Monday, June 17, 2019

Two evangelical roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the road ...

... actually, I don't know if it will turn out to be the one less travelled by :)

A social media exchange during the week gave me a bit of a revelation - not the sort where one learns something for the first time, more the sort where something becomes much, much clearer.

It is something like this:

I think I am evangelical (more on that below**) but there are evangelicals who think I am a false teacher. Why do they think that (apart from the fact that we disagree on some matters)?

The social media exchange highlighted that there is an evangelical approach to Scripture which goes like this:

- Scripture, despite its varied genres, diverse contexts (of original writing and contemporary reading) and multiple authors, provides us with clear teaching which may be expressed propositionally.

- These propositions, once set out, on some agreed lines by authoritative evangelical teachers, construct a sound body of irrefutable, unchangeable, even unchallengeable teaching.

- Should one such proposition or set of propositions come under pressure, there is either staunch, unyielding defence [so, in some quarters, propositions re homosexuality]; or, there is deft logical footwork to slightly revise such proposition or set thereof [so, in some quarters, ordination of women; remarriage of divorcees].

- Interestingly, where there is such slight-but-acceptable revision, there is NEVER any determination (within that quarter of evangelicalism) that the un-revised are now "false teachers": there seems to be capacity within such an evangelical section to live with "two integrities" on the matter (e.g. on ordination of women; or remarriage of divorcees).

- Someone (e.g. me) who disagrees with one (let alone more) of certain propositions is, logically, a false teacher - a person posing as a teacher of the faith who, in fact, teaches a denial of the truth. [So, in certain quarters of Anglican evangelicalism, difference on propositions re homosexuality incurs the false teaching charge but difference on ordination of women or on remarriage of divorcees does not.]

- I suggest that this approach both builds an impressive body of interlocking propositions while seemingly lacking a "self-awareness" that these inter-locking propositions are a human construction which lacks the authority of Scripture (because Scripture does not set down a mandate to so construct; because such construction may contradict another, plausible construction from Scripture; because the NT in particular does not purport to be a set of materials for constructing a new body of law for God's new people; because an outcome of the construction seems at odds with the example of Jesus). [See below for elaborations*].

- Such construction may, however, have some other authority behind it: "this is the logical implication of what Calvin wrote" or "this is required by the canons of the Church of England" or "this is what the Diocese of Y has determined is the policy of Y."

I want to suggest another evangelical approach to Scripture. It goes like this:

- Despite its varied genres, diverse contexts (of original writing and contemporary reading) and multiple authors, Scripture provides us with clear teaching which may be expressed propositionally and in other ways (e.g. through familiar stories such as the Good Samaritan which challenges every hearer every time to not only think about the proposition, Love your neighbour, but also to develop new and renewed understanding of who our neighbour is);
- Teaching from Scripture is only "clear" when it is universally received; without universal reception it is "not yet" clear. If, within evangelicalism, there is agreement about "clear teaching", that agreement may be proposed to the wider church; but if the wider church does not receive it as "clear teaching," then evangelicals should carefully reflect on what it means to adhere to that teaching, to promote and attest to that teaching, and possibly to separate from the church which will not receive it. (Here "possibly" concerns what disputed teaching, if any, justifies separation, because there is no clear teaching in Scripture concerning which matters justify breaking the unity of the church.) It could be that a time will come when evangelical clear teaching will be universally received. It could be that evangelicals will be proved wrong. It could be that evangelicals will simply remain in an ongoing dispute with other parts of their churches - a critical question then being whether there is freedom for evangelicals to continue to teach what is not universally received.
- Scripture is unclear on many matters and evangelicals who treasure Scripture happily acknowledge this; and even apparent clarity can be shattered under new circumstances. John Stott and his teaching is a kind of "gold standard" for Anglican evangelicalism yet his personal conviction was that he should be a pacifist in the context of World War 2 - a war many other British evangelicals fought in. Who was right about what Scripture taught? Presumably both Stott and his non-pacifist evangelical colleagues both thought Scripture was clear on the matter. Logically, doesn't that mean that Scripture is unclear about such matters? Has such lack of clarity held back Anglican evangelicals since WW2 from teaching boldly, confidently, and with clarity what they believe Scripture teaches? No! On the shattering of apparent clarity under new circumstances, consider the impact of Darwin and evolutionary biology. The clear reading of Genesis 1 re a literal six day creation has had to take one of two pathways: continue as though no new circumstance affects that clear reading (so, Creationism) or adapt (so, much but not all evangelicalism, including, in my experience, nearly all Anglican evangelicalism). More divisive, of course, has been the shattering of clear understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 as forbidding women teaching and exercising authority in congregational life - shattered by the rise of women as equal of men in social consciousness. Much of the evangelical world has given way on this matter, but vicious conflict still remains (e.g. within the Southern Baptist Convention: google the name "Beth Moore"), as well as quieter conflict (e.g. within Australian Anglican evangelicalism). We could continue with other examples such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the use of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, schools of interpretation about the last days. The humility of evangelicals when asserting that this or that is "clear teaching" should be very evident; but is it?
- Scripture is a basis for conviction more than clarity. What evangelicalism has been pretty good at is respecting differing Scripture-based convictions. John Stott's pacifism (as I understand it) was respected by those who disagreed with him; and he respected those whose convictions were different. Is the great question before evangelicals in the 21st century whether we can set aside the pursuit of "clear teaching" with its consequential logic that those who disagree are "false teachers" and renew our acquaintance with conviction, respect for conviction, and a will to work with those who differ in conviction from our convictions? On which matter, a fellow Kiwi blogger, Trevor Morrison, offers a first post in an intriguing series, "Defending the Faithful," bringing to life a very old evangelical conflict from the 19th century! I hope it goes without saying that my argument for convictional teaching more than clear teaching does presume some evangelical clarity about shared orthodoxy: that we are credal Christians, and if Anglicans, then faithful to core elements of being Anglican. But on such bases we might stand together, despite our differing convictions.
- Scripture is our foundation and we keep returning to it so that our convictions are challenged and re-challenged, not least that any theological constructions we build on the basis of our convictions are challenged: is the edifice something Jesus requires of us? Is its character consistent with the character of Jesus Christ? I have run out of time this week to elaborate, though some of the elaboration is in the paragraphs above and some in the appendix below. But, relevant to such a point, I link you to a stirring essay by Wolfhart Pannenburg, "When everything is permitted" - an essay which I see as a challenge to my own convictions ... if not to yours!
- Perhaps putting this another way, evangelicals seek to live according to the authority of Scripture while being realistic and honest that Scripture in many of its parts requires interpretation which raises many challenges about method of interpretation and about securing agreement about interpretation, all of which invokes a sound understanding of church history (which is, effectively, a history of the interpretation of Scripture!) and of theology (for all readers of Scripture, including evangelicals, bring presuppositions to their reading).


- As example of two human constructions, note the kind of evangelical construction I am observing above and the Roman Catholic construction on sexuality: both end in pretty much the same place on homosexuality but each disagrees with each other on remarriage after divorce (evangelicalism does not have the "annulment" pathway which the Catholic construction gets to), yet both constructions work with a strongly literal approach to reading the relevant texts of Scripture).

- Examples of human constructions ending at a point which seems at odds with the example of Jesus (even if it begins with the words of Jesus) include, with respect to evangelicalism, that construction which determines that because of differences over homosexuality, a church should split, despite everything about Jesus' example of inclusion and reaching out to excluded, marginalised people implying that Jesus does not support schism over homosexuality; with respect to Catholicism, whatever Jesus intended by his teaching on divorce, it seems at odds with the Jesus who breaks bread with Judas, and shares many meals with sinners, that a remarried divorcee should be excluded from communion.

**Am I an evangelical? Well, I continue to:
- bring matters of faith and practice to Scripture so that decisions about faith and practice conform to Scripture and are in some manner coherent with Scripture;
- bring matters deemed "tradition" to Scripture for assessment;
- accept without reservation that all things necessary for salvation are found in Scripture;
- preach and teach that Christ died on the cross for our sins, an atoning, once and for all, complete sacrifice, that we might be forgiven by God, and that Christ was raised to life, that we might be raised to eternal life in unmediated and unending fellowship with God;
- preach and teach that a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is both possible and a prayer of commitment away from beginning for each and every human being.


Father Ron said...

Dear Peter,

I wouldn't worry too much about your detractors who accuse you of 'false teaching'. You are in very good company. I believe our Friend, Jesus, was accused of this by some of his Jewish compatriots - even to the point where their accusations caused his death! However, I don't think your opponents have that fate in mind for you. Deo Gratias!

Some Christians, I think, are still not aware of how subversive the message of Jesus was in his own day and age. Subversion, in the cause of human justice, is a cause I believe our gracious God supports. Agape, Father Ron.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays nearly everybody who writes well about evangelicalism (eg Michael Bird's Evangelical Theology, David Hempton's Evangelical Disenchantment, Molly Worthen's Apostles of Reason) starts with historian David Bebbington's famous quadrilateral of classical evangelical emphases-- Cross, Conversion, Bible, Action. Personally, I see no good way around Bebbington's definition of those whom Bird affectionately calls "gospel people." One can add to it, maybe, but one surely cannot subtract from it. "By their fruit shall ye know them."

So evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit uses the scriptures to lead the particular soul to salvation through Cross, Conversion, and Action. And we could take as evangelical any hermeneutic for the scriptures that that is serving that leading on the ground. "By their fruit shall ye know them."

On the ground, some evangelicals turn from disappointment with the actual authority they know toward a dream of perfect authority, and then reason backwards from that dream to the sort of Bible that the Holy Spirit must have inspired in order for holy writ to be an authority that they can revere. Then they read the Bible through the authority-lens that they have constructed, ignore other ways of reading the scriptures, and enforce what they see as far as they can. Suspicious already of authorities they view as imperfect, they project their suspicion into the text and then read it back out again as confirmation that they were right about their *false teachers* all along. "By their fruit shall ye know them."

In that suspicious sort of reading, the Holy Spirit we know from the Bible does not seem to be doing the leading, nor does that leading seem to be toward Cross and Conversion. When the Holy Spirit does lead the soul, it is toward virtues of patience and forbearance that make little sense to the fleshly mind of happy warriors, left or right, but that are second nature in those converted toward the providence of the Father and the example of his crucified Son. + Peter's readers will recall that the Body has always revered martyrs-- those of antiquity and those of our own day-- not for being stubbornly opinionated unto death, but for gratefully accepting this trial of their patience as a crown from God. "By their fruit shall ye know them."


David Wilson said...

Hi Ron,

I'm struggling to see from the Scriptures that Jesus was tried on the basis of what he had taught, other than what he said about himself.

As for Jesus being subversive, indeed he was. His teaching on sexual morailty was particularly challenging and counter to the culture of the time because of its strictness - c.f. the reaction of the disciples to his teaching on divorce.



Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for comments above, Ron, Bowman, David.

Bowman: yes, I am an evangelical according to your lovely paragraphs.

David: wasn't Jesus' teaching ultimately about himself? He taught the gospel of the kingdom; he was a royal kingly figure; his accusation on the cross was that he claimed to be King of the Jews, which was nearly right in respect of what he taught about the kingdom.

Ron: Jesus was very subversive and he still subverts us today (which, in part, is the essence of Bowman's comment!).

David: the Anglican church here is strict on sexual morality, requiring specific conditions be met before blessings be permitted! This is counter to the easy going attitude to casual sex which is a feature of our culture.

Father Ron said...

Thank you,Peter, Your last comment highlights the REAL problem with human sexual relationships - reckless promiscuity - which is what the Bible has to say about this tender subject. Faithfulness in sexual relationships is paramount.

David, Jesus said not one word about faithful, committed same-sex relationships.

Anonymous said...

Right from the start, in the bible, we have four gospels which give us four fairly different versions of Jesus. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is telling us something here?

As Christianity grew so did the number of Jesuses. Towards the end of the Roman empire we had imperial Jesus, which some people didn't like so they went out into the desert to find wilderness Jesus. As Christianity spread northwards we got St. Columba's druid Jesus, and the Dream of the Rood's Anglo-Saxon Jesus. And so it went. The more Christians there were, the more different versions of Jesus proliferated. Today there are literally hundreds of them if not more. In the US we have Democrat Jesus and Republican Jesus, socialist Jesus and capitalist Jesus, Jesus the charismatic wonder worker, and Jesus the Special Forces soldier, and many more. In a documentary I watched recently about Santa Muerte in Mexico I found Jesus the Necromancer (because he raised Lazarus from the dead).

Here on this thread we have sexually conservative Jesus and sexually liberal Jesus. Which one is right? Nobody really knows.

What theologians and church authorities say about Jesus and how lay people, especially at the level of folk religion, experience Jesus, are more often than not very different, and no amount of authoritarian pronouncements is ever going to change that. The most anyone one of us can honestly say is "this is who Jesus is for me." Trying to tell other people who Jesus should be for them is a mugs game, and trotting out biblical proof texts in support just proves the point because this always involves cherry picking.

All of which leads me at least to an interesting question. Were the old pagan polytheists right all along? Is the idea of one God for all people, at least at the level of human experience, absurd?

Anonymous said...

"Right from the start... cherry picking."

"Were the old pagan polytheists right all along? Is the idea of one God for all people, at least at the level of human experience, absurd?"

Of course it is not my place, Shawn, to object to your interest in the phenomenology of religious experience. Done well, that can be very interesting. And so far as I know, + Peter has not had a commentator here presenting the pagan polytheist perspective.

But it seems only fair to say that I look up from ADU on my laptop screen to shelves upon shelves of well-researched and carefully reasoned books about antiquity generally and Christian origins particularly. So below eye level, I have your sweeping dismissal of everything ever said by anybody about Jesus the Unknowable. And above eye level, I have, among others, most of the books from the past century that have earned an ecumenical reputation for being credible and seminal guides to Jesus traditions and Jesus himself. So on this thread, my gaze drifts upward from, oh, "Jesus the Special Forces soldier" to, say, Alan Segal's Two Powers In Heaven, Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, N T Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God, Douglas Campbell's Deliverance, or... Between the two, there is no real contest. Pick a fight with any historian with a book on those shelves, and you will lose.

The question is: how does flailing about at the thoughts of others present and support your own convictions? It does not secure even a hearing for what you yourself have to say, let alone make a convincing case for it. And candidly, when commentators expend more words in attack than in positive case-building, I begin to suspect that they are letting off steam, but have nothing broadly interesting to say to + Peter's readers.

Every tub on its own bottom.


Anonymous said...

"Cross, Conversion, Bible, Action" - it sounds like St Ignatius Loyola is a classic evangelical. In fact, it sounds like "evangelical" is simply another word for "Christian".

Anonymous said...

Hello Bowman.

"And so far as I know, + Peter has not had a commentator here presenting the pagan polytheist perspective."

I'm not in any literal sense, because I believe there is a Jesus there who is just Jesus in the objective sense. I'm merely pointing out that at the human level how we experience and understand Jesus is extremely diverse, and always has been, and as I said, on this thread in the debate between Ron and David we have two Jesuses.

We could play duelling theologians, and I have read two of those on your list, Bauckham and Wright, but I have been down that road before and it leads nowhere. I read five different and well regarded theologians on the issue of Arminianism vs Calvinism vs Open theism and all of the could reasonably make their case, depending on how they approached and interpreted scripture. I have done the same on other issues, including reading some very good critiques of Wright's attempt in Resurrection of the Son of God to harmonise various contradictory statements in the New Testament, and Bauckham's claim about eyewitnesses. In other words there is always contrary information out there. Outside of science and mathematics, very little can be objectively proven with 100% certainty. If you have ever come across the problem investigators have with eyewitnesses who saw the same event but have very different views as to what happened,then that is how I view this issue.

I understand the need to try and find some objective core that can prove that "orthodox" or Mere Christianity is objectively true and thus the theological constructs we have built around Jesus are therefore also objectively true, but it can't be done. I tried for many years to do so. Apologetics was my special interest, both the evangelical "pop" versions and more serious attempts like Wright's. All of them have serious flaws.

The question is, does the inherent subjectivity of any and all religious claims and beliefs matter? I don't think it does. We are, after all, speaking of matters of faith and belief and trying to prove them true is missing the point, which is not who's doctrines and theology are right, but the transforming union with the Divine, however the Divine is understood, that I believe is the point of life.

Finally I'm not just letting off steam, I am trying to make a point which I believe to be extremely important in these times when society is increasingly divided and at war over political, social and religious issues, with people on all sides claiming they are right (and righteous) and the people on the other side are wrong, or worst maliciously wrong and evil, and when, that absolute certainly that one is right can lead a man to murder 51 innocent Muslims worshipping in their Mosques. Terrorism across the West and much of the rest of the world is increasing, carried out by people who are utterly convinced they are right and have the "truth" and everyone would agree with them if they just read the right books or articles.

So in trying to make the point that none of us really know for sure that what we believe regarding religion or politics or much of anything else is absolutely objectively true, my motivation is deadly serious.

This thread began with +Peter talking about people claiming he's a false teacher and not a true evangelical. Poking holes in the kind of arrogant certainty his critics and attackers are displaying is my contribution.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bosco. No, not at all. And, well, sort of.

Bebbington was broadly distinguishing evangelicals from other Protestants-- eg Latitudinarians in the CoE, state churches on the Continent, liberal churches in the US-- and unsurprisingly the latter sorts of churches have not fit a type meant to exclude them. Their piety has not been so centred on *penal substitutionary atonement* (Cross). They have not taught that God obliges individuals to verify doctrine from the scriptures (Bible). They have not regarded a conscious and punctual rupture with one's past mindset and conduct as the ordinary way to salvation (Conversion). In missionary and charitable work, they have not preferred amateur *parachurch* associations over professional denominational bureaus (Action). In my own country, liberal churches such as TEC are usually resiling from all of these things.

And a fortiori, Rome has most typically opposed Magisterium to Bible, Sacraments to Conversion, and Church to Action. Evangelicals denouncing Catholicism, and Catholics returning the favour have not been wholly misinformed, as I think you must suspect. Presumably, Rome canonised the author of the Rules For Thinking With The Church in large part because his Society of Jesus opposed Protestantism with propaganda in Bavaria etc and supported Rome with a special vow of obedience to the pope.

(An FAQ about the Ordo Praedicatorum with an answer often given but not officially approved by the General Chapter.

Q: Dominicans and Jesuits are all Catholic intellectuals. What is the main difference between the two orders?

A: The Dominicans were founded to fight the Albigensians; the Jesuits were founded to fight the Protestants. Have you ever met an Albigensian?)

But the resemblance that you see between Ignatius Loyola and say John Wesley or Jonathan Edwards is probably not wholly coincidence. In the West, the same psychology and sensibility of early modernity to which the Counter-Reformation adapted in Catholic lands is also apparent in the *Pietism* in Lutheran ones that rippled into the Orthodoxy of awakening parts of Russia to the northeast (eg John of Kronstadt) and surged into the English-speaking world to the west as *Evangelicalism* (eg John Wesley). Personally I have questions about the causal arrow, but it is usually drawn with a broad stroke from the early modern economy through a new post-medieval society of towns and cities to an emergent piety that developed reformed and counter-reformed variants. As a first approximation that may do, but it implies that developments earlier and more Continental than we usually notice were upstream of both the classical CoE and its evangelicals.


Anonymous said...

Ironically, Shawn, your comments seem to be coming from a kindred spirit, but I agree with almost nothing in them. We both recognise the priority of the soul's communion with God, but we differ on the canonicity of the Trinity; the nature of orthodoxy; the tasks, methods, and branches of theology; the epistemology of scepticism; and the dynamic of identity-driven conflict. These differences inspire no animosity, and some happy reading. Aspects of some of them have already been discussed with Bryden Black. But it is not obvious that the whole list can be straightforwardly sorted out at ADU.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman.

Fair enough, I don't expect anyone to agree with me, and seeking agreement is not why I post anyway. I also don't expect that any of my concerns can be fully sorted out here at ADU, and the list of those is quite a bit longer than what I have spoken to so far, but I'm not really attempting to do so, I'm doing that on my own with my own reading and spiritual practice. What I do find useful is testing some ideas and concerns out here so that I have some feedback that forces me to think things through. It may not seem obvious but I do value the the responses I get and I do think about them seriously. At least some of the change in my theological views came about because of discussions I had previously on ADU, particularly with yourself, Bryden and +Peter.

Anonymous said...

Reading your 12:04, Shawn, I notice what appears to be a mismatch between the mode of your scepticism and your worthy objective of reducing violent polarisation. Plainly stated, I worry that positing radical alternatives to drive the polarised to doubt (equipollence > epoche > ataraxia) will most often induce, not a chastened rationalism, but a more abject dependence on the crowd-sourced mind of the tribe. That dependence, not a personally achieved epistemic certainty, is what facilitates inter-tribal polarisation, conflict, and violence.

Kindly note that I do not hereby object to scepticism as such, nor to the Pyrrhonian mode of scepticism when it is employed for other purposes (eg Hegel's Aufhebung, cognitive therapy). And of course a disciple in the Way should lead the polarised from group-minds defined by mutual hostilities toward thinking for themselves with personal minds oriented to Love.

