Thursday, April 28, 2011

The World Cannot Cope with a Jesus Who Comes Out of the Tomb

" ... the question of Jesus' resurrection, though it may in some senses burst the boundaries of history, also remains within them; that is precisely why it is so important, so disturbing, so life-and-death. We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples' minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God's new creation right in the middle of the old one."

~ N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Can We Believe in the Resurrection?

In an essay posted on ABC's Religion and Ethics website, Biblical scholar, historian, and Anglican bishop N. T. Wright responds to the question, "Can we believe in the resurrection?" The header of the posted essay gives a feel for where Bishop Wright is heading:

The Christian claim from the beginning was that the question of Jesus' resurrection was a question, not of the internal mental and spiritual states of his followers a few days after his crucifixion, but about something that had happened in the real, public world.

In this essay, Bishop Wright offers a succinct summary of an argument he lays out in much more painstaking detail in his 740+ page book The Resurrection of the Son of God. Topics covered include:

  • What did "resurrection" mean in first-century usage?
  • The surprising character of early Christian hope.
  • The stories of Easter.
  • Easter and history.
  • What love believes.

Read it all.

Bishop Wright's work on the resurrection has had a profound impact on my understanding of what lies at the heart of the Christian faith. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Canterbury Letters to Geneva George (1): The Via Media

I was recently asked by a brother in Christ to post a series of fictional letters he's written that explore matters of import within the Reformed and Anglican traditions. His introduction below explains in greater detail the purpose of the letters, as well as why he asked me to publish them on his behalf and why he is choosing to remain anonymous for the time being. I normally don't publish things on behalf of others. But after previewing several of these letters I was sufficiently intrigued to share them. I anticipate publishing one letter per week for the next several weeks.

Since I am not the author of these letters I cannot give definitive responses to comments and questions. However, as the author notes in the introduction below, he hopes that your feedback will help him achieve greater theological clarity. It is to that end that your comments are invited in response to this and upcoming "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George."

Bryan Owen+


In the ‘New Jerusalem Project Report’ column for Volume 1, Issue 4 of the magazine Fermentations, Brad Littlejohn made an interesting observation. “Like adopted children who one day awaken to seek their birth parents,” he wrote, “young Calvinists have subsequent epiphanies. The first epiphany, of course, is to Calvinism itself with all its promise: a comprehensive and glorious worldview that is finally ready and able to engage the ‘cultural mandate!’”

Littlejohn went on to talk about a second epiphany that many experience, one described by an ancestral longing for the fathers of our faith: “Whereas the first epiphany solidifies youthful vision and brings a sense of satisfaction, the latter comes as an ancestral longing. It leaves a gnawing hunger for fathers in the faith to lead us beyond our Plastic Present.”

As a Calvinist myself, it was the call of this second epiphany that brought me to question many of the emphases I had embraced. Like many evangelicals with a background seeped in fundamentalism, individualism and anti-intellectualism, the ecclesiology, covenantalism and intellectual rigor of the reformed tradition had initially come to me as a breath of fresh air. Here, surely, was the tradition that preserved the faith once entrusted to all the saints, even as Athanasius contended for truth against the Arian heretics of the 4th century.

However, as time went by, I found that this very impulse to identify with a high ecclesiology was bringing me to question many of the tenets of Calvinism. It wasn’t so much that I began to doubt the legitimacy of the five points. It was more that I began to wonder: is the reformed tradition, with all its rationalism and anti-Catholicism, really big enough to contain the majesty, mystery and expansiveness of the Christian vision that has been articulated so profoundly by everyone from St. Augustine to Dante to George Herbert? I don’t know, but I believe the question is worth asking.

In order to properly explore this question, I will be writing a series of fictional letters between a Calvinist and an Anglican, which I have called "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George." The events in their lives that I refer to are a purely fictional springboard to explore issues of importance within Calvinism and Anglicanism respectively.

Bryan Owen has kindly agreed to publish these letters on his Creedal Christian blog. When I originally asked Bryan if he would consent to publish these letters, he asked why I wasn’t publishing them on my own blog. I will let my readers judge whether it is too my credit that I told Bryan I did not want to publish them on my own blog lest I alienate my Calvinist constituency.

