Friday, May 14, 2010

A Thought Experiment

Let's say that we have a church which excels in forming persons who "live the questions," who keep their theological options open while downplaying the normative character of doctrine and belief, who approach scripture and tradition through the lens of a hermeneutic of suspicion, who tend to equate "inclusiveness" with permissiveness and "relevance" with accommodation to the shifting winds of culture, who readily think of the Christian life as one which promotes their particular social, economic, and political values and ideals, and who understand Jesus as one way among many other valid ways.

Is such a church capable of producing confessors or martyrs?


Bill Carroll said...

Whether such a "church" can produce martyrs or not, it's no wonder that people choose to sit at home with coffee and the New York Times.

hawk said...


I can't imagine my own formation in any other way.

If I had not read "Rescuing the Bible from the Fundamentalists" in high school, I would not have had a good reason to continue reading the Bible. Spong presented me with the idea that I did not have to read the bible in the same way as my fundamentalist neighbors and it changed my life.

Had my church continued to exclude women from ordination, I would have not been able to find the church relevant or reliable.

If the Christians in my community had not attempted to reach out in love to their neighbors in other faith traditions in order to ease community tensions and to find places of common purpose, the community where I grew up would be far more polarized and broken than it is today.

If my church had not opened the door for gay and lesbian to be allowed to come out and be fully included in community life and than attempted to understand their lives in a Christian context, I think the church would be illegitimate.

My life as a Christian is rooted in my love for Jesus and in my belief that his life, death, resurrection, and ascension are God's gift for the whole world and that my faith in Jesus allows me to share with him in this life of resurrection. I don't see the church accommodating cultural mores and values, but attempting to be faithful to God's call to be Christ's body in a sinful and broken world. The culture's values are rampant consumerism, greed, self centeredness and anti communitarianism (don't make me pay for your road or your park or your hospital or your school). The church where I live attempts to be a refuge from these values.

I think the church of living the questions et. al. forms faithful disciples. It also gives refuge to broken people who worship other gods. This form of Christianity may appear messy and irrelevant and dangerous, but through it I have found a passion for God and a relationship with the risen Christ. If you are looking for martyrdom and confession, I've witnessed it in this church. I think you've witnessed it too.

Bryan Owen said...

Fascinating. Thanks, Bill and hawk.

Joe Rawls said...

Your thought experiment sounds very much like my own parish. It could produce at least one martyr (me) if the powers were to do something like eliminate the Nicene Creed or allow lay presidency of the Eucharist. However, the rector seems intent on adhering to the BCP rubrics, if little else.

Hawk, may I remind you that passionately "orthodox" people can also be committed just as passionately to justice, the full inclusion of women and lgbts, and intellectual freedom--provided the latter is not just a sell-out to Enlightenment secularism. These things are not the sole property of Spong or the Jesus Seminar.

Don said...

It also begs the question as to whether we will be the first generation to pass on, not the faith of the apostles handed down, but a faith chosen for its acceptability to society at large.

hawk said...

After rereading Bryan's thought experiment and my comments and the comments of others, I recognize that I may have misunderstood Bryan's original post. In response to Joe, I don't disagree with your statement and in fact I fully endorse it. I probably shouldn't have brought up Spong because he stirs up such vitriol, but I find myself defending Spong because he was my "gateway drug" back into the church.

As for Don's comment, if you want to believe there was a time post Pentecost when the church was in perfect unity, where everyone shared the same beliefs and practices, where there was absolute rejection of secular forces, you are welcome to that point of view. My read of history suggests that the apostolic faith as handed down from generation to generation in the church has always been tempered by the cultures in which it was embraced. Our church is no different and the fact that early 21st century Christians want to ask difficult questions of their dogmas and doctrines doesn't mean that the "faith once handed down from the apostles" is imperiled. The faith is only imperiled when people stick their heads in the sand and refuse to wrestle with the questions. I can't continue to stand in the pulpit and say this is the way it is when all evidence points to the contrary. I'm willing to live with ambiguity and preach on the occasional mystery, but I am unwilling to wallow in stupidity. Unfortunately, what some communities insist is orthodoxy I would argue is on a spectrum from naive on one end to ignorance on the other.

Bryan Owen said...

I agree, Hawk, that there has never been a time in the Church's history when there has been complete unity in all matters of faith and practice, and I have even posted a brief piece about that. And I would also add that while I am committed to orthodoxy when it comes to the 'dogmatic core' of the Christian faith, I do not advocate an uncritical orthodoxy. One of the things that attracts me to Anglicanism (at its best) is precisely the balance between respect for and submission to scripture and tradition on the one hand, and the exercise of reason on the other. Not an 'autonomous' reason, however, but one that is itself informed by scripture and tradition, as well as by sound scholarship (personally, I would not include folks like Spong in the 'sound scholarship' camp).

It seems to me that one can grant the point about the lack of 100% unity while simultaneously discerning evidence that supports "the ways that the Holy Spirit has brought centrifugal unity to Christian teaching in the earliest centuries of Christianity" (Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology). I am less impressed than I used to be with the exceptions that uphold the norm of the unity that does, in fact, exist among the diverse voices of the early Church. And I am concerned that, increasingly, the ultimate authority in all matters theological and ethical is the individual's subjective preferences. To my mind, that accounts for quite a lot of the anomic Anglicanism and illegal liturgical revision that go unchecked within the Episcopal Church.

Don C. said...

I was not in anyway implying that the church has ever been "pure" from societal influence. What worries me is that in my lifetime Christian leaders and theologians have begun to routinely dismiss foundational portions of the faith, Spong, Crossan, and Borg etc . . ., for example. It seems that there is a danger that we are departing from traditional Christianity, and moving into one that is overly accommodating to the culture. In a post-Christian society, the dangers should be obvious, and Brian's last post speaks to the dangers I foresee.