Monday, July 8, 2019

Apology, apologia, aggiornamento


A few posts ago, here,  a robust conversational thread included a claim that such and such was the view of another commenter. Within the thread I treated that as a difference in evaluation, an opinion, rather than as a true/false claim. I have now reviewed the thread and accept that the claim is unfounded. I have posted an apology on that thread. Over the years I have been a less than perfect moderator and I accept that in this instance I have been less than fair in moderating the claim made without evidence.


That Topic continues to rumble on. In following a recent exchange on Twitter, I have had a bit of a revelation. It concerns slavery. Hitherto a line of thought has been expressed with a question such as "if the church changed its mind on slavery, why couldn't it change its mind on same sex partnerships?" But that has been a cue for discussions about what the church really thought of slavery, whether there was a trajectory within Scripture re slavery (towards abolishing slavery) which does not exist for homosexuality, etc.

My personal revelation is this: whatever the church (and Israel) was thinking about slavery in the New Testament (and in the Old Testament), by our standards today (slavery is anathema), the church/Israel accommodated slavery. It was wrong, it denied the full and equal dignity of all human beings, it was proleptically destroyed by the cross (which re-created all people as brothers and sisters, see Philemon). Nevertheless the church lived with slavery as part of the culture of its world - culture being the way we do things around here - and sought to make the best of it by asking slave-owners to treat their slaves well and urging slaves to serve in a manner bearing witness to Christ.

That is, the church in NT times was able to offer an apologia for slavery. No church would do that today. If there was a justification for the ancient church being accommodationist on slavery it was that to have attacked that institution would have been to provoke the fury of the socio-economic established order, in the process destroying the church as carrier of the gospel message.

On That Topic: could we ask ourselves whether we are sufficiently recognising the nature of culture and establishment in the West in respect of a sea change in attitude to homosexuality, and thus also ask whether we are in the process of destroying the church as carrier of the gospel message? (This, I suggest, is part or even the whole of the situation in Australia in respect of Israel Folau.) Why should we think we are smarter than St Paul?


I have been travelling recently - perhaps a full report when my travels are completed - but, as is often the case, travelling around the world and connection with the church in its various and varied parts, reminds me that the church is rarely if ever ahead of the world, which ever changes. Thus the question of "aggiornamento", of the updating of the church, impresses me yet again. Of course to move from this very general observation, without examples, to some specific observations would necessarily look like criticism of this (local) church and that (denominational) church, which I don't want to do!

Suffice to say that as we look around and within, observing our arcane disputes and our divisions, on the one hand it is possible (vaguely possible?) to discern that out of present disputes and divisions will come aggiornamento, that is, conclusions which means the church is more fruitful at expressing an "updated" gospel for the world today. On the other hand, it is possible (probable?) that out of these disputes and divisions, the gap between church and world will accelerate to such width that all churches will look like obscure sects. On the third hand, is it possible that we might all wake up one day and recognise that our disputes and divisions could be let go, in favour of a united effort at aggiornamento?


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for your attention to the late unpleasantness. I trust that this closes the matter.


On That Topic, your turn toward pragmatic humility poses a wise question to each of the usual sides: can its agenda be seen as patience with men and reliance on God? The godspell is apocalyptic; the cross and resurrection reveal what our ever-creative God-- all three Persons-- is doing among creatures in this aeon for the next just out of view. In those he enables to trust in him, patience with all things, and even thanksgiving for the trials that they occasion, is a necessary virtue.


More broadly, will the disputes inside the church (a) open a wider gap with the world, (b) enable an updated presentation of the gospel, or (c) fizzle out as churches abandon them for the mission field? All three, roughly in that order.


Father Ron said...