I would ask that readers keep in mind that my ideas are still in development. In fact, I hope that these letters will be more the means for helping me to achieve theological clarity than the result. Towards this end, I hope readers will be generous in offering feedback on the ideas expressed in these letters through the comment button. Moreover, if it is true that the ideas expressed in these letters are not the final expression of my own theological journeying, it is even more true that they should not be taken to be a proper expression of Bryan’s views. I am grateful that Bryan has let me use his blog as a soap box, and I will be equally grateful to my readers if they will keep in mind that these ideas (and especially any theological errors) are entirely my own.

Letter 1

The Via Media

Dear Geneva George,

I enjoyed seeing you at the conference last Saturday and I do hope we can keep in touch. I think your idea of a regular correspondence was a great idea! Hopefully this will give us the opportunity to explore in more detail many of the questions we were discussing.

To start the ball rolling, I’d like to pick up on the comments you made last weekend about the ‘via media.’ I fear that the way I described the “via media” may have inadvertently given a wrong impression. I spoke of it as a middle way represented by Anglicanism (especially High Anglicanism) of being not quite Protestant but neither Catholic. I described it as a sort of halfway house between Rome and Geneva which finds expression in the great Anglican compromise.

Articulated as such, I’m not surprised that you reacted the way you did, as if I had embraced a lukewarm state that is neither one thing nor the other, a type of theological schizophrenia that lacks either the nerve to become Roman Catholic or the guts to be consistent with the logic of Protestantism. It is this wrong impression that I hope to alleviate in the correspondence that follows.

Please also be assured Geneva George, when I spoke of the ‘Anglican compromise’, I did not mean compromise in the sense of a concession to error. (That may certainly apply to some of the more liberal Episcopalian churches in America, but I would argue that that is itself a departure from true Anglicanism.) On the contrary, the middle way I spoke of is more akin to Aristotle’s ‘golden mean’ – a balanced state of equilibrium between two unhealthy extremes.

This middle-of-the-road approach is not limited specifically to Anglicanism, but is a mindset that Protestants of all traditions would do well to adopt. It is, in short, a mentality which continually seeks to emphasize our continuity with Rome without compromising our core Protestant convictions. Such an emphasis is a necessary corrective to many of the dangers inherent within contemporary Protestantism.

Well, that will have to be enough for now.

Blessings in Christ,

Canterbury Chris

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cross is All We Need to Know

"The cross is the crux, the crossroads, the twisted knot at the center of reality, to which all previous history leads and from which all subsequent history flows. By it we know all reality is cruciform—the love of God, the shape of creation, the labyrinth of human history. Paul determined to know nothing but Christ crucified, but that was enough. The cross was all he knew on earth; but knowing the cross he, and we, know all we need to know."

~ Peter J. Leithart, "Christ and Him Crucified"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shaken to the Foundations

"In Christ—in the historical event of Christ—so profound a re-orientation of moral and metaphysical perspectives has been introduced into history that all our understandings of nature, of holy law, and of moral obligation have been shaken to their foundations. One must first dwell in the sheer wonder of that event before one then tries to make sense of what it demands of us."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Catholicity Outweighs Autonomy

Last Fall, I posted a piece about how affirming belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church" in the Nicene Creed and our promise in the Baptismal Covenant "to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship" means that we commit ourselves to living more deeply into intimate fellowship with one another by accepting shared norms and clearly articulated boundaries as the conditions that make such a common life possible. I went on to write:

By promising to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, we promise to live our identity as members of the Body of Christ. This means not only serving God's people within the Episcopal Church, but also serving and fostering relationships with the larger whole that transcends the Episcopal Church. Faithfulness to the Baptismal Covenant requires every Episcopalian to work for deeper and more intimate communion with all Christians, and especially with Anglicans worldwide. That's true even when we disagree with our brother and sister Anglicans, and even when we don't like them.

The official Anglican Covenant is far from perfect. But in the midst of the disagreement and division rocking the Anglican Communion, it's currently the only serious proposal for how to address the problems of impaired communion and schism by seeking to heal divisions and nurture deeper unity among Anglican Christians.

