Tuesday, December 14, 2010

+Robinson reveals reason for rift in Communion

+Gene Robinson has been writing on the Bible and homosexuality in The Washington Post. The first in the series is here, and from there you can link to the succeeding posts. In this post I do not want to engage with +Robinson's interpretation of seven 'texts of terror' concerning homosexuality per se: the ground he traverses is well worn, and the manner of his walk (the arguments he offers) offers nothing new to the ongoing debate about these texts. But I do want to engage in one argument he offers which, in turn, I argue goes to the core of the division in the Communion. This is what he writes in his first post:

"In John's Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus says: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16: 12-13a) I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, "Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven't done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don't think for a minute that God is done with you - or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth." "

At the core of the division is the question of truth: around what understanding of truth are we united, that is, what is the basis of our fellowship? In a sense the Covenant addresses a subsidiary question: in what manner will we address differences in understanding of truth? The primary question for Anglicans is 'What is truth?' The normative answer for Anglicans has been 'the Word of God, written for us in Scripture, clarified through tradition and reason.' An answer, incidentally, which is the same for all Christians, with some important differences between us in the content of 'Christian truth' arising from how we define Scripture, tradition and reason (e.g. differences between Protestants, Romans, and Eastern Orthodox in the canon of Scripture).

Also 'normatively' Christians have been very, very wary of claims to 'new Truth' beyond the pages of Scripture, pointing to salutary lessons from church history when our ancestors in the faith have gone astray.

But here we have one of the leading bishops in one of the chief protagonist churches in the Communion proclaiming the virtue of 'new Truth'. (Note also the blithe manner in which +Gene moves from 'all truth' to 'new Truth', unconstrained by the possibility that 'all truth' is deeper insight into the truth revealed in Scripture!).

It is quite reasonable, sober, and sensible for Anglicans around the globe to be very concerned that, when all is said and done, TEC is on a pilgrimage to 'new Truth' and not on a path of ever deeper, ever renewed understanding of plain, traditional, Scriptural orthodoxy, confined to the bounds of Scripture and our creedal understanding of Scripture. A new approach to homosexuality is simply one expression of the will to embrace 'new Truth.' The big picture here of Anglican alarm is not the issue of homosexuality, but the lack of will to commit to faithful orthodoxy.

What is the nature of the truth around which we fellowship as Anglicans in the Communion? Is it the old, old story of Jesus and his gospel, or is it the new Truth of +Robinson and his peers? It cannot be both. We are in a rift because truth is non-contradictory. The future of the Communion, ultimately, will be as an orthodox Christian community or not. Right now we are in a grace-filled phase (well, sort of!) in which we are giving the benefit of the doubt to each other: perhaps TEC is right, perhaps it is not, as it claims to be just as orthodox as the rest of us. But this phase will not last forever: the truth will out. We will be a TEC-shaped Communion, or a Communion which constrains TEC (i.e. relegates it to the second tier, suspends it, or even expels it), or TEC will repent of its Robinsonian toying with new Truth. I can think of no fourth possibility for our long-term future.

Right now I am very doubtful that TEC will repent, doubtful that the Communion will constrain TEC (because of the absence of a significant proportion of primates from the Primates Meeting in January), and thus view our likely future as a TEC-shaped Communion. While I object to the boycott of the primates, I understand that they may feel tired and worn out trying to combat the propensity of ++Williams and other primates to not confront 'new Truth' and judge it for what it is: heresy.

I am grateful for +Gene Robinson for his honesty and frankness in revealing once again why there is a rift in our Communion. It has nothing to do with bigotry and homophobia, and everything to do with fundamental concerns about the theological commitments defining Anglicanism in the 21st century.


Howard Pilgrim said...

So right in general, and yet so wrong in parts!

1. "The primary question for Anglicans is 'What is truth?'"
So right ... this is the issue that divides us, as we clearly don't all agree with the orthodoxy you go on to describe.

