Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jesus blood never failed me yet

Readers may have noticed that Blogger was in "read only" mode for about twenty-four hours. This post is now a little dated!

Back from clergy conference (at Wainui for local Cantabrians, opposite Akaroa for Kiwis, and an autumnal paradise for overseas readers with no geographical idea of where we were). We had great food, drink, and conversations informal and formal (quite a bit of time talking about the "post quake" situation we face). Bible studies on Community Resilience and Community Resurrection (drawing on Isaiah 40-55). Talks from Charles Waldegrave (Director of the Family Centre, Diocese of Wellington) and a superb "Big Picture" address by Bishop Victoria Matthews (coming soon in text and video). Excellent worship morning and evening including two lovely eucharists.

One helpful point in the prayer life of the conference was  the playing of an extraordinary piece of music in which a very brief chorus sung by a homeless man is repeated over and over with the gradual addition of musical accompaniment. The actual CD rendition is some 70 minutes but a shorter version is available on You Tube here. (Stick with listening to it when it starts, initially the man's singing is very, very soft and gradually gets louder).

Some readers here will be interested in comings and goings here in the Diocese of Christchurch. At the conference we learned that the vicar-elect for St John's Latimer Square has been announced: it will be the Reverend James de Costabadie, currently Vicar of Sydenham-Beckenham, a neighbouring parish to St John's. James faces an extraordinary challenge as his new parish is in the process of having all its buildings demolished (church, hall, vicarage, an adjacent house). Still it is a transition to move from a vicarless church to a churchless vicar!

No break from blogging would be complete without something interesting happening elsewhere. In this case it is an announcement from GAFCON of progress towards setting up two international offices and having another global conference. You could link to Thinking Anglicans for the announcement (and follow through the unsurprisingly scratchy comments about it). Or you could read what Fr Ron Smith has to say on his Christchurch-based blog here and here. I wonder if notice of GAFCON's leadership will be taken by Anglican Communion powers and authorities (such as they are; we are constantly reminded that no one has authority in or over the Communion).

Here's the thing: GAFCON's further development through establishment of two international offices and plans for another global conference is sheeted home precisely to the discernment that Communion powers and authorities have done nothing for traditional Anglicans through recent Communion meetings. If something has been done, could the claim be refuted immediately please! Otherwise we are moving further in the direction of the Communion claiming it is Anglican business as usual while watching over half its members disappear into a new organisation.

It is no good claiming that the new organization is a "faux Communion" or that it is being formed by primates who do not consult their members. On what basis do we discern the true and false Anglicanisms of the world? This, surely, is a theological discernment, not a matter of who belongs to a formal institution and who does not. Rather than throw around the term "faux" it would be helpful if we could talk about the character of genuine Anglicanism, with rigorous attention to truth - the kind of attention which avoids sloppy claims about how pluralism and inclusivism have been our hallmarks for centuries. I call the Puritan emigrants to North America as my first witnesses ... Besides it is mighty strange for the formal institution known as 'the Anglican Communion' to espouse values today of pluralism and inclusivism while operating in a manner which leads to the exclusion of more than half its members.

I suggest that fairly soon Anglican leaders are going to wake up to the realisation that the assertion and promotion of agenda re "GLBT inclusion" as currently experienced in some Western Anglican churches is a tail wagging the dog. There has to be another way for Anglicans to respect and honour all people in its midst than the current way in which GLBT inclusion means exclusion of others. The question of GLBT inclusion within global Anglicanism is the question of inclusion in global Anglicanism, not the question of inclusion in less than half of global Anglicanism. One way forward could be for us to reflect on widespread opposition to Ugandan Anglican support for a draconian "anti-gay" bill being considered by Uganda's parliament. If we can find a global ethic both to deny such a local initiative is justified by local context and to condemn such a local initiative, could we not take time to find a global approach to how the Communion can hold both its traditional and progressive wings together?

If Communion stuff does not boil your billy today, an alternative could be to read Ruth Gledhill's commentary on +Richard Chartres' sermon at the recent royal wedding.


liturgy said...

Welcome back, Peter, to the virtual world. There is a button on wordpress which imports all your blogger stuff into wordpress…

I know you well enough that I understand what you mean by the clever phrase ending with “churchless vicar”. But just as we can be sloppy with using the word “minister” and in doing so diminish the ministry of all the baptised, and we can refer to a parish seeking a vicar as “vacant” as if the parishioners don’t count, so suggesting that James de Costabadie is a vicar without a church might for some miss that this is one of the largest and most dynamic Christian communities in our city. The people are the church. The building is to stop the church from getting wet and cold… James de Costabadie is far from being a vicar without a church – I can think of many others, even with buildings fully intact, that that phrase appears to be what they are transitioning to before him.

Christ is risen!


