Friday, March 22, 2013

Can the post-churchmanship ABC lead into a post-gay future?

Damian Thompson, writing about the enthronement of ++Justin Welby as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, makes a couple of astute points for Anglicans worldwide to ponder.

Reflecting on ++Justin's own journey in things spiritual and ministerial, he observes,

"Archbishop Welby comes from the evangelical wing of the Church, but he strikes me as someone very close to the Anglican centre of gravity. His evangelicalism is enriched by Catholic spirituality; he would be happy in any church setting – you might call him a post-churchmanship Anglican."

I think that is pretty good. Better than a silly Guardian assertion that ++JW represents a takeover of the C of E by HTB! The future Anglican church - emerging from the present - needs to be 'post-churchmanship'. It is no insult on the anniversary of Cranmer (21 March) to propose that Anglicanism in the 21st century will express its Cranmerian heritage if it continues to refresh what is 'common' to us by moving beyond our familiar divisions in churchmanship.

But Damian Thompson's blogpost headline makes another point re the future of Anglicanism.

"The new Archbishop of Canterbury, enthroned today, must wish the gay issue would go away. But it won't."

I interpret Damian to mean that despite various attempts to find a way for the issue to "go away", including wishful thinking that it would simply cease to be an issue, it isn't going anywhere. Whether it is the continued pressing from within the church for the acceptance of same sex partnerships or the continued pressing from without the church by governments/parliaments for socio-political change to relationship status, Anglican churches, at least in Western countries are not able to (bad pun coming up) put this issue to bed.

In other words, is it time for Anglicans who wish the issue would go away (I number myself among their ranks) to

(1) acknowledge that the issue is not going to go away

(2)  address the question of whether we are at peace within if we continue with divisions for the foreseeable future,

and if we are not at peace about that,

(3) work on a way for the issue to go away, an Anglican accommodation which draws inspiration from all previous Anglican accommodations.

I assume, from comments here previously, that:-

some readers are at peace with continuing to live with division/tension on the matter,

some readers would like the issue to go away because a way is found for other Anglicans to accept their totalising solution (such as full acceptance of gay marriage or full and final rejection of all talk of blessing of same sex partnerships), 

some readers in their hearts feel the only eventual way forward to get beyond the issue is separation/division/schism,

and, perhaps, only a very tiny minority of readers are keen to find an accommodation (perhaps daunted by the belief that a much larger majority are not so much averse to accommodation as utterly sceptical that it can be found).

My reflection here is that whatever we feel we would like to happen there is an inexorable logic in the situation: if we wish to remain in an Anglican church (and an Anglican Communion) with some breadth of theology in societies embracing acceptance of gay partnerships we cannot make the issue "go away" without an accommodation. We may hate that thought because it smells of 'appeasement' or 'compromise'. But do we need to get over such feeling? Could we help ourselves by analysing accommodation here in terms other than appeasement and compromise?

What if we thought of accommodation as 'making space' for sincerely held but opposing views? As we have done since the 19th century divide over "Anglo-Catholic" and "Evangelical".

Or, if we imagined accommodation here as offering 'hospitality' to those who are different to us (or, if you prefer, 'us')? As we have done in the late 20th century to charismatic Anglicans (but weren't able to do in the 18th century to Methodists).

Or, could we envisage accommodation as providing 'opportunity' to those exploring church in different ways? As we are doing for Fresh Expressions of church - a provision which carries with it lots of questions and scepticism but not, finally, rejection.

Just to head off a 'red herring' here: the depths of theological objection to the blessing of same-sex partnerships let alone to gay marriage are very deep just as the heights of theological approval of the same for those who approve are very high and there is not necessarily a straight-line analogy from the specific gulf here to the examples of division-overcome-by-accommodation above. The point to consider is not whether this is a division no worse than other divisions (if you like, a second-order division, like others, rather than a first-order division) but whether this specific, even unique division can be accommodated. Or not.

And if not, are we reconciled to a very long future of division, or are we going to separate?

There are not, as I understand the logic of the situation, an infinite number of options. ++Justin may or may not be on the right track with his talk of 'reconciliation' but he could help us with his tidy mind by asking whether we understand the limited options and whether we understand the implications of each and, in particular, do we have any strong ambition to move beyond the "gay issue" or not?

Epilogue: I have no great ideas at this stage on what an accommodation might look like. I also suggest that accommodation would not necessarily be weighted in a 'liberal' direction. Part of where my posts have been going in the last few days and weeks has been to underscore that the strength of the church at large rests on conservative congregations in a "post-Christendom" West (Shawn's astute comment yesterday about this acknowledged), and even more so in parts of the world which never enjoyed the blessings of Christendom.

[Publishing comments over the next 30 hours may be spasmodic].

57 comments:

Jon White said...

Personally I can witness to the deep faithfulness and spirituality of gay Christians who are fully "out." It does not seem out of step to me with the example of Jesus' life that we should acccept these LGBT brothers and sisters without reservation and be willing to bless their commitments to one another. I truly believe that this is the invitation of the Holy Spirit to be more fully open to the breadth of God's creation.

At the same time, I accept that this represents a significant change from the understanding of Christian tradition and normally I do not brook tradition lightly.

However,it also strikes me that this is an issue that is experienced most profoundly on the ground and that the response of different communities within the larger church will not be the same. I do not wish to impose myself on others or on other communities and am happy to wait to see whether what I believe is truly of the Spirit or not.

At the same time, the only way to see whether something is of the Spirit or not, we must be able to test and discern by doing what we believe is right. All I ask is the forbearance of those who disagree so that we who feel called to move in this direction may discover the Truth of our beliefs (or not). I am equally willing to forbear those who do not, and believe it is probably better for the church as a whole that we are willing to let some push to the frontiers of faith in order to discover the new horizon or to know for certain that what we believed was wrong.

Jon White

Bryden Black said...

I wonder Peter if there’s another way to assess this “issue that will not be put to bed”.

