Friday, June 17, 2011

All Christian theology is Roman, even Anglicans should acknowledge that

In the course of the past few posts, which have been about how our church engages with an important issue without tearing itself apart, at least not unnecessarily, I have argued for the importance of our engagement being genuine theological discourse, not a recourse or threat of recourse to courts of law. Several important points have been made by commenters (thank you). One I want to tease out here, albeit very slightly relative to its great importance, concerns the seminal importance of Romans 12:1-2 which is a leitmotif of Bryden Black's:

"12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. 12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect." (NET Bible)

What is Romans 'all about'? Sin, judgment, gospel, the Jews, grace, freedom, God, election, justification, inclusion (of Gentiles in the people of God): there are many candidates. But yesterday's office reading from Romans 2:17-end is suggestive of another word to answer the question of what Romans is all about. This passage, you may recall, as part of a pivotal (and often overlooked) stage in Paul's great argument teases out the character of true Jewishness. Towards the end he writes,

"2:28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 2:29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God." (NET)

Here Paul sets out some of the great themes in Romans: the inward state of the person, reality more important than symbol, the limitations of the law or 'written code', and the supreme importance of the judgement of God. But here two, these themes are constrained towards the one great theme of Romans. I suggest that theme, captured in Romans 12:1-2, is Transformation.

Paul's gospel, explicitly described as such when he writes 'my gospel' (2:16), boils down from the brilliant subtleties of fifteen chapters of sustained argument to a gospel of transformation. God changes lives. Gentiles (effectively) become (true) Jews. Unjustified are justified. Condemned people are no longer under condemnation. Those who do what they do not want to do, do what God wants them to do. The diseased vine of Israel is reinvigorated. How then are the transformed to live?

Romans 12-15 sets out Paul's answer (with Romans 16 being a pot pouri of greetings to transformed people in a transformational church). 12:1-2 is the perfect beginning and summary of the ethical essay of chapters 12-15. The big picture Paul urges us to grasp, the primary step we take as transformed people wanting to live rightly is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, to be and to go on being transformed by the renewing of our minds (which implicitly in Romans is an invocation of the Spirit: see both 2:29 above, and more generally, Romans 8). All with the purpose of discerning the will of God.

Paul then says something about the will of God which both encourages and challenges us. The will of God is that which is 'good and well-pleasing and perfect.' The encouragement is that we need not fear God's will. It is good. The challenge is that we look for that which is good, well-pleasing and perfect when we seek God's will. There is a sense here that harsh debate, political machinations, and generally getting lost in the details - features of current hermeneutical life - is being challenged. God's will is not wrested triumphantly from the maul of mental combat, like a ball emerging from a rugby ruck, all sorts of skulduggery hidden from the referee's gaze as the ruck ensued!

Transformation is the gospel. Not just Paul's gospel, but 'the gospel', the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ whether according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Paul. Romans is not another gospel, nor is it one way of expressing the gospel. It is a deep exploration of the one gospel, probing the universal implications and applications of the one action of God in Christ crucified, sweeping aside all barriers to fellowship between God and humanity, and in the process shattering all barriers between people. Christian theology is Romans for in Romans we find the gospel for all people clarified. It is transformation, for everyone, and for the whole person of each one.

This, if you like, is the true Roman theology. Even Anglicans should acknowledge that, and rejoice. The Pope's name is Paul, we could say, not Peter! (Pope here in the sense of 'Father' and Paul is the Father of theology).

Returning to our situations today, whether we are globally engaged in the future of the Communion, or regionally focused, say, in the life of ACANZP, or locally challenged to work out the gospel in mission to distraught people in a broken city and fragile society, as we are here in Christchurch, the theology which guides us should be a gospel theology, focused through the light of Romans, a Roman theology for the whole church.


Bryden Black said...

Two quick things Peter.

1. It is noteworthy how this Letter has become in the history of the Church a key launching pad for renewal: in Martin Luther’s hands and again in Karl Barth’s. This alone should give us all pause for thought, confirming your attention to it. So thank you!