Peter Carrell said...

Good point, Bosco!

I confirm that St John's Latimer Square is a lively and hopeful/hope-filled parish involving all the baptised in its ministry and mission.

I believe however that they are a parish very glad to have finally settled the matter of who will be their new vicar.

Father Ron Smith said...

"There has to be another way for Anglicans to respect and honour all people in its midst than the current way in which GLBT inclusion means exclusion of others." - P.C.

Peter, it does not have to be this way. Those who have moved apart are precisely the ones who do not accept the LGBT presence among us. This is not a matter of being excluded by the non-GAFCON crowd. Rather, the exclusion is entirely that of GAFCON - of anyone who believes that the gospel is for ALL people, irrespective of clour, race, gender or sexual orientation.

Regarding your implication that the inclusion of LGBTs 'excludes' the majority of Anglicans' I'm not sure that's quite true. Certainly the provinces in which conservative prelates abound are more highly populated in general. But are the rank and file in agreement with their vociferous leaders. I think not! They probably don't even know what's really going on - they are so used to being told what they must believe and follow by their authoritarian primates.

(By the way, thanks for the ad.!)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I understand your line of argument but do not agree with it. The GAFCON argument (on this matter) is that sexual orientation is a matter of indifference re welcome, but sexual behaviour is not a matter of indifference re ordination or blessing of a same sex relationship. Without ever formally debating the matter, and despite Resolution 1.10 at Lambeth 1998, the Communion seems to be steadily moving to a position in which sexual behaviour re ordination or blessing is a matter of indifference. In this movement away from the tradition of Christianity (still upheld by most churches around the world, indeed upheld by most Anglican churches around the world), the Communion is leaving behind GAFCON. An exclusionary evolution in Anglican doctrine is taking place. It may turn out to be the right doctrine in the fullness of time, but right now it is being imposed as the standard of the Communion so that when GAFCON says this is not right and we will need to reorganise, no one is sorry to see them go. Indeed, quite the contrary, they are being accused of leaving the Communion. Perhaps they are (i.e. leaving the formal institution), but they are not leaving Anglicanism in continuity with its historic expression in the Reformation of the Church of England, and in its statements according to Communion-made resolutions until fairly recently.

Father Ron Smith said...

"they are not leaving Anglicanism in continuity with its historic expression in the Reformation of the Church of England" - P.C. -

Peter, I do understand where you are coming from in your argument here - the sola scriptura ethos of certain of the Reformstion (Calvin)theologians. However, the Anglican Church has moved on since the first Reformstion - towards the understanding of semper reformanda, an attitude to reform which even the theologians of Vatican II under Good Pope John XXIII advocated.

The Holy Spirit did not cease teaching after the writing of the Scriptures, but is still 'alive and active' in the world as well as the Church.

You, like the present Pope, would turn the clock back to the 'Good Old Days', but that is no longer good enough. The Living Church, in true Gospel Tradition, is seeking to implement justice - where once piety consisted solely in the protection of 'biblical inerrancy'. There is no such thing. Love takes priority over Law in the Gospels of OLJC.

This is why Christ died - to bring Mishpat - true justice, to the nations of the earth.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
If I am turning the clock back to the days of Jesus and the apostles, then guilty as charged! But you are otherwise moving pretty quickly from my attempt to explain GAFCON's moves to what my own understanding/commitments are re turning the clock back to the Reformation.

I think you are oversimplifying GAFCON if you describe the movement in terms of "sola scriptura." GAFCON includes "reformed" Anglicans as well as "catholic" Anglicans. I suspect there are some charismatic Anglicans in there as well who would vigorously engage with your assertion that the Spirit is leading you but not them!

Christ died for justice - true. That justice includes justifying sinners and you will find everyone of those in GAFCON agree with you on that!

James said...

Fr. Ron, your: "However, the Anglican Church has moved on since the first Reformstion - towards the understanding of semper reformanda, an attitude to reform which even the theologians of Vatican II under Good Pope John XXIII advocated."

Fr. Ron, we've always believed in "semper reformada" - that's Luther for you.

Anglicans also believe in "sola scriptura," as the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral describes Scripture as "the rule and ultimate standard of faith." There is no standard of faith like it - and we test private revelations against Scripture.

When speaking of what you propose as this "new understanding" which you think "the Anglican church" has embraced, does this include, as it seems TEC exec council member Fr. Harris seems to believe, that this includes allowing clergy to teach parishoners that the creeds are merely metaphorical, and that bishops should be free to teach more or less what they wish, including e.g. that "The Divinity of Christ" means: "The ultimate dimension of a fulfilled humanity," i.e., something reducible to humanity and excluding God Himself (i.e., all aspects of God which are not reducible to the way in which humans participate in the divine image and His salvation)? And a pox on you if you don't like it because that makes you a freaking Fundamentalist? N.b., on this word "Fundamentalists" - I sort of detect a "creeping scope" and lack of clear definition regarding who these dreaded "Fundamentalists" are, which reminds me vaguely of similar drift in language and habits in the U.S. with regard to a rather fuzzy notion of "communist" during the McCarthy era.

