Thursday, December 21, 2006

Toward a Post-Critical Hermeneutic of Scripture


What follows is one of the best summaries of where hermeneutics has been and where it is going. Hang on and enjoy the ride!

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The Jewish and Christian hermeneutic of the Talmudic and Patristics period and of medieval times corresponds to a pre-modern concept of the world as a sacred cosmos or a symbolic universe: the revelation of the sacred in the space and time of secular experience creates a symbolic world, a global system of meaning. The subject, man or woman, is and feels a part of the objective world with no awareness at all of an opposition between subject and object. A system of myths and rites, a metaphysical theology and a liturgy made up of symbols, explain and celebrate at the same time the origin, the being, the final destiny and regular rhythm of this present life. Myth and reality, word and thing, merge completely and as yet they have not been separated and challenged. The Bible has both a literal and a spiritual meaning which together determine an infinity of meanings, hidden in each expression, each word and even each letter of Scripture.

Modern hermeneutic corresponds to a world in which the I, the thinking subject, and the physical and mathematical universe replace the sacred cosmos as the focal point. Epistemology, the theory of knowledge, replaces myth and metaphysics, explaining not just objective reality but only how it is possible to know the objective world. This puts a gulf between the thinking subject and the object. Critical rationalism of the Enlightenment ends up questioning the God of theologians and philosophers and the critical history of Romanticism puts an interdict on texts in which the revelation of the Bible is expressed.

Post-Modern or Post-Critical hermeneutic is marked by a certain disenchantment with enlightened conscience and some glimpses of re-enchantment with the world. Post-modernism does not reject the values of modernity, rational criticism and freedom from dogma, but it accepts that enlightened criticism is not free from prejudice and its pretensions to objectivity are often no more than wishful thinking. The post-modern world is not the world of the ancient sacred cosmos but neither is it its simple negation or its dissolving in the world of the subjective conscience. It is a world created by language, made manifest in dialogue with the other. Understanding takes place through prior anticipations, through pre-understanding and pre-judice, through the hermeneutic circle of question and answers (Heidegger). Understanding is not a monologue with objectivity but a dialogue with the subjectivity of the other or with the other expressed in the texts transmitted by tradition. Without it being possible to return to the pre-critical world of tradition which has become dogma, contemporary hermeneutic wishes to recover the mediating force of tradition and even the symbolising and imaginative meaning of allegory. Unlike enlightened hermeneutic, Post-modern thinking shows respect for openness to the divine and the sacred and especially to symbolic and religious language in general, typical of the post-modern era.

In this process of re-evaluation of tradition and of the interpretation of symbols and allegories, without however abandoning enlightened criticism of the texts of historical and religious tradition, lies the viewpoint of this book. It does not try a direct approach, supposedly free of presuppositions and prejudices, to the biblical texts of over two thousand years ago, but instead tries to emphasise the mediating role of Jewish and Christian tradition and of post-modern hermeneutic based on the play between literal and allegorical, in every attempt at complete understanding of the texts of the Bible.

--Julio Trebolle Barrera, The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An Introduction to the History of the Bible (Cambridge, 1998), 545-6

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's all Greek to me?? Hardly...


Last Sunday I took my worship class on a fieldtrip to our local Greek Orthodox Cathedral here in Houston for the Sunday Divine Liturgy. The purpose of the trip was solely pedagogical, yet I could not help reflecting on the sad state of my own denomination, and my commitment to remain a part of the Anglican tradition.

Admittedly, the service felt a little alien to me at first, despite the fact that I was quite able to follow the liturgy, and even to respond in Greek somewhat proficiently. That being said, the liturgy was enthralling, and before I knew it I was musing that I could quickly get used to worshipping in this manner on a weekly basis. Then it hit me. I already affirmed everything they affirmed. I believed as they believed. There were no obstacles -- not doctrine, not icons, not piety, not the filioque -- standing in the way of my becoming Orthodox (with a "big-O"), that is, if I so desired. Nothing at all. So naturally I was faced with the question: as a "small-o" orthodox Christian, why remain Anglican?

On the way home that afternoon, I came up with three answers (only two of which I'm ready to share with my readers. The third, still provisional, will have to wait):

(1) I remain Anglican because the Anglican way of orthodoxy is something worth staying in and fighting for. In its best expressions, Anglicanism is a wondrously beautiful vehicle for the transmission of the orthodox faith. Not only do I believe it can be so in the future, but I believe it is so now in the present (albeit in limited contexts). The loss of Anglicanism to the cancer of relativity, God forbid, would be a loss not only for a few Episcopalians, but a loss for the whole Body of Christ as well. Some of my friends have suggested that the Western-Rite option in Eastern Orthodoxy could easily fill this void. My response: Anglicanism is a natural home for orthodoxy (small-o), but Orthodoxy (big-O) could never be a natural home for Anglicanism.

(2) I remain Anglican because I am culturally an Anglican Christian, and I see my culture as a heritage entrusted to me to pass on to future generations. Surely, some of my friends might object, "What profit is there in saving your culture only to lose your soul?" However, I think this is a false dichotomy. As I looked around at the mostly Greek congregation gathered in that Greek Orthodox Cathedral during its Greek liturgy, it was obvious to me that, for that particular congregation, being "Greek" and being "Christian" were practically co-terminous. Corporately speaking, culture is the soul of a church. The Christian Faith is fundamentally incarnational, and thus it naturally incarnates itself in culture -- be it Greek or British.

Simply put, I am an Anglican Christian, I can be no other.

Until next time.

P.S. I'm still pondering this question, of course.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The "Catholica"


The Church which is "Jesus Christ spread abroad and communicated" completes -- so far as it can be completed here below -- the work of spiritual reunion which was made necessary by sin; that work which was begun at the Incarnation and was carried on up to Calvary. In one sense the Church is herself this reunion, for that is what is meant by the name of Catholic by which we find her called from the second century onward, and which in Latin as well as in Greek was for long bestowed upon her as a proper noun. Katholikos in classical Greek, was used by philosophers to indicate a universal proposition. Now a universal is a singular and is not to be confused with an aggregate. The Church is not Catholic because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members. She was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost, when all her members could be contained in a small room, as she was when the Arian waves seemed on the point of swamping her; she would still be Catholic if tomorrow apostasy on a vast scale deprived her of almost all the faithful. For fundamentally Catholicity has nothing to do with geography or statistics. If it is true that it should be dsiplayed over all the earth and be manifest to all, yet its nature is not material but spiritual. Like sanctity, Catholicity is primarily an intrinsic feature of the Church.

--Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man (Ignatius Press), 48-9.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Boys are Back in Town!

I'm excited! After a lengthy hiatus, the Energies of the Trinity blog is back up again. Perry Robinson and Photius Jones, the "boys" over at Energies, are quite heady, but always informative and usually provocative. Be sure to check them out.

The Roots of Sacramental Minimalism in the West


By putting together Augustine's responses to Donatism and Pelagianism one ends up with a baptismal rite and theology which is considerably narrow in its approach in comparison, at least, with the great mystagogues of the West Syrian East and even Ambrose himself. Here, unfortunately, even if his responses to these heretical movements were necessary, we see the beginnings of a minimalistic approach to rite, interpretation, candidate, minister, and Church and a loss of sacramental and liturgical richness in favor of a concern for sacramental validity. While he himself knew a full and rich rite for Christiain initiation there is no question but that: "If ever there was a man who held that the solemn paraphernalia of the actual rite was of little importance, but that the sacrament of baptism by water was indispensible for salvation, that man was Augustine" (Frederick van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop, 1961). This minimalism in rite, formula, and interpretation will continue to reinforce an unfortunate theology of baptism even today as almost a privatized "minute wash" to rid infants, as soon as possible after birth, of the inherited sin of Adam (not necessarily of Eve) and so to ensure their eternal beatific destiny "in case something should happen." On this issue, at least, Western Christianity not only learned its Augustinian theological foundations well but has been abundantly successful through the centuries in catechizing the faithful. Indeed, although the practice and custom of infant baptism comes long before any theological rationale for it is made, from Augustine on, infant baptism will become seen as necessary and expected, rather than permitted, in the life of the Church.