BW's remark about the future of the Church does raise questions about its relevance in and to the world we actually live in. If the Church is not ministering to the people (sinners) of today, even its hallowed past history will not save it from extinction in the future. This was the very problem faced by the Incarnate Son of God when he challenged the parsimonious intransigence of those Scribes and Pharisees whose understanding of the dynamic of God's power to save and redeem was limited to their interpretation of the shibboleths of the 'Old Time Religion' they themselves had encountered and enshrined in their own teaching, without compassion.

The Good News of the Gospel for all humanity needs to be unwrapped for each distinctive period of human history in order for it to be effective and attractive to the ctizens of this world, whose lives are very different from those of past generations. Refusal to re-engage with the Scriptures and their significance in the current climate of social and scientific discovery can lead to a denial of the Holy Spirit's ongoing task of revelation in and to our world as we now perceive it.

Anonymous said...

As for the church being ahead of the world - this seems to depend on the idea that the world is definitely going somewhere better all the time. Is it?
Free and easy euthanasia; abortion on demand; polyamory; the world (sorry, Western culture) is clearly going in that direction. Should the church have got there first?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
Perhaps the church being ahead of the world could mean: relationships lead to wanted children; dying does not lead to the despair which is euthanasia; contentment means one marriage partner is enough.
A bit idealistic, I know!

Father Ron said...

You are surely right, Peter, when you suggest that the idea of encouraging the people of this world to seek better and more fruitful relationships is 'idealistic'. The whole of the cosmos was surely an 'ideal' at the heart of God, whose own Trinitarian relationship - though unique to God - was meant to encourage human beings to 'love one another' as Jesus loves God and vice-versa. It really is love that makes the world go round, whereas hostilitiy and hatred seems, inevitably, to gum up the works.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Father Ron. Re-reading Marguerite Porete lately, I was often pleasantly reminded of your enthusiastic understanding of love-texts like Romans v 5.

Thank you, Rhys, for being the one to question the modernist assumption of progress this time around. Perhaps a few of us could take turns? It has to be done.

Peter, what perplexes churches now is the old problem of the one and the many. Considered as souls, people have not marched as one great regiment from one state to another. No progress there. But the visibility of the diversity of the sorts and conditions permitted by providence has increased. Confused or not, myriad individuals are happy about that.

Social liberals are often right that the diversity is at least provisionally real, that stigma and shame have been horribly costly ways of hiding it, and that individuals only become persons as they work through the lot that is theirs. Social conservatives, have been right to see in this priority of the many over the one a decline in social cohesion and trust that can harm morals and incite tribal and authoritarian reaction. Is Plato's cycle of regimes happening before our eyes?

Churches free in the bygone modern ages to deal with a standardised soul now have to address the gospel to several more contingent self-understandings. That is the real problem behind That Topic, which is not itself the most important example of it.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
'Tis true: "Social liberals are often right that the diversity is at least provisionally real, that stigma and shame have been horribly costly ways of hiding it, and that individuals only become persons as they work through the lot that is theirs. Social conservatives, have been right to see in this priority of the many over the one a decline in social cohesion and trust that can harm morals and incite tribal and authoritarian reaction. Is Plato's cycle of regimes happening before our eyes?"

'Tis also true: "Churches free in the bygone modern ages to deal with a standardised soul now have to address the gospel to several more contingent self-understandings. That is the real problem behind That Topic, which is not itself the most important example of it."

In particular, but not because it is the only significant statement, I note your, "that stigma and shame have been horribly costly ways of hiding it, and that individuals only become persons as they work through the lot that is theirs"; and I note it because I cannot see in certain conservative Anglican proposals abroad anything other than a conserving of the approach which heightens stigma and shame. Even if my own approach turns out to be as wrong as some people hereabouts already say it is, I am not ashamed to press for a better way than the way of the past.

Anonymous said...

"I cannot see in certain conservative Anglican proposals abroad anything other than a conserving of the approach which heightens stigma and shame."

Yes, Peter.

But then happy warriors at either extreme mainly shout half-truths over the heads of the wise and the holy at those shouting other half-truths from the other extreme. God presumably uses this noise for something, but he does not speak through it.