2. "The normative answer for Anglicans has been 'the Word of God, written for us in Scripture, clarified through tradition and reason.'"
Wrong at least in part ... (a)Is your formula in quote marks drawn from any actual document accepted as normative by all Anglicans, or did you make it up? (b) In the latter case, what grounds do you have for asserting that the qualification 'written for us in Scripture' would have wide enough acceptability among Anglicans to justify its description as normative? Many Anglican theologians, during my lifetime and earlier, have argued strenuously against such a proposal, and this must be taken into account in understanding and evaluating Gene Robinson's statements about the nature of revealed truth: what he is saying is by no means new, and it is theologically disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise.

3. "An answer, incidentally, which is the same for all Christians."
Completely false, for all the above reasons and many more.

In the year of Matthew, it behoves us all to think more deeply about the complex relationship between old and new truth, rather than prefer one over the other which seems to be the case with those who love to claim orthodoxy or progressiveness for themselves ... present company excepted, of course.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for this, Peter. I think you have put your finger on what lies at the core of our current divisions.

Having read these two pieces by Bishop Robinson, I was struck by the following passage (bold emphasis added):

"Understanding scripture in its contexts is no easy task, and it is fraught with potential misuse. All readers of scripture are subject to self-deception - that is, the temptation to interpret the scriptures in a way that satisfies our own selfish desires and biases, rather than hearing the truth of the passage which may challenge, condemn and call into question those desires and biases. That is why scripture must always be studied and understood in community. The temptation is too great to interpret scripture in our own image to attempt it alone. One must always be subject to the larger community's understandings to guard against only hearing what one wants to hear.

"Part of the community whose voice needs to be considered, is that of the Tradition - that is, what has been said over the years about any given passage of scripture. We, in the present time, are not the only ones who have struggled with these passages, and our own understanding needs to be informed by the larger community of the faithful in the past."

I find these two paragraphs highly ironic. For by embracing "new Truth," Bishop Robinson and others have done precisely the opposite of what I've highlighted in bold print. Indeed, if the current leadership of the Episcopal Church took seriously the task of subjecting their interpretation of revealed truth to the larger community's understandings (past and present), then they would not be steering us in the current leftward trajectory and they would be open to the possibility that we need a Covenant. Instead, they're asking the larger community to make room for novel interpretations/practices based upon claims to new revealed truth that signal a significant departure from Tradition.

As the Episcopal Church continues to drift further and further to the Left, it is not unreasonable to believe that far more serious doctrinal innovations will also be hailed as "new Truth."

Andy S said...

It's just the Devil making mischief in the lead up to Christmas.

Last year we had that billboard denigrating the Virgin Mary and reducing her to a sexually dissatisfied spouse

The bishops articles are boring and will be read by few but divert attention from where it should be in the Advent season.

Peter your fight back might be to approach your paper and see if you can submit a series of Scripturally based articles on the Advent and what this means to Christians.

This I'd love to read and the worst that can happen is they will turn you down.

Brother David said...

blithe |blīð; blīθ|
showing a casual and cheerful indifference considered to be callous or improper : a blithe disregard for the rules of the road.

I do not see that in this humble man's approach to this subject in the least. You appear more blithe in your suggestion regarding him.

Jesus says: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16: 12-13a)

Looking into different translations in both the English and Spanish languages it is stated variously as the whole truth, the full truth and all of the truth. No matter how you look at it, it suggests that what teaching/truth that they had from Jesus was incomplete, so even approaching it as a more in depth knowledge over what they had already received, it would seem to be a promise that it would involve things unknown, or new.

So you appear to be running around as if you have actually discovered something and I am not convinced that you have.

Father Ron said...

"But here we have one of the leading bishops in one of the chief protagonist churches in the Communion proclaiming the virtue of 'new Truth'. (Note also the blithe manner in which +Gene moves from 'all truth' to 'new Truth', unconstrained by the possibility that 'all truth' is deeper insight into the truth revealed in Scripture!)."

