Monday, August 24, 2009

Christians Don't Know What They're Talking About

In the context of post-General Convention reflections on the state of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, Fr. Mark Harris offers thoughts about Jesus and salvation on his blog “Preludium”:

I have listened these past weeks to the arguments one way or another about just why salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, and I have wondered … if perhaps we Christians have about used up the right to claim that salvation is possible only through Jesus Christ. The thing is, Jesus Christ turns out to be defined by those of us who make the claim to particular and unique salvation through him. It is a very tightly circular argument and while suitable to the dog days of Summer, when dogs go mad and people are overcome with fevers, hysterias and frenzies. The claim has run its course because the followers of Jesus Christ, all of us, turn out not to know just what we are talking about.

“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” than the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12).

According to Fr. Mark, this claim has run its course, not merely because (as he alleges) it is "tightly circular," but primarily because we Christians don’t really know what we are talking about when we talk about salvation and Jesus. It’s not clear if Fr. Mark means that this is true only about Christians today, or if it’s been true all along. I’m inclined to say that the charge that Christians who claim that salvation is found only in Jesus don’t really know what they’re talking about is a charge that applies to Christians in every time and place who have made such a claim.

The implications of such a charge are staggering. It means that the apostles, the Church Fathers and Mothers, the theologians of the Middle Ages, the Reformers, the classical Anglican Divines and beyond – all of them didn’t know what they were talking about when they talked about the particular and unique salvation offered to the world through Jesus. If that's true, then the New Testament, the historic creeds, the Chalcedonian definition of the union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, the liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition, and the writings and witness of Christians down through the ages up until the present cannot be trusted as reliable.

Nevertheless, Fr. Mark still makes claims about Jesus and salvation:

Maybe it’s just the moment … or the hour, but it seems to me just now that our salvation is hidden in God. Through Jesus we who follow him have the assurance of that saving grace. And we may sing of the glory of it: that Salvation is of Christ the Lord. But that’s it. But we don't get to demand that people take seriously that it is only through specific belief in Jesus Christ (as we define that) that salvation comes. Jesus may be getting it together to save people who think the Jesus advertised by Christians is a sham. Maybe for them God, in Jesus Christ, is hidden in the form of a twelve year old girl who plays a mean fiddle. Who knows?

“Our salvation is hidden in God.” “Through Jesus we who follow him have the assurance of that saving grace.” “Salvation is of Christ the Lord.” What warrants holding such beliefs about salvation and its relationship to Jesus if the entire sweep of Christian tradition is unreliable? What do such claims even mean if, as Fr. Mark insists, "all of us [which necessarily includes Fr. Mark] ... turn out not to know just what we are talking about"?

In condensed form, the rest of this second paragraph from Fr. Mark's posting sounds similar to the way in which the Presiding Bishop collapses special revelation into general revelation in her answer to the question, “Is the only way to God through Jesus?” Just as the Presiding Bishop says that because the whole world has access to God she’s not concerned about “the mechanism” by which we are saved, and that she’s agnostic about how God saves anybody, Fr. Mark briefly speculates about the possibilities only to say, “Who knows?”

As I see it, here's where we end up with all of this. When it comes to Jesus and salvation, Christians who embrace the Church’s faith that there is no other name by which we must be saved than the name of Jesus are persons who don’t know what they’re talking about. But some more progressive-minded Christians do know what they're talking about. They know that we really don’t know about Jesus and salvation. So if someone says “salvation is of Christ the Lord,” we can’t really know what that means. But we can be certain that those who say there is particular and unique salvation through Jesus don’t know what they're talking about.


plsdeacon said...

It seems odd to me that statements like this seem to only come from the reappraising side. Not that all who desire to change the moral teaching of the Church also want to change the other formularies, but that those who want to change the formularies and other "creedal" aspects of the Faith all seem to want to bless same sex unions.

If the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Second Person of the Trinity are not required for salvation, then God is, as some on the fringe say, a sadists and the Crucifixion is nothing more than child abuse.

Notice how Mark twists this. "But we don't get to demand that people take seriously that it is only through specific belief in Jesus Christ (as we define that) that salvation comes. Jesus may be getting it together to save people who think the Jesus advertised by Christians is a sham. Maybe for them God, in Jesus Christ, is hidden in the form of a twelve year old girl who plays a mean fiddle. Who knows?"

Notice how we move from Jesus to "specific belief in Jesus" being required.

Is a specific profession of faith in Jesus required for salvation? I don't know. I don't know what "doesn't work" for salvation. I can only attest to what does. Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, is what brings salvation to any person. Because of the salvation and new live Jesus has given to me, I am required to spread that new life to others I meet.

Phil Snyder

Reformation said...

Drum roll...

This is why many of us left ECUSA. Glad we did too.

plsdeacon said...

Herein lies yet another logical fallacy of the reappraisers. They make the leap from the true statement "We cannot fully know God" and the equally true statement "We can know nothing with 100% certainty about God" to the false statement "therefore everything we know or claim to know about God is up for discussion." From there it is a small leap to "since everything we can know about God is up for discussion, who are we to say that God does not approve of (fill in the blank)."

Phil Snyder

Joe said...

Pardon my simplistic approach, and of course I have no formal seminary training, but it seems to this "average Joe in the pew" that if one does not believe that Jesus, the Christ, is the only Son of God; and if one does not believe Christ's own words that in Him we have seen the Father and through Him and only through Him shall we come to the Father (John 14: 6-7), then from my perspective one simply is not a Christian (does not believe in Christ, as God incarnate, the Messiah, Redeemer and Salvation of the world).

At what point in time is it going to be appropriate to call for disciplinary action against this sort of false gospel, am I being too bold to say heresy?

It is incredibly unsettling to us "lay types" to read and hear over and over statements such as these from Mark Harris, one who holds himself out as a priest of God in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of which Jesus Christ is the head, and then also see other priests and bishops discuss these types of statements intellectually, but not express righteous indignation about them.

I am one of those hard core Anglican orthodox Episcopalians who is hanging on with all my might because I do not want to abandon the church that I love. What is dangerous though is that I am beginning to ask myself the question that others have asked me with greater and greater frequency: "but why?"

Please excuse my rant, but I guess my frustration is beginning to show.

Joe Roberts (Cotton Country Anglican)

Bryan Owen said...

I don't think you're being simplistic at all, Joe. I share many of your frustrations and the conviction that there are certain things that one simply must believe in order to be Christian (much less a deacon, priest, or bishop).

From what I'm seeing and hearing, lay and clergy folk who are more centrist than "hard core Anglican orthodox" are also beginning to get irritated and angered by this kind of stuff. Indeed, I know one quite moderately conservative, cradle lay Episcopalian who is starting to wonder if he has a future in this Church.

It is wearisome to endure the attitude of some progressives that they know better than the rest of us what Christianity is really all about, and that those of us who actually believe that what's been handed down to us via scripture and tradition are all knuckle-dragging neanderthals or fundamentalists. It's that irritation that drove me to respond to the absurdities of Fr. Mark's reasoning. And sugar-coating the emptiness of it all by selectively retrieving parts of scripture and quotes from authors we like so that it gives the appearance that what Fr. Mark is actually saying is mainstream doesn't help.