I remain confused with all of this and am not sure whether to tell my friends and acquanitances about Anglican belief in general - i.e., are we Trinitarian Christians generally? It seems we aren't in practice, and that we're founding a bold new religion in which we mostly expostulate on what we think that Anglicanism means, that it's really this term "Anglicanism" (instead of Christ) which acts as the center of our faith - our central signifier as it were, our "ultimate reality." That Anglicanism determines for us who (or what) Christ is. Perhaps Anglicans worship Anglicanism? If I'm a Trinitarian Christian, does that make me a Fundamentalist?

liturgy said...

James, I’m not sure what your point is. I checked the post you point to written by Fr Harris and it neither uses the word “metaphor” nor “merely”. I suggest you refrain from using such adjectives as “mere”, “just”, “only” to modify “metaphor”, “story”, or “parable”. Our language is inevitably metaphorical unless you are suggesting that God the Father has an actual right hand at which Jesus is seated. If you are attacking Fr Harris and suggesting he is not Trinitarian, please can you be more specific in quoting him, otherwise I find your comment ad hominem and, as you yourself admit, confused.

Father Ron Smith said...

James, in your very long dissertation here, I'm not quite sure of the point you're trying to make - there are so many codicils - but the answer to the one question that you really need answered is this: NO! - to this :-

"The Divinity of Christ" means: "The ultimate dimension of a fulfilled humanity," i.e., something reducible to humanity and excluding God Himself

James said...

Fr. Ron Smith, I thank you for your very short, candid, and direct answer "NO" and I thank God for this. This is one summary of Bishop Spong's teaching regarding "the divinity of Christ." I must point out - it is ages since I have seriously dealt with Spong and I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it does seem to me more or less what he's saying. I took this quote from another source dealing with his view on the divinity of Christ, but which wasn't terribly good in supportive quotes. I haven't found any good articles on the net on this topic and few, for a number of good reasons, wish to truly engage Spong - though I'm beginning to doubt the initial wisdom of this reluctance.

Bosco - yes, the situation itself is perplexing, so I'd argue that it is primarily the situation itself which is confused; very likely any rational person observing it should be confused. My remarks here are more meant to address the problem of the situation rather than Fr. Harris himself - he does identify himself as someone who tends to agree with Spong on the creeds, but does not stipulate how.

Yes, all our language is metaphorical. However, in our common language, we tend to associate metaphor with situations in which we say one thing whose concrete meaning would imply one thing - while the meaning which we intend to convey is quite another. Such figures as Marcus Borg have argued that metaphor can be "more true" than "literal" statements of fact, and there is certainly something to be said for this view.

However, even if a metaphor in some way conveys more truth, if it excludes the "plain meaning" - e.g., Christ rose from the dead - or does not explicitly exclude this, but renders it as unimportant, it is indeed excluding something essential. By "mere" I mean: a metaphor pointing toward such a different intended truth - e.g., the importance of our engaging in ethical action toward the poor, the environment, etc. etc.. This is, primarily, what the intended meanings of the creed become when we adhere to Marcus Borg's thought - which is being increasingly promoted by TEC on a national level with the teaching materials it's creating via Church Publishing, and +KJS's publications - or by Sallie McFague, who is one of the most frequently referenced theologians by +KJS in her sermons and speeches.

You ask me to be careful in my choice of words, and indeed I should be; but please note: in the above comment, I asked if we are still Trinitarian in practice. This includes myself. Fr. Harris's remarks are a springboard toward reflection on the larger situation in which we, including ourselves, find ourselves.

What matters is not so much whether or not Fr. Harris, Janet Trisk, or +KJS are Trinitarian Christians: what matters is what we, ultimately, are teaching the Communion in our pastoral theology (i.e., that which we use in instruction in order to "interpret" the creeds, our prayer books, and Scripture). If we are Trinitarian Christians, but have somehow selected persons who are not, to engage in some of our most important instruction - e.g., that of our top leaders, which are published widely - it is perhaps ourselves who are to blame, and not so much the fault of these persons as we might suppose. Remember Elizabeth I's words on looking upon the windows of person's hearts. I do not wish to bring up the issue of whether Fr. Harris is, in his faith, a Trinitarian Christian; but rather the question: am I, as a supporter of the Communion, a Trinitarian Christian in practice, given the teachings of the Communion's pastoral theology, with e.g. +KJS publishing as a Primate of the Communion.

James said...