The Rev. Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under recently brought attention to a brief essay by the Rev. Dr. Paul Avis that makes the case for catholicity and the Covenant far more eloquently than I can. The essay is entitled "Catholicity Outweighs Autonomy." Here's an excerpt:

The Covenant is not perfect and it is not completely clear to me how the “consequences” aspect of it will be worked out, if it comes to that. But I don’t think that is the most important thing about the Covenant. The key, for me, is that by subscribing to the Covenant, Anglican churches will signal in a serious way their intention to remain together. They will signal this to themselves, to all the other Anglican churches throughout the world, and to other Christian world communions, who are watching anxiously and do not want to see the Anglican Communion finally fail as a worldwide fellowship of churches. Such a failure would indicate a serious weakening of Christianity and its witness on the world stage. It would also bring grief and heartbreak to millions of Anglican Christians around the globe.

But is the Anglican Covenant asking too much of member churches? Does it fatally compromise the hard-won autonomy of the “provinces”? I think not. “Autonomy” cannot be the first thing that we have to say about ourselves as Anglican churches. I think the attributes of the Church of Christ in the Creed come much higher up: unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.

The very first thing we want to say about our church is that it belongs to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. But if we belong, with others, to something much bigger than ourselves, then we belong
together and not in autonomous isolation. So interdependence must be a key denominator of Anglican ecclesiology and polity. The Covenant seeks to flesh out in practical terms what interdependence might mean.

Read it all.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Problem with Liberal Protestantism

"The problem with liberal Protestantism is that, if you are willing to alter the tenets of your Faith to meet transient social changes, then – in the final analysis – how real do you actually believe that Faith is? Real things tend to be intrinsically determined. You can’t make water out of hydrogen and chlorine; you can’t barbecue a deer and decide that it’s broccoli; you can’t jump off a cliff and not hit the bottom because you’ve decided to revise your views on gravity. True religion, in service to an objectively real God, is the same way. It is what it is, and no amount of 'reappraising' will change it into something else however much we try to convince ourselves otherwise."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dumping the Nicene Creed for Easter

I read with sadness recently about the plight of a blogging/Facebook friend who attends an Episcopal Church where the leadership has decided to dump the Nicene Creed from the Sunday liturgy beginning on Easter Day. In its place they plan to use some faith statement crafted by the Iona community. According to my friend, this replacement "creed" downplays things like the Incarnation and the Resurrection. I can tell he is deeply unhappy about this decision, and I certainly don't blame him!

I've written before about instances of letting go of the Creed, clergy who charge that the creeds are defective, and a Church of England chaplain who banned the creed to be inclusive. Perhaps this is more common than we realize?

Regardless of whether or not it happens a lot or rarely, dropping the Nicene Creed and replacing it with something else is a flagrant violation of ordination vows on the part of the clergy in charge of the parish. Accordingly, there should be discipline. And insofar as the Nicene Creed is the sufficient statement of the Christian faith, I'd even go so far as to say that dumping it for something insufficient borders on apostasy.

When asked about the rationale for making this change, my friend noted a handout given to parishioners which says: "It is anticipated that we will return to use of the traditional Creed in other seasons; but will remain open to occasional changes when it seems appropriate and timely." When it seems appropriate and timely? For whom? And by what authority? And what exactly makes dumping the Creed for an alternative that downplays the resurrection during Easter season a timely change? (Perhaps it's timely during Easter as a statement of disbelief in the traditional understanding of our Lord's resurrection?) This rationale strikes me as a perfect illustration of the emptiness of "progressive," "wanna-be-relevant" Christianity lite.

Dumping the Nicene Creed from the Eucharistic liturgy signals a bold departure from the norms of common prayer within the Episcopal Church, the ordination vows made by Episcopal clergy, and the traditional and sufficient statement of the core dogmatic content of the Christian faith. And it suggests not only that the sufficient statement of the Christian faith is optional, but that the content of that faith is optional as well. We are free to pick and choose alternatives to the faith of the Church, or to just make something up we like better, whenever we feel like it ("when it seems appropriate and timely").

Writing about the Nicene Creed when I first started blogging almost four years ago ("The Radical Creed"), I noted the following:

As "the sufficient statement of the Christian faith," the Nicene Creed underscores that there are boundaries and norms that define the Christian faith and that differentiate it from other possible faiths. Christianity is not a recipe for relativism, nor does it affirm subjectivism. It's interesting in this regard to note that the English word "heresy" derives from the Greek hairein, meaning "to choose." The Creed reminds us that Christianity is not an individualistic, "pick and choose what you like and discard the rest" faith.

Christian faith entails certain non-negotiable truths that make a claim on our loyalties and our lives.

The faith of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Creed is the norm against which individual opinions and judgments are measured and found more or less adequate, or wrong.

