Saturday, January 9, 2010

The bigger picture, the greater challenge

I am grateful for two commenters, Kurt and Kanice, enlarging my vision! Kurt reminds me that the decline of TEC is part of a larger story of the decline of Western Christianity - a decline that provides as much challenge for conservative churches and for liberal churches. Janice has pointed me to a superb (but, be warned, very demanding) article on Radical Orthodoxy - a theological attempt to right the listing ship of modern and post-modern theology which always takes us to the 'big picture' of the whole development of theology in the West and from that big picture offers a new totalising vision of the role of theology in the whole of life.

The article is entitled The Radical Orthodoxy Project, it's by R.R. Reno, and it was published at First Things in February 2000. Here I simply published the last few paragraphs (which are not quite so demanding to read). These paragraphs 'locate' our Anglican situation within the larger picture of the tendencies of Christianity in our era: the italicised words are the points to which I wish to draw your attention ...

"Anglicanism has no monopoly on failure. To a great extent, the magisterial Protestant churches in Europe and North America, and, to a lesser extent, Roman Catholicism, have been diminished. Those of us bitten by the Augustinian ambition cannot help but war against that diminishment. However, in our protest, we must recognize how difficult and narrow is the way of a postmodern recovery of orthodoxy.

Many offer courageous and articulate warnings against the modern "culture of death," and Christian witness does provide an alternative that has weight and substance. Nonetheless, no triumphant vision of peace emerges out of what late–twentieth–century Christians actually say and do. Christianity, its Holy Scriptures and ecclesial practice, seems unable to hold all things together. Against the weakness of the gospel—in churches that seem not to hear and in a culture increasingly blind—we are tempted by theory. We imagine that by sheer theological genius and intellectual virtuosity we can reconstruct an all–embracing Christian culture, we can uncover and make present the glue that holds everything together. But guided by what might be rather than what is, we come to correct and perfect that which we have received in word and sacrament. As the editor’s blue pencil excises and adds, violence and the will–to–power reemerge. We turn to apostolic teaching and practice with an eye to improvement, correction, and enhancement. If the gospel is weak, then we will make it strong. Our theorizing, our "new theologies," will hold together what Christ and his Church seem unable to encompass and embrace.

Against this temptation, we must keep our noses close to the ill–smelling disaster of modern Christianity, articulate about its failures but training ourselves to dwell in enduring forms of apostolic language and practice. Diminished vision may be the price we must pay. We may no longer be able to see our culture, stem to stern, through Christian eyes. We may no longer be able to see the complex shape of our contemporary churches as a creature of the gospel. We can only see what has been given to us to see. But paying this price is necessary in order to train our eyes to see the identity of Christ in the witness of Scripture and the practice of the Church. For no matter how high we might soar in theological reflection, and despite our hope that from such heights we might recover a vision of the full scope of the truth of Christ, we will be disappointed. Christ is in the concrete faith and practice of the Church, and only he can give power and potency to a postmodern theology that is genuinely orthodox. For the Son holds all things together in the Father.

To escape the patterns of theological modernism, therefore, the first task is not to imagine and invent. Instead, we must train ourselves in that which modernity rejects most thoroughly and fatally: the discipline of receiving that which has been given. We must eat the scrolls that the Lord has given us, and dwell amidst his people. Only then will the scope of an Augustinian ambition recover the intense, concrete, and particular Christ–centered focus that gives it the power of good news. Only there can we taste God’s peace."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The so-called 'Radical Orthodox' take as givens women's ordination and same-sex relations. The movement's grip on Scripture is tenuous and poetic, as befits its Anglo-Catholic origins.
Interestingly, R. R. Reno and Douglas Farrow, two of the brightest orthodox Anglican theologians in North America, have now both swum the Tiber.