Saturday, May 2, 2009

Incompatible Views on the Bishop-Elect of Northern MI

An article published in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette entitled "Believing outside the box?" gives a feel for the gulf that divides supporters of Kevin Thew Forrester, the so-called "Buddhist" bishop-elect of Northern Michigan, and those who do not support his election. Here's a sample as reported in today's paper:

“I don’t really see what there is left to say - the unique incarnation, saving death, bodily resurrection and universal lordship of Jesus are basic to Christian faith and to question that means you are disqualified from being an upholder of that faith in any official capacity in the church. That such a man should be considered even a possibility for a bishop is quite simply extraordinary.”

- The Rt. Rev. N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, England

“I think [Thew Forrester is] solidly a Christian believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ and will be a faithful bishop. ... I don’t think he’s outside the tent of acceptable theological thinking and understanding.”

- The Rt. Rev. Tom Ely, Bishop of Vermont

“This gentleman, apparently, doesn’t believe the creeds. ... The doctrine of redemption through the incarnation and atoning work and resurrection and heavenly reign at present and future return of the second person of the Godhead: That is Christianity. Take that away and you have destroyed the Christian religion. Period. That’s what Christianity is about.”

- J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia

“The creed is a statement of faith and of love of God. ... The question is ‘Is Kevin’s interpretation of it within the ballpark?’ For me it is. I think it stretches us but not to the point of breaking.”

- The Rt. Rev. Bruce Caldwell, Bishop of Wyoming

“The facts of the Christian faith are that Jesus is God’s Son, born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is coming again. A Christian will agree with these facts. If a denomination or church is Christian, it will agree with these facts. If a so-called bishop does not agree with the central elements of the Christian faith, then he should not call himself a Christian, let alone a bishop - nor should a church ordain him. He is an apostate from the Faith; and a church that ordains such a one is also apostate.”

- The Rev. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God

Read it all.

Readers of this blog know from previous postings that, in this case, I stand with the likes of Wright, Packer and Wood against folks like Bishop Ely and Bishop Caldwell. (I hasten to add, however, that unlike the Rev. Wood, I would not be willing to categorize the entire Episcopal Church as "apostate" if Forrester gets consecrated bishop. That would be unfair to the vast majority of Episcopalians who would not agree with such an action.)

A bishop is called "to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 517). Based upon what I know about this case, Forrester is not a fit candidate for this calling.

As to the faith of the Church - what we know about his preaching and writing thus far suggests that he either rejects the dogmatic core of the Christian faith due to ignorance or misinformation about it ('material heresy'), or that he deliberately and defiantly rejects the dogmatic core of the Christian faith ('formal heresy').

As to the unity of the Church - Forrester's views are so out of touch with the mainstream of the Christian tradition that he cannot serve as a symbol of the Church gathered together in united witness to the faith shared by the universal Church. This accounts for why the primary unity generated by the controversy surrounding Forrester's election, his liturgical practices, and his theological views has been to bring Episcopalians across the theological spectrum together in opposition to his election.

And as to the discipline of the Church - Forrester's failure to conform to the ordination vows he's already taken on two occasions (first as deacon, then as priest) by his unauthorized and illegal liturgical revisions suggests that he either doesn't understand what it means to voluntarily given up the "right" to ecclesial disobedience/innovation, or that he does understand but doesn't care. Either way, that track record doesn't bode well for future performance.

And so I continue to hope and pray that Forrester's election will not receive the necessary consents for moving forward.

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