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.

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