Surely, Peter, you can understand the concept of truth, new to us? Or are we to believe that there is no revelation of 'The Truth' in Jesus Christ (I am the Truth, etc.)

If you do not then 'the truth' of God's mind about women, slaves, usury, sacrifice, et al, has been fixed - finally and irrevocably- in the words of Scripture!

Do you not believe that there were changes in ethics - even between the understanding of the Old and the New Testaments? If, indeed you do not, then I'm really surprised.

To dismiss the teaching of a Bishop in the Church of today, especially one of the pastoral experience of Bishop Gene - on the grounds of an immutable under-standing of the scriptures - seems a little disingenous, to say the least.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,

Where else is the Word of God written down other than in Scripture?

If there is another place, by what recognised Anglican authority do you say that?

In which other church dividing the Anglican Communion have Anglican theologians/bishops been promoting the doctrine of 'new Truth'?

Apart, obviously, from those in the same camp as +Robinson, which other Christians do not believe that the Word of God written is in Scripture?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for comment, Bryan.

Andy S: sorry no time to do that this Advent. If they turn me down it should be because they do not want the article, not because it is a rushed job.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I am not running around :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
There are changes in the course of Scripture (of course!); there is truth to be found outside of Scripture ("E=MCsquared", "John Key is the best Prime Minister of NZ since Helen Clark"); but the Anglican understanding of Scripture, relevant to the present thread, is Scripture is authoritative (any 'new Truth' should not contradict Scripture). the case for freedom from slavery, for instance, can be drawn from Scripture without contradicting Scripture.

It is theoretically possible that the case for blessing same sex partnerships can be argued from Scripture, without invoking 'new Truth': I have not yet discovered that case. The difficulty with invoking 'new Truth' re homosexuality is that when the Holy Spirit led the apostles into further understanding of life in Christ - written down for us in the epistles - they did not bear witness to a changed ethic from that in the OT on homosexual sexual behaviour.

What is disingenuous, whether from a bishop or otherwise, is to invoke 'new Truth' possibilities from the 21st century as outweighing the 'new Truth' of the apostles themselves. Or are we to ascribe to +Gene a greater teaching authority than St Paul?

ToniDeCali said...

I'm sorry Mr. Carrell it has indeed been argued without invoking "new truth". For example, Br. Tobias Haller does a very good job of it in his book Reasonable and Holy. And it has by others. That Bishop Robinson argues for it with the rhetoric of "new truth" does not mean that others have not.

Brother David said...

but the Anglican understanding of Scripture, relevant to the present thread, is Scripture is authoritative (any 'new Truth' should not contradict Scripture)

What should we do with Jesus then, specifically Matthew 5;
"You have heard it said..." Scripture
"But I say to you..." New truth!


Better yet...


Howard Pilgrim said...

Pre-Christmas stress must be getting to you, Peter, for you to lose track of your own argument so easily.

The question you raised was not, "Where is the word of God written?" but rather, "What is truth?". To answer that as you do by locating all of God's truth in scripture is one part of the Anglican theological spectrum, but by no means normative as you claim.

One way or another, we all have to come to terms with the fact that some of the truth God has for us comes from outside scripture and corrects our reading of its truths. To acknowledge this fact is by no means radical in the Anglican tradition, not for Christians in general.

Peace and joy!

Father Ron said...

Hi, Toni, you have put your finger on one of the problems in the present debate on homosexuality and the Church. Very few conservatives would even bother to read books about the subject by such Anglican luminaries as Tobias Haller - or even His Grace, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, whose seminal essay 'The Body's Grace' has probably never been even heard of in certain theological schools - especially, perhaps, in the New Zealand Diocese of Nelson.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
Authoritative Scripture includes both Old and New Testaments; interpreting Scripture means engaging with all that is said.

I am not aware of anyone post-Scripture having the authority of Jesus to say 'but I say unto you' ...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
The answer to the question 'What is truth?' should be consistent with Scripture. That is Anglicanism. My question is asking you to name a truth which is inconsistent with Scripture, and by qhat authority you make the claim that it is both true-and-inconsistent with Scripture.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Can you conceive that Haller and ++Williams may be known in the Nelson Diocese AND disagreed with?