As Luke Timothy Johnson points out, all of this makes the Creed a deeply counter-cultural statement. And so, for all the ways in which it suggests a kind of rebellion against the norms of the Church's faith and practice, dumping the Creed is also an expression of accommodation to an increasingly post-Christian, and at times even anti-Christian, culture.

How very sad to see a parish church lose its identity and its way like this!

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Prayer

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Essence of Anglicanism

Over at Musings of a Hard-Lining Moderate, Carson T. Clark asks "What is the Essence of Anglicanism; or What, Exactly, is Required for Anglicanness?" He quite rightly notes that giving a definitive answer to such questions is difficult (perhaps impossible?) given the diversity of faith and practice that can all lay claim to being "Anglican." He writes:

... some Anglicans are basically Catholic without the Pope while others are so Reformed they’d make the Puritans blush. Some think it’s not Anglicanism without bells, smells, and vestments. Others prefer electric guitars, projection screens, and priests who wear blue jeans. Some love homilies. Others want full-blown exegetical sermons. Some insist upon using words like “sacristy.” Others say, “For the love! It’s a closet with a sink where they store the robes. Get over yourself.” Some speak in tongues. Others don’t speak a word unless it’s directly out of the Book of Common Prayer. Some worship in cathedrals that are a thousand years old. Others worship in incomplete houses. Some think the Thirty-Nine Articles should be seen as the official, enduring statement of belief. Others think it little more than a historical document, a relic of the past. Some believe all seven ecumenical councils are authoritative. Others affirm the first four alone, or even hedge away from acknowledging any ecclesiastical “authority” outside of Scripture. Some see the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual leader of the global communion. Others believe Anglicanism has no central leader. Some ordain women. Others have built their identity around not ordaining women. Some use the title “pastor.” Others are adamant that office be called the priesthood. Some believe geographical dioceses are the bedrock of Anglican polity. Others think that model is outmoded.

Carson proposes the following seven markers of Anglican identity that provide unity in the midst of this diversity:
  1. Sacramental Theology
  2. The Bishopric
  3. Historical Orientation
  4. English Culture
  5. Scripture's Authority
  6. Prayer Book
  7. Via Media
Take a look at how Carson unpacks each of these seven markers and see what you think.

I'm a little surprised that the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are not included in this list (perhaps they get included within #6?). Unlike the Reformed churches, Anglicanism has tended to be more of a creedal than a confessional tradition. And so, writing as an Episcopalian in his book Understanding the Faith of the Church, Richard A. Norris kicks off the very first chapter by claiming: "The church's creeds are the starting point for our enterprise of understanding the faith."

Regardless, Carson has a written a thought-provoking article. I encourage you to read it all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Joy of Salvation

"Men may talk what they will, but sure there is no joy in the world to the joy of a man saved: no joy so great, no news so welcome, as to one ready to perish, in case of a lost man, to hear of one that will save him. In danger of perishing by sickness, to hear of one will make him well again; by sentence of the law, of one with a pardon to save his life; by enemies, of one that will rescue and set him in safety. Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour. It is the best news he ever heard in his life."

~ Lancelot Andrewes (Christmas 1609)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The "Naughty" Side of the King James Version

David Neff, editor of Christianity Today, reveals the "naughty" side of the King James Version of the Bible.

The Reality Presented to Us in the Cross

"The Reality presented to us in the Cross (as with all things of God) is never comprehended in rational theory. It pushes us beyond the limits of our own poorly defined rationality and towards the greater rationality of the Truth of things. As noted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, 'only wonder grasps anything.'"

~ Fr. Stephen Freeman, "Before Thy Cross"

Friday, April 1, 2011

Treasures in the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer

"At certain periods in the history of the Church, especially when some reformation was at hand, men have exhibited a weariness of their ordinary theological teaching. It seemed to them that they needed something less common, more refined than that which they possessed. As the light broke in upon them, they perceived that they needed what was less refined, more common. The Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer were found to contain the treasures for which they were seeking. The signs of such a period are surely to be seen in our day. We can scarcely think that we require reformation less than our fathers. I believe, if we are to obtain it, we too must turn to these simple documents; we must inquire whether they cannot interpret the dream of our lives better than all the soothsayers whom we have consulted about it hitherto."

from a sermon on the Lord's Prayer preached in 1848