2. I have also pointed out in the previous posts how 12:2 is like the tip of an iceberg, revealing a key motif of the NT Catechetical form that erupts throughout the Epistles. Very similar to Rom 12:1-2 is Eph 4:17-24. I have often said in exegeting this second passage (linking back to the first):

“This archetypal pairing of putting off the old and putting on the new (cf. Col 3), “in the power of the Spirit” (Rom 8:13), via the “renewing of the spirit of the mind”, may be likened to a pair of scissors, since such an instrument is made up of three things, a pair of opposing blades and a rivet holding them together. And this crucial pivot, with a similar contrast of old and new, is exactly what Paul presents at the turning point of his magisterial Romans, 12:1-2.”

Pax et bonum (as St Aug used to say)!

Peter Carrell said...

Love the image, Bryden, of the scissors!

Bryden Black said...

So; .... I may be intelligible after all! "Have a good one!" (Is that intelligible tho'?!) - ;-))

Father Ron Smith said...

May I interupt the holy dualogue here - about the 'sanctity' of Saint Paul's words in Romans 12:1- 2.

As the biblical literalists keep reminding us, we need to take all of scripture in it's true context. Just take a peek further down the page and have a look at the rest of chapter 12. I think you will find some reference to the need for humility in your treatment of other Christians.

This might remind us of the 'Body' that Paul later speaks of here as the family of Christ's Church - due respect, not the insults that are too often laid at the feet of those who happen to be 'different'. God is the Judge, not us, of how we use the bodies God has given to us. We will each have to answer to God for ourselves - not for the despised 'other' in these arguments.

"Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone!' - Jesus

Bryden Black said...

... you are correct Ron! Which is why I try to avoid ad hominem comment and exhort you and others to address the arguments themselves. And so when these are lacking and/or inadequate, it just gets plain ... difficult!

Peter Carrell said...

I agree with you, Ron, we take all that Paul says in Romans literally, and if not, then seriously. There is a call for humility in the way we treat each other in the body of Christ. There is also, if we read further on into chapters 14 and 15, a call to accept those weaker than ourselves. The 'weaker' might be the 'other' (as in some current debates) and it may be some who are not yet identified as struggling to go with the flow of the rest of the body.

I would hope here on ADU that we do not engage in insults (but there are failures), that we do not judge one another on matters which should be left to God to judge (again, there are failures), and that we engage in reading Scripture together to discern God's will.

Father Ron Smith said...

While we're on the subject of sin and sinners; in 'New Daylight' (Bible Study notes) this morning, Diana and I were impressed with Lucy Moore's comment on Matthew 9:10-13, where Jesus 'eats with tax-collectors and sinners' - whose company he seems to often prefer to that of those whom he calls 'the righteous'. I certainly know which category I'm in!

I will be commenting more broadly, this morning, on 'kiwianglo'.

Lucy said...

The transformation Paul urges us to pursue is costly at so many levels; I guess the phrase ‘living sacrifice’ kind of gives that away. While it’s easy enough to rejoice in the beauty of the promise, to actually begin and then continue living transformed lives requires individuals and communities of faith to face some hard truths and make equally hard decisions. The requirement for transformation suggests that there is an existing state of brokenness, desolation, destruction or ‘bentness’, to borrow CS Lewis’ memorable term. Now, while we’re keen on the idea of transformation, we’re not always so quick to acknowledge our own specific broken, desolate, bentness – and there is the first cost, a profound and humble repentance for living lives so utterly out of step with the Creator.

The promise of transformation is also costly because we are not brought in as expert consultants, we’re not asked to make any input as to what the end project should look like, we’re not partners in the design of transformation, we have no role other than that of living sacrifices: In fact, God acts as though he’s of the opinion that we have no idea at all how we should live – funny thing that. The initiative and the authority are all his; he tells us what holy, transformed lives are like; the only question he asks is, ‘will you do it?’