Any course in church history will be able to tell us that the first draft of the Nicene Creed with its two main articles on the Father and the Son was drawn up in 325. It will also address the strong political component in calling the council as well. Yet these creedal conclusions coupled with the additional canons hardly ‘solved’ the problem. Indeed, our putative church history course will go on to show, as Jerome remarked, “The whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian” - for such was the situation around 360, in the church and the political realm.

Yet by 381 all this was all over and the full Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 formulated. But what exactly was over? In effect, we have not mere doctrine resolved and/or dogma established; rather, we have the beginnings of a vast cultural change. As Walter Kasper puts it: “the need was to reflect upon the data of Scripture and tradition and to break away from the one-sidedly essentialist thinking of Greek philosophy and into a personalist thinking ... laying the foundation of a new type of thought.”

Our own contemporary culture no less has itself reached a point where it seems ‘natural and obvious’ to endorse the likes of same-sex relationships, even ‘marriage’ - often, as is the case in NZ, via such criteria as “equality” and “non-discrimination”, as if these alone ‘solved’ the problem in their eyes. But this very cultural ethos has its own genealogy, as did the culture/philosophy undergirding dear old Arius’s strongly held views. Yet the revelation of the Gospel demurred; and the sheer pressure of that revelation upon habits of the mind and heart ushered in the very seed-bed, via the doctrine of the Trinity, which has curiously flowered into a view of human persons that indeed partially undergirds our own cultural moment - BUT ONLY PARTIALLY.

While there is little doubt a personalist view of human being is one key element in contemporary anthropology, the more dominant is the post Enlightenment claim which proposes human being to be a self-positing autonomous personal subject. The results are seen in the bricolage of postmodern plasticity, where one’s identity is constructed again and again, in multiple forms, as one (dis)plays and/or projects a veritable plethora of subjectively conceived ‘faces’. Western Christians, for better or for worse, are seemingly unable to extricate themselves from this their cultural milieu, to a lesser or greater extent: it’s the very societal air they breathe. In which context, therefore, the sheer content of human loving behaviour is granted a similar degree of plasticity, it would seem. The entire LGBT ‘agenda’ has not proven immune to this assessment of human being - where the highest good is the freedom to choose per se, and where desire is untrammeled by any higher Good that may direct our freedom to an End beyond itself.

Where any possible “accommodation” in this reading of things? Where the putative party of the homoiousions who similarly sought accommodation between the strict Nicenes and those who could not (yet) shift away from their cultural roots? For my money, Peter, nothing less than an Athanasius and the three - or four, if we include Macrina, the sister - Cappadocians is called for! That is, in the long run, no two contradictory paradigms of human being, and their respective undergirding philosophies, can in fact co-exist, whatever the seeming similarities.

Father Ron Smith said...

Sadly, Peter, despite your expressed hope that The Anglican Communion will become post-sectarian; I'm very much afraid that the recent schismatic movement on the part of ACNA and GAFCON would seem to militate against that possibility.

I'm not sure even an HTB-trained ABC can bring together the 'sola-scriptura' GAFCON-ites and those of us who wish to remain more in the ethos of 'Unity in Diversity' - that has been the charism of world-wide Anglicanism up to this point in our history.

The new bullishness of the anti-Gay Provinces has already opened up a chasm in the Communion, which may only be healed by a radically new understanding of gender and sexuality - more in accordance with modern society's openness to a new hermeneutic. Will this ever happen?
I'm not sure it will - even under the newly en-throned ABC. But, hey; for God, nothing is impossible!

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Jon White for your considerate considerations. We shall all see eventually indeed! And by eventually, I do not envisage any typical quick fixes ... That too is too much part and parcel of our cultural moment. As I said recently on another thread, any bridges (as opposed to actual formal "accommodation") are best by means of "on the ground" "friendships" - pure and simple.

Shawn Herles said...

GAFCON is not "schismatic." it has not left the Church. It has no intentions of doing so.

Father Ron Smith said...

" The entire LGBT ‘agenda’ has not proven immune to this assessment of human being - where the highest good is the freedom to choose per se, and where desire is untrammeled by any higher Good that may direct our freedom to an End beyond itself."

- Bryden Black -

What a nasty idictment!

Here we go again, Bryden. Your bald assertion that the LGBT 'Agenda' is somehow based on 'chosen-ness'. It really is amazing how the anti-Gay lobby is fixated on the spectre of homosexuality as a 'chosen' life-style for a percentage of humanity who call themselves LGBT or Queer.

I might have thought that you, as a cattle rancher, would have had some idea of the fact that the human animal - in common with the beast - shares the possibility of same-sex attraction. The only difference is that human beings have more of a 'moral consciousness' of what is going on in this innate condition, and are often deeply ashamed of it. The moral consciousness, however,
does not take away the potentiality

Until this erroneous lack of understanding is relinquished by the moral supremacists, the Church will continue to struggle with this very important factor of the human condition.

From the tone of your comment here, one would think that there are some elite Christians who are entirely unacquainted with any overt sexual experience, preferring to remain immune to it, rather than risk the possibility of 'defilement' of their God-created bodies.

Jemma said...

I find it difficult to think of this as an "issue". While I understand it is about what we as Christians, as Anglicans, believe and value, we are talking about human beings with bodies and feelings and relationships and families. We can not talk about this issue without talking about actual people's embodied experience. There is no "post-gay" future, unless you plan to eliminate the reality of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from the Body of Christ. We can hope there may be a "post-divided-by-our-theology-of-human-sexuality" future or a "post-divided-by-our-view-of-Scripture" future. That is surely not the same thing as the perhaps unfortunate "post-gay future" headline of this article (and a little too reminiscent of the NZ Herald headline when a senior figure of our church imagined "a world without gays").

Peter Carrell said...

Bryden: too much in your comment to digest while travelling (and tired) but I take your point that the differences here may be unable to be reconciled ... but I note that even though the Arians lost there is plenty of Arianism still in the church!

Gemma: I am always glad when a headline draws a reader to read, even to comment! Yes, you are right: "post-gay" in this context would be "post-the-issue-troubling-us".