--Maxwell Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (The Liturgical Press, 1999), 156-7.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Updating my sidebar

I began blogging last April, and, needless to say, my understanding of the blogsphere, its potential, and the resources available has changed drammatically since that time. It's also about time that I did a little house-cleaning. One of the things that needs to be done is to update the links on my sidebar, which includes adding some new links and removing some redundant ones. But I want to ask my readers what blogs and/or sites might be good to add to the list. Any suggestions?

Monday, December 04, 2006

The most significant ecumenical event of 2006? Not that it got any press time...


Yesterday, I spent some time with a friend of mine from England, John Fenwick, who happened to be in Houston for a conference. On July 29, 2006, John was consecrated bishop of the Northern Diocese of the Free Church of England, (an Anglican jurisdiction founded in 1843 in which I served for four years). Also consecrated that day was a former colleague of mine in the Southern Diocese, Paul Hunt, who is now an assistant bishop in the Southern Diocese of the Free Church of England.

Before entering the ministry of the Free Church of England, John Fenwick served in the Church of England, most notably as the Ecumenical Officer for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Obviously, this post provided John with many interesting contacts worldwide. John is also the author of The Free Church of England: An Introduction to an Anglican Tradition (2004).

Of course, I had known about John's consecration for some time, but I had not known the full significance of it until recently. Among the participants pictured above (who actually took part in the laying on of hands!) are bishops from the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, the Malabar Independent Church, the Moravian Church, and the Reformed Episcopal Church. Also present were a Catholic chorepiscopus, and a representative of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion.

It would seem that the FCE has finally answered Apostolicae Curae. But could this meeting of East and West actually have been the most significant ecumenical event of the year?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Conversation with a Bishop's Ghost


The following excerpt was taken from my favorite C. S. Lewis novel, The Great Divorce, which features nearly a dozen encounters between ghosts who have been released -- temporarily -- from Hell to visit Heaven and redeemed spirits who try to talk them into staying.

The following conversation takes place between the ghost of a (presumably Anglican) bishop, on a reprieve from Hell, and the redeemed spirit of younger colleague who tries, unsuccessfully, to convince him that there are "sins of the intellect."

I think you will agree that, though Lewis wrote this over fifty years ago, it is very a timely allegory for today.

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BISHOP'S GHOST: "Ah, Dick, I shall never forget some of our talks. I expect you've changed your views a bit since then. You became rather narrow-minded towards the end of your life: but no doubt you've broadened out again."

REDEEMED SPIRIT: "How do you mean?"

"Well, it's obvious by now, isn't it, that you weren't quite right. Why, my dear boy, you were coming to believe in a literal Heaven and Hell!"

"But wasn't I right?"

"Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure. I still believe in them in that way. I am still, my dear boy, looking for the Kingdom. But nothing superstitious or mythological..."

"Excuse me. Where do you imagine you've been?"

"Ah, I see. You mean that the grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea."

"I didn't mean that at all. Is it possible you don't know where you've been?"

"Now that you mention it, I don't think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?"

"We call it Hell."

"There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently."

"Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell: though if you don't go back you may call it Purgatory."

"Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you'll tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I'm not angry."

"But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate."

"Are you serious, Dick?"

"Perfectly."

"This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."

"Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"

"There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed -- they are not sins."

"I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."

"Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."

"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came -- popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"

"Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"

"Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?

"If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is mere libel. Do you suggest that men like..."

"I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."

"I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."

"Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who wrote the following statement? C'mon, take a guess...

"I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read, whom I extol in higher terms than Helmichius himself, as he owned to me, ever did. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the Bibliotheca of the Fathers; so much so, that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above all others, above most, yea above all. His Institutes, so far as respects Commonplaces, I give out to be read after the Catechism, as a more extended explanation. But here I add -- with discrimination, as the writing of all men ought to be read."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Richard Hooker on the Efficacy of Baptism


Another fine excerpt from the theologian who weaned me away from Dortian Calvinism over a decade ago.

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Were St Augustine now livinge there are which would tell him for his better instruction that to saie of a child it is elect and to saie it doth believe are all one, for which cause sith [since] no man is able preciselie to affirme the one of any infant in particular, it followeth that precisely and absolutelie wee ought not to say the other. Which precise and absolute termes are needles [needless] in this case. Wee speake of infantes as the rule of pietie alloweth both to speake and thinke. They that can take to themselves in ordinarie talke a charitable kinde of libertie to name men of theire own sorte Gods deare children (notwithstandinge the large raign of hypocrisie) should not me thinkes be so strickt and rigorous against the Church for presuminge as it doth of a Christian innocent. For when wee knowe how Christ in generall hath said that of such is the kingedom of heaven, which kingdom is thininheritance [the inheritance] of Gods elect, and doe withall behold how his providence hath called them unto the first beginninges of eternall life and presented them at the welspringe of nue birth wherein originall synne is purged, besides which synne there is no hinderance of theire salvation knowne to us, as them selves will graunt, hard it were that havinge so manie faire inducementes whereupon to ground, wee should not be thought to utter at the least a truth as probable and allowable in terminge anie such particular infant an elect babe, as in presuminge the like of others, whose saftie nevertheles wee are not absolutelie able to warrant. If any troubled with these scruples be onlie for instructions sake desirous to knowe yeat some farther reason why interogatories should be ministred to infantes in baptisme, and be answered unto by others as in theire names, they may consider that baptisme implyeth a covenant or league between God and man, wherein as God doth bestowe presentlie remission of synnes and the holie Ghost, bindinge also him selfe to add in processe of tyme what grace soever shalbe farther necessarie for thattainement of everlastinge life; so everie baptised soule receyvinge the same grace at the handes of God tyeth likewise it selfe for ever to the observation of his lawe no less the Jewes by circumcision bound them selves to the lawe of Moses. The law of Christ requiringe therefore faith and nunes [newness] of life in all men by vertue of the covenant which they make in baptisme, is it toyish that the Church in baptisme exacteth at everie mans hande an expresse profession of faith and an irrevocable promise of obedience by way of sollmene stipulation?

--Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie, V:lxiv, 3-4.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

McGrath on English "Arminianism"


Although there can be little doubt that the Reformed doctrine of election continued to be widely held, particularly within Puritan circles, increasing opposition to the doctrine, largely from academic sources, was evident in the early seventeenth century. Thus Richard Hooker at Oxford, and Launcelot Andrewes at Cambridge, developed an 'Arminianism before Arminius', which received considerable impetus through the influence of William Laud, subsequently translated to Canterbury. Like Vincent of Lerins, Andrewes declined to support the latest continental speculation on predestination precisely because he felt it to be an evident innovation. The Arminianism of the leading divines of the period -- and the intense hostility towards them from Puritans -- is perhaps best illustrated from the controversy surrounding the publication of Henry Hammond's Practical Catechism in 1644. This work may be regarded as a classic statement of the soteriological convictions of the Laudian party, asserting unequivocally that Christ died for all men. This view was variously described by his opponents: Cheynell accused him of subscribing to the doctrine of universal salvation; others charged him with Arminianism. The response of Charles Barksdale to this latter charge is particularly significant:

"You are mistaken when you think the Doctrine of Universall Redemption Arminianisme. It was the Doctrine of the Church of England before Arminius was borne. We learne it out of the old Church-Catechisme. I believe in Iesus Christ, Who hath redeemed mee and all mankind. And the Church hath learned it out of the plaine Scripture, where Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sinnes of the world."

In this, Barksdale must be regarded as substantially correct. The Bezan doctrine of limited atonement was somewhat late in arriving in England, by which time the older Melanchthonian view had become incorporated into the confessional material of the English national church -- such as the catechism of 1549. This evidently poses a nice problem in relation to terminology: should one style men such as Peter Baro (d. 1599) as an 'Arminian avant la lettre', or accept that their teaching was typical of the period before the Arminian controversy brought the matter to a head and a new theological term into existence? Most Anglican divines in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries appear to have based their soteriology on the dialectic between universal redemption and universal salvation, declining to accept the Bezan solution of their Puritan opponents...

