Saturday, February 26, 2011

N. T. Wright Summarizes the Gospel

" ... the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world's creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world's true lord. ... The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being 'left behind'), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God's new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God's future, and a vocation in the present."

~ N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Responding to Questions About Salvation

A few years back I posted a piece entitled "What is Necessary for Salvation?" in which I asked the following questions:

  1. What is necessary for salvation?
  2. What is the meaning of this sentence at the top of page 298 in The Book of Common Prayer: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble”?
  3. Are there certain behaviors or sins which, if committed without repentance, can condemn a baptized Christian to hell? If so, what are those behaviors/sins?

In reply to a comment I left on a posting entitled "But how are we saved?" over at The Conciliar Anglican, Fr. Jonathan recently offered the following response to my questions:

To briefly, and thus probably inadequately, answer the questions you pose:

1. What is necessary for salvation?

Simple answer: Jesus Christ. Slightly longer answer: God choosing to take the corruption of our sin onto Himself so that we might be freed from it. This is accomplished through Christ’s incarnation and death on the cross. The grace of God is then given to us to the extent that we trust in Jesus and allow Him to save us.

In any event, I would always want to put the stress on God’s action, rather than on ours. Theories of salvation usually start to fall apart at precisely the point when we start to get too specific about what we have to do with the whole thing.

2. What is the meaning of this sentence at the top of page 298 in The Book of Common Prayer: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble”?

The grace that comes to us in Baptism is irrevocable. Through Baptism, we are brought into Christ’s Body and made one with Him. That cannot be undone, any more than two who are made one flesh in marriage can be separated. This does not imply that it’s impossible for a baptized person to apostatize, but rather that grace is given freely to each baptized person, whether they accept it or not.

3. Are there certain behaviors or sins which, if committed without repentance, can condemn a baptized Christian to hell? If so, what are those behaviors/sins?

Yes. All of them.

One finds some small degree of variation amongst classical Anglicans on this point, but in general the classical Anglican position rejects the Roman Catholic Tridentine notion that sin can be categorized mortal or venial. Sin is sin. It is that which separates us from God. I would be willing to grant that there is a difference between sins, in that some separate us faster and more deeply than others. But even a small separation from God is still a separation. If a thirsty man dies five feet away from a bottle of water, is that really any better than dying five miles from it? Hence, the need for grace is great. Fortunately for us, so is the love of God.

In addition to one Orthodox Christian's answer to the question "Are you saved?", I deeply appreciate Fr. Jonathan's response to my questions.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reflecting on Koinonia and the Need for Unity in Faith and Practice

Flipping through my copy of The Orthodox Study Bible, I came across some notes I made a while back on the opening three verses of the first letter of John. Here are those verses:

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - 2the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - 3that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

In my notes, I observed that verses 1-2 insist that special revelation comes via material means, i.e., things accessible to human sensory perception (what we hear, see, and touch). Contra the Gnostic myth that the material world isn't important, John stresses that we don't come to know God apart from matter.

In verse 3, the word translated as "fellowship" is koinonia. According to The Orthodox Study Bible:

Koinonia (Gr.) is far more than "fellowship." It is our personal participation with other believers in the life of Christ. Fellowship with us means communion - especially Eucharistic communion - within the apostolic Church.

Koinonia comes through the flesh of Jesus Christ (his Body and Blood). And so koinonia comes through that extension of the Incarnation called the Church (the Body of Christ). Contra the Gnostic myth that institutional religion is bad (and, therefore, that belonging to the Church is at best optional and at worst destructive of "real" spirituality), there is no unmediated or purely spiritual, disembodied communion with God or with other Christian believers. And so koinonia is not an abstract idea or theory. It is embodied in the life of actual, historically concrete institutional structures and practices that can be heard, seen, touched, etc.

Thus embodied, koinonia is grounded in sacraments (particularly Baptism and Eucharist) and doctrine (with the focal point in the Christological affirmation that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh). And so John links Christology and Ecclesiology such that one cannot have koinonia with God in Christ without also having koinonia with other baptized Christians. A biblical warrant surfaces here for St. Cyprian of Carthage's statement: "He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his Mother."