Bosco, Regarding the confusion of this situation, allow me to highlight one of Borg's points which might show why this is becoming so confused.

Borg sees, correctly, how "belief" sometimes occupies an unhealthy focus in some Christian communities. He wishes then rather to see "faith" as mostly about doing, and not as belief.

My response would be: our problems of "belief" come from a reified notion of "belief" in our tendencies of thinking which we inherited from, e.g., 17th-19th century philosophical faculty psychology - i.e., splitting up the "powers" or functions of consciousness into such things as will, understanding, reason in an attempt to better grasp human experience - with the pinnacle and breaking point being Immanuel Kant in his "Copernican revolution." As long as we are using the word "belief" with its modern connotations and not doxa or another word - we do well to make more clear what this does and does not imply - e.g., that belief is essential, but this does not mean that we must "idolize" formulations of belief themselves.

For if we truly wish to largely abandon belief in Christian practice in focusing on "doing" - we lose with it the possibility of cognition of the most basic elements of faith, belief being essential to reason and cognition. So of course we get confused.

There are many "prongs" to the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in - this is but one of them. We are perhaps overwhelming Anglicans in responsibility by giving them too much of a burden - having to discern if, e.g., forms of Jesus-following patterned after Sallie McFague's (almost purely) metaphorical understanding of Jesus are, or are not, things which bring "another gospel" into the church. I do not tend to think that we are truly engaged in much "deep thinking," and think, e.g., that we would be better immersing ourselves in, e.g., the development of hermeneutics after Schleiermacher, or the sedimentation of the term "belief," if we were to make this claim good. I am afraid that we are "running ahead" as described in 2 John. Catholics are better than us in "fundamental theology" (i.e., "really big questions" in theology & philosophy) and also in patience in reception - testing ideas before they are taught to laypeople. This works organically better in the responsible development of new ideas. In our actions, we are like irresponsible evangelical iconoclasts - we end largely with confusion and pieces, our new ideas either destructive, or forgotten and irrelevant. Yes, let's break icons. But with the proper, corporate discernment.

liturgy said...

James, you address this comment to me – but I am really struggling to understand what on earth you are talking about. You appear to be distressed, for some reason, about a quote of Borg’s that you are seeking my response to? If so, please provide the particular quote in its context, and in a simple sentence, why you address this to me. If someone else makes any sense of what you are talking about, I’m happy for them to help you, rather than for me to. Again, when you write, “Sallie McFague's (almost purely) metaphorical understanding of Jesus”, I have no idea what that phrase even means, its context, or how it connects with anything. Blessings.

James said...


You may have missed the comment above my last in which the second half is addressed to you; that provides context for the comment addressed to you.

liturgy said...

My point remains, James. If you want someone here to comment on a particular quote of Borg or Sallie McFague, please give the quote in full, and provide the full context, and possibly the reason why you are seeking our comment.

James said...

Bosco, I am sorry that my text here is so dense and must cover so much material, but this is also due to the complexity of the situation we're in. I'm not asking for comment on a particular quote of Borg or McFague; if you aren't aware of their theological tendencies I suppose I'd need to provide that info. This often can't simply be gleaned by a quote or two. At first you misread me, thinking I was claiming Fr. Harris was not a Trinitarian Christian; I was not. Now you think I'm asking for comments on Borg or McFague. Are you sure you're not "dodging the issue?" I do grant it's possible that you simply don't understand what I've written. I'm not asking a particular question, as much as describing the situation in which the claim that Anglicans are not Trinitarian Christian in practice has become reasonable.

James said...

Bosco, I don't want to alienate you from this conversation either. I am warmly hopeful in the way that Peter here defends the Covenant; and I think that a "Communion hopeful" like yourself who is also careful regarding Trinitarian theology and sensitive to diminutions of it in liturgy would do well to defend it as well. I have primarily lost hope in the Communion and see my role primarily in alerting us to problems in it. I can stay, simply because of what it should be (as outlined in the CLQ, which I love as a kind of replacement for a confession).

If you aren't aware of the way +KJS and the National Church are promoting Marcus Borg, I'd be happy to provide more information on that. But re. Borg - I'd say, that his teaching leads very directly to the position which a Trinitarian Christian would probably best describe as the position that Jesus is dead. I.e., when we put this in "plain language" - that Jesus is dead, in the same way that we say that Elvis is dead. And in Borg's rather grandiose insistence that "Jesus lives," and "Jesus is with us" - the reality of the "life" here is more or less the same when we say that Elvis lives, or that Elvis is with us.