As Bryden likes to remind us, Alasdair MacIntyre famously opens After Virtue by comparing the disintegrated moral discourse in our society to the disintegrated science in a hypothetical one. The latter dystopia still has many words, objects, and practices native to scientific research, and it still has the highest esteem for Science. But, having no shared memory of science as a practice, the society has piously repurposed all of its relics for other endeavours, confusing ordinary people about what science once was and might again be. MacIntyre explains the shrill, emotive conflicts about morality in our own time as the necessary result of the loss of a shared memory that the organising principle of morality is virtue. Even if better explanations are someday offered, his description seems apt.

Nearly four decades after After Virtue, I think we can point to a further result: the myriad emotive conflicts have sorted themselves around opposing poles at which people find cognitive shelter for intuitions that they cannot put into words, let alone resourcefully defend, but on which they base their life choices. You have described the result: "...society is increasingly divided and at war over political, social and religious issues, with people on all sides claiming they are right (and righteous) and the people on the other side are wrong, or worst maliciously wrong and evil..." And yes, happy warriors on the march usually are sure that somebody somewhere has books and articles where you can look up the reasons why the other side is wrong. But for this state of affairs, the abundance of radical alternatives appears to be the cause rather than the cure.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman.

My view is that, in the Western world at least, though possibly elsewhere, we are going through one of those periods of transition in which the old order has broken down, and a new has yet to fully emerge. The collapse of the Medieval world, followed closely by the Reformation was one of those, and in some respects has similarities to our current one. In such times polarisation occurs, along with social conflict, and scapegoating. As far as I can see, the tribal dependence you speak of does involve a strong level of epistemic certainty, though I would say that it is one that arises from an immature, psychologically unhealthy state, rather than from a state of wholeness and maturity in which certainties are held with a degree of humility and an awareness of human limitations. It is the former that is the primary concern for me, and I do have my own certainties still, they are just fewer and less bound by political and religious sectarianism. I believe this applies also to the issue of an abundance of alternatives. I am not sure that in and of itself, this is a cause as you say, and there is no going back anyway. We live in a time in which knowledge of alternatives, and a degree of social freedom to choose those, is the new norm, and that is not going to change. The problem is less the many alternatives available than the fact that we have no strong centre anymore, which is of course what you were discussing recently with +Peter in another context.

In time a new centre will arise, the question is what will it be? I do not believe it will be the Church. The ship of Christendom has sailed, and it won't be coming back anytime soon, if ever. Christians have to resign themselves to the reality that they are no longer the centre, and are extremely unlikely to be so again, at least for the foreseeable future. I have a guess as to what that new centre will be, but a guess is all it is. In the meantime all I or anyone can do is to speak up against the inevitable calls for the burning of witches, heretics and infidels that sadly and inevitably arise in such times.

Anonymous said...

For anyone interested, this is a good summary of my view of the nature of the crisis at the heart of our civilisation and provides a hint as to what the new centre might be and the virtues it may cultivate.

Bryden Black said...

Ok Shawn; so you’ve recommended we ponder yet another story, the story of Uncivilisation with its invitation to climb their Dark Mountain via eight key steps. I get it! Ecocide is one description of what this world is enduring. But here’s another storyline.

Gen 1 displays Elohim’s cosmic temple, with that God’s icon firmly placed as the temple’s centre piece. NB; it’s ever God’s temple, and the icon - of male and female adam - is to both represent and reflect the Author.

Gen 2-3. Once more, we’ve a common enough echo of a ritual practice of ANE, with ruach breathed into an inanimate material to bring it to life. Then again that nephesh is given its due role as homo faber, with also linguistic capabilities. But all is not quite good enough: a go’el is required, to complement and complete his identity. The result is the first love-song of ish and ishshah.

With Gen 3 we’ve to once more place it in its original horizon, and the only other text of its time that uses the expression “good and evil” is 2 Sam 14, and David’s encounter with the woman from Tekoa. From the strict linguistic parallels we may deduce that the expression “knowing good and evil” is equivalently “knowing all”. And if one claims to know all, like the angel of the Lord, then one is one’s own authority, deferring to no other authority.

The conclusion. Homo sapiens seeks to perform their own story, to be their own author. Yet the very nature of authority runs like this (ask Jesus and the centurion): we are only in authority over the rest of creation as divine stewards in as much as we are under authority - the Creator’s authority as The Author. As it is, our relationship with the rest of creation is ambivalent, confused and confusing, because fundamentally flawed. Just so, your manifesto ...

The antidote however is fulsome evangelisation, changing our loyalty to The Human (who is also YHWH enfleshed, mercifully) as he reclaims God’s due rule on the planet - so Mark 1:14-15. Just so, the primal Covenant between Creator and human creature is restored via the Triune God’s enacting both poles on behalf of both the divine steadfast love and faithfulness, and humanity’s failures and even rebellion. As a result, our relationship with the rest of the ecosystem may be restored. Just so again, there may be faith, hope and love. At least - it’s on offer...

So; an essential question: which story is the truth?!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryden.

"So; an essential question: which story is the truth?!"

My opinion, not the one you offer. Here is why. You say "we are only in authority over the rest of creation as divine stewards"

The problem I have with that claim is that we are not in authority over the rest of creation at all, nor will we ever be, nor could we be, and I'm strongly convinced we were never meant to be. The rest of creation keep in mind is the entire universe. How could we ever be in authority over the whole of the cosmos? We inhabit one planet out of billions. The idea that we are somehow stewards, or were meant to be stewards, over the entirety of the universe is staggeringly delusional. Nor does claiming that our stewardship would go well if we were under the authority of God change the fact that it's still a delusional notion. Now if you had said stewards of the earth alone, the planet we live on, that might make more sense, though I still think the whole idea of stewardship is deeply problematic, for all the reasons outlined in the Dark Mountain manifesto.

But before we get into competing stories, let me share something that occurred to me a while back. The universe existed without human beings for billions upon billions of years. It's easy to skip over that, but allow it to really sink in. Moreover, if for one reason or another human life ceases, a genuine possibility if say, as one example, one of those planet killing asteroids ever hits us, the universe will happily go on without us for billions more years. Again, let that sink in. As it is, human beings and the planet we live on are an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the rest of the universe. In short, we are observably not the centre of the story the universe reveals. We are not particularly important at all. And if the story of the universe is the story God is telling, and I believe it is, we are not that important to that story, and certainly not at the centre of it.

So the story we have been telling ourselves for a long time now, using the bible as justification, that we are the pinnacle of creation, God's intended vice regents over the universe, or at least were meant to be if we had not sinned, is to me observably false, false from a factual pov, before we even get to the issue of stories.

There are then two possibilities. The bible is wrong, or we have been reading it wrong for a very long time. At this point, out of hope more than conviction, I am inclined to the second possibility, hence my current suspicion of and dissatisfaction with orthodoxy. On at least one major issue the traditional reading of scripture that orthodox (in the broadest sense) Christianity has given us, the story it has been telling, is simply wrong, and not only wrong, it has fed the delusion that fuels the ecocide we are currently engaged in.

So I am open to reading the bible in radically different ways to the orthodox reading, and especially to the way you outline above, in hope that the bible can be salvaged. That is the theological reading project I am currently engaged in. Where it will lead I cannot say, but I can say that the story you give in your post is no longer one I can believe in.

Bryden Black said...

Apologies Shawn; working from a memory in holiday mode! Gen 2:18 describes the ‘counterpart helper’ to adam not as a redeemer/go’el but as ezer in Hebrew. My holiday bad! Other than that ...

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Shawn for the revelation.

One concluding anecdote. John Polkinghorne came to Melbourne in the mid 1990s. After a public lecture, inevitably, during Q&A someone asked: “with your qualifications professor, what do you understand about God?” His answer I’ll never forget: “he’s clearly not in a hurry.” Now that sense resonates profoundly with the biblical God of patience throughout the story it manifests.

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, Shawn and Bryden!
My own comment is simply that, in all of Scripture, the language used is inevitably "human" in outlook, no matter its genesis in divine inspiration. Thus the biblical writers always struggle to express the Godness of God in anything other than terms humans are capable of understanding (e.g. "King of kings"); and, in respect of the universe, in a world without telescopes let alone radio telescopes, or carbon dating, etc, the terms of the world are very much focused on one planet and that planet as a home to humanity, with little or no understanding of the planet as an entity in its own right, with or without humanity present. Everything is "humanised" (or should that be "anthropomorphised"?).

Bryden Black said...

William Temple’s answer to a journalist when asked why he prayed: “when I stop praying, the coincidences stop happening.”
Just a coincidence but here’s a link for our thoughts that’s just arrived into my inbox:

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter.

Yes, that's a fair point, which I am aware of. I would say that the fact that the bible is written from our pov is both understandable, and a potential blind spot for this reading it.


If we tweak the way you have read Genesis a little, in which the male/female Adam is merely representative of the whole of creation, and not in any way set above or apart from it, nor unique within it, and drop any notions of authority over or stewardship over (most especially over) the rest of creation, we may start getting somewhere, or at least somewhere that begins to make a little more sense to me. In this sense Eden is an icon of harmony, wholeness and reciprocity of the whole of creation in it's wild state, though obviously as +Peter points out, one told from a human pov. Then perhaps the sin in knowing good and evil is less knowing all, and perhaps falling into dualism and separation, this is not that, us vs them, humanity vs nature, in which we make ourselves kings and queens, lords and ladys over creation, and having expelled ourselves from Eeden in this, go about making civilisation, as the chapters following on from Gen 1-3 show.

So in the Dark Mountain story, and the biblical one, we may not have two competing stories at all.

Bryden Black said...

Should you wish see Shawn how we may more fully read Gen 1-3 which I summarised earlier and which I don’t think you're quite representing correctly, see LDL pages 70-77. There you’ll see how what you say I’m saying is not exactly the case. Please check out that incident between Jesus and the centurion, wisely repeated in every Mass of RCC. It explains the necessary link between faith and authority which so far eludes your (re)stating my pov.

Anonymous said...

"I don’t think you're quite representing correctly"

Quite possibly Bryden. I have also just become aware that an old problem of my own making is likely to have reared it's head, which is a tendency to state things in a way that may suggest more than what I'm actually saying and thinking. It occurred to me when I re-read Bowman's post about differences between he and I in which he mentions the Trinity, but I have not abandoned the Trinity in practice at all, in fact my own devotional practice is more deeply Trinitarian than it was when I was an Evangelical. It is true that the issue of whether or not the doctrine of the Trinity is literally true or not is a question that does not interest me anymore, but as I say my actual practice in terms of prayer and relating to God remains fairly orthodox on that score. So forgive me if I have misunderstood you. Apart from my own limitations, blogs are not always the best place to to really discuss some things in depth and with nuance.

Bryden Black said...

No worries Shawn. Tho I trust you may in time be able to reconcile YHWH-in-the-flesh with any Uncivilisation agenda ... For the likes of Col 1:15ff gives me great hope in the face of any ecocide.

