Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Science vs. Norse Mythology

See The Pain.

Warning: language may be offensive to more sensitive audiences.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Evolution and Incarnation

The following excerpt was taken from an article by Roland over at his blog Two Natures. I found it insightful.

Evolution and the Incarnation

In a stereotypical creationist-vs.-atheist debate, I have no one to root for. Both sides have already lost me before the debate even begins. Once the debate is joined, it looks like they disagree on every single point, and that is how they are usually perceived. To me, however, it seems that they agree with each other on the central premise that underlies the debate: in the provocative form attributed to Richard Dawkins, "If Darwin's cosmology was right, then theology is senseless babble." And creationists like Phillip Johnson accept the premise and join the debate on those terms. This all-or-nothing proposition, for those who accept it, validates both the conflict and the energy they expend on it.

When combatants on both sides find a rare proposition they can agree on, one is tempted to let it pass without further examination. But this premise is both illogical and heretical. It assumes that God's only purpose is to serve as a causal explanation of phenomena in the physical universe, and that if a completely natural explanation can be found for every phenomenon then we can dispense with God as redundant and dismiss the supernatural entirely. This argument might be compatible with a Deistic "God of the gaps," but it cannot be reconciled with the God of orthodox Christianity. We believe that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human – that these two natures dwelt in him without contradiction. From this orthodox Christian understanding of the Incarnation, it follows that the supernatural is not excluded by the natural; rather, the supernatural manifests itself in and through the natural. Therefore, even if science were somehow to demonstrate the truth of an entirely materialistic explanation of the universe, it could not exclude the existence or activity of God.

Therefore, from an orthodox Christian point of view, a debate premised on the mutual exclusivity of the natural and the supernatural is flawed from the outset.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Meaning of "Liturgy"

The term "liturgy" means different things depending on context. Considered as a field of scholarly inquiry, "liturgy" refers to worship in general. A liturgiologist is someone who studies how various religious traditions order their public acts of worship. In this general sense, Baptists are just as "liturgical" as Roman Catholics.

However, in the churches of the catholic tradition (I obviously include Anglicanism in this mix), "liturgy" and "liturgical" take on very definite and specific meanings that are not really applicable to the "free churches" of the Protestant evangelical tradition (e.g. Baptists). In this case the distinction between "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" is valid, and indeed this is what most people instinctively mean when they employ these terms.

Probably some of the best theological material on what the catholic tradition means by "liturgical celebration" is to found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Considered abstractly, "liturgy" refers to the Church's celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, preeminently in the sacraments. Indeed, the catholic tradition holds that the greatest sacrament of all is the "Church at prayer." In this sense, liturgy is the action of the Body of Christ with Christ as its head. The Church is "liturgical" in that it orders or sanctifies (i.e. "sets apart as holy") time, space, and material things for the service of adoration of the Triune God. Liturgy is thus practically synonymous with "Sacramental Economy." More concretely, "a liturgy" or "the liturgy" (with either article) refers to the specific formulaic or normative forms, standards, or conventions of any particular worshiping community at any point in its history (e.g. the 1979 BCP).

Although the Paschal Mystery is rooted in the historical events of Christ's life-death-resurrection-ascension, the Church nonetheless believes that the Paschal Mystery transcends historical event and is "made present" in all times through the Church's liturgical life. Hence, the Church itself transcends history, events, and times. Churches of a "liturgical mindset" thus see themselves as the continuation of the original "apostolic community," historically manifested in apostolic succession (sacramentally in its holy orders), and thus in continuity with apostolic churches of all ages. This continuity is not something to which our evangelical friends can easily lay claim, even though they also participate in such things as baptism and the Lord's Supper.

One example may suffice in demonstrating the difference between the "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" mindsets. Many evangelicals recognize and celebrate Christmas and Easter just as those churches in the catholic tradition do. However, the non-liturgical mindset views these "holidays" as mere annual observances or commemorations on par with other annual observances such as Memorial Day, Thanksgiving or Labor Day. This is not to deny that evangelicals recognize Christmas and Easter as being more important than other annual observances. Indeed, most evangelicals certainly recognize the distinctly Christian nature of Christmas and Easter as opposed to secular holidays. But the difference between, say, Christmas and President's Day (considered as annual observances), is really one of degree of importance and significance, rather than a difference of kind.

In the "liturgical mindset," Christmas and Easter are the two annual cycles around which whole of the Church Year is ordered. In and through these cycles the Church celebrates and relives the various "epochs" of the Paschal Mystery, which epochs are thus "made present" to us sacramentally. This cannot be said of Presidents Day or Memorial Day. So the difference is one of kind not of degree.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Letter to Jason Loh (Augustinian Successor)

If you can't at least be civil (let alone act like a Christian), then I'd appreciate if you wouldn't visit my blog. Don't worry, I won't waste my time visiting yours either.

Don't bother writing back. I really don't care to communicate with you ever again.

Have a good life.

Posted for the purpose of exposing a nuisance blogger.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Answering Todd's Question

A continuation of the discussion that started over my letter of disaffiliation with the AAC...

Todd Granger writes:

"Simply put, no, I don't think that you've declared yourselves out of communion with the folks in the American Anglican Council. But by means of this letter - and your posting it publicly - you have differentiated yourselves from the American Anglican Council in a way that at least seems asymmetrical in terms of differentiating yourselves from the unfaithful direction of The Episcopal Church."

