Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two gospels in the Anglican Communion?

It is a little confusing talking about 'gospel'. Take the very simple instance of reference to the 'four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John': does this mean there are four different gospel messages of which we need to take cognisance, or that there is one gospel in four versions ('according to Matthew', 'according to Mark', etc)? Traditionally the church has understood the latter to be the case. In the case of my post yesterday I referred to two or more gospels present in the Anglican Communion today (with special reference to TEC where a number of conservative bloggers often talk of two gospels at work in that church). It would be more precise to say the following:

(a) some claim that two different gospels are present in church X or communion Y - testing that claim will presumably yield a conclusion either that one gospel is true, the other is false, or each is a version of the one true gospel, or each is a false gospel.

(b) present in the life of church Z is a true gospel and a false gospel (and I know which is which and, of course, I am a supporter of the true gospel).

(c) there is only one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but it has many expressions, some of which, unfortunately, are misunderstood as false gospels, with a lot of energy misspent in unnecessary controversy.

So, yesterday, with reference to the current crisis in the Communion, I could more accurately have talked about the need to carefully test claims to follow and to proclaim the one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ because it is being claimed that there is the true gospel as well as a false understanding of the gospel present at the heart of the crisis.

Such controversies over the gospel are not unique to the Anglican Communion today. The increasingly public (i.e. beyond academia) controversy over the theology of St Paul, often expressed under the heading of 'the New Perspective on Paul', is a true versus false gospel controversy circling around questions such as these:

What was Paul's understanding of the gospel? Has the Protestant church badly misunderstood Paul's understanding of the gospel since the renewed interest in Romans and Galatians generated by Martin Luther? Are proponents of the so called New Perspective on Paul misunderstanding Paul? What if both Martin Luther and the New Perspectivists are wrong?

Back to the Communion: part of what is going on with the absence of up to 10/38 primates at the imminent Dublin meeting is a conviction that if a false gospel is at work in the church this is (a) a very serious matter, beyond the pale of run of the mill differences in theological conviction; (b) a matter on which some New Testament texts give clear direction: there is to be no fellowship with proponents of a false gospel.

Is there a false gospel in the Communion?


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Is there a false gospel in the Communion?

I can't give a definitive answer to that particular question when it comes to the Anglican Communion, Peter, but I do believe that there are false versions of the gospel afoot within the Episcopal Church.

A very interesting - and in many ways quite sad - example is the case of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, the so-called "Buddhist bishop-elect" of northern Michigan. He was in the running for bishop back in 2009 when it came to light that he had not only received Buddhist "lay ordination," but also had preached a Trinity Sunday sermon whose theology was deeply problematic.

More seriously, he substituted a reading from the Koran for the assigned Epistle reading to a Sunday Eucharist in a way that liturgically put the Koran reading on an equal footing with the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

And then to make matters even worse, it came to light that he had revised the liturgy for Holy Baptism in a way that affirms conversion (or "enlightenment") to the truth of our own divinity rather than renunciation of sin and evil and conversion to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Fortunately, Forrester did not receive the necessary consents to become a bishop. But the fact that someone in the Episcopal Church could hold such views and do such things and it be deemed okay by so many is astounding! And disturbing. But not surprising given the toleration of figures such as Bishops Pike and Spong.

Based upon the case of Kevin Thew Forrester and other examples I've come across, I wrote the following:

The Forrester case is, indeed, a wake-up call that the Episcopal Church has been infiltrated by both bad and heretical theology. It may not be as pervasive as the more stringent doomsayers cry, but it's there and, left unchecked, will spread and come to seem more and more "normal." It's up to the "diverse center" of the Episcopal Church to remain vigilant and to have the courage to say "no" to those agendas.

Peter Carrell said...

As there are false versions afoot at times in my church, Bryan!

Andrew Reid said...

There are always false versions of the gospel around in any church. The question here is has the church, through its leadership structures or settled pattern of belief and practice, as a whole adopted a different gospel to the one revealed in the Scriptures and held as apostolic by the church?
Despite the diversity of gospel perspectives (e.g. atonement, new birth, righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, etc.), there is one gospel. It centres on the person of Jesus, his death and resurrection, his Lordship over all creation and the new life he brings to those who repent and believe in him. The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds give fuller expression to that understanding of Christian belief.
Where TEC (and ACC's) gospel is false is that they have substituted the Jesus of the Bible with the Jesus of inclusion. A Jesus who welcomes all without the need for repentance, faith and faithful living.
I think even TEC would say they follow a different gospel to other parts of the communion, or at least a "fuller" or "more wholistic" gospel. What they wouldn't admit is that their gospel is false.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Trevin Wax has written what looks to be an interesting book entitled Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope. Although Trevin is a Southern Baptist pastor, his perspective may be helpful for unpacking the question "Is there a false gospel in the Communion?" (Or, perhaps more accurately, "Are there false gospels in the Communion?")

In a posting on his website entitled "Which Counterfeit Gospels are Most Prevalent Today?", Trevin offers the following nine counterfeit gospels for consideration:

* Therapeutic Gospel
* Formalist Gospel
* Moralist Gospel
* Judgmentless Gospel
* Social-Club Gospel
* Activist Gospel
* Churchless Gospel
* Mystic Gospel
* Quietist Gospel

Read it all and take the poll.

In my own blog posting on this, I wrote: "If there are counterfeit gospels afoot in the Episcopal Church, my experience suggests that we tend to gravitate towards the Therapeutic, Judgmentless, Social-Club and Activist Gospels."

Peter Carrell said...

That is a lot of false gospels, Bryan!