Anonymous said...

"Father, I've lost my faith."

"You've become a Protestant?"

"No, Father. Why would I exchange a beautiful illusion for an ugly one?"

-- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Hi Bryden

Once upon a dining hall table, I found myself in conversation with an earnest feminist who was saying the usual things and contrasting them with other horrible things that she kept calling "traditional" or even "orthodox" Christianity. Now this perplexed me, because no tradition that I knew had promoted anything of the kind. So I asked her to identify more precisely the dastardly villains responsible for the evils that she described. For her part, my classmate was puzzled that I of all people could not follow her references.

We talked a bit about ourselves, and it all became clear-- she had taken it for granted that the renegade Mormon elders of her childhood in a polygamous sect on the Arizona Strip could stand in for twenty centuries of Christianity, while I was not sure that Mormons actually have all the working parts of a Christian *tradition* and hesitated to describe as *orthodox* any position taken by anybody after AD 787.

This experience was the occasion for my discovery of Walton's Law and Corollary, which I explained this way in my Noble Lecture to the Royal Academy of Sciences of Cockaigne:

"When persons not practiced in phenomenology discuss religion, they are reprocessing, not altogether consciously and often obliquely, what their elders knew as *religion* in middle childhood. Speaking in national stereotypes, Americans know that religion is mainly propositional belief because that is what their elders put to them in the years from eight to twelve, but Chinese know in the same way that religion is mainly doing things to placate the spirits of the ancestral dead.

"More important than the Law itself is its Corollary: when persons not practiced in phenomenology * discuss a religion not their own, they struggle to process at all the elements of it that were not present to them in middle childhood. Americans old enough to know persons who have died sometimes do things that can only be called placating their spirits, but few can bring themselves to recognise that clearly, let alone think of it as religion. And traditional Chinese would look with incompreh*ension or pity on someone who insisted that their rural folk tradition needed to be axiomatised to be practiced effectively.

"Thus, lacking the propaedeutic experience to understand what is strange to them, shallow minds easily lapse into error. They ridicule the religion of people in other times and places. They believe in all sincerity that the most plausible religion is the one they encountered in their years of wonder. If rebellious or adventurous, they try to imagine newer or other religions, not realizing that they have done so only on their familiar model. And if that childhood religion should fail them, they disconsolately take this as the unanswerable refutation of all religion everywhere."

Now later Bryden, when the moment is ripe-- perhaps after DBH's new book is released on September 24-- I hope to hear your thoughts on how one might formulate the canonical tradition for re-presentation to much younger persons who, through no fault and alas not much effort of their own, misunderstand our religion through the lens of George R. R. Martin, which he usually borrows from Edward Gibbon.

Anonymous said...

* Afterward, in the reception in the royal hunting pavilion, a prominent psychoanalyst made a polite scene by loudly insisting that the insight that I had attributed to phenomenology was in fact native to the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud (eg The Future of an Illusion, Moses and Monotheism). I myself nearly choked on an ortolan; the king smiled coldly and nodded to his security team. As my foolish critic was hurried away, I conceded that he was half right: Freud saw the dots, and although he could not connect them, others in his lineage (Ana-Marie Rizzuto) or alongside it (Carl Jung) could and did. But I give the main credit to Franz Brentano, who taught both Sigmund Freud and Edmund Husserl.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman,

I'm not sure how much of your 8:49 was about me and our discussions,and those I have had with Bryden, but for the sake of clarity I feel that I should point out a couple of things. I began my Christian life in the mid 1980's in the Roman Catholic church, as a convert. I began that life reading Merton, and Aquinas, the church Fathers, early church history, Catholic catechisms, and so forth. More recently I revisited early church history and theology while studying Christian history and theology through Otago University, repeatedly in fact as early church history and the thinking of the Fathers came up in several different papers.

So my current issues and questions are not merely a reaction to my recent Evangelicalism, they go much deeper than that, to the foundations of Christian thought itself, in the years prior to 787 I might add. Feminism would rightly have some questions about that period as well. So would many other perspectives. Bryden was displaying one of those potential issues that need questioning when he used the phrase "over creation", an issue others have also asked pointed questions about.

So questions there are, and questions, especially related to issues such as ecocide or misogyny, amongst a few others I can think of, which can reasonably, with historical accuracy, be pointed at early church orthodox thinking, need answers. If, as you claimed recently, the Holy Spirit was involved in the creation of the canons and creeds and so forth of the early church, those questions become very serious indeed. For all was not well in the thinking and orthodoxy of those times.

Jean said...

Hi Shawn

Your thoughts definitely diverge from the road less travelled re Peter’s original post!

I am surprised after having a look at the Dark Mountain website reference to find reference to both Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and Karl Marx. Ironically With Bryden and Bowman’s academic breadth it is not often I look at something where I have actually read what is being referenced!

Your pondering take me in thought to Daniel. Just recently I listened to a person who had recently visited the remains of King Cyrus’s palace in Iran, and how later Darius was called the “King of kings,” and how people came from countries all over to worship him at the palace. In the book of Daniel there is a list of the Kingdom’s of this World - including Rome and those that followed. At the end is a reference to the last Kingdom, the Kingdom of God - with a rock not cut from human hands but divine, crushing all other Kingdom’s and spreading all over the world.

The fascination is that the references are made to Kingdom’s which came into existence long after the writing of the book of Daniel. Not only that they are historically accurate. Whereas the view exposed by yourself sees an end to civilisation ‘as we know it’ - Star Trek fans beware - the biblical view is less one of dominance of creation causing man’s downfall and more of God re-creating and redeeming that creation - human’s included. The Bible acknowledges creation itself is currently groaning. I understand your perspective of people being arrogant in their views of themselves in contrast to nature, to others etc but fail to see how this relates to stewardship. Stewardship is far from a perspective of abuse of position or authority over, rather it is wisdom in caring for. In respect though, to people being God’s pen-ultimate creation, does God ever fit into our box let alone our understanding. Why indeed would in all the universe, life be only discovered on this remote planet? “What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?”

You debate whether through experience one person knows in essence, ‘the same Jesus.’ All I can offer on that is if two people know another person isn’t it the same person they know even if their knowledge of that person is through their own personal lens so to speak? While we have scripture it is to himself that Jesus commands we come “to have life.” So our view and perspective, orthodox or radical or ... of scripture while having a place will always be misleading if we miss the point; if we fail to see to whom it is leading.

All the best

Anonymous said...

Hi Shawn

My 8:49 responds to Bryden's 1:00 and some other comments that he posted several months ago. I liked them all. Bryden is among several voices who have something faithful and contemporary to say.

Millions younger than either Bryden or myself would like them better than what they think Christians are supposed to be saying. But those millions are more often exposed to Christendom as a foil for presentist suspicion than to any contemporary and so postmodern living of the Way of the pilgrim Body.

Since Bryden is interested, not only in the gospel but also in preaching in the power thereof, I asked him to think about this problem for the next thread likely to pose that issue in a fruitful way. This is not that thread.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jean.

I understand that stewardship might be understood in a variety of ways, my critique of the idea is more how it has been understood in the past, usually at least. It may be that the word can be redeemed. The same might be said regarding creation in need of redemption. If this is understood in terms of the Earth itself in relation to our abuse of it well and good. Some theologians see this in a more cosmic way however, which I question, as creation is the way it is, violence, conflict and the needs of evolution included, because God made it that way. In more conservative circles the idea is that somehow the fall brought all that about, but that is not a tenable view given how short a time in cosmic terms we have been a part of creation.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman, thanks for the clarification.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Bowman for your kind thoughts.
As for this particular thread: I was hoping the “fulsome evangelisation” remark might’ve sufficed ...! As always, I try to make many a word/phrase come loaded with double meanings. Blame the Fourth Gospel if blame is needed!

I look forward to DHB doing his characteristically forceful giving and taking away. As you no doubt have seen from my original Acknowledgements in LDL, our task is supposed to be ever missional in Kähler‘s sense. And that too was Jens’s great gift, to ever examine the Tradition for its present richer realisation. That’s why I’m looking forward to digesting Chris Green’s recent refashioning of contemplative prayer, his being such a wonderful interpreter of Jenson. Enjoy!!

Bryden Black said...

For Shawn: you continue to fret about the phrase “over creation”.
While I can see why you (and others) might do so, be tempted to do so, in context it’s strictly unnecessary.
Herewith one simple extract from those 70-77 pages: “In the case of v. 26, the emphasis is upon the divine decision to create uniquely this very particular creature, adam, who is distinct from the rest even as adam is too a creature like the rest; hence the slightly different introductory formula.” That is, a careful examination of HOW Elohim speaks reveals both differences and similarities. That’s why the incident with Jesus and the centurion is so helpful, revealing too how authority is meant to operate. For at root, what legitimates ANY story? That too is a vital question.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryden.

Fret would be better expressed as utterly opposed.

"the divine decision to create uniquely this very particular creature, adam, who is distinct from the rest"

Human beings are not unique, nor distinct in any way at all, from the rest of creation. That's the view I am opposed to, utterly. It is a delusion. It is the delusion at the root of our current ecological crisis.

"revealing too how authority is meant to operate"

Human beings have no authority over creation in any way whatsoever. This is true even if we situate such authority as being under God's. We are not special, nor unique, nor distinct from trees and grass and bees and goats and worms, or any other part of creation, and we have no right nor power to assert any authority, no matter how it is conceived, over the rest creation, even if we do so under God. So your clarification has confirmed for me what I thought of your first post on the issue. This story is one I have to reject. The vital question for me then is whether this story you are telling is in fact the story the bible is telling. For me, the jury is still out on that, but I will say that if it is indeed the story the bible tells, then the bible is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, do you disagree with Rust Cohle?


Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman.

No because he's making the very same mistake that I'm talking about in stating that human consciousness is unique. I don't believe that it is. His entire premise as he goes on is a materialist one, which means the same soul he would deny to humans he would deny to everything else. My view is the opposite, the same soul we have, everything else in creation also has. To put that in a specific way, my cat has a soul every bit as much as I do, and I don't believe that there is any qualitative difference in that regard, either between me and my cat, or me and the tree in my backyard.

This is the contention of Mark L. Wallace in 'When God Was a Bird: Christianity, Animism, and the Re-Enchantment of the World' which I'm currently reading.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say yes, I do disagree.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for the clarity Shawn.

A truly final question: then why on earth are you at all concerned about one animal who’s seemingly destroying this bit of rock and its other life forms? How does it all matter at all? Hobbes got it years ago ...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Bryden, saying that human beings are not special in relation to other beings is not saying that human beings are not sacred, just as all other beings are, just as the earth and the cosmos are sacred. ALL of life is sacred. So what Hobbes said and what I'm saying are very different. When Jesus says love your neighbour, I'm simply extending that beyond my human neighbours to all my other neighbours. In this, and hoping this might clarify, I'm saying the same thing that most traditional indigenous people, such as Native American or Maori, would say. That worldview is about as far from Hobbes as it's possible to get.