Here I must point out for explicitness: I know of no time that Borg ever directly said, "Jesus is dead." But from a Trinitarian Christian point of view, considering that Borg is in a teaching position in a church still claiming to be Trinitarian - I would say, "Jesus is dead" is an excellent summary the parts of Borg's teachings which are relevant to us - i.e., which we should be concerned about. And that, stipulating that we are using "plain language," which appears to be contradicted by Borg's metaphorical statements "Jesus lives" etc., but in fact is not - the two can live together in the same universe of truth, simply acknowledging that "Jesus lives" here means something entirely different from what we mean when we say "Jesus lives" in plain language.

No doubt many find Borg's teachings profound. As my main study at university was literature, I already discovered the joy of metaphor, and the rather surprising, and sometimes discomforting, implications this has for the use of language, and for society in general. I am very much a proponent of understanding the Bible metaphorically. But I think that in the end, Borg and others are likely to have a profoundly counterproductive influence on the task of awakening the church to the metaphorical beauty of Scripture, by their insistence that it is mere metaphor. With this word I mean: metaphor in all its resonance, beauty, and ability to communicate and embody truth (so no little thing) - but NOT referring to the truths of things as referred to in plain language. Because in the end - with "truth" - we can only do so much hand-waving and metamorphizing - in the end, "the rubber hits the road" somewhere, and our views of God, and practices in the world, have very real consequences.

I think that adherents of Borg are very likely, after a while, to become rather disillusioned with the whole "Jesus is with us thing" and simply find pleasure in great literature and art without pretensions of telling us who God is, or whether Jesus is alive or dead or how. In the end, they are probably likely even to avoid the question - which is simultaneously intellectual and concrete - "Is Jesus real?" They will most likely back away from this question, which for us in faith: should actually be a profound confrontation - something with which we must truly wrestle.

Reflecting on such things, doesn't it seem to you best that we have some sort of Covenant in place which urges prelates to responsibility in manners in which clearly some of our National Churches are terribly defective? Especially when we are teaching those in our pews things very likely to alienate them from Our Lord Himself?

liturgy said...

James, thank you for recognising my efforts to maintain and enhance Trinitarian worship in our province.

I think I have now given you the benefit of the doubt and made every effort to respond to you when you address me but I appear to be incapable of discerning what you are actually asking me in the midst of the way you write. You just use words, maybe my coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, that I don’t see holding together, and combine concepts and acronyms that I just don’t get. So yes, I’m sure I’m not “dodging the issue” – because I cannot find in your long comments one simple sentence - what you think the issue is. All I can find is this question:

“doesn't it seem to you best that we have some sort of Covenant in place which urges prelates to responsibility in manners in which clearly some of our National Churches are terribly defective?” To which my answer is no, it doesn’t seem best to me. I can only speak for here. We do not have a National Church here – but we have a province where we all vow and sign up to beliefs (I think you are talking about beliefs, although you keep using the word “practice”) and a clear process should a “prelate” (your word – not one I tend to use seriously) depart from this standard. I hope this now helps you, because I think this conversation, if that is what it was, from my side has ground to an end. You speak of seeing yourself as having a role in the communion – that might explain your anonymity. I have difficulties with people who debate anonymously online. God bless you and your role this Easter Season.


James said...


Thanks for your response. CLQ = "Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral"; KJS = "Katharine Jefferts Schori." There are other things which may have tripped you up; perhaps also the coffee needed to kick in.

I speak of "practices" since they are visible; and not beliefs, since one would need to peer into one's soul in order to see them. I've been reprimanded before on Episcopalian blogs for criticizing "beliefs" (with personal belief somehow considered sacrosanct); but tend to refer to "practices" since in general, it is teaching which I object to - and not one's belief. I.e., it wouldn't bother me much to hear that +KJS doesn't believe in the resurrection, partially because I am already convinced that she does not. She may "struggle" with this and wish that she did believe in it. However, we are on very different territory indeed when she actually teaches that the event of the resurrection itself is unimportant. Thus my general preference to referring to "practices" rather than "beliefs."

Another reason is the importance of pastoral theology. I.e., we may all say the creeds; but if some priests are teaching members of their congregations that with the word "resurrection" we do not mean: "that Christ rose from the dead," but rather: "immense imaginitive possibilities which are opened up in contemplating what the metaphor of transition from life to death and back might mean for us" ... it is really the practice of this teaching, rather than any specific belief, which is "bringing another gospel into the church." I in no ways object to the belief in the metaphorical potential of the notion of the resurrection. However, Trinitarian Christians must not be content with a teaching like this one.

We must also remember that "doxa" in Greek has a much more dynamic, "proclamative" coloring to it than our modern term "belief." Episcopalians sometimes, rightly, complain about beliefs which are mere propositions or "checkpoints." Though I think they may sometimes be misguided as to what the churches they oppose are actually teaching. But they are right in that beliefs are not static, atomic things residing in our brains, or mere sentences on pieces of paper.