John's grounding of koinonia in sacraments and doctrine such that Christology and Ecclesiology are linked has important implications. Among other implications, it underscores the imperative to proactively address impaired koinonia and schism by seeking to heal divisions among Christians. And so we do well to beware agendas that entail dismissing the call to unity.

These Johannine reflections also call into question claims that koinonia can be found in common prayer, Eucharistic sharing, or common mission alone. To be sure, each of those are critically important to what it means to be the Church, and especially for a tradition such as Anglicanism in which "practices of piety" have carried greater weight than the kinds of confessional statements we find in the Reformed tradition. But while not a confessional tradition, Anglicanism does uphold the normative status of the historic creeds. And so Anglicanism does not pit faithful worship against faithful confession of belief, but rather understands faithful worship as a faithful expression of belief. And so, at its best, Anglicanism embraces the Johannine insight that koinonia requires that we who pray and share Eucharist and engage in common mission with each other must also share common doctrine about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Reflecting on koinonia in light of these verses from 1 John provides a biblical warrant for Leander S. Harding and Christopher Wells' recent call for the Episcopal Church to focus more proactively on teaching Jesus. In their initial article on this matter for The Living Church entitled "Teaching Jesus and the Unity of the Church," they write:

The Episcopal Church needs a movement among a critical mass of leaders, especially priests and bishops of the church, to place the teaching and preaching of basic Christian doctrines about the person and work of Christ at the center of their ministry. This could take the form of line-by-line exposition of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Perhaps the House of Bishops could undertake together a study of 'the scandal of particularity': that through the Incarnation, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of the Son of God, the Father has provided the point of unity and reconciliation — salvation — for the warring children of the world. As a result of this common study the bishops could direct a teaching to the church on Jesus Christ today, Lord of the Church and Lord of the world. ...

Such a movement would per force refocus the life of our church on that which is truly central, and help to frame a way forward in Christ with respect to our continued disagreements. The center of the Church is not the midpoint between extremes but the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, the Messiah of God. A renewed consensus about the person and work of the Lord might not immediately dispel our disagreements which are grave, wounding the body of the Church. It would, however, properly locate those disagreements, and mark the way to their resolution.

And in a follow-up essay entitled "The Lord Who Unites Us," Harding and Wells write:

We recognize that a focus on doctrine is to a degree counter-cultural to the Episcopal Church. We recognize with mixed feelings the extraordinary place the baptismal covenant has assumed in the working theology of our church. Yet at the heart of this liturgy is the confession of the Apostles’ Creed in question and answer form and the challenge to turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as Lord and Savior. Surely to study together, and then teach together, the identity and work of the Lord is a contribution to taking this covenant with due seriousness.

We do think that some new initiative is needed to move beyond mutual suspicion and acrimony. Reassurances that we have more in common than what divides us without specifying that which is in common are unlikely to be adequate. Calls to engage in common mission as though the meaning of mission and its relation to the person of the Lord goes without saying is inadequate to the crisis of unity facing our church. We continue to believe that the ultimate hope for peace both in our church and in the world is the Church’s one foundation, Jesus Christ the Lord. We believe that our proposal is a concrete and practical means for seeking him who is God’s peace and for sharing that peace with each other.

Koinonia entails not only unity in practice but also unity in the essentials of the Christian faith. In a time when there seems to be lack of clarity about what exactly constitutes the essentials of the Christian faith, Harding and Wells' counter-cultural call for Episcopalians to focus on doctrine is a welcome invitation. In addition to helping us "refocus the life of our church on that which is truly central," it would also have the added benefit of refocusing our attention on all of the Baptismal Covenant. And that refocusing could go a long way towards cultivating the kind of unity in both faith and practice that koinonia requires.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The End of All Things

"The Pascha of Christ is the end of all belief systems. With His crucifixion all human efforts to explain or understand are brought to an end. Indeed, it is the end of all things. To walk into Christ’s Pascha, is to walk into the great skandalon, the contradiction of religion and the negation of the reason of this world."

~ Fr. Stephen Freeman, "The Scandal of Salvation"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Judgment vs. Judgmentalism

"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged" (Matthew 7:1).