Anonymous said...

I should add, it's also very far from what Rust Cohle is saying as well.

Anonymous said...

For two semesters a few years ago, I stepped into an elevator at the same time each week and there found Irene Pepperberg, also in transit to the top floor. There were just enough floors for her to explain how she had discovered avian cognition, some problems of designing psychological experiments with birds, and most interestingly, that her discovery had awakened in her a deep affection for birds.

Was it like the involuntary affection that most people have for mammalian pets? No, because she had to discover it. Now that I knew the secret, would I too feel this affection? No, because I had not discovered it myself with birds. Did her colleagues and research assistants feel this affection? Often, yes, because in the course of their work with birds they had discovered it. But not always? No. So we cannot do anything to induce this affection in people in the world at large? No, we could promote an appreciation for it in the world, so that it is recognised for what it is when it happens. If the affection is not mammalian empathy, then what is it that we should appreciate it? Just then, the elevators doors always opened.


Anonymous said...

"And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

For half a century, I have seen a tension in those who read, write, and wrangle about religion between those attracted by *ressourcement* (organicists?) and those motivated by *presentism* (presentists). Sometimes big ideas are in at least apparent conflict, but most often mutual incomprehension of the two projects and the prejudices behind them is frustrating interpersonal charity. Unless and until + Peter himself writes an OP about it, there will probably not be time for me to comment at length on this tension. However here, with malice toward none and charity for all, it may be helpful to acknowledge its existence as sparely as I can.

Neither mindset is temperamentally conservative. Both are dissatisfied with present day religion, often for similar reasons, and so both want to see change, and often somewhat similar outcomes from change. A few flexible minds can switch back and forth between them without dizziness. But at their extremes, they differ in their diagnosis, prescription, and action.

Proponents of ressourcement view present-day churches as less fruitful than they should be because they are deracinated, cut off from their spiritual and intellectual birthright by a long but suspect and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to achieve a recognised eminence in modern societies. As the old episteme expires, those of this tendency volunteer to water the dry roots for a more *organically* fruitful and ever-youthful *future* church. The revolution will not be televised, but it will surely be announced on Edward Feser's blog. Even now, revolutionary cells are taking afternoon espresso in the sidewalk cafes, reading Henri de Lubac, or translating Syriac church fathers, and waiting for night to fall on the naked public square.

Proponents of presentism object that the societies of today are not already the utopias of tomorrow because a thousand churchly yesterdays did not allow them to be. If only ancients, medievals, or moderns had been more like *us*, heaven would have descended to earth long ago. Charlemagne might have been Elizabeth II holding an orb and sceptre instead of an iPhone and handbag. But alas, societies that have needed to be led by clear-eyed jacobins have instead been poked along by fuddy-duddy shepherds who have indiscriminately preached, along with some holy gospel, every ill of the earth. The overdue revolution comes closer with each hearse driving an historical theologian or a biblical scholar to the boneyard. All that is needed for the defeat of evil is the disparagement of any "thing of the past" that does not make visceral sense to shallow people right now.

Anonymous said...

The liberal/ conservative difference divides those with higher and lower degrees of *openness to new experience* (Robert McCrae). That temperamental difference is even visible in *blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD)* signals in fMRI scans. When happy warriors from extremes of the two types fall into their perennial conflict, a sensible centrist can usually transcend it by bracketing their hype and horror about change and looking to the decidable matter at hand. If any.

The organicist/ presentist difference has not been so well studied. If it too is a division of temperaments, then it may divide those similarly open to new experience into those with higher and lower degrees of susceptibility to *absorption* in intricate complexes of ideas (Auke Tellegen). That is, it seems to sort friends of mine with curiosity into, roughly, those who patiently get to the bottom of things and devour them, relishing details as riches (cultural historians) and others who stay briskly on top of things, investigate with their purpose in mind, and resist subtlety as distraction (social politicians). One can be an organicist without being stuck, or a presentist without being stupid, but-- sorry friends-- those do seem to be their respective vulnerabilities.

Is there a centrist way above this unpleasantness too? Hypothetically, yes: once unstuck, organicists can attract support for projects of retrieval by satisfying the conservative craving for continuity while accommodating the here-and-now impatience of presentists. Thus in 1979, TEC adopted a new BCP grounded in a century of liturgical research that featured an ordo that appealed to Anglo-Catholics but also offered the prayers for space-travellers, contemporary English, avoidance of "man" and Calvinism, etc urgent to the presentists of the preceding decade.

But this way above discord is an open and equitable searching for timely solutions to concrete problems. The governing participants are negotiation partners with differing principles and priorities, not pressure groups campaigning for the votes to pass or stop some non-negotiable demand. Where societies are sickened by polarisation, churches with a low ecclesiology will struggle to avoid the contagion.


Jean said...

Hi Shawn

Your perspective is fascinating. Certainly the stewardship I mentioned is the one I have always interpreted it as being; relatively in sync with the linguistic word cousins of “a Steward or Stewardess,” one who looks after. Albeit, in the past or even the present in a multitude of contexts people may have used the position of being a steward as a means to dominate instead of care. But isn’t that the ultimate human dilemma?

Authority is an often misconstrued word, for authority over something is not by default a negative. Jesus who had authority as God’s Son chose to use it for humankind, to the extent of making us his co-heirs or Children of God. This is because the essence of himself is love. So it is with human beings, authority can be used in the auspices of love, to care or it can be used to dominate. The problem lies not in authority but in its application. And yes there is a difference between human authority and God given authority. However, if there was no authority there would be as much chaos you propose authority can cause. For example, parents need authority over their children for the sake of the safety and protection of their children. A child with no authority figure is in trouble emotionally and physically. And humans aren’t the only ones, animals operate within herd authority structures, even eco-systems could be argued to have an authority of order. Authority is intrinsic within creation itself.

Do I agree with the ‘cosmic’ belief of redemption of creation, oh indeed! Do I believe God created the conflict, divide etc within creation, no. So do I believe in the fall ushering in a “fallen creation” alongside it. Not to mention it came about because Adam and Eve went again authority 😊. And well yes. Certainly we may have been around for less time than other parts of the cosmos, that doesn’t stop man’s ‘disobedience’ to God from also causing nature to ‘‘fall’. Think of the biblical references of “the new creation” where the lion will lie down with the lamb, swords turned into ploughshares. The conflict inherent in nature as well as in man is to be redeemed.

Fascinating is the idea you propose of humans being equated as equal in life to all other parts of nature. Aside from that making us intrinsic cannibals... Definitely a number of cultures historically have viewed the natural world e.g. plants as having a spiritual entity. The uniqueness the Bible ascertains is we are created in God’s image, and this alone is the claim to being unique.

Interestingly authority for me forms a part of my re-assurance rather than dismay. I remember watching a terrible DVD one day in a flat with my sister’s friends. Horrified first at the subject matter and second that nobody else seemed to be concerned. It was humanity at it’s most perverse. My realisation then was thank God, thank God that Jesus who modus operandi is love has the ultimate authority (“all authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me) and not man. It meant I could see the ‘bad’ and yet know that this wasn’t the last word. I do not find the prospect of all of the cosmos, earth, planets, animals, people etc being equal players, authority free, as actually comforting. To me it seems empty, perhaps even lacking in meaning - maybe because meaning to me is bestowed which necessitates one above and beyond the entity itself.


For a human who was created in God’s image and steward of a created world would always While we may have been around for less than other parts of the cosmos
So is human authority over creation, unique in creation

What for you is a

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean.

Yes some authority in human societies is necessary, just as sometimes in other non human societies there also authority. My contention however is that there is no valid reason to extend that to human beings having authority over the rest of creation, at least not in a general sense. There are two problems with the idea. The first is one I have already spoken to, the idea has not led us anywhere good, it is in a sense the original sense which has led us to the brink of ecocide. The second is that it seems to me obvious that the opposite is true anyway. Creation has authority over us, as we are now beginning to learn. As we continue to violate the limits within which we can live in a sustainable way within the whole web of life, the very systems needed to sustain human life are turning against us and will over the next few decades bring us to our knees. Our hubris is meeting nemesis. Even without that happening, observably we are at the mercy of the rest of creation. Whether asteroids or some other phenomena such as the Caldera Volcano in Yellowstone, human life could easily be wiped out, and according to some scientists that is statistically likely to happen at some point. So just on observation alone, it seems obvious to me that we do not have the authority we think we do. That's why I call it a delusion.

"Do I believe God created the conflict, divide etc within creation, no. So do I believe in the fall ushering in a “fallen creation” alongside it. Not to mention it came about because Adam and Eve went again authority 😊. And well yes."

My problem with that theological view is not a theological objection, but a scientific one. It is simply a fact that he conflict withing creation was a part of creation before human beings came along. It was there right at the beginning during the violence of the big bang. It was there billions of years before humans when black holes were destroying stars and planets and whole galaxies. It was there when T Rex was lunching on other dinosaurs. So how could it possibly have come along because of human beings? Lions don't eat antelopes because of something human beings did at some point, they do so because that's how creation observably works, and they were doing so before human beings even existed. So that particular theology is provably false, just as young earth, seven day creationism is, and for the same reason.

"I do not find the prospect of all of the cosmos, earth, planets, animals, people etc being equal players, authority free, as actually comforting. To me it seems empty, perhaps even lacking in meaning"

Your right, it's not comforting. Hard truths often aren't. It's not lacking in meaning however, or love, it's just in the modern world, and more particularly the Western world, we have been trained to think in certain philosophical and theological ways which define meaning and love, having authority over creation being one, thinking that God loves us in a different way to the rest of creation, that we are somehow special, and so forth. But they are not the only ways of thinking about meaning and love. We have to find, or rather rediscover, radically different ways of understanding the cosmos and our place within it, and thus new/ancient ways of defining meaning, and love. That process is always scary. But we have little choice in the matter, because we are going to be forced to do so whether we like it or not, by the very creation we think we have authority over.

Bryden Black said...

Now there’s a word, Shawn - “sacred”! @ June 26, 2019 at 7:11 PM Yet that’s exactly what Gen 1 & Rev 21-22 display. Or do you prefer Gaia? Or Avatar (2009)? When trying to establish such a sense? In fact, I sense it’s deism and/or materialism you’re venting off about, not the biblical account. For NB the full quote I offered you, not the partial extract you cited.

You might like to work through the contributions now on offer in Finding Ourselves after Darwin: Conversations on the Image of God, Original Sin, and the Problem of Evil, gen. ed. Stanley Rosenberg (Baker Academic, 2018). One of the better attempts I’ve found that addresses your major concerns.