A humbler, saner conservatism could be rather more faithful. One could concede both the reality and the gravity of the grand problem (who can seriously deny it?) and the pastoral duty of making case-wise accommodation for individuals (Jesus and St Paul did), but still remain wary of giving up the old paradigm for a fog that is socially approved and institutionally expedient but pastorally irresponsible. Such wariness is not war; it is worthwhile patience.

Meanwhile, a more pastoral liberalism would do something about the fog, so that pastoral conservatives will again have something durable to conserve.


Anonymous said...



Jonathan said...

My very tentative thoughts on slavery: Scripture can, and has been reasonably read as (a) supporting slavery in a context where it is legal although not necessarily in the way it has been practised; or (b) not supporting slavery (regarding it as only ethical or at least permissible in the period from Moses to Jesus, or, alternatively, from Moses until some time after Jesus). Alternatively it could be regarded as permissible in contexts where, for example, there is zero social welfare, as a practical rather than a moral issue as the better of two non-ideal situations (starvation). Personally I'd pick (b). I am currently reading Mark Noll's "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis" and at a minimum think such debates are useful as examples of interpretive practise. Including the practise of discerning between civil, ceremonial and moral commands of the OT; and NT ones which may or may not need reinterpreting for c21.

Bryden Black said...

Well folks; some agreements, rebuttals, and fine tuning to be noted.

Firstly, I agree, Bowman, with your diagnosis on July 10, 2019 at 12:48 PM re “the one and the many”. If I may: I argued just that, but with also some necessary additional fine tuning, in my contribution to Brian Edgar & Gordon Preece, eds, Whose Homosexuality? Which Authority? Homosexual practice, marriage, ordination and the church (ATF Press, 2006), pp.151-67, which was entitled, “Whose Language? Which Grammar? ‘Inclusivity’ and ‘Diversity’, versus the Crafted Christian concepts of Catholicity and Created Differentiation”. It was a good collection as it came from across the spectrum, and so revealed real strengths and weaknesses side by side, unusual during these antagonistic days. A deeper diagnosis of what typically prevails amongst humans is always helpful - as was Rhys’s pointing out the obvious too!

Secondly, I also cite my article since it was part of the diagnostic journey that led to my now contrastive understandings of human being, which I sum up as our contemporary western view being the bastard step-child of traditional Christian anthropology. This forms the basis of a serious rebuttal. While it’s certainly helpful, Peter, to look for analogies across eras and history, it’s also vital to see how they might become distorted when there have been massive paradigm shifts across time as well: just so, the famous turn to the human subject. This incorporated great truths as well as precipitated serious ambiguities. And it’s in evaluating (sic!) these ambiguities that we get closer to the truth of the case. All that glitters is not gold!

For thirdly, the Silent Legacy (2008) [subtitled, “The unseen ways great thinkers have shaped our culture”] of many forms of dualism has real social consequences. Viz. importantly (for you as a ‘retired’ NT scholar, now bishop, Peter) Mark Strom, Reframing Paul: Conversations in Grace and Community (IVP, 2000). And just as the Church needed to grapple with Hellenistic dualism to solve the Arian Crisis - so basic to all things Christian - similarly today we need to address the legacy of multiple dualisms to better solve not just That Topic but a few basic others that continue to bedevil our cultures and their societies. “Climate change” springs to mind ...! Yet it’s exactly at this point that I remain most pessimistic (sorry BW; but that IS the word!), given the wretched inadequacy of our ecclesial resources in our day. For it’ll take far more than réssourcement to drink deeply enough from our true wells. Though to be sure, the likes of Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants by DH Williams (Eerdmans, 1999) will prod some down the Way. Ephraim Radner’s Church is headed in the right direction IMHO.