--Iustitia Dei, p. 293-294.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Judicious Mr. Hooker


The following excerpt was taken from Fragments of an Answer to the Letter of Certain English Protestants found in the Keble edition of Richard Hooker's Works, Book V, Appendix 1, 46.

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"One thing further also we must note, touching obduration: that there may be in man such malice, as maketh him the child of eternal death, and yet not always such cause, as induceth God perpetually to withhold his grace: which difference between the act of reprobation and obduration is the more necessary to be well observed, in regard of those things, which the Scripture hath concerning sin against the Holy Ghost, and the sin of apostasy after grace. For we need not doubt of the cause of reprobation in them, touching whom the Apostle hath said, they crucify again unto themselves the Son of God, and make mock of him. And yet, that in them God did not always see cause to withhold his Holy Spirit, appeareth as much as the same men were once enlightened, and had been partakers of the heavenly gift of the Holy Ghost, and had tasted of the good word of God, and of the power of the world to come. On the other side, perpetuity of inward grace belongeth unto none, but eternally foreseen elect, whose difference from castaways, in this life, doth not herein consist, that the one have grace always, the other never: but in this, that the one have grace that abideth, the other either not grace at all, or else grace which abideth not." [Emphasis in text]

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Influence of the British Commission at the Synod of Dort, 1619


The following excerpt comes from Peter White's definitive work, Predestination, Policy, and Polemic: Conflict and Consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civl War (CUP, 1992), page 198.

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Even more striking are the British comments on the rejectio errorum under this head [Fifth Head -- Perseverance]. By far the most important was their successful request to exclude from condemnation those who taught that true believers and regenerate ('vere credentes et regenitos') were able to fall from the faith of justification. The reasons they gave merit attention:

We ourselves think that this doctrine is contrary to Holy Scripture, but whether it is expedient to condemn it in these our canons needs great deliberation. On the contrary, it would appear

1. That Augustine, Prosper and the other Fathers who propounded the doctrine of absolute predestination and who opposed the Pelagians, seem to have conceded that certain of those who are not predestined can attain the state of regeneration and justification. Indeed, they use this very argument as an illustration of the deep mystery of predestination; which cannot be unknown to those who have even a modest acquaintance with their writings [!].

2. That we ought not without grave cause to give offence to the Lutheran churches, who in this matter, it is clear, think differently.

3. That (which is of greater significance) in the Reformed churches themselves, any learned and saintly men who are at one with us in defending absolute predestination, nevertheless think that certain of those who are truly regenerated and justified, are able to fall from that state and to perish and that this happens eventually to all those, whom God has not ordained in the decree of election infallibly to eternal life. Finally we cannot deny that there are some places in Scripture which apparently support this opinion, and which have persuaded learned and pious men, not without a great probability.
Those powerful arguments were effective, and the canon was dropped. As a corollary, the British also asked for the doctrine that temporary faith differed from justifying and saving faith only in duration not to be rejected by the synod...

Friday, November 10, 2006

My New Bible: The Harper Collins Study Bible


Being in academia has its perks. For instance, from time to time I receive complimentary examination copies of textbooks. Last week I received a complimentary edition of the new fully revised and updated Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV). I have to say that I very much enjoy the experience of getting to know the landscape of a new Bible, and a relatively new translation for me at that. (My all-time favorite translation is the RSV.) And while I am not a great fan of "Study Bibles," this one contains the most balanced biblical scholarship I have yet come across in a Study Bible. I am very much considering requiring this as a text for the next class I teach in Hermeneutics. (I guess that's why publishers send complimentary copies to academes!) What follows below is an excerpt from one of the articles front-loaded to this edition, called, "Strategies for Reading Scripture" by John Barton.

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"A CANONICAL APPROACH TO READING SCRIPTURE is essentially the way most Christians usually understand the task if they are not involved in technical biblical study, but in recent years it has also been promoted by an influential movement within biblical scholarship. It begins from the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God to the church and that the meanings to be found in it flow from this. The scriptures, it is believed, are not simply a collection of ancient books that happen to have come together to form a corpus, but a carefully selected range of works in which the church has encountered a communication from God. This is very obviously true of the writings of the NT, which are the primary witness to the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the beginnings of the Christian church, which revered him as its founder; these include the very early testimony of the apostles, above all perhaps of the apostle Paul. It is also true of the OT, in which the God whom Jesus worshipped is encountered throughout the history of ancient Israel, witnessed to by the prophets, priests, and sages, and described by historians and psalmists. In these works the word of life is to be found, and reading them is thus not at all the same kind of experience as reading any other books, not even other religious texts. It calls for a particular mental attitude and for a number of presuppositions about what will be found in the text."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Questions recently asked of me...and the answers I gave

(1) Do you see any significant shifts in Western Christianity that are of concern to you?

The shift that most concerns me in the West is the steady dismantling of philosophical and cultural modernity. On the one hand, we can rightly rejoice that modernity has finally been revealed for the tower of Babel that it was. Modernity placed all of its hopes on the supposed certainty of its scientific tools and "objective" methodologies. On the other hand, nothing has yet stepped into the philosophical and cultural void, which in recent times has been dubbed, for better or for worse, "postmodernity."

The naked truth that we now face is the realization that the church has been just as dependent on modernity as the rest of the society, and so modernity's demise marks the demise of much that Christians once took for granted. The postmodern world may offer fresh opportunities to preach the Gospel to a dying world, but what many Christians are discovering is that the message and methods once considered "tried and true" simply do not answer the questions or address the needs of the postmodern individual, who quite naturally retreats to the inner self to find any semblance of meaning or purpose for existence.

Once we realize that the default position of postmodernity is "self-absorption," then the success of the contemporary megachurch model is easy to understand, which has all but turned narcissism into a Christian virtue. Recent events have revealed how susceptible today's evangelical megachurch leaders are to the cult of personality, and thus how vulnerable they are to the narcissistic culture we live in. And yet, the megachurch model is held up by today's evangelical community as the measure and standard of kingdom-building success! What makes the megachurch such a dangerous response to the needs of postmodern man is that, rather than challenging self-absorption, it embraces and institutionalizes it. The resulting paradox is a hugely successful message that is profoundly vacuous of any objective content.

(2) What hopeful signs, if any, do you see in Western Christianity?

Ironically, the challenge of postmodernity is also an opportunity to recover a Gospel unencumbered with the artifices and constructs imposed upon it by modernity. Not only have the so-called "secular" institutions of modernity been revealed as naked, but the denominational and confessional ones of our churches have as well. This opens up new possibilities for ecumenicity based largely on the rediscovery, reappraisal, and return to more ancient (i.e. "pre-modern") paths. Some of this is already occuring in the emerging church movement, though I hesitate to give it my full endorsement because of its infancy, and because it too often appears to be the "blind leading the blind." However, there are "prophets" of a previous age, who I believe anticipated the demise of modernity, and who of late are being rediscovered and reappraised -- thinkers like Bonhoeffer, Barth, Rahner, and C.S. Lewis come readily to mind. This gives me great hope.

(3) What is your advice to students studying to become pastors today?

Stay away from self-help gurus in evangelical guise, and "how to" manuals on church growth or on successful ministry ventures (e.g. youth, adult, small group, etc.). Read lots of history, until you become sick of it. And then read some more. Learn the lessons of history by relating them to the present. Be patient with those who are ignorant of history. And when your patience for people runs low or runs out, pray earnestly for more. Don't neglect yourself or your family's well-being. In fact, put your family first, always. Enjoy the life that God has given you by making the most of those fleeting moments when you haven't a care in the world. Never feel guilty about having a good time, and resist the temptation of feeling self-righteous when the world seems to be against you. Most of all, pray that God will keep you humble.

(4) What advice would you give to those already pastoring who are feeling burnt out?