If you were "thrown" by my writing above, I'd suggest: that you serious reconsider the possibility of supporting the Covenant. There may be an urgency here of which you are yet unaware - and we are all responsible for what +KJS (and by extension, Borg and McFague) are teaching vulnerable laypeople in the Communion.

liturgy said...

Your ad hominem ramblings continue, James.

Please can you give source, quote, and context where the Presiding Bishop “actually teaches that the event of the resurrection itself is unimportant”. Please can you give source, quote, and context for the priests who teach the word "resurrection" means "immense imaginitive possibilities which are opened up in contemplating what the metaphor of transition from life to death and back might mean for us". Please can you give source, quote, and context where someone declares "doxa" in Greek is equivalent to our modern term "belief."

Then we might actually have something to discuss.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi James and Bosco,

This post may or may not be germane to the clarifications you seek from each other:

liturgy said...

Sorry, Peter, maybe you or I are looking at the wrong link - the one you give I cannot even see mention of resurrection.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I said it 'may not be germane'.
The possibility of it being germane is that it illustrates, with references, something the PB has said which is often reflected on (in my reading on the internet) and for which some reflectors find themselves, on content, not on ad hominem, concluding is a less than satisfactory approach.

But if it doesn't contribute to the discussion then let it sit to the side.

James said...

Bosco (1),

Thank you for your comment. You do something illuminating here: characterizing my words as "ad hominem" without quoting, or stating why this is ad hominem. But I understand nonetheless what you are saying - and acknowledge that, if what I say is untrue, in some sense it could be taken as ad hominem (though I can think of better, more accurate descriptions). Sometimes when sketching out general contexts, we have to do a lot of hermeneutical, connective work, and can't rely on "proof-texts" - and this is what you are doing, without citing "proof-texts." But it's also what I am doing in the above. Note also that I've refrained from describing your own remarks about me and my writing as ad hominem. I admire much of what you do, I should add.

What I'm doing is sketching out a general context. Re. "belief" and doxa - this was simply to address your question of why I don't refer to "beliefs" and prefer to discuss "practices." If you didn't understand that point, let us let that lie.

I have pointed to this article before - it is my writing (so I am no longer "anonymous" to you) - from a few years ago. +KJS's words since have been highly consistent with the view that she completely avoids teaching the bodily resurrection of Christ - and that the tenor of her words tend to point to an understanding of the resurrection which is exclusively metaphorical. Her many references to McFague - and a few prominent references to Borg - surely substantiate this. My apologies for the length of this article. Writing it was a very painful, ugly experience - a terrible self-indictment as an Anglican - meaning, "I am corporately responsible for this great institutional denial of my Savior." Like you, I have a more "catholic" (and not "individualistic") sense of the church and the body of Christ. Salvation has its corporate aspects (and here, +KJS is profoundly right).

It is true that churches in the past have struggled with clergy who have denied various essential aspects of who Christ is; our situation is that this has reached the very top; and also that teachings like +KJS are becoming much more prominent in TEC (my previous church membership, and where I still have many friends). I am coming across more Spong amongst CofE clergy. "Living the Questions" is preparing a version of their DVD series for the UK market.

In your situation, unable to find time for reading pages and pages of +KJS material, it will be challenging to ask yourself what this tends to be pointing to. This is why I point out the Borg and McFague connections, which are also a part of +KJS and TEC's teachings as a National Church in the area of "pastoral theology" - i.e., teaching people what they should understand and believe in saying the creeds. +KJS's words can generally be taken in any number of ways, and are bound in "deep context" (not unlike the change of language and the meanings of words we read about in Orwell). But Borg and McFague are much more "direct" in what they teach. E.g., McFague admits that her teaching on Christ is not incarnational Christology - she calls it "parabolic" Christology.

As I've pointed out above, my problem is not so much with +KJS, Borg, or McFague - but with "us" and our responsibility in maintaining them as teachers and leaders (McFague only being a leader by proxy, due to +KJS's frequent references to her).

James said...

Bosco (2),
I think basically, the problem is this: we have an increasing number of laypeople and clergy whose faith is not one reflected by the creeds - a growing number of which are asking themselves, "do I not have the right to teach what I believe about these things in the church?" Without ever having wanted this situation - TEC find themselves trying to craft teachings which can somehow "keep everyone together" - i.e., "People who believe in the bodily resurrection can stay; people who don't, and do not wish to believe this, but nonetheless also want to teach what they believe, can also stay; we'll just say the bodily resurrection isn't important, and that people who believe in, e.g., ecological activism also believe in the resurrection, since they can see it as a metaphor for their daily activity." But what's important here is it excludes: the importance of the bodily resurrection - which I would argue, is part and parcel of the church's doctrine of the resurrection.