So, to conclude, any aggiornamento is dependent upon which forces are prodding what and whom and why. Answers to any of these are a direct function of discernment, and in addition, forms of discernment which seem increasingly more rare nowadays. We’ve our work cut out for us, frankly - and it starts with a form of repentance, a dianoia that is deeper than just metanoia, both of which might be included in a subtitle to this thread.

Anonymous said...

"Trust not in princes and sons of men in whom there is no salvation." Psalm cxlvi 3

"the wretched inadequacy of our ecclesial resources in our day"

If + Peter someday finds it interesting, Bryden, perhaps we will find time to amicably discuss the questions--

(1) How far is any given code-bound institution in the Body?

(2) Apart from the adequacy of the decisions made, what independent value do deliberations in the Body have?

(3) How are those on the Way today best living with whichever answers to these questions they believe?

We are still living in the same aeon as the old Corinthians, of course. And obviously, I myself am an ecclesial and sacramental realist who calmly believes in what God is doing rather than an institutional positivist who anxiously believes in what man is doing. If synods or their anti-synods say faithless, foolish, or ephemeral things-- or even if the papacy protects perpetrators of unspeakable violence on a global scale-- there is fire for them all. God's response to the Fall was not Babel but Abraham.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman and Bryden,
Not directly engaging with your points/questions, causa brevitatis, but the following springs to my mind, catalysed by you:
- is there nothing good and able to be celebrated about 21st century humanity, which, for all its faults and dualisms, is a humanity which arguably walks in the light (i.e. things are not hidden, suppressed, repressed as formerly)?
- yes, the church of God/the Body is a living, divine organism which is not precisely, explicitly, reality-meets-code/statutes/canons, the church as a human organisation, able to be described etc by a competent sociologist (that is, God's church - true, real, (in)visible church - is always God's church, whatever a synod may decide!) AND: thank goodness for that because the church as we experience it, daily/weekly/annually at synod/etc is a "funny old thing."
- beyond these discussions I worry like anything that we have "lost" the gospel as a message which is powerful to save ... and I say this because the level of disinterest in Christ, let alone Christian things is rising faster than dismay at the political leaders the West seems keen on these days!!!

Anonymous said...

To be clear, Bryden and Peter, I am against idolatry, not for anarchy. It is easiest to love, serve, and celebrate the work of worthwhile institutions when we have unmasked their pretensions to be more or less than human. Conversely, the dark and tragic things happen when their pretensions to divinity are believed. That is the first step to the crazy faithlessness of happy warriors.


Anonymous said...

"Is there nothing good and able to be celebrated about 21st century humanity...?"

Peter, I am at peace with my life in these times, but "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." My pushback against presentism * in discussions of religion is that the ignorance too often behind its self-celebration is being fooled by shape-shifters.

Steven Pinker, one of my old New Atheist teachers, has written a fine and cheery book quantifying the progress of man through the steady and rapid decline in the number of battlefield casualties. That is good and able to be celebrated.

But malware planted in civil infrastructure or industrial plants and lethal drones too tiny to be detected by radar are erasing the formerly clear line between battlefields and cities, weapons and tools, combatants and civilians. Before, I could die willingly carrying a gun in someone else's country to kill him; today, we could each die in our own countries because the malware of our enemies misguided aircraft, driverless trucks, electrical grids, industrial drones, etc. Before, there were mobilisations for grand costumed productions called wars; today, the greater powers are in perpetual covert hostility. Before, just war theory was a persuasive restraint on evil; today, it seems like nostalgia for a simpler time. Collegial as I am, I go to the obligatory receptions, but I do not finish my drink before leaving, and I certainly don't stay for the speeches. Yes, the technology is better; the souls using it are not.