It seems to me however you are persistently avoiding that basic question of what/who legitimates what/whose story. And please don’t offer an answer in now classic postmodern style by a bit of mix-and-match. As both Aristotle and Jenson have clearly demonstrated, a genuine story requires coherence.

[And to point out the obvious, present ACANZ&P precisely lacks that coherence, deliberately seeking incoherence; just so, it has little legitimacy at the present unfortunately - despite the intent of the original post at the top of this thread.]

Bryden Black said...

Hi Bowman: are you suggesting, @ June 27, 2019 at 10:56/7 AM, a new James I locks up both groups/types until they come up with a new Authorised Version?! Could be fun hey?!

Anonymous said...

Hi Bryden.

"Or do you prefer Gaia? Or Avatar (2009)?"

No, although they would be an improvement over yours imo, but it's not the bible I'm debating.

"In fact, I sense it’s deism and/or materialism you’re venting off about, not the biblical account."

No, I'm "venting" about your hierarchical, feudal (or Victorian, take your pick), power-over, everyone and everything in its proper place and don't forget to bow to the lord and lady story you claim is in Scripture. Yet repeatedly in the gospels I see something else. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. All hierarchies are overturned. In the story of Jesus and the centurion for example it only talks about God's authority in relation to human beings, it does not say that human beings should have authority over nature, which I will point out again, is observably not the case in reality anyway, and if our stories, our interpretation of the bible, conflict with what we can clearly see in the universe God has created, they may be wrong. That said, the issue does not matter anyway, because there is no way to prove who's interpretation of the bible is right.

So the issue is not the biblical story vs all others, but who's interpretation/version of the "biblical" story are we talking about?

"It seems to me however you are persistently avoiding that basic question of what/who legitimates what/whose story."

Yes I am, because it's a pointless question. There is no possible way to answer it, because there is no legitimating authority everyone agrees upon, nor any opinion about one that can trump all others. You and Bowman have yours, in which the Holy Spirit spoke clearly for a few hundred years and then went to have lunch sometime after 700 AD and it all fell apart. The Roman Catholics have a different one, the Eastern Orthodox theirs, Protestants have sola scriptura. All of them are just special pleading. None can prove they are true and right. Thus none of them are legitimating authorities, just various opinions about what might be one. And that's just within Christianity. Pointing that out is not postmodernism, it's just observation of the facts on the ground.

Anonymous said...


"As both Aristotle and Jenson have clearly demonstrated, a genuine story requires coherence."

Many different stories that say very different things have some level of internal coherence. Coherence alone does not prove a story true, although true/not true is a way of thinking that does not matter to me outside of science and maths. The theologian I'm reading now makes a pretty good case that Panentheism/Animism is coherent with the biblical story. Is he right or wrong? There is no way to know. Is Jenson or the other theologians you prefer right or wrong? There is no way to know. Are the pro-LGBT people in the church right, or the anti-LGBT people? There is no way to know.

So the issue of authority and legitimation is to me nothing more than an illusion, a maze to get lost in and wander around for the rest of life, because it can't be answered this side of death. One thing I do know for sure is that things change. Old certainties and authorities pass away, new ones take their place, have their time in the sun, and then they too pass away. That is the human story. Clinging desperately to old ones that have lost their power and legitimacy is understandable, especially in times of great change and turmoil, but it's pointless. Best to let go and see where the sea takes us.

"And to point out the obvious, present ACANZ&P precisely lacks that coherence, deliberately seeking incoherence; just so, it has little legitimacy at the present unfortunately"

Well, again, that's just an opinion. To others it may have more coherence, or better coherence than the old one. It may be that it's more coherent with how people experience the world, experience reality, and their personal lives. That would certainly be the case with LGBT people, and for many others, like me, over different issues. So who is right, you or them? I don't know, and nor does anyone else. Coherence is in the eye of the beholder.

True/false questions are fine for science and mathematics, or things we can objectively prove or disprove regarding reality. When it comes to religion however, true/false questions, and questions about legitimating authority, are meaningless and pointless, because no one single religious myth or story, or authority can be proven or disproved, and because the inherent plurality in how human beings experience the world, life and the Divine, make it impossible to get everyone to agree on a single myth/story, assuming they should. This is the great flaw in the thinking of Abrahamic religions, and it's the cause of much bloodshed and horrors such as religious wars or the Inquisition.

Claims to legitimacy and right authority are mere opinions, nothing more. All any of us can do is work out our own relationship with the Divine as best we can. Insisting that others agree with us over the Divine, and our preferred myth/story, has never led anywhere good.

Anonymous said...

"Proponents of presentism object that the societies of today are not already the utopias of tomorrow because a thousand churchly yesterdays did not allow them to be. If only ancients, medievals, or moderns had been more like *us*, heaven would have descended to earth long ago. Charlemagne might have been holding an iPhone and handbag like Elizabeth II instead of an orb and sceptre."

No, Bryden, I see the problem-- do you?-- but not yet its solution.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Shawn, Bryden, Bowman,
In [my] other words, Shawn, you are raising the question whether we are missing something re Scripture and the world God created which invites us to reconsider whether we have taken a road in the wood which is more conservatively travelled when the true road is one needing a radical spirit, more in keeping with a Kierkegaard, a Nietzsche, a Hegel, a Teilhard de Chardin than an Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas.

Of course there is something “post modern” in what you say re coherency: suspect all coherency? Whose coherency?

Certainly, there are claims to coherency which are impressive, but do not, in the end, persuade: there is, for example, a Catholic coherency re bodies, gender, sexual purposiveness [contraception], marriage/divorce/annulment, homosexuality which on paper a billion+ subscribe to [authorise the coherency of] but in practice a huge number do not as artificial contraception is widely used, or Protestant churches receive “ex Catholics” frustrated at not being able to receive communion, or generally cheesed off with perceived antediluvian understandings of sexuality, or sit in pews wondering just why, in fact, priests cannot be married or be drawn from female ranks, ... to say nothing of Protestants or Orthodox being unconvinced by this claimed coherency!

But, conversely, we could think of that wonderful Anglican Isaac Newton, who had a remarkable scientific coherency which he firmly believed was theologically coherent, all the way to his embrace of Unitarianism ... and later Einstein would show that Newtonian science was not quite the coherent edifice it claimed to be.

I think we can say this, debate this, reflect on this without concern re ACANZP being coherent or not. Nevertheless, the charge made on this must, surely, allow that the greater coherency could be one which yet is proven to be against and not for Brydenian coherency! Not least because in a world willing to recognise the possibility that the “old story” re sexuality and gender is as useful as Newtonian physics (i.e. very useful but not as “large” and as successful a story as Einsteinian physics), the church may yet need to adjust its story re sexuality as significantly as it has adjusted, outside of creationist circles, its story of creation in a Darwinian world. Providing, of course, we do not jump to the conclusion that Brydenianism is necessarily wrong ... it could well be right ... but it may be too early in the 21st century to tell!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter.

That's a pretty fair summation. Jesus said by their fruits you shall know them, and what I have come to question are the fruits of the "orthodox" story and it's results in the world, both in peoples personal lives, such as LBGT people and women, and in terms of global issues such as religious violence or the environmental crisis. To me this is the only way to evaluate any mythic story, what it's real world effects are, what it's fruits are. My contention is that the traditional Christian story has issues and problems in certain areas that need looking at and possibly reforming, or dumping altogether. Feminists in the church have done this already for decades now, so have LGBT people, and so are people concerned with the environmental crisis.

Theological stories are just interpretations of scripture. Asking whether the standard traditional story we have received continues to serve us and the world well is a question worth asking, and one that needs to be asked.

Anonymous said...

(P): "You and Bowman have yours, in which the Holy Spirit spoke clearly for a few hundred years and then went to have lunch sometime after 700 AD and it all fell apart."

Dear Readers:

I trust that you, especially those in Christchurch, know that (P) is not + Peters position.

But does any longtime ADU reader who has been following my comments here for the past few years recognise (P) as my position?

I know that you will take note of the tone of (P) and consider that by your lights, but first, please bracket that diagnosis and focus on some factual questions--

Have I ever actually said (P) to readers here?

Have I ever said things here that are opposed to (P)?

Taken as whole, are my comments here compatible with (P)?

Is it helpful to you to associate my name with (P)?

Of course, your several judgments need not be my judgment-- and if not, it would interest me to know that-- but for me reading (P) was a bit like reading that I had grown up in Siberia and found work as a deep sea fisherman.

At first, I suspected that (P) might be an echo of my June 24 to Bryden. But on reviewing that, I do not see how even a much more casual reader than Bryden could have made the leap from a dining hall conversation in the undergraduate past-- it was 40 years ago-- to a position taken both here and now, or from "hesitated" in a sentence of that comment to the bold proposition (P) above. Not every reader is as perceptive as Bryden, but I cannot think that any sane reader would try to get my whole understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Body from one sentence in that comment.

But if that was not the wrong turn in the wood, then what was? If, dear readers, you have considered the questions of fact above, then perhaps you have some idea. But friends, if even you do not have one, then...

Does it matter?

With respect to persons, + Peter enforces some minimal duties of legality and charity at ADU, although those in the Body will inevitably exceed that minimum. Care in the attribution of views to persons would seem to be a part of the minimum.

But the basic concern here is with ideas. So hypothetically, we could try to consider (P) on its merits. Yet if nobody here and now is arguing for (P), then why would readers at ADU want to read arguments here and now against it?

And can the appearance of a debate be kept up without misrepresenting the views of others? Love God and say what one will. But if an idea cannot be expressed except as opposition to a person, why should we care about it?


Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman.

Yes it's a simplification, but seems to me nevertheless to be the logical conclusion of the position of Canonical Theism, or of the older Anglican and Lutheran positions of accepting some early councils and creeds, but not others. I am sure these positions are expressed with a great deal more nuance and detail, with all sorts of clever supporting arguments, but nuance, detail and clever arguments often serve to obscure the obvious flaw at the heart of a position. If the Holy Spirit was involved in the creation of creeds and canons, amongst other things, then why not also ongoing in the Orthodox and Roman churches, or Anglican councils, or the Westminster Assembly? The obvious answer being that doctrine and theology begin to diverge and disagree, sometimes radically, the further along in history we go. So either the Holy Spirit was present and then absent in the process, or became very confused. That to me is the logical conclusion of the argument. It might be argued that the problem lies not with the Holy Spirit, but the church, which somehow stopped listening adequately to the Holy Spirit at some point in the process, and thus the church began to diverge and split. But that argument also raises questions about why then and not previously?

All of this reinforces my view that arguments for any kind of hard orthodoxy always involve the drawing of arbitrary, and more importantly, convenient, boundaries, in order to protect a certain interpretation of the Story, and keep others outside the boundaries.