Bryden Black said...

Dear oh dearie me! One more time Ron you demonstrate why it is so often difficult to sustain serious conversation with your dear self.

You hoik a sentence, or part of a sentence, out of context, wring it in such a way as to imply - try to imply - something to get your teeth into; and off you go ...

If you want to address the topic of the aetiology of homosexuality, be my guest. For I know for a fact that it is multifactorial. There are elements of genetic make-up, of hormonal development, and especially of family dynamics in early childhood and on into adolescence, notably but not exclusively with the parent of the same gender, to name the main ‘players’. To be sure, in each case, the mix and weight of these and other factors will be unique. Simplistically, one may talk of the typical nature + nurture combo; but as I suggest, this is too simplistic. Too simplistic as well is the very term “homosexuality”; for there are multiple homosexualities in fact. Again, for a fact, I know folk may experience what are termed “same-sex attractions”, and thereafter they may or they may not engage in forms of behaviour which bring these attractions to full expression sexually. That is to say, there is indeed an element of freedom involved - as always - with human beings. Then (finally, for now) I know for a fact that historically during the 1970s and 80s the main emphasis in western culture was upon one’s choice of ‘life-style’ and/or activity; while in the 1990s, the emphasis changed, to accentuate the so-called predisposition to such feelings as same-sex-attraction. But enough! Yet I have not even begun to theologize - notably about God’s good creation, which is nonetheless also a fallen one ... and so some of the necessary consequences ...

Now; should you wish to assess my cultural and historical comparison between the Arian controversy and our present cultural moment regarding ‘homosexuality’, again be my guest. If you follow it; fine! If you do not follow it; fine again! But please, I beseech you, do NOT yank one wee bit out of a paragraph, and try to saddle up your horse to ride out and wave spurious accusations around, putting your own words into my mouth, all of which has little or no bearing upon the main and important argument before us. The very people themselves who happen to identify as members of the so-called LGBT communities and whom you also mention deserve better - as people, whom Jesus came and comes to redeem. For even if they represent indeed the 1 in a 100, as per the single sheep in the parable, they are objects of God’s infinite love; and the “elder brothers” among us (the next but one parable along) indeed better watch out!

Finally; this comment of yours requires to be withdrawn! Thank you! For perhaps this time the indictment is yours ...

Bryden Black said...

Indeed, Peter; there are quite a few Arian type members of the present-day Church! That may be half the trouble! As the patristic maxim puts it, “Only God may save”. Whereas many a picture of Jesus views him as that splendid moral exemplar whose teaching would stir us to new heights ... Mmmm ...

Happy digestion meanwhile!

Father Ron Smith said...

Bryden, you post so much in the way of 'learned' exposition on this web-site that I would have thought that you - above all - would take great care in every sentence you so liberally regale your potential readers with.

Scholars are usually careful not to produce a single sentence that - taken out from the general trend of their thesis - could be construed as contrary to their true & honest intention.

In other words, one can only judge your underlying attitude by what you actually manage to say.

For all of your presumed learnings on the subject of homosexuality, you seem determined to attribute its presence in the human species as something that is morally offensive. Has any gay person you ever knew actually admitted that, s/he has 'chosen to be gay? Despite my long-time association with such people, I have no doubt that most would rather not be 'afflicted' with such feelings - preferring to be 'like everyone else'.

However, with society more open to the phenomenon, innately gay people are now more open to 'celebrate ' what they see as their natural environment. Although some, inhibited by their experience of homophobia, are less happy to be identified as 'gay'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron/Bryden
I think we can proceed on the basis that no one chooses to be gay and that Bryden is not saying that anyone does so choose. But there are many other matters which involve choice. By all means debate what those choices are and what those choices should be.

Bryden Black said...

A wholesome final sentence Peter. And exactly on the money re that 'offensive' part sentence that triggered so much ...
As for the rest; well ...

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Peter,

We cannot proceed on that basis at all because as Bryden actually says there are too many variables to talk simpliciticly about an innate orientation.

Liberal myths are not a good basis on which to proceed.

Shawn Herles said...

"Scholars are usually careful"

Rubbish. Anyone can pull a single senfence from someones work, no matter how scholarly, and load it with false meanings or use it as an excuse for ad hominem.

You have not responded to the substance of Beydan's post, but merely attacked a false strawman argument laced with the usual ad hominem and self-righteous dunciations of those who take the Word of God more seriously that modern fashionable idols.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, well! "And all manner of things shall be well" - at least in our own procincial Church in these Islands.

Having studied with Bishop Philip Richardson at St. john's College, and learned of his commitment to the poor and the disenfranchised, I was overjoyed, today, to learn of his election to the position of Pakeha Archbishop in ACANZP.

Phlilp has a large and loving heart for Christ and the Gospel to ALL. I pray that his ministry may become even more fruitful within our Church. May God richly Bless him!

Bryden Black said...

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

As dear TS Eliot makes use of both Julian’s and Dante’s visions, so then shall I be able to endorse some form of “well, well” - but only then! For then “the truth I longed for [shall] come to me, smiting my mind like lightening flashing bright. ... All turned - as a wheel in equal balance - by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

I am glad for you, Ron, that you are able to endorse Philip’s attributes as they may be. However, when he came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our founding at St Christopher’s Avonhead, his sermon was sadly a mixed affair. While speaking of the Communion of Love that is the very Being of the Triune God, his description of each Person as “autonomous” was not just unfortunate; it betrays the kind of muddle which prompted my original post on this thread in the first place. And this is especially unfortunate, and more, when the Christian Faith finds itself in the 21st C amongst a veritable smorgasbord’s of faiths claiming knowledge of the deity. For that is exactly what the Nicene Creed affirms: THIS deity is the One and Only One who has come amongst humanity, in order to redeem and restore us human beings to Friendship with the Creator, the very End of our human existence.

I think I’d like an Archbishop who was able both to do those things you admire and be able to articulate the Faith with more clarity. For that, he has too my prayers - already begun at our 9:00 am today!