Find a way to take a break or a sabbatical. Go on a retreat. Better yet, take a long family vacation. Renew your relationship with your spouse, your family, friends and loved ones. Call an old friend who you haven't talked to in a long while. Seek the advice and counsel of an older pastor or clergy. Confide in them. Whatever you do, do not do it alone.

(5) What is your personal (general) rule of life (devotion/prayer/Scripture, etc.) as a pastor and/or professor of theology?

I rely on the constant and relentless study of the Bible, reading the lives of the saints, and using devotional aids to prayer, like prayer beads, prayer manuals/books, or seasonal disciplines like the stations of the cross to encourage and to embellish my personal regimen of prayer.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sage advice from an old veteran preacher to a young aspiring one

"Son, if God saw fit to speak through Balaam's ass, I'm sure he's able to speak through yours!"

P.S. I was that young aspiring preacher... many years ago.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Hermeneutical Thought to Ponder...while I'm taking a break from blogging

"Holy Scripture, if considered in origin to be both truly divine and truly human, must then, by necessity, contain the seeds of the demise of it own cultural conditioning."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church

PREAMBLE
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as the Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.

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Notes of interest:

(1) According to the Preamble of its Constitution, the Episcopal Church confidently asserts its self-identity as part of the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," not directly or immediately, but through its constituent membership in the Anglican Communion.

(2) It follows then that the bond of the Episcopal Church to the Church of Christ is both mediately established in, and historically conditioned by, its communion with the See of Canterbury, through which it has also received the self-consciously "apostolic succession" of its polity.

(3) This establishes the Episcopal Church as a “catholic” church by virtue, not merely of legal claim, but rather (and more appropriately) by virtue of family descent from one of the most ancient and venerable branches of the Church.

(4) The Episcopal Church shares this family descent with all “duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer,” which together constitute a distinct “Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

I'll make further comments in another entry. That's enough provocation for now.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dhimmitude for Dhummies

Check out Dhimmitude for Dummies by Victor Sharpe.

Biretta tip to Orthodoxy Today.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

My Thoughts on Camp Allen and the Kigali Communique

In typical fashion, I am lagging behind in giving my impressions on the BIG news of last week; big news for the Anglican world at least. But I like to let the dust settle on such things before I add my two cents.

First: The Camp Allen Meeting. For me, this was the most encouraging news I've heard in a long time, and I congratulate my bishop, +Don Wimberly, for his leadership. Simply put, the future of the Anglican Communion, not to mention any semblance of American Episcopalian membership in it, depends on a much broader coalition of dioceses and bishops than those that make up the Network. It is not that I wish to see the Network sidelined. They have an important voice that needs to be heard. But their voice is only one of many within the "Windsor compliant" camp. It is far better that they take a place at the table, than to presume that they can continue to go it alone.

Second: The Kigali Communique. That the meeting of the Global South bishops in Kigali occurred in the same week as, though quite independently of, the Camp Allen meeting of Windsor bishops was most unfortunate. This gave the false impression to many that they were coordinated events, an impression that gave way to early cries of treachery by some conservative commentators when it appeared that the letter from the Camp Allen meeting failed to acknowledge, or worse, amounted to a veiled dismissal of, the Kigali Communique (released just hours before the Camp Allen letter). Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of the Communique yet. It is surprisingly reserved and thoughtful, in contrast to what I expected. I am grateful that the Communique articulates the Global South's willingness to work towards solutions that seek to preserve the Anglican Communion, rather than constituting yet another subtle threat to unravel it.

What does concern me, however, is that the Communique has been twinned with another statement, "The Road to Lambeth", commissioned by the Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) in February 2006, and "received with gratitude" by the CAPA bishops on September 19, 2006. Admittedly, it was merely "commended for study and response" to the churches of the provinces in Africa. Nevertheless, its much stronger resolve to force the pressing issues or ditch the Communion altogether is what I've come to expect from Akinola and his camp. But there is another reason to be concerned. For all of the talk in "The Road to Lambeth" about how the Global South, and particularly the African provinces, have come of age, and no longer need the West to do their thinking for them, one of its main architects (and I suspect its primary author) is an AMERICAN -- Dr. Stephn Noll (currently serving as Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Uganda). Dr. Noll's decidedly skeptical stance on the necessity or desirability of preserving a Canterbury-centered Communion is well-known.

Perhaps it would have been wiser for Dr. Noll to have recused himself from taking a leading role in the drafting of this statement. The revisionists have said all along that this whole affair had the smell of being orchestrated by American arch-conservatives who really have no desire to preserve a Canterbury-centered communion. Noll is just such an American. If CAPA wanted to avoid the appearance of taking their cue from American arch-conservatives, then the wiser course of action would have been to keep ALL Americans, and particularly those with strong anti-Canterbury views like Noll, away from the drafting of statements that presume to represent their voice.

Just an opinion.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

C.S. Lewis: The Faithful Calormene


Lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an elephant's; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.

Then I fell at his feet and thought, "Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him." Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.

But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, "Son, thou art welcome."

But I said, "Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash."

He answered, "Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me."

Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, "Lord, it is then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?"

The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, "It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he knew me not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?"

I said, "Lord, thou knowest how much I understand." But I said also (for the truth constrained me), "Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days."

"Beloved," said the Glorious One, "unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and I must go further up and further in. Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.

--The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle, Chapter 15: "Further Up and Further In"

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Henri de Lubac: The Obligation to Enter the Church


...For humanity taken as a whole, there can be no salvation outside the Church, that this is an absolute necessity, and a necessary means to which there can be no exception.

In this way the problem of the "salvation of unbelievers" receives a solution on the widest scale and at the same time no opening is left for compromising laxity. There is no encouragement to indifference. We see now how the Church can, in the words of a theologian, "be merciful to paganism without diminishing her proper character of being the only vehicle of salvation for souls"; and if it is thought that in spite of all these considerations the formula "outside the Church, no salvation" has still an ugly sound, there is no reason why it should not be put in a positive form and read, appealing to all men of good will, not "outside the Church you are damned", but "it is by the Church and by the Church alone that you will be saved". For it is through the Church that salvation will come, that it is already coming to mankind.

Of course the method of this salvation will differ according to whether the unbeliever has or has not encountered the Church. In the second case the only condition on which his salvation is possible is that he should be already a Catholic as it were by anticipation, since the Church is the "natural place" to which a soul amenable to the suggestion of grace spontaneously tends. The "less" is then sufficient -- to employ the expression for the last time -- not in itself, of it own worth, but insofar as it aspires to the "more", insofar as it is ready to be lost in this "more" directly the exterior obstacles which hide the "more" from it are removed.

--Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, pp. 235-37.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Generous Orthodoxy - But Not Necessarily of the McLaren Kind

Recently I published excerpts from two of the most prominent Roman Catholic theologians of the twentieth century: Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner. Together their theological influence on the 2nd Vatican Council and post-conciliar theology has been immense. Consequently, the shadows of both theologians loom large over the monumental Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994). For example, De Lubac's positive re-formulation of St. Cyprian's dictum "Outside the Church, no salvation" (cf. Catechism, 846-848) has not only had profound implications for Rome's ecumenical endeavors, but upon her missiological ones as well (cf. 856). One can readily see Rahner's "anonymous Christian" alongside of De Lubac's optimistic take on humanity's common destiny. Rahner's influence also underlies the Cathechism's discussion of original sin, particularly in embracing Rahner's understanding of the analogical sense of "sin" in the classic statement of the doctrine (cf. 404, 405).

There is little question that, in retrospect, theologians of the 21st century will one day look back to the late 20th century as the Roman Church's most shining moment thus far. Not that there weren't problems or mistakes made along the way, but somehow, some way, the Roman Church of the 20th century was able to create a context for theological inquiry that I think can rightly be described as "a generous orthodoxy" (a phrase that Brian McLaren and the emergent church unfortunately threaten to turn into a cliche).

