Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The case for certainty in the Anglican Communion

Many things get said about Archbishop Peter Jensen, but often they are said without engaging with the theological excellence of this far-sighted leader. Anglican Mainstream has helpfully published the text of his address to the FCA event. It repays careful reading for it is as articulate and educated a statement of the theology of GAFCON as you could find anywhere in that part of the Anglican galaxy.

Here are the opening paragraphs (and a comment by me below it):

"Ominous and foreboding words are being said about the FCA by those who wish it ill – they say it is schismatic, it will divide the church, it is a power play.

These changes are at best misunderstandings or at worst political posturing.

Let me say this as clesrly as possible.

The FCA exists to keep Anglicanism united, to enable those whose spiritual existence as Anglicans is threatened to remain Anglicans with integrity.

It exists to keep orthodox, biblical Anglicanism inside the fold at the highest level possible; to gather up the fragments, to unite them. It exists so that evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics and mere Anglicans can continue to be Anglicans without compromising Biblical truth. The question for you is: will you join us, will you help us keep our Communion one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Jim Packer is one of the giants of the real world-Anglicanism. Amongst the wise of this world he is disdained, but his praises are sung in all the churches. Astonishingly, in the eyes of his institutional church he is no longer one of us. He has chosen to separate himself from what he has called the sanctification of sin.

Is he still an Anglican?

When we can seriously ask that question, something is deeply wrong. We are at a watershed, at a parting of the ways. Decisions have to be made.

In this country, the Christian foundations have been shaken. In this and the next generation there will be fought what may amount to the last battle for the soul of the nation. It will be an ideological war, a war of ideas. But great issues will hang upon the outcome: the fate of a culture and the eternal fate of souls. Many look to you for guidance and resource and inspiration. Can we do so any longer?

How can we test your resolve to evangelize your people? Unless you develop a deep confidence in the gospel of the saving work of God through Jesus Christ, a willingness to work together for Christ, and a determination to submit to the teaching of scripture, it will not be done. The culture will swallow you alive.

With persuasive power, the culture of the West has adopted and promulgated anti-Christian belief and practice. It confronts every Christian with the choice of submission or harassment. It pretends to be the true heir of the Christian faith, that it now possesses all that was worthwhile of Christianity, and that the entire structure of Christian thought can disappear into the receding past.

It tells you that its tolerance is the choicest part of your love,
that its non-discrimination is the choicest part of your justice,
that its individualism is the choicest part of your freedom
and that its sexual athleticism is the choicest part of your marriage.

Against such a false ideology the ecclesiastical liberal temper fails. It means well, but its genius is toward politics and hence compromise. Its tendency is toward exercising denominational leadership, into synods and boards and councils, indeed into the episcopacy itself. It will come to terms with this world theologically but paradoxically it will insist on the structural unity of the institutional church before gospel – truth. . Its spokesmen will unceasingly lecture the rulers of this world on how to go about their tasks, but they will not do so from within the culture of Christ and the Bible. They will do so from within the ideology of the day so that if you listen to them on the radio you will not be able to tell whether you are hearing a Christian minister or a member of the intellectual elite or the political class. There is much to admire in the liberal temper, but it is assuredly no basis from which to evangelize the nation and build up the churches. For that, you need a deep confidence in the gospel and a determination to follow the teaching of scripture come what may."

As a deconstruction of the folly of church leadership sticking resolutely to a liberal programme, this is brilliant. It also makes a very eirenic overture to the 'open evangelicals' who have been so critical of 'conservative evangelicals' in the C of E. But in respect of my post below, asking the question whether FCA/GAFCON connects well with uncertain, muddling-and-middling Anglicans, I see no great sign here of that connection being made.

Also, see this critique of the hermeneutics of ++Peter's speech at More than a via media


Howard Pilgrim said...

A case for certainty? That may be the intended content of the great prelate's address, but for me the content is overwhelmed by his tone of voice.
What is wrong with me? Why am I hearing the voice of a bully boy thrashing his troops into line and his opponents into submission? I can recognize nothing of the voice of Jesus; nor anything to win me towards trusting the speaker. I just want to hurry away.
What I whimp I turn out to be in the face of such muscular Christianity! Tell us again why you admire this guy?

Peter Carrell said...

I admire Archbishop Peter Jensen because (a) he speaks clearly and boldly (b) he reminds me of evangelical doctrinal emphases I am prone to neglect, and (c) (having met him) I like him!

Anonymous said...

"What is wrong with me? Why am I hearing the voice of a bully boy thrashing his troops into line and his opponents into submission?"

Because you still haven't forgiven the Chappells, Howard.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Howard will have to speak for himself re forgiving those treacherous cricketers; but I wonder in this case whether repentance has ever been made :)

Anonymous said...

Only the Lord knows their hearts, Peter - if they have any ... :)

Janice said...

Hi Peter,

I tried to post this on your "Hermeneutics" blog but keep getting an "operation aborted" message.

More than a via media mentioned docetism. I first heard of Biblical docetism this year. Reading about it cured me of any residual tendency to view Scripture, as we have it now, as 'inerrant' in all its parts. It also gave me an enhanced appreciation of God's graciousness towards us in using us fallible human beings as his agents. But though Biblical docetism says that the Bible, "looks like a human document, but it's not", the corrective, surely, is not to say that it looks like a human document, and that's exactly what it is and all that it is. It's to say that it looks like a human document, and it is, but it's also a divine document, written for us so that we can know God truly.

That being the case then whatever, "contradiction and tension", can be found within the Bible's pages may be due to the text itself or to how the person reading the text perceives its meaning. So Mark 14:72 says that the rooster would crow twice before Peter denied Christ three times but Luke 22:61 says that Peter would deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Big deal. Standard human faulty memory. I understand that this is the sort of minor inconsistency that tends to show that eye witnesses to an event are independent and haven't colluded in their testimony.

But More than a via media writes of 1 Samuel 15:3 that it is,

impossible to read that text without experiencing contradiction and tension between it and the rest of Scripture, above all with the revelation of the God of Israel in the Incarnate Word.

I would ask whether he arranges himself under (i.e., submits to) God according to what God has had to say about himself all through the Bible or whether has he brought to this particular text a preconceived idea of God based on what he thinks God must be like according to how he thinks God is revealed in Jesus. People can get very prissy about the violent parts of the OT. In my experience they often assert that they would never do anything so brutal and unkind, especially not to nursing babies and dumb animals. It never occurs to them that they are setting themselves up as judges of the creator of the universe who knows the end from the beginning and is the author and owner of all life, including their own.

There are worse things than dying and it's better to trust in God's goodness than to suspect one's own goodness may be superior to his. I can never forget that I came to Christ largely because of a book that I was given because it's former owner, a young man with a wife and a newborn child, had recently died following an accident on a glacier on Mt Cook. I don't know for sure whether the young man was a Christian though I suspect, from the subject matter of the book, that he was. So it's very likely that he's OK. But that God could take a young man's life so that I could be reborn and live made me fully aware that he might require my life if the taking of it would, somehow, save someone else that he loves. That's fine by me. I just hope that, if the time comes, I get to die as quickly as the young man did and don't have to suffer like that Maccabaean fellow must have done.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
Not sure what the problem there is on the other blog.
Will try to cross post this when I have sometime tomorrow - but thank you for this helpful comment!