These words of Jesus are sometimes quoted to undermine attempts to name other people's behavior as morally wrong and sinful. "Who are you to judge what other people do or believe," we're told, "since Jesus himself told us not to judge others? Our job as Christians is not to judge people but to love them. That's what Jesus did, right?"

But this is, at best, a half-truth that robs Christians of the capacity to reach any kind of moral discernment about right and wrong, virtue and vice, truth and error. (The irony, of course, is that there is one negative judgment that this half-truth allows for, and that is the judgment that making negative judgments about someone's behavior or beliefs is wrong!)

In his book Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues, William C. Mattison makes a distinction between making judgments versus judmentalism that rescues us from the performative contradiction entailed by this misuse of Jesus' words. After quoting Matthew 7:1 in the context of a discussion about chastity and nonmarital sex, Mattison writes:

... what Jesus is not condemning is recognizing faults in ourselves and others. The whole point of the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is to explain how to live in accordance with the kingdom of God, and doing so entails recognizing, especially in ourselves, what actions run counter to that kingdom. In fact, Jesus gives explicit instruction on how to confront a peer whose behavior is damaging herself and the community (Matt. 18:15-17). Thus, judging in the sense of making distinctions about what is good and bad behavior is clearly not what Jesus denounces. Yet being judgmental, in the sense of using such a discussion as a way to demean others or exalt one's self, is surely what must be avoided, according to Jesus. ...

Judgmentalism is not compatible with love. A good stance to adopt in this difficult discussion [of chastity and nonmarital sex] is this: how would you address this topic with your teenage child or sibling who sought guidance from you on when to have sex? What lines would you offer him as to when to know the time is right? Only by refusing to offer any response would you avoid making judgments, and that would surely not be in the teenager's best interest as he seeks guidance. Presumably you would tell him what you think is in his genuine best interest, and encourage him to act accordingly. That would be making a judgment, because you want what is best for him. You would hopefully avoid being judgmental, that is, lording it over him or condemning him if he fails. ... Thus, the most loving thing we can do for others and ourselves on challenging questions such as these is to humbly strive to speak the truth rather than tell people what they want to hear, since the truth is what is genuinely best for people.

Mattison also cites the example of Jesus (the one who purportedly never judges anyone because he loves them so much):

Perhaps the finest example of this judgment vs. judgmentalism distinction is the famous story of Christ and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1). Christ does not refuse to label her behavior sinful. Indeed, the story ends by his saying, "Go and sin no more." Yet Jesus' primary concern in that story is to stop the woman's peers from self-righteously (in that they failed to recall their own sin) denouncing her, rather than lovingly correcting her, as Jesus himself does.

Looking to Jesus, Mattison reminds us of the critical importance of distinguishing between judgmentalism's condemnation and judgment's correction.

Mattison helps us steer a middle course between the harsh legalism that condemns and throws people away on the one hand, and the permissive tolerance that sanctions a moral relativism that tacitly (if not explicitly) blesses false beliefs and destructive behavior on the other hand. It's a fine line to walk, to be sure. And Lord knows the Church has all too often failed in ways that have been deeply hurtful. But it's also a tragic failure when the Church does not own her call to follow Jesus' example by exercising the moral leadership of right judgment and loving correction.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Core Curriculum for Christian Formation

A while back when we gathered for our annual clergy conference, Kevin Martin (dean of St. Matthew's Episcopal Cathedral in Dallas, Texas) joined us to talk about the challenges Episcopalians face with congregational development and leadership within a declining denomination in a post-Christian culture. Along the way, he briefly shared a core curriculum for Christian formation which churches do well to offer on a regular basis. The components of this core curriculum are:

  1. Scripture
  2. Christian Believing
  3. Anglican Spirituality: The Book of Common Prayer & How to Use It
  4. Spiritual Gifts for Ministry

The idea is to offer this curriculum over the course of two years.

For some, all of this may seem so basic! Why offer this regularly to adults?

There are lots of reasons, including the fact that many Episcopalians come from other Christian traditions and thus aren't all that familiar with the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. There's also the reality that, increasingly, many young adults who come to us have limited to no experience with the Church. They aren't familiar with the stories of the Bible and they don't know the content and practices of the Christian faith. Add to it that a curriculum like this can be conducted in ways that allow for small groups, and it provides a ready-made way for people to find a niche where they can come to know other people and get plugged into parish life.