My own hypothesis is that this is the result of Rome's tenacious adherence to creedal and conciliar commitments (despite the filioque) combined with an openess to intellectual inquiry that permits her theologians to enter into constructive dialogue with modern advances in the sciences and other disciplines. In this way orthodox creedal and conciliar commitments serve as boundary markers establishing the wide perimeter within which the catholic theologian is free to explore and incorporate new discoveries of the world around us, which in turn helps in large part to illuminate and reinvigorate an ancient faith.

Ironically, once upon a time this was more the rule in Anglicanism than it was for Rome. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this was once a strength and characteristic peculiar and unique to Anglicanism. One need only compare Anglicanism's "generous orthodoxy" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the calicified post-Tridentine Roman Church of the same period. Indeed, my hunch (though I haven't done enough research yet to prove it) is that the reason behind Rome's dramatic and largely successful de-calcification of late was that it "stole" this particular page right out of the Anglican play-book, at the same time that, tragically, Anglicanism began to move, if not to ignore outright, the ancient boundary stones that once kept her from going astray.

Karl Rahner on Original Sin


"Original sin" in the Christian sense in no way implies that the original, personal act of freedom of the first person or persons is transmitted to us as our moral quality. In "original sin" the sin of Adam is not imputed to us. Personal guilt from an original act of freedom cannot be transmitted, for it is the existentiell [sic] "no" of personal transcendence towards God or against him. And by its very nature this cannot be transmitted, just as the formal freedom of a subject cannot be transmitted. This freedom is precisely the point where a person is unique and no one can take his place, where he cannot by analyzed away, as it were, either forwards or backwards or into his environment, and in this way escape responsibility for himself. For Catholic theology, therefore, "original sin" in no way means that the moral quality of the actions of the first person or persons is transmitted to us, whether this be through a juridical imputation by God or through some kind of biological heredity, however conceived.

In this connection it is obvious that when the word "sin" is used for the personal, evil decision of a subject, and when on the other hand it is applied to a sinful situation which derives from the decision of another, it is being used only in an analogous sense, and not in a univocal sense...

--Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith, p. 111

Friday, September 15, 2006

De Lubac on "The Role of Unbelievers"


...For since a necessary function in the history of our salvation was fulfilled by so great a mass of "unbelievers" -- not indeed in that they were in formal error or in a state of degradation, but in that there is to be found in their beliefs and consciences a certain groping after the truth, its painful preparation or its partial anticipation, discoveries of the natural reason and tentative solutions - so these unbelievers have an inevitable place in our humanity, a humanity such as the fall and the promise of a Redeemer have made it.

There is no comparison between their role and that of the scaffolding which, necessary as it is in the construction of a building, is discarded once the building is complete without further thought of what will become of it. For if the heavenly Jerusalem is built of living stones, it is also living beings that go to make its scaffolding. In other words, humanity is made up of persons who have all the same one eternal destiny, in whatever category or century their birth has placed them; their relationships cannot be envisaged, then, as just external ones, as if some existed only to prepare suitable conditions for the development of others, as in Renan's paradox of the coming of a superman. In spite of great differences of understanding and function, all members of the human race enjoy the same essential equality before God.

As "unbelievers" are, in the design of Providence, indispensable for building the Body of Christ, they must in their own way profit from their vital connection with this same Body. By an extension of the dogma of the communion of saints, it seems right to think that though they themselves are not in the normal way of salvation, they will be able nevertheless to obtain salvation by virtue of those mysterious bonds which unite them to the faithful. In short, they can be saved because they are an integral part of the humanity which is to be saved.

--Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, pp. 232-233

Thursday, September 07, 2006

SPREAD Petition: I saw this coming...

Okay, so I'm a few weeks behind the news, but my readers will have to admit that I saw this coming. Click on this LINK to view the SPREAD petition.

I'm a little disappointed, but not at all surprised, that the call for the break-up of the Communion would come from a leader within a group whose status in the Communion is tenuous at best. I have to be careful here, because I have good friends in the AMiA, and connections with other Common Cause Partners. But herein lies a textbook example of fomenting separation and division for the sake of unity (a contradiction, I know, so why can't they see this?) However, as is always the case, it will not be unity that is achieved, but rather an arrogated identity. Case in point: notice how the author defines who is, and who is not, a true "Anglican." What's wrong with this picture?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Guinness Anticipation

This advert brings back so many memories! It first aired in the UK in 1994. I'm glad I found it. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Keith Ward: Beyond Boundaries


The following article comes from The Tablet. Keith Ward is one of my favorite contemporary theologians. This is worth a read.

Beyond Boundaries - The Infinite Creator

Pope Benedict and his former doctoral students meet this weekend to discuss creation and evolution. Despite their apparent differences, the idea of the evolution of human life and its intelligent design by God are not in conflict, says one leading philosopher of religion.

I was surprised to discover a survey of over 1,000 students last month by Opinion Panel Research, an independent research group for recording student opinions on a wide range of topics, which purported to show that over 30 per cent of UK students believed in "creationism or intelligent design, rather than evolution". I was not quite so surprised when I found that "creationism" was defined as the view that God created us within the last 10,000 years, and "intelligent design" as the view that some features of living things are due to a supernatural being such as God. The trouble with this is the vagueness of the definition of "intelligent design". For every orthodox Christian, it is necessarily true that some features of living things are due to God. In fact all features of living things are due to God, and the cosmos is indeed designed with supreme wisdom and intelligence. So any student might say that they believe in intelligent design, but that would not compete with belief in the evolution of life.

God creates adult human beings as organisms that have developed from a single cell over a period of time. It is not in principle different to say that God created human beings on earth as a species that developed from single cell organisms by a process of development over four thousand million years. The evolution of human life, and its intelligent design by God, are not in conflict.

I guess that some students were rightly puzzled by the question. This is not surprising, because there is a school of thought in America that propagates what it calls "intelligent design". These theorists, like William Dembski and Michael Behe, do not deny evolution. They propose that some specific and identifiable phenomena, like the bacterial flagellum or the blood-clotting cascade, are "irreducibly complex", and cannot be accounted for by the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection alone. They require specific intelligent planning, presumably by something very like God.

The vast majority of biologists regard this as an extremely weak hypothesis. Most informed Catholic theologians agree with the American Catholic philosopher, John Haught, that it is also a very questionable view of how God interacts with the world. It suggests that God has to interfere with physical processes every now and then in identifiable ways. This theory was christened the "God of the gaps" hypothesis by the British mathematician Charles Coulson. It seems at odds with the Christian view that God is constantly sustaining and directing all creatures.

So it is important to distinguish the American "intelligent design" school from the general Christian belief that the universe, and the evolutionary process as a whole, are indeed designed by a supreme intelligence. If the students surveyed were indeed confused by the question, then only about 12 per cent of students questioned in the survey were "young Earth" believers - that is, they thought the universe to be less than 10,000 years old. This is still very sad, since it is the virtually unanimous testimony of astronomers and cosmologists that the cosmos is 14 billion years old. It demonstrates a huge conflict between the best modern science and the Christian (or Muslim) beliefs of some students. It means that such students will regard modern science as the enemy of faith.

Modern science originated in a context of Christian belief that God had created the cosmos through reason, through the Logos, and that the human mind could discern the glory of God in the works of creation. It is regrettable in the extreme that some Christians have now abandoned this belief.

Neither the Pope nor the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the overwhelming majority of Christian theologians are creationists, so what accounts for this strange state of affairs? I think two main factors are at work. First there is a loss of a sense of the importance of metaphor and poetic language in religion. Nobody believes that the Earth is a flat disc floating on a great sea of chaos, or that the stars are lamps hung on the dome of the sky, above which is another great sea. Yet that is what the Book of Genesis literally says. So all agree that we cannot read the Genesis creation account (or two accounts) literally.

Once you have made that step, the obvious thing to say is that here is a piece of inspired poetry, depicting the dependence of all things on the creative wisdom of God. There is a literal truth expressed in the text - the dependence of all things on God - but the text expresses it in a poetic way that is both more emotionally affective and more evocative of associated ideas. The problem is that some people think poetry is not important, or cannot express things which go beyond what can be literally described. This is the death of religious imagination, and it is sad to see the profound symbols and metaphors of religion reduced to literal descriptions of purely physical facts.

