Sunday, March 23, 2008

Don't you just hate it when

people say things like this about Anglican theology.

'precisely wherein lies the nub of the problems in the Anglican Communion, from a history of theological incoherence to WO to SSBs' [Women's Ordination, Same Sex Blessings]

What does 'theological incoherence' mean here? I presume it means inherent faults in the content and method of Anglican theology such that our theology is destined to yield flawed conclusions. I also presume this comment (posted on Ruth Gledhill's Times weblog in response to a piece by her about a theological movement called 'Radical Orthodoxy') is made by a Roman Catholic so that Anglican incoherency is being contrasted with Catholic coherency.

For me Anglican theological incoherency is certainly possible - indeed it abounds in the life of our Communion at this time. But is incoherence inherent in our theology? That is where I part company with the comment cited above. Our theology is coherent, provided it remains connected with its foundations in Scripture, the great tradition of the church expressed in its creeds, and the Thirty Nine Articles (which represent the reformation of Anglican theology, pruning its theological tradition of unnecessary accretions ... according to the gold standard of Scripture). Our weakness is certainly that we have no strong magisterium to police the boundaries of our theology ... that's perhaps the point where the charge made above has some force. But the converse can be noted: our strength is that we have a weak magisterium - not, note, no magisterium - through our synods, and episcopal leadership, providing both are willing to follow Scripture, acknowledging that apart from Scripture, councils of men and women do err. With a weak magisterium we have at least one advantage over Roman Catholicism - a greater flexibility around change.

The key here is Scripture. One of my sadnesses at this time in the life of Anglicanism is the readiness of people who should know better (i.e. bishops) to place canon law on a higher plane of authority and allegiance than Scripture. (In respect of the charges laid above 'from theological incoherency to WO and SSB', Scripture offers a coherent case for WO and against SSB.)

Intriguingly, on the night I read this comment, I was at a party with some Roman Catholics. When one learned that my day job is training Anglican ministers, he asked if we could spare some for them. Another observed that the rules for Catholic priesthood might have to change - there is a desperate shortage of priests in Kiwiland. This will not happen until RC theology entertains a means of becoming more flexible - allowing, one might say, a smidgeon of incoherency into the coherency oof their theology!

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