Perhaps then we too might have an Abp who can lead the ACANZ&P into a post-gay future ...

Andrew Reid said...

Peter, I understand you are travelling and may not have time and energy to respond, but I'd like to ask a question about the way you approach this issue. It's a genuine question, not a polemical tactic.

What is it about homosexuality that should lead us to seek an accomodation, when we would not seek accomodation for other sexual practices not approved in the Bible? How is homosexuality different to other non-approved sexual practices in the Bible? Is it that there's no "offended third party" like in adultery, or it maintains the union of two people unlike polygamy, or maintains a lifelong commitment unlike sex outside marriage?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
The possibility of accommodation arises because a significant group of Christians do not think that same-sex partnerships are disapproved, and thus the accommodation is between two groups with opposing views, each of which is determined to remain Anglican.

A secondary thought is that when we thought divorce/remarriage was disapproved we found a way as a church to accommodate remarriage after divorce, thus the question arises whether we can make a further accommodation.

Father Ron Smith said...

"While speaking of the Communion of Love that is the very Being of the Triune God, his description of each Person as “autonomous” was not just unfortunate; it betrays the kind of muddle which prompted my original post on this thread in the first place." - Bryden Black -

What you are saying Bryden, might almost equate to a 'Unitarian' view. If you cannot see the humanity of Jesus as in any way distinct from the Fatherhood of God, and from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that 'raised Christ from the dead'; then is that not 'Unitarian'?

We are creatures of language - as you yourself know very well. But sometimes our language faculty cannot plumb the depths of the 'Mind of God'. Scripture tells us that even the Holy Spirit is still 'searching the mind of God', so how can we finite human beings hope to 'Know' the complexity of the Most Holy Trinity? But this fact, seemingly, will not prevent us from speculation.

Each of the divine Persons has a role to play- otherwise, why a Trinity at all? Why not make the most of what we actually DO know about the working of the Three Persons in One God - that we have in the words of the scriptures?

God has given us brains with which to describe our own experiences of God. This surely is one of the teaching tasks of a Bishop - even more so than that of a theologian who is not a bishop. The Bishop has a pastoral role in the Church, needing to explain as simply as possible how God affects the lives of ordinary human beings - not necessarily according to the requirements of an academic study.

Whereas the academic, systematic theologian is more open to private, clinical speculation. I think this is what you might find exciting about your own theological learning

I wonder, if you had delivered a sermon on the day in question, your sermon would actually have received the very same negativity as you have accorded to Bishop Philip? On the other hand, would the ordinary person in the pew have actually been able to understand what you were saying - in practical terms?

You were obviously assessing the Bishop's sermon from your own theological perspective. however, the Bishop's task is that of an accredited 'Teacher of The Faith'.

Peter Carrell said...

My fervent hope, Ron, is that Bryden, you and others here assess trinitarian claims from an orthodox perspective rather than a personal perspective.

A bishop as a teacher of the faith has no more charism in favour of orthodoxy than any Spirit-filled Christian. Hopefully, however, a bishop as teacher of the faith has a great sense of responsibility to teach orthodoxy.

Bryden Black said...

G’day Ron, as we all begin our Holy Week Pilgrimage ...

I can be brief! It is precisely because +Philip is supposedly a Teacher of the Faith as you point out that his use of the notion of “autonomy” of the Divine Persons is so unfortunate - and worse than that! His own cultural accommodation is on a par with that of Arius, who was incapable of realizing Jesus was/is NOT some intermediary between the Creator and his creation - even the very highest of such intermediary figures, and even as he rightly sought to safeguard God’s transcendence. The full homoousion ensures we appreciate and acknowledge the One true God’s freedom to transcend his transcendence in the Incarnation. +Philip’s own accommodation, while typically representative of post Enlightenment westerners, does scant justice to the radical (at root) interdependence of persons, both human and divine. You wish to mention Scripture; Jn 17:1 beautifully illustrates this point.

Apropos Peter’s thread, my own allusion to the party of the homoiousion, while understandable as an attempted compromise and means of accommodation generally, in fact again simply betrays the radically required novelty over against the prevailing culture of their day. Our own culture deems it pretty well ‘natural and obvious’ that folk who deem themselves LGBT should have the ‘right’ to ‘marriage’. My own reading of the very genealogy of the notion of human personhood, derived explicitly from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity these past 2000 years, can only see this view as the tragic irony that it is. For in the end, two competing anthropologies - that of the Christian Imago Dei, and that of a self-positing autonomous personal subject - cannot mix, however seemingly close they appear first up.

It is the calling of Teachers of the Faith, like Athanasius and the Cappadocians, as well as now + Philip, to be as clear and unmuddled as possible. Otherwise, the sheep are bound to become muddled themselves!

Father Ron Smith said...

From your comment, Peter, can I take it that you, in common with Bryden, are saying that our future Archbishop in ACANZP was preaching unorthodoxy on the occasion Bryden describes? Perhaps I am mistaking your 'drift'.

Peter Carrell said...

No, you are mistaking my drift, Ron!

I was not present on the occasion which Bryden talks about so I take his critique at face value and accept it as a contribution to theological debate in the life of our church.

I myself have no personal experience of ++Philip teaching anything which concerns me re orthodoxy; but I have not heard him teach/preach often, so I have no comment to make on the 'whole counsel' he offers the church. Other than, as my comment indicated, to encourage him along with all bishops to teach orthodoxy.

Bryden Black said...

Let me be as clear as possible Ron:
I think I’d like an Archbishop who was able both to do those things you admire and be able to articulate the Faith with more clarity. For that, he has too my prayers - already begun at our 9:00 am today!

Perhaps then we too might have an Abp who can lead the ACANZ&P into a post-gay future ...

Then:
It is the calling of Teachers of the Faith, like Athanasius and the Cappadocians, as well as now + Philip, to be as clear and unmuddled as possible. Otherwise, the sheep are bound to become muddled themselves!

In the sermon I witnessed, his exposition of the Love of the Triune God was muddled. That said, his other traits are, as you yourself attest, noteworthy.