Second, there is a failure to see the amazing cosmic vision that modern cosmology provides for Christian faith. That God should, over thousands of millions of years, by laws of incredible beauty and simplicity, bring out of the basic matter of the early universe all the complexity of galaxies, planets, living beings and intelligent moral awareness, is truly wonderful. As the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians depict it, Christ is the eternal wisdom of God through whom this unimaginably vast emergent cosmos was formed and in whom it develops, working towards what the writer calls the "final mystery" of the divine will set forth in Christ, the unity of everything in the cosmos (the writer says, "everything in heaven and earth", and we might say all the stars and galaxies), in Christ (Ephesians 1, 9).

This is a religious vision of the utmost grandeur. Christ is Lord of the galaxies, and foreshadows on this planet the final goal of all creation, to be united in God. The cosmos is moving towards a great goal, it groans as in childbirth waiting for the revealing of the children of God (Romans 8:19). For a Christian, evolution is not just intelligently designed; it manifests a divinely intended purpose, that the material universe itself should become a sharer in the life of God, as it grows towards its fullness in Christ.

What a grandeur of vision those who cannot accept evolution are bound to miss. How much smaller and more restricted is a God who has only one little planet to worry about, and that not for very long. How much greater it is to worship the creator of innumerable worlds of beauty and wisdom, and to be grateful that this infinite creator has been pleased to be known in human form on this planet, at this point in cosmic history.The argument about creationism in our schools is not really about science, because the creationist theory is based not on scientific study, but on a particular literalistic interpretation of Scripture. There are important questions at issue about the proper understanding of science. Some scientists say science gives an adequate explanation of everything, that evolutionary science shows human life to be a random accident in a purposeless universe, and that science excludes the possibility of divine action in the world or of miracles. It is important to see that these are not scientific statements. They are philosophical remarks about what science is. No believer in God could accept them. So Christians would wish to say that God, who is most truly real, is beyond the range of scientific explanation. Evolutionary science does not rule out a belief that the evolution of human beings is purposive and eternally planned by God. God can act in the world, but God's actions cannot in principle be explained by any scientific laws.

There are arguments here, but they are about philosophy, and classes in philosophy are the right place to discuss them. Yet as part of that discussion it is important to see that Christianity is not a sort of physical science, which rejects what the best physical scientists say. It is about the existence of God as the supreme spiritual reality, and about how God relates to the human world through the person of Jesus and the Church.

Creationism seems to be gaining strength because people are failing to see or to convey the deep truth and distinctive nature of religious language, and failing to see the truly exciting cosmic vision that Christianity has to proclaim. These are the things a properly Christian education should seek to convey; if they are seen, then the debate about creationism might simply fade away.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pope to debate evolution with students


I'm really looking forward to more news on this! Though I'm a little irked that the media continues to portray Intelligent Design theory as inimical to evolutionary processes. I would think that modern catholic thought on the subject (if not Benedict himself) may be seeking a way to merge the two ideas, an attempt which should be applauded.

The following article comes from The Australian. Biretta tip to Kendall and crew over at titusonenine.

By Tom Heneghan in Paris
August 30, 2006

POPE Benedict will gather some of his former theology students on Friday for a private weekend debate on evolution and religion, an issue conservative Christians have turned into a political cause in the United States.

Benedict, who taught theology at four German universities before rising in the Catholic Church hierarchy, has pondered weighty ideas with his former Ph.D students at annual meetings since the late 1970s without any media fuss.

But his election as pope last year and controversies over teaching evolution in the United States have aroused lively interest in this year's reunion on September 1-3 at the papal summer residence of Castel Gondolfo outside Rome.

Religion and science blogs are buzzing about whether it means the Vatican will take a more critical view of evolution and possibly embrace "Intelligent Design," which claims to have scientific proof that human life could not have simply evolved.

But Father Stephan Horn, a German theologian organising the pope's meeting with 39 former students, said that reflected a misunderstanding of how the so-called "student circle" works and what the Catholic Church teaches about evolution. "We've never drawn any conclusions in our student circle," he said. "This is an open exchange of ideas that does not aim for a conclusion.
"It has nothing to do with creationism," he added, referring to a fundamentalist Protestant view that God created the world in six days as described in the Book of Genesis. "Catholic theology does not endorse creationist views."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Beginning of Fall Semester

It is the beginning of a new semester and a new academic year -- a very busy time for Academic Deans. And so my blog has been neglected of late. However, rest assured, I should have a new posting up by the weekend. Til then.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Saturday, August 19, 2006

College Football "Sweet 16" Meme

He doesn't know it yet, and he certainly didn't intend to do it, but my friend Doug just started a College Football "Sweet 16" meme. Cruise on over to see Doug's Sweet 16 and compare it to mine (yeah right, as if I know what I'm doing!). Here are the AP's Top 25.

Here's my list of how I think the season will finish:

1. Ohio State
2. LSU
3. West Virginia
4. USC
5. Texas
6. Auburn
7. Florida
8. California
9. Florida State
10. Michigan
11. Notre Dame
12. Oklahoma
13. Louisville
14. Penn State
15. Iowa
16. Georgia

P.S. - I tag any blogging college football fan who reads this.

Perilously close to Donatism

Kendall Harmon recently posted Bp. Lispcomb's comments over at T19 in view of the upcoming Bishop's Summit at Lambeth next month. Lispcomb makes the following statement about those dioceses requesting alternative primatial oversight (APO):

"I’m not sure what they’re asking for. By our constitution, we have a direct linkage to Canterbury anyway. The reason you all are Anglicans is because your bishop is in communion with the See of Canterbury already..."

Lispcomb makes a great point. Why do they need APO? Indeed, I can understand the requests of the dioceses of Ft. Worth and San Joachin, neither of which ordain women to the priesthood or to the episcopate. A good case could be made that these dioceses at least have theological justification for APO. But what theological justification do Pittsburgh, South Carolina and others (i.e. dioceses that DO ordain women) have for requesting APO, apart from the fact that they just don't happen to like Bp. Jefferts-Schori?

It seems to me that, apart from Ft. Worth and San Joachin, dioceses requesting APO are perilously close to the ancient heresy of Donatism at this point. This could very well turn out to be a fatal flaw in their overall strategy, especially if they have put all or most of their eggs in the APO basket. In the event that the ABC turns down their theologically-dubious request next month, we could witness the straw that breaks the camel-supporting-the-patience-of-the-Global-South's back. So sad.

Lord have mercy.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Turning Muslim in Texas

I'm having difficulty embedding this video to my blog. So here's the link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CjJVIiHC20

It's a shocking video. But I think it's indicative of the failure of American evangelical culture, especially in the recurring comment made by converts that they found in Islam everything they wanted in the Church.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Barth on a Budget

Ben Meyers over at the Faith and Theology blog posted two great reading lists for anyone looking to get better acquainted with the late, great Karl Barth. Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How Dix distorted Cranmer's position


Until the mid-20th century, when Dom Gregory Dix proposed otherwise, the most common explanation for the verbal differences between the eucharistic rites of 1549 and 1552 involved the political pressures exerted on liturgical reform, and on Cranmer himself, in the last half of the reign of Edward VI. The coup de tat that brought down the Somerset government also replaced its cautious and moderate religious reform (in keeping with Cranmer’s own views) with the more radical and thoroughgoing agenda of the Northumberland regime. Significantly this change ushered in a favorable climate for the political ascendancy of the Z├╝richer party -– consisting of reformers of Zwinglian sympathies such as John Hooper, Bp. of Gloucester.

Of the two rites, 1549 was seen as more in keeping with Cranmer’s mind in its articulation of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. This did not mean, however, that the 1552 rite constituted a “different mind” or a fully Zwinglian alternative; but rather one that, for political reasons, had been crafted to be more Zwinglian-friendly. This view remained the standard reading of Cranmer's two liturgical projects up to the early 20th century, even among prominent Anglo-Catholic liturgical scholars such as the godly Bishop of Truro, Walter Howard Frere.