Brother David said...

By post-scripture I take it Peter that you are referring to the closing and sealing of the canon? Is that correct? And which canon of scripture would that be? And exactly when did the closing occur? There appears to be some discrepancy on that, or some wiggle room at the least.

But my point is that you make assumptions about scripture and its authority that not everyone agrees with, even with your interpretation of scripture having all that is necessary for our salvation. For me scripture is not the Word of God, since you like slinging around those capital letters in English more so than we do in Spanish, but scripture contains the word of God. Jesus Christ is the only Word of God in my life.

I subscribe to the hermeneutic of suspicion regarding scripture for the very reason that the canon was subject to the forces of a majority who always had an agenda. "“The collection was shaped by competing religious factions, economics, personal ideologies, politics, the influence of larger churches and more."

Your take on the canon is similar to that of the Campbellites, the congregational, independent churches of Christ. They take 1 Cor 13:8-13 as explaining why they do not experience "gifts of the Spirit" in their congregations as described by Acts as being the closing of the canon of scripture. Now they have "that which is perfect" so they no longer need the imperfect. This is a form of idolatry to me, Bibliolatry.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Okay Peter, here is a very simple example. In Joshua 10:12-14, the sacred text tells us that the sun and moon stood still for about a day in order to give Joshua's army victory in battle. TI is presented as a piece of historical information drawn from a cited pre-text, "the Book of Jashar". No other portion of scripture that I am aware of gives any reason for taking this as anything other than a literal account of an historical event. The sun and moon, which had been moving around the earth, stood still for a while, at God's command.

Subsequent advances in scientific knowledge tell us that such an event is impossible. We now know it is the earth that is rotating and that the change in its angular momentum implied by the sacred text would have had such catastrophic results that the battleground and all its combatants, along with much else in their world, would have been obliterated in a way entirely inconsistent with the text's account.

So this particular piece of new truth is sufficient to force a reinterpretation of the text. We are obliged to find some more figurative sense in which God gave Israel plenty of time to finish off their enemy. Nothing in the text indicates this interpretation ... it is a genuine example of new truth in action!

A trivial example? Not at all, when we consider the claim that it is an advance in the scientific understanding of human nature that obliges us to reinterpret scriptural texts dealing with homosexuality.

The core hermeneutic principle, as appealed to by countless Anglicans before Gene Robinson, is that all truth is one, and all of it ultimately God's Truth, to be appropriated by faith.

Whether all of this this is quite what the writer of the Fourth Gospel had in mind in 16:13 might be another matter, however, so as a careful biblical scholar you are allowed to get ever so slightly irritated by GR's blithe use of this particular text.

Father Ron said...

Yes, Peter. I do understand that the scholarly works of Rowan, the Archbishop of Canterbury on sexuality would most probably not be agreed with by you - or many other conservatives.

I do realise that, anything that questions the Victorian view of literal biblical-inerrancy would probably be upsetting for the current anti-gay arguments. What we need is a new hermeneutic. Thank God, N.Z.'s Archbishop David Moxon is helping to put that right.

Also, the work of Dr. Jenny Te Paa, in her Justice role in the Anglican Communion, is also helpful in the explosion of myths about gender and sexuality - that are still being perpetuated by out-dated theology. So we do have strong New Zealand voices that would oppose your views on this matter.

In the modern world, where science and religion are not necessarily opposed on issues of human development (including gender and sexual matters), theological schools have a duty to at least try to come to terms with 'new truth' on these important issues - if only to remain relevant to the world in which we live.

One of the recurring problems with conservative understandings of sex and gender, is that the Church may be getting further and further away from the world it was meant to help redeem - from ignorance, amongst other things.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
I appreciate your recognition of the justification of blitheness. I have no doubt that +Gene is a fine person in all sorts of ways, and I get that point that if he came to dinner he would be an excellent and convivial guest, but a biblical scholar of the first rank he is not. Mishandling the text of Scripture when one is trying to advance the case that Scripture does not say what most think it says is, actually, counter-productive.