Kevin also talked about the differences between two tracks for incorporating persons into the life of the church. The first track is membership, and the second track is discipleship. There can be a big difference, of course, between being a church member and being a disciple of Jesus. Important as they are, showing up for worship and participating in church activities on a regular basis is not necessarily the same as taking on the discipline of Jesus. The core curriculum for Christian formation is intended to be one way to help people move from being merely a Church member to becoming a disciple.

A question to keep in mind throughout the process is: "Where are you with Christ in your life?"

And along the way, Kevin noted, it's important to help people articulate what they need - what it would take - for them to believe.

There's a lot more to think through from Kevin over at his blog. It's called Kevin on Congregations.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One Million Christian Martyrs

In an article entitled "Christian Number-Crunching" over at First Things, George Weigel shares highlights from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research's annual "Status of Global Mission" report. According to Weigel, this report "attempts to quantify the world Christian reality, comparing Christianity’s circumstances to those of other faiths, and assaying how Christianity’s various expressions are faring when measured against the recent (and not-so-recent) past."

There are a number of things in Weigel's summary that are striking, but this part in particular grabbed my attention:

The provocation in the 2011 report involves martyrdom. For purposes of research, the report defines "martyrs" as "believers in Christ who have lost their lives, prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility." The report estimates that there were, on average, 270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade, such that "the number of martyrs [in the period 2000-2010] was approximately 1 million." Compare this to an estimated 34,000 Christian martyrs in 1900.

270 new Christian martyrs every 24 hours and one million Christian martyrs in the first decade of the 21st Century.

As we continue our in-fighting and our efforts to serve as chaplain to a culture increasingly indifferent to a dying mainline Christian institution, this is a sobering reminder of what other Christians are dealing with elsewhere in the world.

Read it all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Revisiting Conflict and Innovation in the Prayer Book Tradition

I first published this piece back in November 2007. Having recently looked at it again, I'm struck by ways in which the centrality of conflict and tendencies toward innovation, both of which are central to the Prayer Book tradition, continue to plague the Anglican house. Perhaps at least part of my conclusion remains relevant:

The problem we face today, it seems to me, is that we lack publicly recognized, institutionally grounded ways of adjudicating conflict and responding to heterodoxy (and, for that matter, heresy). And so the forces of conflict that are central to our Anglican tradition, as well as those tendencies towards innovation that push us to challenge the limits of scripture and tradition, can sometimes contribute to the free-for-all of pursuing subjective preferences at the expense of the common good.

Does the Prayer Book tradition offer internal resources to help deal with these matters, or do we need intervention from the outside? Does Anglicanism have the resources within itself to meet the challenges of our time, or will common prayer collapse into cacophony under the weight of our tradition’s internal drive towards conflict and innovation?

I think it's an understatement to say that conflict and innovation that undermine not only Anglican unity but perhaps also creedal orthodoxy have deepened since I first published this piece. So in my conclusion, it appears that I was an advocate for something like the Anglican Covenant long before I could possibly have realized it.

And speaking of the Anglican Covenant, in light of Episcopalians who today cry "Foul!" at the very idea of the Covenant (arguing that it will open doors for "foreigners" to meddle in our autonomous affairs), I can't help but find the influence of the English bishops on the first American Prayer all the more interesting.

I’ve recently been reviewing the Prayer Book tradition in preparation for teaching. I haven’t looked at this history in detail since before “the recent unpleasantness,” so some of the things I’ve been reading about have struck a chord in a new way. Among other resources, I’ve particularly benefited from reading William Sydnor’s The Prayer Book Through the Ages Revised Edition (Morehouse, 1997). For a slender volume, it provides a fairly detailed and comprehensive look at each of the English and American Prayer Books.

Based upon my recent reading and research, and with the acknowledgment that I’m skimming the surface of very complex historical and theological matters, there are two points I wish to highlight about Anglicanism when viewed through the lens of the Prayer Book tradition. Those two points are (1) the centrality of conflict and (2) the tendency towards innovation.