As to misrepresentation, I can't for the life of me understand how arguments in favour of epistemic humility, panentheism, and a more humble assessment of the place of human beings in the universe, could possibly be related to Rust Cohle's misanthropic nihilism, or anything Thomas Hobbes said, or be charitably described as venting.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn and Bowman
In some ways your debate at this point is “over my head” but I want to observe an intriguing parallel between canonical theism and Pentecostalism.
The version of the latter in which the Holy Spirit was with the church for the first hundred years, left for 1800, then returned via a San Francisco revival early in the 20th century is attractive as much as it is mischievous!
But I hadn’t thought of canonical theism in (arguably) similar terms: the Holy Spirit is particularly present in the founding era of “canons” and then things get skewed for centuries until a late 20th century theologian or three comes along and claims there is something missing in the church which we need to rediscover :).

Bryden Black said...

Thanks again Shawn for clearing things up - well, in a postmodern bricolage kind of way.

Meanwhile, I shall have to ponder for a while how Newtonian physics as a subset of Einstein’s might all shed some light upon Other Matters ... Mmmm

Bryden Black said...

Good question Bowman @ July 2, 2019 at 2:54 PM. The only kind of “solution” I see, via a figural reading, is perhaps of the Babylonian kind. But that is not at all comforting, is it.

Pursuing another tack, I once heard Michael Green assemble the Jewish groups of Jesus’ day via the motif of holiness, and how each of them viewed the holy and their respective means of achieving it. With that as the starting point, it was as if Jesus says, “Yes, but ...” to each - the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots. And then he brings it all together in a radically new crystallised form, what Origen termed αὐτοβασιλεία (autobasileia), which we may translate as “the kingdom itself in person.”

Just so, my prayer is for his Holy Spirit to effect something similar in the 21st C via the remnants of the western church together with the ever richer flowering of the Majority World churches, both in the West and in that Majority World. At least, that’s a riff off Kenneth Latourette coupled with Ephraim Radner’s reading of Church.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter.

Yes that's exactly the critique I was making. In it's more extreme forms, and Pentecostal theology is a good example of that (so too would be Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses), it turns the presence of the Holy Spirit into a whack-a-mole game. He's here one moment, then disappears, then turns up in another place. I have no doubt the canonical theist version is far more nuanced than that, but boiled down to it's essence, it does not seem to me to be all that different either.

My own view is to be very cautious, if not outright suspicious, of associating the Spirit and the Spirit's work, with specific institutions, doctrines, and theologies, including those of the early church. Exactly what then is the purpose and role of the Spirit is a subject potentially so big that it's best saved for another day!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden and Shawn

Bryden: yes, would love to see your reflections. But, please, include whether Darwinian science’s contribution to our manner of reading Genesis 1-3, has any analogically implications, along with Newtonian/Einsteinian science!

Shawn: your point re canonical theism can be made a bit more acute by considering the terrible bits of the canonical fathers that we do not celebrate (especially their excoriation of women): did the Holy Spirit leave them when they wrote those sentences?

However, I might differ from you in general terms re the Spirit at work in the world, Spoiler alert: I often think Hegel was onto something with his sense of the Spirit working quietly and pervasively through history. Which brings me back to ...

Bryden: there is another version re Jesus’ treatment of the groups in Israel: Pharisees sought “insulation”; Sadducees “integration”; Essenes “isolation”; Zealots “insurrection” as strategies to cope with foreign cultural and religious intrusions into Israel’s sacred space; Jesus/Christians sought “incorporation” - bringing everything into Christ, converting and transforming the world. But connection that, Hegel, and your thought re the kingdom: dare we see in advances in the modern world, re health, well-being, justice (e.g. less harsh punishments, equality for women, dignity for each human being respected through human rights legislation), the Spirit working out the presence of the kingdom in the world?

PS about to travel so may not be a very good respondent re this discussion for a day or three.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter.

Yes, the "awful" bits of the church fathers had occurred to me as well, and make any claim of their canonical output being the work of the Spirit seriously problematic, especially for women.

Bryden, don't underestimate the value of postmodern bricolage, it may have certain advantages over conservative bricolage.

Anonymous said...

"Yes it's a simplification..."

No, it is a lie. Your excuse-making is only digging you in deeper.

"...but seems to me nevertheless to be the logical conclusion of..."

But you did not say that. You attributed your own conclusion to me. That is lying.

And when confronted with the error, you rationalised where an honest man would apologise.

Such dithering makes a prudent reader wonder where else you are attributing your own conclusions to other people.

You do not have charity, or your response to this would be very different.

Do you at least have integrity?


Anonymous said...

Peter, enjoy your travels!


Thank you for noting this time around that pneumatology is prior to canonicity. Apart from the former, the latter is unmotivated and unintelligible. As is my habit, I will yet again mention that Jens's oft-cited You Wonder Where The Spirit Went? is indispensible here, not least as a bridge from Barth's trinitarian project to the Orthodox critique of the futile Western oscillation from authoritarian institutionalism to alienated individualism and back again. Perhaps we can add that the same pneumatology entails a missional, pilgrim Body?

Do you find John Walton's (no relation) interpretation of Genesis i-xi unpersuasive? Evolution has long been off of my list of problems requiring solutions.


Anonymous said...

Bryden and Peter, both of your typologies are interesting-- thank you-- but I am not yet seeing why you think they might help a person who is anachronistically indignant that the C21 ethos was not the C1 ethos. Are you suggesting that all possible presentist presents were present in 2TJ ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Bowman.

"No, it is a lie."

No, it's my description of your position. You're free to disagree with my description, but it's my opinion of your position, not a lie. I truly believe that shorn of the all the academic theology speak, that is what you're saying.

"You attributed your own conclusion to me."

No, I gave my opinion of your position. It is my opinion of what you said. To me it's the logical conclusion of your own position. Whether you agree or not is another matter. That it is, in my opinion, the flaw in your position, that the Holy Spirit was involved in the production of canons for a time in the early church, but then not so after the date you offered, sometime after 700 AD, is something I stand by.

I may have put that in my own terms, but again, but I did not attribute my words to you, as they were not, and please note this carefully, in quotation marks. I stand by my description, but it's obvious from the lack of quotation marks that that is what it is, my description and opinion of your position.

Given that you yourself have sometimes described my own positions in ways I cannot recognise, or attempted to dismiss anything I have said recently as some psychological process of working out my issues with evangelicalism, "letting off steam" as you put it above, the old saying about pot and kettle comes to mind.

Peter Carrell said...

Perhaps, Shawn and Bowman, given serious and unresolved disagreement about (in my words) view/opinion v truth/lie, we could try again re each other’s positive statement of how the Spirit works in the world, in the church, through history?

Bowman: yes, I am saying that in those four groups ever contemporary tendencies in the life of the people of God are represented. We do not need to go far in Anglicanland to find accusations of “liberals” being too ready to integrate (if not also deny the resurrection!); ultra conservatives who want to isolate themselves from ... other Anglicans, if not the world; not so ultra conservatives with observable tendencies towards insulation from other parts of the church, and of the world; though one may have to go further to find Anglicans successfully avoiding such strategies in favour of the “incorporation” which lifted the Jesus movement out of the pack of Jewish movements of its 2TJ day and launched a conversion of the known world. Relevance for today: a bit of self-reflection in various Anglican quarters would not go amiss, a self-reflection which asked whether current strategy re relationship to remainder of the church and to the world is going to be (globally missionally) successful a la C1. For what it is worth, I think each of you, Bryden and Shawn are seriously interested and working hard to find that “incorporation” strategy for C21.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter.

Regarding the work of the Spirit in the Church specifically, this is, to be honest, not something I have come remotely close to working out yet, in part because I don't know what a theology of the church would look like within the general direction my thinking is moving. I have a stronger grasp of the Spirit in the world, but even that is more intuitive than intellectual. I am more sure about that I don't believe, which Iv'e talked about above, than what I do.

"I think each of you, Bryden and Shawn are seriously interested and working hard to find that “incorporation” strategy for C21."

Yes, and I would add that for my part I am also looking at that "incorporation" in terms of the near to medium future in which I believe human society is going to be radically different to what it is now. This reminds me of the church at the time of Constantine, and the decades after, in which the church was part of an empire that was about to collapse, and then found itself in a very different world.

The dispute between myself and Bowman, and to some degree with Bryden, once again reinforces for me the limitations of blogs, in which we only have words on a screen, which can so easily lead to misunderstanding, rather than the face to face communication which allows for better and clearer communication. I only intended initially to make one post when I returned recently, on the issue of Islam and the Christchurch terror attack, and leave it at that, but...

With all that in mind I'm going to make this my last post for a season or more. I have said all I can say at this point, and don't have much more to offer the discussions here except more questions, which will likely only lead to more disputes and thread topics going off on tangents, and I really don't want to be the cause of that.

Blessings to you and everyone else here at ADU.

Anonymous said...

Goodbye Shawn.

You have not corrected your misrepresentation of my well-documented view by presenting what my actual view is. It appears that you do not understand it.

I do not believe that + Peter's readers recognize it as my view.

If you can cognitively distinguish your evaluation from my actual views on the record, then you should apologize for substituting the former for the latter.

If not, then you read with too little comprehension and too much confusion to be a worthwhile discussion partner in these circumstances. There is nothing that I can do about that.

As I have no interest in exploring your misrepresentation for its own sake, and other readers cannot have believed it anyway, it is not worth further discussion.


Bryden Black said...

How fascinating Peter! Let’s compare your list of “I”s versus Michael’s arrangement via the essential motif of holiness.

By addressing the Holy, we may immediately and simultaneously encompass both the theological and sociological dimensions of the Church. The awkwardness of that list of “I”s is that it seriously runs the risk of resulting in reductionism, of viewing the church merely in sociological terms. Yet that of course is but the trend of much analysis of the Christian Faith ever since the 19th C! That’s why I was so disappointed in Martyn Percy’s visit to Chch, as I’ve aired already on ADU. Just so, NB Oliver O’Donovan’s opening chapter of A Conversation Waiting to Begin (SCM, 2009).

Without a clear indication of what (Who?!) we are being incorporated into and why, let alone how, one may as well join the golf club or a welfare organisation. Laudable options, to be sure, but NOT authentically ecclesiological.

Analogies and models employed reveal the grammar more than we may suspect ... Danke Herr Doktor Freud! “Paths” indeed ...! Or, as St Augustine proposes, “The Way that Leads There” [Confessions, VII.21 (27)] - h/t Gilbert Meilaender, Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life (Eerdmans, 2006). Which answers to a large degree Bowman also!

Peter Carrell said...


Dear Commenters,

I write to apologise to Bowman Walton for inadequate moderation in the dispute above between Shawn and Bowman.

You will read above that Shawn made a claim about Bowman's understanding of the Spirit at work in the world, in the church, through history, which Bowman categorically denied was a true claim. Shawn's response was to vigorously defend his claim in terms of it being his opinion. My approach as moderator was to request them to restate their respective pneumatologies.