Okay, Todd, I think I know where you're coming from. My asking you the follow up questions was just my way of making sure you weren't suggesting some kind of Yin-Yang approach on my part was necessary to balance out the forces of good and evil...like, say, if I disaffiliated from something on the conservative side of the spectrum then I must act in a reciprocal fashion against the liberal side to keep things in balance.

Feel free to correct me where I may be misreading you. You seem to understand that it was necessary for my parish to disaffiliate from the AAC. Yet, nonetheless, you think that posting the letter publicly was a bad idea because (I presume) you think such a letter might potentially cause a rift between conservatives who should be working together. I think I also detect in your "asymmetrical" language a hint of skepticism on your part that I take the problems in TEC seriously enough, or perhaps you perceive a measure of apathy on my part to the obvious misdirections of TEC.

Well, sure, I'll concede that I'm not as venomous or knee-jerk reactive towards revisionism as are the folks over at Stand Firm (nor do I have as much time to blog as they have). But that doesn't mean I'm apathetic or that I'm only too willing to turn a blind-eye to obvious heresy. On the contrary, I am a firm supporter of the Covenant Process as the way forward for the Anglican Communion and for TEC. But this requires patience on the part of those willing to see the process through, and I suspect that this patience is what is being misunderstood by you and others as tolerance for evil.

Moreover, as a supporter of the Windsor Process I view the federalist approach of the GAFCON/FOCA/ANCA crowd not only as counterproductive to the process, but also as potentially destructive of the Anglican Communion. In fact, I view GAFCON federalism as more of a threat to the fabric of the Communion than any other challenge facing the Communion at present, including TEC's innovations. (I suspect that this is where you'll demur, but demur if you must.)

To my way of thinking, the GAFCON crowd has "disaffiliated" from the Windsor Process. In so doing, GAFCON has essentially forsaken the Communion itself. Thus any pretense of there being two parallel strategies working together towards the same ultimate goal -- one "inside" and one "outside" -- is, IMO, a total farce; and I have precious little time, and precious little patience, to pretend otherwise. So while I don't necessarily see myself as "out of communion" with the federalists, I certainly don't see myself working together with them either.

So, yes, if you detect that some of my greatest criticisms are directed towards fellow conservatives, then I take this as a fair assessment. However, I don't view this as indicative of a fundamental "asymmetry" in my approach. Indeed, it is perfectly consistent with everything I've said up to this point.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Answering Fr. Jeffrey's Questions

Despite the fact that I posted it almost two months ago, my last entry - "My Parish's Disaffilication with the ACC" - generated quite a lot of discussion of late. I thought I might see if we could continue the discussion in a new thread. My friend and former student, Fr. Jeffrey Steel, SSC entered the dialogue rather late in the game, and he has seen fit to take his old teacher to task. What follows are the questions he asked in his last response:

"Has heresy only become for you anything that is substantially denied in the Creeds?"

No, and I'm not certain where you got this idea. Certainly not from anything I have said on this blog or anywhere else. But note the distinction that I made in my last response to you between heresy and apostasy. In light of that distinction, perhaps a better question to have asked me is whether I think it possible for a church to be tolerant of heresy or even be formally in error at certain points of its teaching and STILL be regarded a true church. I think the self-evident Anglican answer to that question is: YES. This is essentially how Anglicans, since John Jewel and Richard Hooker, have regarded the Church of Rome, and in recent times, how those who deny the ordination of women somehow manage to remain in the Church of England.

"What sort of theological criteria do you use to define something as heretical?"

My theological criteria are very much like yours, I'm sure. My first appeal is to the consensus fidelium. This has been my approach for years, and is what I taught you in the classroom. In one of his responses to my earlier entry, Andy B. went so far as to issue a call for me to return to my "roots." Ironically, I've never left them.

"How far do the goal posts need to be moved before one is on another pitch?"

This is where that heresy/apostasy distinction comes in. I have stated on many occasions that something along the lines of a formal denial of the Trinity would indicate an irreversible departure from the faith and an indication that TEC was no longer a Christian church. It may not be an answer that satisfies you or Andy B., but it is an answer, and it's logically consistent with everything I have ever said on the matter.

But here's the rub: I at least have given an answer with a theological rationale. Apart from hearing the rhetoric that TEC has finally "gone too far," where are the goal posts for those who have or are anticipating leaving TEC?

Is apostasy merely a matter of how much heresy one is willing to tolerate before it becomes unbearable? Is TEC apostate because it has a gay bishop? Or because those who have left over Bishop Robinson simply cannot live in a church that has a gay bishop? Is TEC apostate because some heretical elements have gone so far as to endorse and/or authorize blessings of same sex relationships? Or is it that some simply cannot live in a church that is tolerant of those who endorse and/or authorize such blessings?

And when did/will the Church of England fall into apostasy? Over women priests? Over women bishops? Over gay priests/bishops? Over the official policy of the CoE that turns a blind eye to homosexual lay people who live in committed relationships? Over priests who undergo surgery for a sex-change? Over priests and bishops who are allowed under law to enter into "celibate" same sex unions? When? Where are your goal posts, Jeff?


NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to visit Father Jeffrey's excellent blog De Cura animarum.