ruth Gledhill with the quote from Canon Gregory Cameron is

Perpetua said...

Link is here

Bryan Owen said...

I don't think it says anything one way or the other about whether or not Wright feels superior to anyone. To say that it does would require more evidence.

I think it means what it says - that insofar as he thinks the GAFCON statement goes too far, he finds it "ridiculous" and "deeply offensive."

Perhaps the real deal here is that some on the Anglican Right think that Wright has betrayed their cause.