It must be pointed out that many provinces of our Communion are quite weak in faith amongst clergy, at least when we insist on a "classic" understanding of faith, with the creeds held up as important descriptors of the faith which we commend. I think we are naïve if we believe that this tendency in teaching will not become more prominent, if we continue to acknowledge +KJS's teachings as unproblematic, by failing to respond to them in earnest. A Primate of the Communion is an enormously important precedent; and those clergy who struggle with faith are likely to find respite in the thought that they are actually bold, intellectual heroes in the crusade against the terrible, nasty "Fundamentalists" who insist upon the importance of the teaching of the bodily resurrection of Christ - unaware of the presuppositions and the "Fundamentalism" in this very crusade against those things which Christ taught us. There may be very little that we can "do," but at the very least we can raise a voice in asking +KJS herself, or the church, to reconsider its ways, while pointing out the serious flaws and terrible incoherencies in this teaching - and advocate general, corporate repentance for the Communion - in which, of course, pointing out the flaws of the Communion - which are abundant now that Christ is no longer our center - becomes a very important task.

James said...

Bosco (3)
It does seem to me that in the last 1,500 years of church history, we Anglicans are alone in reaching this level of apostasy. If not - you could mention some top-level leader of a church claiming to be Trinitarian who has gone as far as has +KJS in denying such things as the uniqueness of Christ, the resurrection, the divinity of Christ. Or you could, e.g., point out some unequivocal affirmation of +KJS regarding the bodily resurrection or the divinity of Christ (one where the context makes clear she isn't simply metaphorizing). If you can do either of these - I will sleep better at night, and you will have removed a terrible wedge in our understanding as Anglicans. If you can not - I would urge you to seriously consider the position that the Communion is no longer Trinitarian in practice, but that we are by and large speaking of different referents when we take into our mouths the words "Christ" and "God" - and that in a certain sense, we as a body harbour at least two substantially different religions - similar as they may seem in vestments, liturgy, and other types of practice (excluding pastoral theology).

The "secular" sociologist in me says: in such a situation, it is better for the two groups to part ways. This will reduce animosity and conflict. Words mean such different things for the two groups - "resurrection," "Christ," "salvation," "repentance," etc. etc. ... they will speak with one another with very little understanding of one another.

As a Trinitarian Christian, my response must be: when Paul warned us with the word "anathema" about "bringing another gospel into the church" - we must be very, very careful, so that we do not, e.g., accuse someone teaching something different about baptism, but nonetheless scripturally sound, of such a thing. We must think: "where should we draw this line?" My answer here is: when what we teach directly touches upon the identity of Christ Himself and our hope of salvation. And what we see now is, I believe, such a case of this.

I know that this stuff is the kind of thing which makes one cringe. It is most certainly not "easy reading." Blessings to you as you consider and discern.

James said...

Bosco, to put things succinctly - the quotes of +KJS are to be found here, in the article.

Take your time with it (and the above comments). My academic background is in philosophy & literary theory, so it's likely to read in a style that's not immediately familiar. But new styles do refresh, and I wish our theologians were more adept at philosophy and literary theory (they certainly would avoid certain mistakes if they did, such as, e.g., confusing literary theory or experience of the sublime with God or the Holy Spirit; God is certainly most certainly present there in the form of natural grace, but this is also a natural grace which can be used for either good or evil).

liturgy said...

Rather than answering a single one of my questions directly, James, you send me on an extended excursion where you overlay and filter the Presiding Bishop’s words with your own presuppositions. Please do not patronise your readers here, I also have a background in philosophy. I don’t really have as much of a dog in your fight with the Presiding Bishop, I was interested in your pointing to the quotes I asked for, including the one of the priests’ teaching about the resurrection. None have been forthcoming.

More significantly, you write, “I'd suggest: that you serious reconsider the possibility of supporting the Covenant. There may be an urgency here of which you are yet unaware - and we are all responsible for what +KJS (and by extension, Borg and McFague) are teaching vulnerable laypeople in the Communion.”

Once again the Covenant is thought to be the solution for a perceived problem. Have you actually read the Covenant? How would it help solve the problem you perceive?!

It seems that God made such a bad job of the Bible, it is time we helped him along with what we think he should have written.

I am cooking dinner tonight. I’m sure that the Covenant is able to help me there also.



James said...


For your first question, the quotes of +KJS:

She described etymology of words, shedding new light on familiar topics. “Science is a word that means knowing. Faith and religion ask questions about meaning. Science asks questions about mechanism and connection,” she said. “They can be essential important partners in the human endeavor of knowing. Einstein said, ‘Religion without science is blind; science without faith limps.’” She spoke about the importance of one informing the other and the enormities that result when they don’t.

…Asked about the literal story of Easter and the Resurrection, Jefferts Schori said, “I think Easter is most profoundly about meaning, not mechanism.”

