Thursday, March 19, 2009

Credible theology: creation, contraception, charity

The search for a credible theology is getting quite urgent for conservatives, both Protestant and Catholic.

On the Catholic side the current Pope is beginning to be perceived as leading or presiding over a church hierarchy lurching backwards to a world previously experienced when, (say) the Catholic church tried to repress Galilean discovery of scientific fact or to pretend, in the Modernist controversy, that modern biblical scholarship was irrelevant to dogma. (In both cases the church eventually 'got it', but untold damage was done).

On the Protestant side a plethora of popes are leading their churches into a variety of side alleys, dark corners, and dead ends; and untold damage is being done to the progress of the gospel. Whether it is creationism, restriction of women in ministry,* supporting uncharitable agenda around imprisoning people, or, blandly offering as 'theology' talk that is indistinguishable from 'new Labour' philosophy, the future of Protestant Christianity as a faith which engages the majority, if not the whole of society is bleak. (Please note those last words carefully: one might, say, build a large and successful church today on the basis of creationism; but the impact on society as a whole will be almost zilch, with the exception of the USA, and even there I think we will find (in line with a bloke I cite in a post below) that within a generation any such success will be smoke in the wind). For the Anglican Communion in particular, attempts to lead Anglican churches towards a future as a 'confessional' church (in the most Protestant sense of 'confessional') are flawed as a missional strategy for reaching the whole of Western society.**

Funnily enough, for the future of Christianity outside of Eastern Orthodox lands,*** Protestant and Catholic Christianity need each other. Liberal tendencies in Protestant Christianity could do with reversing through imbibing Catholic strengths in adherence to creedal orthodoxy and offering a sacramental ordering of life's mysteries. Conservative tendencies in Catholic Christianity to think the future lies in anti-contraception, Latin Masses, and the like could do with reversing through imbibing Protestant common sense.

A credible theology for the twenty-first century has no room for creationism, anti-contraceptionism, and incredibilism which leads to perceptions of a lack of charity. I will try to explain why in succeeding posts.

*An explanatory note: I mention this not to reopen for discussion the merits, theological and scriptural, of women's full involvement in the ministry of the church (at least, not here, not at this point in time); rather I would argue that, whatever the strength of the case for restriction on women's ministry (e.g. in some Anglican contexts, excluding women from the presbyterate and the episcopacy), the long-term (50+ years) future of this approach is a cul-de-sac for those churches which maintain restrictions.

** Anglicans should take note of the respective strengths of Protestantism and Catholicism in the Western societies and recognise that both speak into the diversity of those societies. A missional strategy for reaching the whole of society will embrace both Protestant ('word') and Catholic ('sacrament') characteristic strengths. Anglicanism has the potential to do this, but not if it fights within itself for one to succeed over the other.

*** The future of Eastern Orthodoxy is something I am scarcely able to comment on: I am unsure of social and ecclesial dynamics in Eastern Europe. The phenomenon of the transition of Protestants to Eastern Orthodox churches in North America is interesting. But to the extent to which it is driven by dissatisfaction with Protestant Christianity it is likely to be a temporary feature. Either Protestant Christianity will rediscover its mojo or it will die. Either way there is a limited future for Protestant dissatisfaction.

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