Now, to your substantive point: science tells us many things, and some of them pose great challenge for biblical readers. I think some care needs to be taken when the word 'impossible' comes into the challenge. It is impossible for the earth to stop and it is impossible for the dead to rise again. Yet the Bible tells us both happened. Is one 'more' impossible than the other? Does one have less faith in God's power if one believes that one event occurred and the other didn't? There are many things to ponder ...

Science and homosexuality. At one level science just tells us what every generation of humanity knows: some among our society are not attracted to the opposite sex. The tricky question is whether science tells us anything about what 'is' which makes a difference to our understanding about what 'ought' to happen. It may be 'new Truth' to know more precisely what percentage of our fellow humans are not atrtacted to the opposite sex, to have a coined term from the 19th century to describe our fellow human beings, and to have greater insight into the psychology of sexuality, but have we received, from God, 'new Truth' about the morality of sex? This question has little, even nothing to do with science, and everything to do with how we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong ...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Would you be surprised to learn that it is precisely with Archbishop David Moxon and Jenny Te Paa that I have been working in recent years on the planning and delivery of some of our Hermeneutical Hui (on homosexuality)? I am not convinced that their views are the same as each others, nor that my views are opposed to all of their views!

I would make this plea of you: please be open to the possibility that conservative Anglicans around the Communion do not hold their views on homosexuality because they/we are locked into a mode characterised as "anything that questions the Victorian view of literal biblical-inerrancy would probably be upsetting for the current anti-gay arguments."

(1) The conservative case is not about being 'anti-gay' but about understanding Scripture, the precious gift of sexuality, and the commitment God has to marriage. Many conservatives lovingly include gay people in their family, friends, and church networks.

(2) The conservative case in some exponents hands is, yes, Victorian in its view of biblical inerrancy; but it is not so in many conservatives hands, not least because it flows from their doctrine of marriage as much as from their doctrine of Scripture; and it does not depend on 'biblical inerrancy' but does work with profound acknowledgement of the authority of Scripture in the life of the church.

(3) I find conservatives are more bemused by some questions raised about Scripture in relation to homosexuality than upset. It is bemusing, for instance, not upsetting, to find +Gene Robinson's current Washington Post writings so poor in quality of argument.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Not all impossibilities are of the same kind, Peter. You wrote, "I think some care needs to be taken when the word 'impossible' comes into the challenge. It is impossible for the earth to stop and it is impossible for the dead to rise again. Yet the Bible tells us both happened. Is one 'more' impossible than the other?"

The difference between these two cases of impossibility lies not in their antecedent improbability but in their after-effects. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a very private event, and we know that it happened because of its after-effects reported in scripture, and experienced in the ongoing life of the Church. That the rotation of the earth stopped for a while and then resumed in Joshua's time would have been a very public event, with catastrophic after-effects that the sacred text implies never happened. Therefore we must conclude that the event itself did not happen ... a conclusion that was not forced on earlier faithful readers of the text who lacked our present state of knowledge.

My major point, once again:- Faithful reading of the sacred text requires not only openness to all that the text has to tell us, but also to every other source of truth made available to us in our own time by the providence of God, the author of all truth.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that scripture witnesses to the truth revealed in Christ. Therefore it might well be the case that we are led into deeper understandings of the truth in Christ, or broader applications of Christ's truth; this is rather a different matter from being led into 'new truth' by the spirit, (a psirit in truth disconnected from Christ),if that truth is entirely inconsistent with what has been revealed in Christ.
None of this makes the hermeneutic task any easier; but no doubt all our hermeneutics will tend to play down, minimise,blunt and even abolish the cutting edge of the words and witness of Christ which we receive in the gospels in as nowhere else.

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful post ... thank you.

George Conger