Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Substitutionary Atonement is Anglican, Buddhism is not

Buddhism offers some clues about meditation; meditation is a way of being still before God; Anglicans can do that. But Buddhism also offers some clues about the problem of suffering (one is tempted to say, the main clue is 'there is no problem', but that might say more about my superficial knowledge of Buddhism). These clues know nothing, make nothing of Jesus Christ dying on the cross in our place for our sins. Anglican theology continuous with Anglican theology, via the ancient church fathers and the Book of Common Prayer, makes a lot of Jesus Christ's substitutionary atonement, especially in the BCP; or, if it has forgotten this, ought to make more of it than it does.

Of course some Anglican theology today is discontinuous with Anglican theology, effectively creating two Anglican theologies, Mk 1 and Mk 2. Mk 1 has had its day; Mk 2 is the truth for our time. Kevin Thew Forrester's embrace of Buddhist ideas (see post below) will be interpreted by some as heresy (by those, that is, who follow Anglican theology continuous with past Anglican theology). By others this embrace will be unremarkable as it is simply Anglican theology Mk 2 at work.

The error involved in Mk 2 theology is the error the church has battled with repeatedly: a new revelation has been received, therefore we may now delete the former revelation. Spong, for example, offers this error at the heart of his theological proposals: for centuries the church thought this way about God, now, thanks to theologians such as Tillich, we realise the error of our ways and offer this new truth.

The battle for the future shape of the Communion is only between 'conservatives' and 'liberals' to an extent. The theological issue underlying the controversy is bigger and wider than that particular divide. It concerns whether the theology binding Anglican churches into one world Communion is coherent or not with the theology which formed and then reformed the Church of England.


Anonymous said...

Peter, sorry to keep commenting.

Again, you make good sense, however, I think the issues are a little more complex, and it's (more often than not), not a case of dropping Mk1 for Mk2. Rather, increasing numbers of voices (including Anglican's) are rightly challenging us to see in the work of the cross more than one perspective, e.g. "Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross
Contemporary Images of the Atonement" by Mark D. Baker.

Few, in my reading and conversation, are discarding "substitutionary atonement"; rather they are saying, "there are some other ways we can see Christ's death on the cross.

Again, an observation, many are turning to buddhism, particularly in the West (which is interesting in itself), because of a sense that buddhist's understand something (not "everything") of the human heart, and of what it means to be human - buddhist psychology if you like. Exemplified by the work of an American like Jack Kornfield (who has worked hard to, some would say, "westernise" buddhism (while retaining it's core identity) and enable it to speak with relevance and urgency to a Western audience.

Equally, many believe that Christianity has lost touch with it's own tradition of what has been described as "orthopathy" - the way of the heart, favouring instead the way of orthodoxy or the head. These same people find little or no help from "orthodoxy" (the head / intellect)when it comes to addressing the deep pain of the heart: the longing to be loved, accepted, healthy life-giving relationship, stress - the list goes on and on and would be a long one.

The irony is that Christianity (and the centrality of the "incarnation") has a rich tradition of the heart and an understanding of the human person and the struggles of being human and becoming more fully human "in Christ". Think of the so-called "Desert Tradition", our wisdom tradition, "the monastic tradition", the place and role of the "spiritual director" etc.

I wonder if Forrester's experience and the wisdom gained, coupled with (I'm presuming) a deep Christian commitment, and a discerning of the Spirit @ work will enable him to reach out and connect with younger searchers in ways that enable them to meaningfully hear the "good news" centered on Jesus Christ - "good news" for the deepest longings of their hearts and humanity...?

Peace to you and yours.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Paul
Please comment frequently!
Yes, the situation is more complex (for example in some cases it might be better to speak of Mks 1-n); and, yes, its always worth asking why Christians cease to be Christian, or become Buddhist, or seek to incorporate Buddhism into/onto their faith, etc.

Yet Forrester himself puts his thoughts into fairly simple terms, and (to me at any rate) implies a 'the old way of thinking is finished, in with the new'.

Well, more could be said, but I will stop here!

Anonymous said...

Ravi Zacharias has written an interesting little book in which he imagines Jesus and Gautama in irenic discussion in the company of an abused Thai prostitute dying of Aids:

The themes of karma, dukkha, maya, anatna etc are compared and contrasted with the Gospel.