He together with all our leaders deserves our prayers.

Anonymous said...

Bryden, I haven't heard Philip Richardson preach nor have I read anything theological he may have written, so I can't comment on his trinitarian beliefs. But I certainly agree the Cappadocian Fathers (along with Hugh of St Victor) have explored the mystery (as it is expounded in John's Gospel) with great profundity and insight, and any idea that the Son was "autonomous" is absurd and unbiblical. The move of separating the Son from the Father - and consequently drifting into Arian "tritheism" or more usually adoptionism - is actually fairly common today in liberal Protestant circles: Michael Ovey in his addresses on the Son and Subordinationism and Hugh of St Victor (you can download them from Christ Church Fulwood) cites Sam Wells of Duke University as teaching something similar, and since Dr Wells's wife is now Justin Welby's chaplain, I imagine these views will be aired in Lambeth Palace soon! "Autonomy" (whatever Richardson meant by the word) is the watchword of the modern, post-Christian age and is central to the postmodern delusion that "I" (whoever "I" am) can invent myself: der Wille zur Macht, indeed!
I agree also that true Christian personhood arises from contemplation on the Trinity. Gerald Bray is good on this.
Martin

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Martinus; good to hear from you!
Yes; notions of autonomy are quintessentially those of our 'age'. Which was why I had to exercise extreme restraint I first heard him preach this unfortunate stuff. In fact, I found myself almost like a jack-in-a-box with a spring under me: oops! Don't embarrass your friend the vicar! More serious though: your assessment of quasi Arian Christology is Peter's point too. Accompanied with this is the classic 19 C assessment of Jesus as supreme moral exemplar. All of which truly plagues our ranks nowadays ...
Thanks too for the reference which I'll track down when free ... May the rich blessing of Golgotha and the Empty Tomb enfold you at this time.

Anonymous said...

Bryden, here's the link to the Ovey talks that references Sam Wells: http://fulwoodchurch.co.uk/resources/talks/app/speaker/mike-ovey/category/any

Wells is now vicar of St Martin's in the Fields in London. The lectures themselves are well worth listening to for their penetrating discussion of the nature of divine love.
As for Arianism, while doctrinally Arianism was condemned and excluded from the definition of the Catholic faith in 381, the Arians themselves persisted into the sixth century, at least until the conversion of Reccared I, Visigothic king of Spain.
I wonder if you would care to recommend some good intro to the Cappadocians, or one that shows their importance to modern orthodox thought.
I agree that 19th C. views of Jesus are once again regnant in parts of Protestantism, not least in Tec and with Schori.
Martin

MichaelA said...

How dare Damien Thompson criticise the ABC's cope and mitre...!

Janice said...

Didn't take long.

Poly love is equal love, and deserves the same legal rights and cultural recognition as monogamous love. We believe all Australians in loving, consenting relationships deserve the right to be married (regardless of the number of partners involved). We also challenge negative community stereotypes of poly relationships – and seek to build cultural recognition and understanding of our lifestyles.

I found out about this "push for polygamous or polyamorous ‘marriage equality’ in Australia" via today's Australian Prayer Network Newsletter which states that the Polyamory Action Lobby (PAL) was recently established and is "headed up Greens activists Brigitte Garozzo, Timothy Scriven and Kieran Adair".

Janice said...

And while I'm at it, in today's Australian (subscription required) Angela Shanahan asks if we will "apologise to children removed from surrogate mothers". She writes,

No one has bothered to point out that the PM's official apology about the rupture of the mother-child relationship, which she called a "sacred and primeval bond", leading to a conflict of identity, is all very well, but how do we get our heads around the hypocrisy of a society condemning altruistic adoption on the one hand and, on the other, going all gooey about two men or two women employing a baby maker or a sperm donor to get a child?

What of those children's sense of identity? What of their confusion? How long will it be before we have to apologise for yet another failed social experiment on the innocent? And of course it is politically not at all correct to point out that a child who has two women on his or her birth certificate cannot actually be the child of both these women, or that the two men who have paid an Indian woman to carry a baby are not the parents of their baby.

Bryden Black said...

Sorry for the delay Martin; just engaging in my extra mural church ministry!

I’m not sure I’m your local ‘expert’ on the dear Cappadocians - but herewith some items I’ve found helpful:

The relevant chapters in Robert Louis Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale, 2003). It’s a truly delightful intro to many things in the E Church.
Rowan Greer, Broken Lights and Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church (Pennsylvania State UP, 1986) passim
Jaroslav Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism - Gifford Lectures, 1992-1993 (Yale, 1993) passim

There other more basic intros by the likes of Chadwick and Frances Young, plus many a passing comment by the likes of TF Torrance, whose oeuvre I’ve tried to digest, for example; the latter notably on account of his engagement with 20th C science and all that arises from it.

Then there’s a special issue of Modern Theology, October 2002, ed. Sarah Coakley (then at Harvard) devoted to Gregory of Nyssa.

As for modern Orthodoxy: the only really contemporary author I’ve encountered (i.e. excluding those delightful 19th and early 20th C Russians!) is David Bentley Hart, whose The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Eerdmans, 2003) is a positive tour de force, and is impossible to appreciate without the Cappadocians and especially Nyssa whom he acknowledges. It also nails, in a way that is frankly utterly decisive, our contemporary idiocy popularly known as the postmodern condition - even as it also presses beyond some of its genuine insights: notably again, that of “violence” vs. “beauty belongs continuously to the Christian story (as, indeed, a chief element of its continuity) and it appears there as peace ... [since] for theology beauty is the measure and proportion of peace, and peace the truth of beauty. ... [T]he argument [being] for the coincidence - unique, again, to Christian thought - of beauty and the infinite: peace and delight being the ‘cadence’ of their unity.” His collected essays too, In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments (Eerdmans, 2009), are well worth a read.