The beauty of this explanation lies in how well it explains three seemingly conflicting elements in the story of the liturgical reform that had produced the two Books of Common Prayer. The first was Cranmer’s insistence throughout the latter years of his life that he had only ever held two views of eucharistic presence: transubstantiation, and what he came to refer to as the “true and catholic doctrine” of the Supper, a view that he had come to embrace by ca. 1546. The second element consisted of the verbal changes themselves: namely, the softening, and in some cases the removal, of the 1549 rite’s overt instrumental/objectivist language to produce a rite significantly more palatable to the Z├╝richers. The third element was the fact that, even after the changes and often in spite of them, the rite could still continue to support a catholic reading, a fact celebrated by E.B. Pusey in Tract 80 (1836). It’s in this third element – this liturgical “sleight of hand” – where Cranmer’s true genius shines through.

A striking example of this sleight of hand can be seen in the removal of the phrase “in these holy mysteries” from the Prayer of Humble Access in 1552:

"Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood in these holy mysteries…"

To eat the body and drink the blood of Christ “in these holy mysteries” (i.e. consuming the elements) assumes an instrumental and objectivist understanding of Christ’s presence in the Supper; an understanding utterly abhorrent to Zwinglians of the period, as evidenced by Bp. Hooper’s refusal to use the new Prayer Book for this and similar reasons. Yet, while the removal of the phrase went far to placate those of Zwinglian sympathies, to suggest that this change irreparably altered the theology of the prayer would be a huge overstatement. The Prayer of Humble Access, even without its fuller catholic expression, was still capable of supporting its natural catholic meaning.

But such blunting of the instrumental and objective language would inevitably cause some of his contemporaries to wonder aloud whether Cranmer had shifted to more a continental Reformed view. This Cranmer adamantly denied to his dying day; and no serious scholar, not even Dix, ever questioned this testimony until quite recent times.

Where Dix departed from conventional wisdom was not in contradicting Cranmer’s testimony on this matter, but rather in proposing that the 1552 rite, not the 1549, expressed Cranmer’s “true mind” during his Protestant period, and, moreover, that this true mind was decidedly “Zwinglian.” For Dix, the changes made to the 1552 edition (rather than the edition itself) were evidence not only of Zwinglian influences on liturgical reform, but also of overt Zwinglianism in Cranmer himself. And since Dix believed that Cranmer was a Zwinglian even before he wrote the 1549 rite, then logically the 1549 rite must be Zwinglian too!

The problem that Dix would encounter, and one he would never be able to explain adequately, was the language of the 1549 rite. If Cranmer was a convinced Zwinglian as early as, say, 1548, then how could he have been so careless (deliberate?) in the use of such instrumental language of presence? The best that Dix could do was to explain away the language of 1549 as “ambiguous,” the sense of which would be “fully perfected” in the rite of 1552. In the final analysis, the 1549 rite was "guilty," not on account of its own deficiencies, but merely by association.

Thus, for Dix, the interpretive key to reading anything that Cranmer ever wrote on the Eucharist (even the 1549 rite) was to read backwards from 1552 through Zwinglian spectacles. Once this modus operandi is appreciated one can begin to see more clearly the motive and agenda behind it: nothing less than the full discrediting of the Cranmerian Prayer Book tradition.

Until next time.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Interview with Kendall Harmon



There are many things that I applaud in this interview. Well done, Kendall!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Three Reasons to Discard Your Copy of Dix's Shape of the Liturgy

This entry comes from the comment section of my last entry. I thought I'd open this up for more discussion, if anyone is game.

Three reasons why you should discard your copy of Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy, if you haven't already:

1. Dix's whole 4-fold shape of the liturgy thesis is contrived on his own speculation, with absolutely no historical verification or support (read none). As a result, those contemporary rites that are based on Dix's thesis are built around an artificial construct.

2. Anything of actual historical significance in the book can be obtained from better and more up to date works. So STL is utterly obsolete as an authority in liturgical studies, despite the opinions of a number of antiquarians and liturgical wannabes who still treat the book as if it were the most important liturgical resource ever written.

3. Dix never understood Cranmer's theology, but presented himself authoritatively as if he did. The resulting damage done to Cranmer studies and studies on the Anglican liturgy will take generations to undo (if ever).

Those are three reasons off the top of my head.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The "One Book" Meme

Ben Myer's started this meme. Check out his answers over at Faith and Theology.

1. One book that changed your life: Karl Barth - Church Dogmatics IV/1

2. One book that you've read more than once: Aidan Nichols - The Shape of Catholic Theology

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: The Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha

4. One book that made you laugh: C.S. Lewis - The Great Divorce

5. One book that made you cry: C.S. Lewis - Surprised by Joy

6. One book that you wish had been written: Karl Barth - Church Dogmatics IV/4

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Dom Gregory Dix - The Shape of the Liturgy

8. One book you’re currently reading: John Polikinghorne - Science and Christian Belief

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Joseph Farrell - Free Choice in Maximus the Confessor

10. Now tag five people: I'm tagging the following bloggers - Steve Blakemore (Thinking is Good for You), Brett (Pennsylvanian-Anglican), Johnny Drums (Every Square Inch), Acolyte and/or Photius Jones (Energies), and Tommy (Hagia Sapentia).

P.S. - This is harder than it looks!

Top Ten List: Worst Mistakes in Church History



Of course, there are a LOT of mistakes in church history to choose from - perhaps too many for a decent top ten list - but here's a list of my "favorite" worst mistakes:

10. The sale of indulgences (16th century)

9. The “Robber Council” of Constantinople (869)

8. The papal bull Exsurge Domini excommunicating Martin Luther (1520)

7. The condemnation of Jan Hus by the Council of Constance (1411)

6. The Crusader sack of Constantinople (1204)

5. The definition of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

4. The Synod of Toledo (447)

3. The Forging of the Pseudo-Donation of Constantine (8th century)

2. Augustine writes De Trinitate (5th century)

1. Mutual East/West excommunications leading to the Great Schism (1054)

What are some of your favorites?

P.S. - Pope Leo X features twice in this list, so I included a portrait of him.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Creation, Evolution, and Karl Rahner


I'm already on record as a great fan of Karl Rahner, despite certain deficiencies in his understanding of the Trinity. One of the reasons for this is because of his brilliant presentation of Man's place in the cosmos, assuming an evolutionary model of humanity's origin and development (see previous entry below).

Somewhere between the intransigent young-earth creationist and the godless naturalistic evolutionist lies the much maligned and much misunderstood theistic evolutionist. To the creationist, the theistic evolutionist is a personified oxymoron trying in vain to bridge a gap between two mutually exclusive ideas. At the same time, the naturalist evolutionist pours scorn over his theistic counterpart's head on account of the latter's irrational attachment to pre-scientific myths and an outmoded worldview.

I freely admit that I am agnostic on this issue, not because I'm disinterested in it or feel it unimportant. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth! Rather it is because I am a non-expert in the area of science who, over the years, has become increasingly and ever so confidently convinced of three things: (1) that the jury is still out; (2) that it is best to keep an open mind about such things while it is; and (3) that, no matter what verdict the jury returns, Christian theology has proven itself over and over again to be able to survive and adapt to seismic shifts in the way we understand the world around us (recall Galileo).

I have yet to come across an irrefutable creationist argument. On the other hand, I am not the least persuaded that evolutionists have made their case beyond all reasonable doubt. While I find the intelligent design theory of William Dembski et al. intriguing, if not very compelling, I can't help but observe that intellent design works just as well with an evolutionary model as it does with fiat-creationism. I think the young-earth brand of creationism is scientifically untenable, but then again, it's no more untenable than a theory of punctuated equalibrium that assumes a random universe.

However, if I did affirm theistic evolution (remember I'm agnostic on this issue) I would undoubtedly follow Rahner's version of it. He does not merely show how an evolutionary model can work within a Christian theological framework. Rather he gives a cogent account of why this model (to his mind) is superior in all respects to earlier cosmological models in its presentation of the Christian faith. I got to hand it to Rahner. Before reading him it was very convenient to dismiss theistic evolutionism as just another example of capitulation to the prevailing culture by Christians inadequately grounded in their faith.