First point: the centrality of conflict.

Take the first two Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552. Viewed from the perspective of their reception, both were failures. 1549, for example, went too far for the conservatives and not far enough for the reformers. Here’s how William Sydnor summarizes it:

“In producing the 1549 Book, Cranmer and his colleagues were sincerely and honestly seeking to lead the Church of England into a genuine revival of its worship practices. They aspired to help worshippers find greater meaning and significance in practices which were grounded in the rich heritage of Christendom. … The attempt failed from every point of view. The conservatives disliked its innovations and the omission of old services; the reformers thought it retained too much of the old and did not go far enough in innovation” [The Prayer Book Through the Ages Revised Edition (Morehouse, 1997), p. 12].

This widespread dissatisfaction motivated Prayer Book revision, which produced the more Reformed 1552 Prayer Book. William Sydnor notes that it was “unpopular everywhere” [The Prayer Book Through the Ages, p. 23]. Given that reception, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing that the 1552 Prayer Book was in official use for a mere 8 months before ultra-Catholic “Bloody Mary” canned it for the Latin liturgy.

The tide turned in favor of the Prayer Book when Elizabeth I ascended the throne on November 17, 1558. With the Queen’s backing, the 1559 Prayer Book was authorized by an Act of Uniformity that passed by only 3 votes. Penalties for failing to use the new Prayer Book included “a fine of one year’s stipend and six months imprisonment for the first offense, forfeit of all ‘spiritual promotions’ and one year imprisonment for the second, life imprisonment for the third” [William Sydnor, The Prayer Book Through the Ages, p. 27]. Given such penalties, perhaps Sydnor is guilty of understatement in noting that there was “little opposition” under Elizabeth’s reign to bringing back the Prayer Book.

Similar use of political force was used to institute the 1662 Prayer Book. Sydnor notes that “with the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662 civil power went a step further [than retaining practices to which the Puritans objected], requiring ministers not only to adopt the new arrangements, but also to declare the unlawfulness of their past conduct [under Cromwell’s Presbyterian Commonwealth] and to submit to Episcopal ordination” [p. 50]. Part of what this meant was limits to inclusion. Presbyterianism, for example, was officially banned from the Church of England.

Dissatisfaction, protest, revolt, lobbying with the like-minded for reform suitable to one’s own preferences against opponents, exclusion, and the threat and/or reality of violent coercion: these all mark the birth of the Prayer Book tradition in England.

In a word, conflict is central to the foundations of what over time formed the unique trajectory of Christian belief and practice we now refer to as “Anglicanism.” As part of the warp and woof of the Prayer Book tradition, conflict is in our ecclesial DNA. So we shouldn’t be surprised or alarmed that something as central to our identity as conflict serves as a governing force in the unfolding story of today’s Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It’s part of who we are.

Second point: the tendency towards innovation.

There are many examples of this within the English Prayer Book tradition, as the ultra-Catholic and ultra-Protestant factions would no doubt have attested in response to the 1549, 1552, and 1559 Prayer Books. For the purposes of this posting, however, I want to focus on the revisions in the Proposed Book of 1786, the precursor to the first American Prayer Book of 1789. The Proposed Book included a number of changes from the 1662 Prayer Book to which English bishops strongly objected. Here are a few of those changes:
  1. Under the influence of Enlightenment rationalism and deism, the Proposed Book “deemphasized distinctive doctrines such as the Trinity and the atonement and offered a less exalted view of the sacraments and the episcopacy” [Jeffrey Lee, Opening the Prayer Book (Cowley, 1999), p. 62].
  2. The Proposed Book eliminated the Nicene Creed from the Communion service.
  3. The Proposed Book eliminated the Athanasian Creed from Morning Prayer on Major Feast days.
  4. The Proposed Book eliminated the phrase “he descended into hell” from the Apostles’ Creed.
The English bishops viewed such proposed revisions as signifying at least a downplaying if not an explicit rejection of the substantive creedal content of the historic Christian faith. In other words, the American proposal was an innovation that went beyond revision by breaking in specific ways with the English Prayer Book tradition. And so in response the English bishops wrote:

“ … we cannot help being afraid … lest we should be the instrument of establishing an Ecclesiastical system which will be called a branch of the Church of England, but afterwards may appear to have departed from it essentially, either in doctrine or in discipline” [quoted in William Sydnor’s The Prayer Book Through the Ages, p. 60].