That should keep you going until next Advent! Meanwhile, Happy Easter!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Bryden, for the helpful leads here - I have read some fine stuff by D B Hart and have always meant to get into Jaroslav Pelikan's stuff as well, so I'll try to do some ferreting among the usual suspects.

every blessing for Pascha (I wishe we used that word instead of recalling that Germanic goddess)

Martin

Bryden Black said...

Oops! In my haste late last night Martin I omitted what is possibly one of the very best, recent publications introducing the 4th C generally: Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Baker, 2011). Ch.4 is what you want!

Lastly, to make DBH's tome more readable, just stick to the central section, Part 2, which is beautiful in and of itself. Glad you've encountered him already.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, Bryden - I've already ordered Pelikan, Christianity & Culture which looks a substantial oeuvre. A while back I read Hart's Atheistic Delusions & see his stuff at times on 'First Things'. I'll look up the Anatolios book too.
berakoth,
Martin

Janice said...

Thank you, Bryden. After reading DBH's wonderful, joy-to-read book, Atheist Delusions, I bought The Beauty of the Infinite but found it beyond me. Now I will get it back off my bookshelf and dive into Part 2.

Bryden Black said...

Every blessing Janice as you dive into these glorious yet awesomely deep waters, provided by DBH's reading of our Triune God.

Bryden Black said...

A PS Martin, re my last post which mentioned Khaled Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Baker, 2011). There is now a great review of this insightful book in Pro Ecclesia XXII/1, Winter 2013, pages 105-109, which has just reached me. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bryden, I'll try to seek this one out. My capacity for ordering books outstrips the speed at which I read them - still have most of 'City of God' to read, but that will be a slow project, I am sure. Interesting that Anatolios is a Melkite Catholic with an interesting ethnic background (Egypt and India, IIRC).

Paschal blessings.

Martin

Bryden Black said...

Wow Martin; quite a venture Mike Ovey leads us on, with these talks at Christ Church, Fulwood, Sheffield.

While I truly love much of what he presents here, my first twinge of note was in session 1 when he cites 1 Tim 3 as giving us the traits of the “presbyter”. Oops! Why might he shy away from the text and its mention of “episkopos”? This is usually translated as “bishop”, though of course “episkopēs” (v.1) is itself shared by both bishop and presbyters. Just a curiosity ...

Then far more fulsome a concern is the “one-way flow” in which this Trinitarian life is constructed by Ovey. While I too am adamant that the contemporary language of “equality” might not suit the nature of the relationship among the Three (our particular starting point), neither am I convinced the language of “hierarchy” serves any better, in the end. Yes; the “sending” language and the Son’s “obedience” are foremost in the NT. But as we try to theologize and construct models of the Triune God’s Life thereafter, I have become increasingly convinced/convicted that such moves as those by Pannenberg and Jenson regarding the fully reciprocal nature of the inner divine relations are necessary, if we’ve to have a full depiction. Jenson of course goes so far as to speak of the “twin poles” of “Father and Spirit”. That is, each has an authoritative aspect to their identity even if it is necessarily also different - and built into that word is the very word “author” or source. Such a view upsets Ovey’s primary schema directly! Furthermore, it makes the language of “obedience” even more problematic; for what is happening when the Father ceases to be the sole source, when the Father’s own authority is necessarily supplemented by the Spirit’s? And what happens when it is also the Son who “sends” this Spirit? It scrambles our neat lines of command.

This serious caveat in place, nonetheless I admire and endorse his search for a Trinitarian understanding of Leadership. It’s just that I don’t think he has gone far enough yet, resting content with the trad one directional flow of the divine life, which the classical models of the Trinity depict, both Augustinian and Eastern. True; to this point, DBH takes Robert Jenson to task, in a qualified way, in his In the Aftermath. He would; he’s a good Orthodox laddie, who complies with the Eastern Tradition’s “root/cause/spring” of the Father’s Personal Identity! But do they have the last and final word? I’m not sure on that ...!

All of which raises quite nicely questions of the kind of “post-gay” ABC/Abp/leader we all need. Answer: one who genuinely abides in the Triune God’s Love and Truth, embodying the divine Authority. In which case, again there will be some I can well imagine who “will not be taken in” (Ovey after CS Lewis)!!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
I suggest all theology ambitious of orthodoxy recoil at the word 'hierarchy'!

There is no Christian theology except that we have John's Gospel to mark the parting of the ways from Judaism. That gospel precisely drives the wedge between Israel and the church because it discloses that the Son sent by the Father is one with the Father. It is not the sending but the unity that we need to spend time on. Any old god can boss people around, send agents to do that god's bidding. Only One God is Unity of Three!

Anonymous said...

Bryden, Christos aneste!
I am glad you've been able to access and listen to the Ovey talks - proof that some evangelicals at least do know more historical theology than just the Reformation! I haven't read Jenson on the points you mention, but if he establishes his case about “ twin poles” by *careful biblical exegesis* (as the Cappadocians did for the divinity of the Spirit) rather than from a more abstract philosophical kind of reflection, then I imagine he would get a good hearing from Ovey. But that may be a big “if”! Too much modern theology proceeds from the desire to make the doctrine fit the way we want things to be (a charge from which none of us is exempt), and the touchstone must always be whether the language and/or ideas are found in Scripture. The two primary sources for Trinitarian dogmatics have to be John’s Gospel and the Pauline epistles. You also ask: “what is happening when the Father ceases to be the sole source, when the Father’s own authority is necessarily supplemented by the Spirit’s? And what happens when it is also the Son who “sends” this Spirit? It scrambles our neat lines of command.” To which I reply that the question doesn’t arise because the Father NEVER ceases to be the source, and talk of the Spirit’s authority independent of the Father and the Son would never arise in Scripture. Ovey is very good on the Spirit demonstrating the humility of God. ‘He will not speak on his own …’ Neither does the Son ever “send” the Spirit independent of the Father. Gerald Bray, ‘The Doctrine of God’, discusses this questions near the end of the book, mentioning a kind of compromise formula between East and West that has been suggested: the Father sends the Spirit ‘through the Son’.

Bryden Black said...

Trying to reply within the context of a blog comment Martin, I think something like the following is necessary.

