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."