Pinker would say that my relativism misses his insight that the reduction of battlefield fatalities came about despite the ubiquity of evil because of a progression of solid advances in the organisation of many human societies. Immanuel Kant's intuition that, because citizens do not fight citizens, the spread of democracy would tend to be the spread of peace as well has proven to be largely true. A few decades ago, another old teacher, Amartya Sen, won a Nobel by showing that since famines are like bank runs-- frightened elites buy all the food, causing hunger and death for others, further frightening elites, who then also buy all the relief aid too, etc-- the spread of democracy was also effective against the root cause of famine. All good news as far as it goes.

But both arguments suppose that democracy necessarily decentralizes power, has a liberal ethos, and spreads out of self-interest. Thomas Piketty. The alt Right***. Donald Trump.

If democracy has usually promoted at least some material progress, then it is worth mentioning here that Christian missions have been a mighty if unfairly uncelebrated force for its aforementioned spread and flourishing. Roman Catholic missions have been especially successful in awakening a sense of responsibility in social elites, but evangelicals seem to have created the social capital that enabled democratic habits in the masses at large.** Again, good and especially able to be celebrated.

Anonymous said...

But that was all in the C20 and before, and you ask about this C21. It is still very young, more in the headlights than in the rearview mirror. Europe seemed happy in May 1914.

For now, it is wisest to distinguish between progress and the present.

* Thus saith the id: "I have a cool iPhone and a hot girlfriend, and so I know that slavery is wrong and gay sex is right. The bible was written by people not at all like us-- grumpy Christian people who never had fun and didn't know either of those obvious truths. I mean, before Facebook, how could they know ANYTHING? I don't really see why people keep bringing it up in arguments. The bible does not say a word about meditation or chakras, so it can't be a spiritual book."

** If robust laicism were all that is required for democracy to thrive, then Islam should be able to play the same role in the Arab world, much as Judaism has done in Israel-- the Iraq War and hopes for an Arab Spring were tacitly predicated on this-- but this has seldom happened.

*** By which we mean-- only-- the newer right emergent in several countries that consciously eschews the liberal roots of the old conservatives they displace for the sake of whatever blood and soil loyalties happen to catalyze resistance to globalism and wealthy elites in a given locale. The alt right interest in romanticized pasts-- Nazism, Confederacy, Carlism, Habsburgs, Cossacks, paganism, etc-- that counter certain left symbols-- SJWs, multiculturalists, Davos, New Atheists, etc-- show that it is, both consciously and otherwise, an identity politics of the right mirroring that of the left.


Glen said...

I saw that sufficient Bishops in Canada knew what a Bishop's duty is and voted down the same sex marriage motion.

Bryden Black said...

Apologies Bowman but I thought Pentecost was the antidote to Babel, with Jesus’ mission fulfilling ‘Abraham’ and so paving the way for “Pentecost”. Just so, Rom 3:27-4:25, Gal 4:21-5:1. In addition, should Pentecost be indeed “the Peer of Easter” (RL Wilken), then we are a long way to addressing the whereabouts of the Spirit, as in Jenson’s justifiable “Wondering” [Pro Ecclesia II/3 (1993), 296-304; reprinted in Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics, 110-18 (2014), noted here for others to chase up.] - within of course a Latin Western scheme mostly, with its institutional emphasis, during the second millennium especially.

Finally, when you cite that brief but partial assessment of mine re “ecclesial resources”, I should add that that applies more to the syncretistic western church of today than to the emerging church of the Majority World. Just so, the further reference to the important direction of Radner’s Church. For there the entire world of spirit is a given (although to be sure our western culture certainly delights nowadays to play with occult forces).

And so, combining the contents of these two paragraphs might begin to remedy our western deficit, offering some hope ... Let’s pray so ... Yet that more fulsome Pentecost emphasis simultaneously needs to be more anchored in a robust canonical sense of the Word. The Spirit never floats abstractly free! (Your reading of my reading of CT does not quite do sufficient justice to either Billy Ab or me ... Let’s not lose sight of RWJ’s ST2!) While our temptation hitherto has been to structure the work of the Holy Spirit (viz my ch.8 of LDL one more time), I wish to focus the Spirit’s Fulsome Light via the prism of the Word. The interplay is powerful! You recall playing with the sun’s rays via a magnifying glass when a boy ...?! That should boil off some dross ...

