When Christ came that first Christmas, the world was under judgment. According to the Magnificat, things were going to be turned upside down. Every time Jesus opened his mouth about his return - according to the Synoptic Gospels - he talked about an imminent, sudden, shocking judgment. We dodge the meaning of Advent if we focus on "coming" and do not talk about "coming to judge."
If we face Christ as Judge, if we have a day of reckoning in the divine court of justice, what might that mean for us? Would it, should it make any difference to how we live? And how we live, of course, is shaped by our understanding of Scripture. The prospect of judgment is the prospect of an inquisition about hermeneutical method!
At a biblical studies conference recently I was introduced to the idea that the first hermeneuticist was Eve, who questioned the meaning of what God had said. Perhaps not the best start to hermeneutics (!), nevertheless Eve's "Did God really say?" question is critical to hermeneutics. As all of us who freely ignore the Bible's entreaties against usury should know ...
I do not for a moment believe that at the Day of Judgement those of us who profess to being Anglican versions of Christians will be asked whether we faithfully believed all that the Thirty-Nine Articles teach us. Nor will we be quizzed on whether our use of modern Anglican liturgies represented a reprehensible departure from the eucharistic theology of the Book of Common Prayer.
No, on the Day of Judgment, we are going to face a Judge concerned with justice, with compassionate love and with how we have lived our lives as a gospel people (e.g. have we proclaimed the gospel? Have we followed Jesus by following his teaching?)
My question here is how the prospect of judgement, that is, of getting our hermeneutics right, measured by the "downstream" effect of accountability might affect what we think the "upstream" (deep background, hidden presuppositions) of Anglican theology means for how we live today. (See further the comment at the foot of this post).
(Put another way, every hermeneutical approach to Scripture has a theological starting point or "ground." And, re judgement, also an endpoint or "goal." Thinking "upstream" and "downstream" is thinking about what that theological starting point and ending point is. In 21st century language, we should ask, What is the "big picture" which shapes the details of our lives as Christians?)
Take the issue of the ordination of women as an example. It is entirely possible, and indeed happens in reality, that we take Scripture, a contemporary hermeneutic, thoughts about tradition, throw them into the melting pot and out comes a cast iron determination that women might be deacons, cannot be priests and certainly are not able to be bishops. But on that Day of Judgement, will that wash with Jesus the Just Judge? Will we get a commendation for "faithfulness to Scripture and tradition"? Or, will we be asked why we were confused about roles when we recognised that women could be doctors, judges, teachers but insisted they could not be priests and bishops? Such a question being driven, of course, by the matter of just treatment of one another as equal, participating human beings, made in the image of God and redeemed for life in the kingdom of God.
The "upstream" counterpart to this "downstream" could be asking whether Jesus came that gender roles as assigned by interpreters of Scripture might be reinforced? Is the "big picture" of creation and redemption not much, much bigger than a determination that the great work of God in the eternal plan for the universe is precisely forwarded by forbidding women from being successors to the Apostles?
This post sets the stage for another which I am hoping to post before Christmas. A seasonal reflection on the Incarnation and what it means for Christ to be incarnated in the world today, as he is through us, his body on earth. This post is NOT an invitation to resume discussion about That Topic. The Working Group is working on the Final Report and its publication will come soon enough. Fear not!
NOTE: In the background to this post and others in a series of "Upstream" posts is this comment by Bowman Walton, recently made here:
""I hope you will not despair of the loss of sight here of your appeal for debate about what is upstream rather than what is downstream."
It is worthwhile to try to identify the upstream assumptions that bedevil downstream discussion, so from time to time I try. My inspiration is the patient work of that 1922 CoE commission on doctrine that reported in 1938.
But even they admitted to a difficult problem: better thought had overtaken the positions that they were trying to reconcile. This could happen to That Topic in the C21 as it happened to the notion of *eucharistic sacrifice* in the C20. For subversive example, what if Romans 1:18-32 really is *prosopoeia*?