If the relations are viewed to be fully reciprocal, then there’s no place for any notion of “independence” at all; quite the opposite in fact; only a fulsome interdependence is possible. It was after all talk of “autonomy” that sparked this entire line of conversation!

Where things get interesting thereafter is prompted by Jenson’s expression “twin poles of deity”. For of course, if things are viewed as only flowing in one direction among the Three, then the Father is that one source and so authority. If there is full reciprocity however, then the ‘flow’ has to be expressed in other ways as well. Just so, the “twin” poles: from the Spirit to the Father (via Jesus), as well as from the Father ...

Thirdly and most basically: we do not have “some fabulous metaphysical phantom conjured out of Jenson’s fixations or fantasies, but a genuine attempt to describe the God of scripture in the fullness of his historical presence and eternal identity” (DBH in Aftermath, ch.18). Rather, these attempts of RWJ’s have as their premise the exposure of an “Unbaptized God” (the title of one of RWJ’s books), the ‘god’ of Hellenism’s predilection to timelessness. Everything else Jenson works is worked out from this desire, to address a fulsome Trinitarianism governed by the biblical God’s embrace of the drama of the history of salvation. Two key things arise.

Paying particular and peculiar attention to the fact that the Son is the Incarnate One, together with the Spirit’s being the arrabōn of our redemption, allows Jenson to then speak of the Father’s being the Unoriginate One and the Spirit (back again to the twin pole stuff) the Unbounded Futurity of God. [I.e. because the Holy Spirit is God’s very own Futurity, God as End without End (after Nyssa again), he may be our own deposit, guaranteeing our own redemptive future, within the economy.] This then also permits the sense of a Whence and a Whither to God’s Living Reality [Barth’s Wirklichkeit].

For to conclude (following Nyssa but in Jenson’s words): All such language as “God” or “the one God” is the mutual life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Where the form divinity would be if “God” were a word for a form, there is instead a triunely personal perichoresis, a communal life. This being of God is not a something, however rarified or immaterial, but a going-on, a sequentially palpable event, like a kiss or a train wreck. The being of God, said Thomas [Aquinas], is not something actualized but the event of actualization. [end quote]

DBH is forced to admit, even as he denies finally Jenson’s conclusions (I sense he has to, since he holds onto the Tradition itself, as if that Tradition is somehow signed and sealed up ...!), engaging with RWJ’s oeuvre is nonetheless akin to “wrestling with the Angel at the Ford of Jabbok”: i.e. there are both “wounds and blessings” to be encountered here! For at this point in time, how wounded the likes of DBH permit their sense of the Tradition to become is moot; they desire virtually no change, please. Yet there are indeed real blessings on hand in wrestling with Jenson’s theology, he admits. My own take is that it will take some 100 years or so to more fully digest the significance of this Unbaptized God.

Yes Peter; the wonder of the triune God is that he does his own bidding!

Father Ron Smith said...

The mere use of the masculine for God is no longer appropriate. God is beyond (and yet, in Christ, embracing) all the human creation. If anything, the Holy spirit is often referred to as feminine; and Jesus, though biologically male, is considered to represent ALL humanity in the task of redemption, not just the male of the species.

The Great 'I AM' is much more than merely male - or female - for that
matter.

However, one recognises the primitive urge to identify God as 'male'. It suits the patriarchal paradigm. And , for a certain type od spirituality, that is important.

Pope Francis - maybe inadvertently but I don't think so - in his decision to wash the feet of wmoen, has made a movement towards a better understanding of the true complementarity of male and female in God's order of creation - a new thing for the Roman Catholic Church

Bryden Black said...

I’m sure Ron is correct to say a ‘post-patriarchal’ view of things Christian offers us some helpful benefits. Unfortunately, it also creates some serious problems.

The chief problem is an understanding of the Christian God which creates heresy. When it names the triune God as “Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life”, for example, the heresy takes two forms.

Firstly, it reduces the identities of the divine Persons to mere functions, tending towards a Sabellian understanding. Then secondly and most seriously, such a Naming formula simply cannot depict the One True eternal Triune God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. By ascribing particular functions of God’s work ad extra to particular Persons, it’s as if the Triune God may only be the deity God is by virtue of creating and redeeming.

The glory of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ however is that of the Eternal God, who is and who was and who is to come, irrespective of the work of creation and salvation. The wonder of wonders is that this One True God, in the language now of Karl Barth and others, graciously determines to come to himself only with humanity. Or more fulsomely stated. Not only as Father, Son and Holy Spirit does God determine to be God: God chooses to be both himself and the electing God in Jesus Christ, such that simultaneously (“one and the same”, Chalcedon) Jesus Christ is both the electing God and the elected human, both subject and object of the decree of election. Such is the freedom in love and love in freedom of the triune deity, whose Goodness, Truth and Beauty is both eternal and manifested in the created universe.

In other words, we Christians need to be very discerning when trying to use the categories and criteria of the world when describing the Christian Faith.

Father Ron Smith said...

At least, Bryden is not wrong when he says that God cannot be contained by human concepts of God.

Just look at today's news of a Black Hole, swallowing up and entire planet larger than our Sun. That really does put our petty little earth community into a much larger perspective. It does not, of course, deny the efficacy of Christ's redemption of us earthlings, but it does put more emphasis on God's redemption of the whole of creation - much larger than our understanding of it.

Bryden Black said...

I think Ron we are tending to create a series of false dilemmas here.

While it is indeed wonderful to ponder the marvels of the universe, the theatre of God’s glory, as in black holes and galaxies - “the cathedral of the skies” - etc, what is even more wonderful is that there is a creature who is capable of perceiving and grasping something of all this. One of my Internet Bookmarks is Hubble!! And one of my Apps Star Walk!! Yet, as I say, the key here is actually the “anthropic principle” as cosmologists term it: there are the conditions, finely tuned, for the universe to ‘throw up’ a self-conscious, knowing creature. Traditionally, one aspect of the Imago Dei, depicts all this, our rationality, which, coupled with due imagination and the capacity for tool-making (e.g. telescopes), enables genuine knowledge. I’m fond of saying Mathematics was waiting for a mathematician to come along!