Bryden Black said...

A caveat Bowman re 'democracy':

Similarly, Bill Cavanaugh puts it pungently: "Killing for the Telephone Company" - Why the Nation State is not the Keeper of the Common Good. His entire collection, Migrations of the Holy (2011), is seeking only to expose modern idolatries ...

Once more, a wee bit of metanoia let alone dianoia is required by western Christians.

Anonymous said...

" ... I worry like anything that we have "lost" the gospel as a message which is powerful to save ..."

Peter, I understand, of course.

But my own lifelong experience has been that fresh re-formulations of the message which is powerful to save have been easily heard in books, lecture halls, some papers and dissertations, and now some blogs, YouTube, and of course Amazon. Just not in any ordinary church that I have happened to be in. I do not sense lack; I sense distraction, confusion, or blockage, or sometimes bad faith, incompetence, or resistance.

Meanwhile, as the next Lambeth Conference approaches, the dean of the seminary in western Cockaigne has decided to save the minds of her theological students from the inevitable speculative chatter. She has forbidden students, faculty, and staff to write or speak about That Topic on campus until they have first filed a written position on each item of a posted syllabus of questions in Bible, Systematics, and Ethics.

"You are here to learn or teach the articulation of doctrine that is authoritative for the Church. That is very different from mulling things over and gravitating to a personal opinion.

"I am not telling you what to think or say. I am telling you that this community will not listen to uninformed or muddled opinion about that problem before the Communion. And I am asserting our traditional authority to distinguish learning from ignorance, and central question from peripheral ones.

"For example, if you do not have reasoned and judicious positions on the New Perspective on Paul, authority in the law/gospel dialectic, and divine motivation theory in virtue ethics, among other things, then you cannot in fact have an informed opinion on the Six Texts. Yes, the apostolic kerygma is the ultimate criterion of doctrine in a Reformation church, and the canon is our guide to that kerygma, of course. But merely personal ruminations on the text backed up by favorite authors do not demonstrate the authoritative judgment required for ordination."


Bryden Black said...

Is there time Bowman to enroll in the Short Half Semester 2019 at that seminary you mention? Me thinks it might be appropriate to learn over again my theological ABCs, beginning again at the beginning. Though I hope to find Rowan Greer’s Broken Lights, Mended Lives: Theology and Common Life in the Early Church on the basic syllabus, as its Introduction alone is worth the price of the book. For he extols the Fathers’ insisting upon the full natural integration of “the reading and study of scripture, the liturgy, preaching and the arts”, and so their “articulating and shaping the experience of ordinary Christians.”

He concludes:
“The Fathers are convinced that worship informs life and life informs worship. Consequently, the Christian moral life represents a part of the present experience of Christ that needs to be put into words. The daily experience of Christians (their confessional, liturgical, ethical, aesthetic, and even domestic experience) is drawn into the theological vision. The differing stories of Christians are integrated into the story of Christ. Present and past are bound together in a corporate experience, and the theologian's task is to create a visionary account of it.”

Not a bad skopos of the theological task. Is it that of the dean and her seminary, do you know ...? If so, I’m signing up tout à coup!

Anonymous said...

Maybe next year, Bryden.

For now, that seminary only hosts "returning" scholars in the summer-- the best time to enjoy the forested mountains there anyway-- for a course of guided "integration." This presupposes a sustained life in the Body and some depth of personal experience that cannot be expected of most postulants on the "education" syllabus for ordination.

The difference between an "integration" and an "education?" You have described the former perfectly. How different should they be? That is debatable, and in fact debated. As it is, older postulants who have enrolled in both programs have found them complementary.

Thank you for the pleasant reminder of the ministry and scholarship of Rowan Greer. May his memory be eternal!