I have now had opportunity to review the whole thread.

I do not see where Shawn's claim about Bowman's pneumatology is supported by evidence/citation.

I recognise that as moderator I could have and should have insisted on backing up for the claim made.

I apologise unreservedly to Bowman for my failure.

Peter Carrell.

Anonymous said...

"I write to apologise to Bowman Walton for inadequate moderation in the dispute above between Shawn and Bowman."

Yes Peter. You allowed Bowman to call me a liar publicly, and attack my integrity, publicly, for expressing an opinion of his views, and those posts remain, when they should never have passed moderation to begin with.

There was indeed a failure of moderation, just not the one your apologising for.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear Shawn,
No matter whether it is your opinion or not, when Bowman challenged you (as commenter) and me (as moderator) to provide evidence for your view of his pneumatology, it is reasonable to expect that the evidence will be put up, or that the opinion offered will be withdrawn, if not at least modified.
Bowman has asked for the evidence to be offered. It has not. As moderator - on reviewing the thread - I accept that I made a mistake in not insisting on you providing the evidence to back your opinion.
When that evidence is provided and as moderator I deem it to have supported your view of Bowman’s pneumatology, you can be assured that I will be asking Bowman for an apology for his use of the word “liar” and you can be sure that I will apologise to you also for my slackness as moderator.
With kind regards,

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter.

An opinion is just that, an opinion. It may be right or wrong, or just debatable, but what it can't be is a lie.

I have in fact provided evidence from the structure of Canonical Theism itself, which you yourself affirmed in relating that to Pentecostal theology. That's all the evidence I feel I should have to provide as it's that theology I was critiquing. As Bowman has promoted that theology, and it's that theology I was critiquing, that seemed a fair point for me to make regarding his theology. Bowman could have simply clarified exactly what he believes on that score, or provided a counter argument to my critique, but rather than do either (and he still has not) he just called me a liar. By no means was that a reasonable response, and it should not have passed moderation. I chose to ignore that purely personal attack and stick to the issue, Bowman chose to keep up the opposite. So I stand by my view that there was a failure of moderation with regards to you choosing to allow a quite viscous personal attack on me. If you can't see that responding to an argument about theological positions with "you're a liar" is not ok and should not have been allowed, then there really is nothing more I can say on the matter.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
A critique of Canonical Theism is one thing; a critique of the pneumatology of a commenter who is supportive of canonical theism is another thing.
In the latter case you would need to demonstrate that the pneumatology of the commenter was the pneumatology of a strict canonical theist (that is, of someone who believes the Holy Spirit stopped speaking once the foundations of canonical theism were laid), but Bowman has not claimed to be a (in my words) “strict canonical theist”, so the question remains whether your opinion of his pneumatology is a fair opinion, based on a reasonable assessment of all that has been said about God at work through the Spirit in the world through 2000 years.
If you are right, it should not be difficult to assemble supportive citations.
If you are not right, might you distinguish between your assessment of canonical theism and the pneumatology of Bowman?

Anonymous said...

Ideally, we discuss ideas here, not persons. We do that as charitably as we can.

Assuming that he did not intend a personal attack, Shawn would have been wise to describe *both* the idea that he wanted to oppose *and* the inference that he had drawn from it *in his own words* without attaching others' names to either one. Not to put too fine a point on it, that is especially true if the persons are believers and the ideas cannot be squared with the creeds. A drive-by shooting of brothers in Christ is no way to discuss a heresy.

Had he described for himself the ideas that he wished to oppose, the factual question whether those persons actually stand behind them or understand them as he does would never have arisen. Moreover, his own opinion about thoughts that he had stated clearly for himself would then have had its best chance of being followed by any interested readers here. Why would any charitable person who cares about his own ideas give that advantage up?

But if one not only recklessly associates persons with a heresy but takes a pejorative tone in doing so, then a normally sensitive reader will suspect that malice is behind it. And if the statement is also a misrepresentation, then-- since about the time Richard the Lion Heart was king-- we have what the common law has known as a lie. And somebody with common sense might just say so. Why not? It is what it is.

Three other considerations.

It happens that + Peter and I were both associated with the same proposition. That unpleasant association is demonstrably false in both cases because we have both advanced accounts of the Holy Spirit's visible leadership in the contemporary Body and world. However, as several long conversations over the past few years have shown, he and I have been developing distinctly different theories of this leadership. Which one was Shawn talking about? If, in his reductive glee at "simplifying" and "boiling down" what is "academic," Shawn has not noticed something that some readers of ADU may well be tired of reading about, then what possible due diligence can he have done? Literally-- did he know what he was talking about? We certainly cannot.

And theology, even at ADU on the blessed isles, has a terrible secret that it seems nobody has told him: the import of a theological idea depends on the other ideas that are held along with it. It is hard work to say anything clear about-- never mind against-- the ramifications of just one idea. This is why some of us think systematically whilst others sidestep the problem by sticking to biblical or historical texts that have their own contexts.

For example, William J Abraham's *canonical theism* sits among Bryden's luminous thoughts in a way very different from its diminishing presence among my own or its much more tentative presence among + Peter's. For my part, the reason for that is straightforward: my appropriation of our common *paradosis* is quite literally more Byzantine than either of theirs, as + Peter's readers have seen again and again. Opposing an idea that is being treated in such different ways by different persons is charging into the wind waving a sword.

Finally, the Body in the medieval West invented universities as we know them because our faith needs investigation and that investigation needs the disciplinarity that they support. Both Byzantines and Puritans have traditions profoundly critical of those who know the Word but not the power thereof, yet even as mystical Hesychasm flourished by the Bosphorus the former gobbled up Demetrius Cydones's Greek translation of the Summa, and we have the notebooks of practical students at fair Harvard who consulted it to follow lectures about Reformed divines on the Continent. If we are able to discuss ideas here, rather than persons, it is not least because so many others through centuries before us have had faith seeking understanding. That does not seem to be a bad thing.


Anonymous said...

Hello Peter and Bowman.

Having read over and over my post on the issue that has caused the upset, and spent much of the night wracking my brain over it, I can see now that the way I worded the statement should have made it clear that it was my opinion regarding the pneumatology implications of the position, as in perhaps "it is my opinion based on the structure of the theology itself that Bryden and Bowman's theology leads to a serious problem with how and when the Spirit is present and operative in the church" or something along those lines. To me it was obvious what I meant, and I could not understand how it was not obvious to Bowman. That said, looking obvious to me, and being obvious to others, is not the same thing.

With that I accept I was wrong to word it in the way I did, and apologise to Bowman for both the poorly worded statement, and the upset it caused. I certainly did not mean a personal attack by the statement, but a theological critique, but as I have said, mere words on blogs are easily misunderstood, and I should have kept that in mind.

Being accused not once but three times from both Bryden and Bowman that rather than debating theology I was merely letting off steam or venting, as well as having to answer some rather bizarre questions and characterisations of my own theology, did not put me in a mood to be careful in my choice of words, but that's something I should have taken handled better than I did, rather than allow it to cloud my judgement.


"If, in his reductive glee at "simplifying" and "boiling down" what is "academic,""

Less glee (or venting) than an appreciation that to the average person in the pews much of academic theology is a foreign land, with a language and reference points that are often impenetrable. I have a little more understanding than the average due to my own reading, and even I find about half of what you or Bryden say difficult to follow. So I make a point of avoiding as much as possible rarefied academic-speak in favour of talking about the issues in a way most people might understand.

Anyway, as I said I have little more to offer other than more questions and critiques which are likely to derail threads, so I will sign off for the times being.

P.S. There is no such thing as heresy. :)

Anonymous said...


If Canonical Theism (CT) is the topic, then the name voluntarily associated with it is William J Abraham, and the place to find it defined is the book that he wrote by that name. Abraham and his book have been mentioned several times here at ADU. There is no merit in defining Abraham's theory by referring to anyone here.

Bryden may possibly agree that he is a promoter of CT-- one would have to ask him about that, of course-- but I have never seen myself that way. CT is one of several worthwhile Protestant-- that is more than a classification here-- projects that retrieve the whole theology of the 1M from its neglect under Reformed influence during the modern ages. Thomas C Oden's paleo-orthodoxy was probably the first and best of these, several have offered their own proposals, others have felt their influence, and evangelical Anglicans have their own champion in Hans Boersma's work on the ironically (originally pejoratively) named *nouvelle théologie*.

Kindly note that this broad recuperative movement is not a break with the Reformation, but it plainly is one that, like myself, is more persuaded at points by the Lutheran (eg Martin Chemnitz on tradition) than by the Reformed side of the unhappy division. This is Protestant housekeeping; it needs to be done; use any broom that sweeps the floor, but some are better than others.

Here at ADU, my comments about many topics, including that one, mediate between those of Bryden and + Peter from a point of view independent of both of them. If there were no common ground under all of us, this would not be possible. But fairly or not, the common ground-- especially when CT was being mentioned-- appears to be the work of Robert W Jenson. The reader is invited to review the second consideration just above.

Now it happens that CT has been discussed here with different meanings at different times. The earliest comments between Bryden and myself are consistent with the paragraph above. And for my part, they are less about CT than about the recuperative project to which Abraham's book belongs.

But Bryden and + Peter had a substantial offline correspondence about CT that seems to have changed the discussion online. After that correspondence all of our views began to diverge. To my mind, they began to discuss CT less as a recuperative project for the Protestant part of the Body, and more as a way of bolting furniture to the floor in institutional churches like ACANZP. One might say that the idea had become a hostage to the Bryden - + Peter quarrel about ACANZP generally. As they are there, and I am here, I cannot be a party to that conversation. In that respect, I may never have been a party to the CT conversation at ADU.

From that point, CT stopped being discussed here as a post-liberal project rooted in retrieved pneumatology and began to be discussed as a conservative and rather institutional one. There are comments of mine on ADU in which I am resisting that recasting, notably the series of them in which I respond to + Peter's doubt that anything like CT could give him the new church-world relation for which he is looking.

The resistance failed. Bryden and + Peter continued to discuss CT here as something at odds with the decidedly non-institutional ecclesiology-- very close to Jenson's-- that I have presented throughout my time at Fulcrum and here. As they wandered off the Jensonian common ground in their own differing directions, I ignored CT and kindly mentioned Jenson's landmark article You Wonder Where The Spirit Went. I still do.

As readers may recall, I stopped following ADU from about Ash Wednesday to Trinity to pursue a project on the Holy Spirit in postmodern devotion. That work has not made me an enemy of CT, but it has brought up to date the sort of historical pneumatology that I presented at Fulcrum and which is not the same as William J Abraham's.

I like my cousins too, but I have not seen them in a long time.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you, Shawn!

Thank you, Bowman!