While too another feature of the Christian Tradition known as the apophatic has its important and due place (you clearly allude to this), the entire point of the drama of Scripture and its testimony, climaxing in the Incarnation of Word-become-flesh, is to grant humans positive revelation and genuine knowledge (which of course is never exhaustive!) of the Almighty Creator, who seeks to be in communion with humanity, this Creator’s creature in the divine image, which image is the very condition of the possibility of such communion when so addressed by the Creator. Clarity of this purpose and how we may become party to this wonder of wonders is the entire point of ordained ministry in the Church. That is, when the composers of the Nicene Creed (325/381) drafted this Symbol of the Faith, they surely sought to avoid muddle and confusion among the faithful, as well as authentic opportunity among possible converts from other faith-and-rational persuasions! Subsequent and/or parallel theologizing by the likes of Athanasius, the Cappadocians, and then Augustine, Aquinas, Richard of St Victor, Calvin, Barth (to name but a few of the Western Tradition) permits the Church to positively articulate key features of the boundaries between faithful adherence to the Faith and heresy. There are few matters to which we may properly apply the term “heresy”. Yet things Trinitarian and Christological, based especially on Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451), certainly provide warrant for the term. Sadly, a good few of the proposals of a post-patriarchal ‘understanding’ of the Christian Faith, and notably supposed Naming of the Triune God, parallel explicitly those deemed out of bounds by the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. It surely behoves us, via whatever forms of speech we try to use, to embrace the one and steer clear of the other. There should be no dilemma here!

Father Ron Smith said...

There you are Bryden. Don't say I don't give you the chance, from time to time, to let us know some of your amazing little gems of 'KNOWledge'. I'm always ready when you are looking for another opportunity! I do love your lengthy expatiations.

Scripture asks us, "Where are your wise men now?". Well it's always good to have one of our own amongst us.

Bryden Black said...

In answer to your and Scripture's question: the Magi are on bended knee offering their gifts to Immanuel ...

Anonymous said...

"While it is indeed wonderful to ponder the marvels of the universe, the theatre of God’s glory, as in black holes and galaxies - “the cathedral of the skies” - etc, what is even more wonderful is that there is a creature who is capable of perceiving and grasping something of all this."

Yes, I am fond of invoking Pascal here: 'The silence of these immense spaces frightens me', followed by 'Man is but a reed, the weakest thing in nature - but a reed that thinks' (un roseau pensant). Look at the end of Dawkins' latest book: he contemplates the extinction of the universe as something beautiful with nary a sense of the tragedy of existence. The conceit of the Enlightenment was to believe it had arrived at the answer to everything we could ask, or at least the method for answering these. The development of telescopes and even more the discovery of electromagnetic radiation and relativity have instead made the universe larger and stranger than 'les philosophes' could ever have imagined. What have we now - 16 fundamental particles? O for the simple days of Democritus!
Meanwhile, how can our dogmatic statements lay claim to any kind of finality? Well, it gets down to the idenity of the Revealer: the Word made flesh. The Creeds act as a boundary around the divinity of Christ and the right (= revealed) way of thinking about the Trinity, excluding false views (modalism, tritheism, adoptionism and the like) and presenting but not explaining (how could one?)the revealed truth.
All of which means the Incarnate Son's pronouncements and teachings have an atemporal quality of truth that no amount of 'social science' can remove.

Martin

Father Ron Smith said...

Yes. Alright, Martin. I wasn't going to leave you out, when I mentioned Bryden's penchant for traditional theological expatiation.

Christus Resurrexit!

Anonymous said...

It's called 'orthodoxy', Ron, what I was ordained many years ago to teach, in continuity to Christ's apostle, to whom the Lord appeared several times in visions, and who instructed his converts:

ἄρα οὖν, ἀδελφοί, στήκετε, καὶ κρατεῖτε τὰς παραδόσεις ἃς ἐδιδάχθητε εἴτε διὰ λόγου εἴτε δι' ἐπιστολῆς ἡμῶν.

'Tradition' is a fine word when it renders παραδόσεις, as in the Vulgate version of this verse:

"Itaque fratres, state: et tenete traditiones, quas didicistis, sive per sermonem, sive per epistolam nostram."

All of which means that being an apostle is a privileged position, distinct in church history. Kierkegaard has written an essay on this somewhere.

Bryden: I've received the Pelikan book now, and I guess it will keep me occupied for a while.

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Martin is citing 2 Thessalonians 2:15!

Bryden Black said...

No expatiation this - but perhaps its reference might be!
What a happy piece of providence, Martin, that the postie should bring us this w/e the latest copy of IJST 15/2 (April, 2013), in which, pp.114-134, is an article entitled “The Obedience of the Eternal Son”. It could interact rather delightfully with Ovey’s talks - which of course it does not cite! I sense too on a first reading that while it echoes many of Ovey’s themes, it does so in a way that forbids much of the social outworking that the likes of Ovey seek - at least, across the Ditch some are rather prominently seeking such social arrangements ...!

Anonymous said...

Bryden, that article isn't available to me, so I can't comment on it. But I have just found this piece by Robert Letham with reply by Kevin Giles which interacts with the 17th century scholastics and Eastern Orthodox thought: http://www.equip.org/articles/is-the-son-eternally-submissive-to-the-father/

I haven't read it yet, so can't comment. All of us need to be wary of pre-determining the conclusions we want to reach!

Martin

Bryden Black said...

Cld I send it to you Martin?

Shawn Herles said...

Robert Lethan's book 'The Holy Trinity' is well worth reading. It!s basically a historical overview of Trinitarianism from post-Apostolic to modern times, clearly written for theology students. What makes it superior to most is that Letham keeps up a running dialogue between East and West rather than focusing primarily on the West after the Great Schism.

His chapter on the debt that Calvin's Trinitarianism owes to the East is worth the price of the book alone.