Here’s how the pre-General Convention meeting of Anglicans in the newly formed United States of America met the objections of the English bishops:

“The ‘southern states’ responded to this communication at the second session of their 1786 Convention (October 10-11) by restoring both the Nicene Creed and the permissive use of the descent-into-hell clause of the Apostles’ Creed. This action received the approval of English bishops and cleared the way for [William] White of Pennsylvania and [Samuel] Provoost of New York to sail to England the next month for Episcopal consecration” [William Sydnor, The Prayer Book Through the Ages, p. 60].

One wonders if these concessions would have been made were it not for the fact that the American Church was looking to the English bishops to consecrate American bishops. True, Samuel Seabury was the first bishop consecrated for the American church, having secured the episcopate with his consecration by bishops in the Episcopal Church of Scotland on November 14, 1784. But Seabury’s consecration did not secure an American episcopate in communion with the Church of England, and in particular with the See of Canterbury (note that William White was not consecrated by English bishops that included Archbishop of Canterbury John Moore until 1787).

Is it possible that if we had already secured an American episcopate from the Church of England prior to consideration of a new Prayer Book, the proposed downplaying of historic, creedal Christianity would have been enshrined in the American Prayer Book tradition from the start?

I’m sure that liturgical scholars can weigh in on that question with far more authority than I can, but thinking about all of this leads me to ponder another question.

To what extent does the fact that the Episcopal Church got its “autonomous” grounding in Enlightenment rationalism and deism help explain a tendency – embodied from the beginning in the Proposed Book of Common Prayer of 1786 – towards an innovative if not heterodox theology? Is it really a departure from Episcopal Church tradition, in other words, if our leaders – lay or ordained – publicly question things like the Trinity, the atonement, or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in the economy of salvation? Hasn’t that kind of questioning and free-thinking been there from the very beginning of our consolidation as a church body? Isn’t that a part of who we are as an American Church?

Anglican theologian James E. Griffiss writes that “our history and foundations [as Anglicans] demonstrate a pattern of continuity and change – continuity with the tradition of the gospel we have received in Christ and, at the same time, a willingness to interpret and understand that gospel as changing situations might require” [The Anglican Vision (Cowley, 1997), p. 101]. As part of my learning from the Prayer Book tradition, I’m led to ask the question, how much conflict and how much innovation is continuous with the gospel we have received in Christ? Are there limits, in other words, to healthy, productive conflict and innovation within our Church? And if so, what are the criteria by which we recognize those limits?

In conclusion, I don’t think that conflict and heterodoxy are necessarily the worst evils that can beset us. Conflict can offer opportunities for insight and growth that would otherwise be lacking. So it’s not by definition a bad thing. It all depends on how conflict is managed and how we respond to it. And, like heresy, heterodoxy can provide opportunities for clarification and differentiation. Again, like conflict, it depends on how we respond to it.

The problem we face today, it seems to me, is that we lack publicly recognized, institutionally grounded ways of adjudicating conflict and responding to heterodoxy (and, for that matter, heresy). And so the forces of conflict that are central to our Anglican tradition, as well as those tendencies towards innovation that push us to challenge the limits of scripture and tradition, can sometimes contribute to the free-for-all of pursuing subjective preferences at the expense of the common good.

Does the Prayer Book tradition offer internal resources to help deal with these matters, or do we need intervention from the outside? Does Anglicanism have the resources within itself to meet the challenges of our time, or will common prayer collapse into cacophony under the weight of our tradition’s internal drive towards conflict and innovation?

Only time will tell.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Desiring Our Own Good

"If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

~ C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory" (1942)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Way of Christ is Mission

" … the way of Christ is mission: witnessing and benevolent intrusion into the life of the world. There is no way that Christ’s cause can be converted into an individual or community lifestyle of self-interest, self-protection and defense against vulnerability. To do so is not to interpret Christ differently, but to abandon him."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

St. Brigid of Kildare

"I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present. I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven's family drinking it through all eternity."