P: What does someone do when they believe that Jesus is divine but that some things that are defined as creeds – that Mary was a virgin, for example – don’t seem right? Can one still be a faithful Christian?
BK: I hope that’s an invitation to a deeper encounter …

… Again, those creeds are not about checking off a bunch of propositions. They are about giving our heart to a sense that Jesus shows us what it looks like to be a divine human being …

… If you begin to explore the literary context of the first century and the couple of hundred years on either side, the way that someone told a story about a great figure was to say “this one was born of the gods.” That is what we’re saying. This carpenter from Nazareth or Bethlehem – and there are different stories about where he comes from – shows us what a godly human being looks like, shows us God come among us. We have affirmed ever since then in this tradition that each one of us is the image of God. We are all the sons and daughters of God. I think there is an invitation to look below a superficial minimization to what the story is really about. It makes some people very uncomfortable to do that, I recognize. (Parabola Magazine Spring 2007 issue)

For a priest denying the importance of the bodily resurrection:

"The empty tomb is a sidebar to the Easter story. You could find a tomb with bones in it and scientifically verify that they are those of Jesus. Let the tomb be full of bones, I say. And we will still celebrate Easter because Jesus is risen, and Jesus comes to you and to me, saying your name – and what hear is the sound of the living God."

liturgy said...

OK, James, thanks for your quotes:

that “Easter is most profoundly about meaning, not mechanism” you interpret as the Presiding Bishop “actually teaching that the event of the resurrection itself is unimportant”. I do not agree with your interpretation – but let us leave that to one side.

And, rather than finding the priest who you had saying "resurrection means the immense imaginitive possibilities which are opened up in contemplating what the metaphor of transition from life to death and back might mean for us", you found a quote from a sermon three years ago in a village in Illinois in a what looks from NZ perspective to be a surprisingly thriving, vibrant church.

Now can you explain, SIMPLY, how you would set in motion the mechanism within the Covenant you are advocating I support so that these things do not happen in the future. As part of that can you also explain, SIMPLY, why the TEC canons are inadequate to deal with unorthodox teaching. I need to own that the NZ canons and processes appear to me to be perfectly adequate although not used – I do not see our adopting or rejecting the Covenant altering this in our context whatsoever.



James said...


St. Mark's is a vibrant church - I have quite a few friends there. I selected this quote since I was familiar with this sermon and this church, but could have selected any number of others. Is your suggestion here that the fact that St. Mark's is vibrant, implies: that denying the importance of the resurrection is a good thing? (I certainly trust the answer is no; but I'd like you to think about how you are arguing - you have sharpened my iron, this may or may not sharpen yours). The message stresses the resurrection as a metaphor for life, the image of God in each of us, and a number of other very edifying, sound teachings. The problem simply is: none of these things is the resurrection. These are things amongst those immense imaginitive possibilities; that the resurrection is these things, and not the resurrection, is simply an application of this general principle. Minus the "Easter" part - I would be thrilled with this sermon - the man is a gifted preacher.

I would agree that such a matter is for a Province to deal with; and I am generally unfamiliar with the canons of TEC. But my familiarity would not help much; note e.g. the canon re. CWOB - Peter has pointed out how the National Church now has materials supporting CWOB.

I also agree that the Covenant is not specifically for this purpose; since the Instruments of Communion have not worked with satisfaction, having requested e.g. that +KJS absent herself from the Standing Committee which she then refused to do, section 4.2.5 seems to leave all action with regard to one's participation in Communion structures up to individual churches, and it is likely that in this case there would likely be refusal by TEC or its representatives, we would likely be in the same position as we were before, except with less authority, as the authority for this matter has been explicitly delegated to individual provinces.

Bosco, thank you for your repeated imprecations to read the Covenant. I had read previous drafts and read this one quickly, long ago. I hadn't analyzed it or taken time to "connect the dots."


As for, when being explicitly asked whether she believes in the event of the resurrection, and her answer, would you not agree that:

+KJS dissociates the event itself from "meaning" associated with the event; and:

that the event itself is clearly on the one "side" of "mechanism,", and not of "meaning";

thus, that the "meaning" she associates with the event does not include the reality of the event itself?

And, thereby, that which this event is "most profoundly" does not include the reality of the event itself - at least casting the answer of this question into something like a "no"?

I may be able to better formulate the actual significance of this speech act than simply: "denies the importance of the resurrection."

I will be the first to admit that analyzing this statement is very messy business, and that it would be much better if we had clearer statements regarding her belief in a bodily resurrection. I find it, however, the clearest I have found to date - I could also discuss with you other candidates for such clarity.

I'd also suggest the relevance of Sallie McFague and Marcus Borg as context when evaluating her teaching as Presiding Bishop - also Spong if we are evaluating her teaching role of her episcopy in general (including diocesan bishop of Nevada).