If you're at all interested in this topic, read the entry below and feel free to make comment.

Until next time.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Karl Rahner's understanding of Man's place in the Cosmos within an evolutionary worldview


In spite of the magnificent results and perspectives of science, even the modern natural scientist, and the rest of us too who share this mentality, still remain to a large extent really imprisoned in a pre-scientific as well as a pre-philosophical and pre-theological perspective. For even today he and we along with him usually think at the unconscious and unreflexive level that it belongs precisely to the spirit of natural science to see man as a weak and incidental being who is exposed to a nature which is indifferent to him, until finally he is swallowed up again by a "blind" nature. It is only by a kind of schizophrenia that we have anything like a conception of man's dignity and abiding value and of the unique existence of each person. But the notion that man is an accidental and really unintended product of the history of nature, a caprice of nature, contradicts not only metaphysics and Christian faith, but basically it also contradicts natural science itself. If man does exist, and precisely if he is the "product" of nature, if he appears not just at any time at all, but at a definite point in this development, a point at which he himself can even direct this development at least partially by the fact that he now objectifies it and stands over against what has produced him, and transforms the producer itself, then this very nature become conscious of itself in him. But then it is directed towards him because "chance" is not a meaningful term for natural science, and the natural scientist infers from the result at least a movement directed towards it.

If we do not see it this way, then it makes no sense at all to see the history of the cosmos and that of man as a single history. But then human thought will sooner or later fall back into a platonic dualism again, for spirit will then have to feel like a stranger who is on earth by chance, and it will not allow itself for long to be disdained and abused as insignificant and powerless. If spirit is not regarded as the goal of nature itself, and if it is not seen that nature finds itself in spirit in spite of all the physical powerlessness of the individual person, then in the long run man will only be able to have validity as the disparate adversary of nature, and he will form this estimate of himself.

--Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith (1978), pp. 188-9.

The Uncertain Future of Anglicanism in a Nutshell


I'm often asked privately why I don't spend much time commenting on the present crises threatening the Anglican Communion or making predictions about the future of Anglicanism. Well, I'm about to break my relative silence with a thesis so simple that even the most the hardline "reasserter" or hard-core "reappraiser" can understand it.

My thesis is this: Both Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria and Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts-Schori are poised and prepared to "walk apart" from the rest of the Communion, but only one of them needs to. If Akinola stands firm for the Communion then Schori and company will be forced to walk apart. If Akinola and company bolts, then Schori can rest easy. The first is a victory for Anglican catholicity; the second will effectively end the Anglican Communion experiment, which, in the eyes of many, will have proven to have been nothing more than a collection of protestant sects.

As for me, I'm content to reside in a diocese under a Windsor compliant bishop.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Church of Nigeria and the Anglican Communion: a dire prediction


Father Jones makes a dire prediction about the designs of the Church of Nigeria over at The Anglican Centrist, and I think he may be on to something. Cruise on over to his blog for the details.

--Yet another biretta tip to Brett over at Pennsylvanian-Anglican

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Foolishness of John Hagee


"The Jews have no greater enemy than Christian Zionists."

--Recent comment from my friend, Mark Talley

See Pastor John Hagee spearheads Christians United for Israel

Also see Israpundit

Vatican official to Anglicans: Women bishops would destroy unity

Old news, but worthy of our consideration...

By Simon Caldwell Catholic News Service LONDON (CNS) --

A Vatican cardinal has warned the Church of England that a move to ordain women as bishops would destroy any chance of full unity with the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that if the Church of England adopted such a resolution the "shared partaking of the one Lord's table, which we long for so earnestly, would disappear into the far and ultimately unreachable distance."

"Instead of moving toward one another, we would simply coexist alongside each other," he said.

His remarks came in a speech to a private meeting of the Church of England bishops in Market Bosworth, England, just four months after the bishops agreed to set up a working group to outline a process through which women might be consecrated as bishops.

Although three of the world's Anglican provinces have already agreed to consecrate women as bishops, Cardinal Kasper said decisions made by the Church of England had a "particular importance" because they gave a "strong indication of the direction in which the communion as a whole was heading."

Saying that he spoke with "pain and sadness," the cardinal warned the bishops of their historic decision's grave consequences, both to ecumenical relations and to the interior unity of the Anglican Communion.

Among the most serious of these, he said, would be that the goal of restoring full church communion "would realistically no longer exist" because it could not exist "without full communion in the episcopal office."

A decision in favor of women bishops made broadly by the Anglican Communion, he said, would also represent a turning away from the "common position of all the churches of the first millennium."

He said this meant that the Anglican Communion would no longer occupy "a special place" among the churches of the West but would align itself closely to the Protestant churches of the 16th century.

Cardinal Kasper said that although ecumenical dialogue would continue the loss of a common goal would "rob such encounters of their elan and their internal dynamic."

He said a further consequence of a resolution in favor of women bishops would be that the Catholic Church would inevitably continue to refuse to recognize the validity of Anglican orders.

He said that ecumenical discussions between the churches on "Apostolicae Curae," the 1896 papal bull that declared Anglican orders "absolutely null and utterly void," had "justifiably aroused promising expectations" of a change in the Catholic position. But he said that the growing practice of the ordination of women to the priesthood had since led to an "appreciable cooling" of such discussions.

The ordination of women bishops, Cardinal Kasper added, would "most certainly lower the temperature even more; in terms of the possible recognition of Anglican orders, it would lead not only to a short-lived cold, but to a serious and long-lasting chill."

Addressing the subject of the interior unity of the Anglican Communion, the cardinal said that the episcopal office was essentially one of unity and, therefore, any consecration that either caused schism or blocked the way to full unity would be intrinsically contradictory.

He criticized a proposal by the Church of England House of Bishops to remedy such divisions by allowing parishes that rejected women bishops to choose to be cared for by a male traditionalist bishop."

Where mutual recognition and communion between bishops does not exist or no longer exists, where one can therefore no longer concelebrate the Eucharist, then no church communion, at least no full church communion and thus no eucharistic communion can exist," he said. "Arrangements like those I have referred to can only cover over the breach superficially; they can paper over the cracks, but they cannot heal the division; one can even go one step further and say that, from the Catholic perspective, they are the unspoken institutionalization, manifestation and virtual legitimating of an existing schism."

Cardinal Kasper said that Pope John Paul II had made it clear that the church's position on women's ordinations "in no way rose from a denial of the equal dignity of men and women ... but is based solely on the fidelity to apostolic testimony as it has been handed down in the church throughout the centuries."

Cardinal Kasper was among a number of speakers invited to address the meeting by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In a statement June 6, Archbishop Williams said nothing was achieved by avoiding hard questions and that he appreciated the spirit with which the cardinal had shared his concerns."

As we consider whether women should be ordained as bishops in the Church of England and what shape any possible legislation should take, it is important to have this kind of honesty and clarity about how changes made here might impact upon the common commitments of our two communions to the search for full visible unity in Christ's church," he said.

The archbishop is scheduled to go to Rome in the fall for his second meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

END

--Biretta tip to Bret over at Pennsylvanian-Anglican

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Blog neglect...

Yes, I know my blog's been inactive of late. I've just come off two very long weeks at work and extracurricular activities (a little moonlighting, and preaching at my church). I'll be back this week with a couple of new entries.

Until then.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ephraim Radner's response to Matt Kennedy


The guys over at the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) are absolutely brilliant. Follow this link to check out Ephraim Radner's timely and excellent response to Stand Firm's Matt Kennedy.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Text that Luther Hated: 2 Maccabees 12:38-45


(38) Then Judas assembled his army and went to the city of Adullam. As the seventh day was coming on, they purified themselves according to the custom, and they kept the sabbath there. (39) On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. (40) Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. (41) So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; (42) and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. (43) He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. (44) For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. (45) But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.