Which brings me back to something I raised earlier in regard to +Philip’s proposal regarding whether or not same-sex orientation was sinful; for the life of me, I cannot understand why he chose to frame the discussion within orientation. It seems to me to be a given that our orientation is towards bentness in every area of human endeavour and human personality, and equally that we are to abandon this bentness, and as living sacrifices become transformed by the power of Christ. Determining what constitutes a transformed life and what remains desolation of course is our current and ongoing vexed question... and leads to a final question:

Peter I find myself sympathising with the frustration expressed by St Matthew’s and Father Ron and others, but I am puzzled by your own cautiously open position. You have said that the LGBT = God-given diversity lobby needs to construct a theology and persuade the whole of our church of the truth of this theology. They have a coherent position, it has been well articulated ... for years and years. The ‘other side’ also has a well argued case and it too has been well articulated for years and years. What more do you feel needs to be done before you could say a final ‘yes’ or ‘no’?

Bryden Black said...

“My Gospel”/the Gospel: it is well worthwhile making this thread, based on Peter’s quick summary of this Letter, address a key feature (to my mind) of what also ails us as Western Christians, namely, the watering down of ‘the Gospel’ to readily digestible sound bytes. ‘Liberals’ do this; ‘conservatives’ do this; ‘fundamentalists’ do this - all often, it seems.

For of course (we’d say), “God is Love” - and so the Gospel of Jesus, the Lord and Messiah of Israel, who has inaugurated his Father’s rule, and given to share of his Holy Spirit, to transform the very world, etc. - is made to ‘fit’ into this (apparently) simple enough piece of ‘code’.

Yet; and yet ... fascinatingly and importantly, the clear declaration that “God is Love” is found towards the end of the canon, in 1 Jn 4. Immediately beforehand, in that Letter, this Elder boldly starts with “God is Light”, detailing some the consequences of this. True; once he has begun to lay this foundation, he moves (2:3ff) into talking of the New Commandment. Light and Love are inextricably linked in his mind when contemplating the nature of God’s Being. But even yet we are not quite done.

The primary declaration is found in the Gospel of John ch.4: “God is Spirit”, where this word has all the connotations of Life, Light, eventfulness, reality, actuality - yes; the German word used by Karl Barth in his CD II.1, Wirklichkeit, of ch.6, §§ 28-31. Here God’s perfections as the One who lives and loves in freedom are painstakingly detailed and coalesced via the singular Gospel of Jesus. For when the Fourth Gospel writer does also declare directly God’s love, the curious thing that follows next - and follows twice! - is division: just so Jn 3:16-21, echoed in Jn 1:9-13. For, finally, if we humans are to participate in the genuine worship of the One true God, we need, as Jn 4 states so clearly, now the Spirit and the Truth; there is quite simply now no other Way (even as naturally God mercifully “winked” (Acts 13-17) at our all too human, past blindnesses).

So; what is the Gospel? Not merely the Four Spiritual Laws certainly; and neither the simplistic statement, “God is Love”. Truly; part of our western Christian malaise is the horridly diluted gruel we serve up, week after week, in ‘worship’ and ‘sermons’ and ‘sacraments’ (what on earth happened to those awesome and holy mysteries (Ted Yarnold) of old?) - all that passes for the residue of the private option that is Christianity in our modern, secular world. Paul, I imagine from this Letter he wrote to Rome, which also had its own version of “power unto salvation”, would have quite a few things to say into our early 21st C context that would upset us as much as I also imagine he upset the Caesars and the Roman populus!!

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Lucy; loved your use of “bentness”! Echoed for me Luther’s “incurvatus in se” to describe our basic ‘sin’ [our curved in upon ourselves, wld translate]. So that the Gospel’s “transformation” is rather like a koru’s [tree-fern; for those not in Kiwi-land] unfolding and opening up.

As for your last: I guess the question (if indeed the ‘sides’ are as you say; a bit of an “if”, I sense”) is, who adjudicates and how might we adjudicate?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for comments, one and all. Responding to a particular question of Lucy:

(1) I do not think coherent theological cases have been advanced in the life of our church with serious consideration across all our synods. Bits of coherency have emerged (e.g. around justice, rights; e.g. around scriptural prohibition).

(2) I never underestimate the capacity of our church to make decisions on pragmatic bases. :)

(3) In the end our church has not come to a point of either affirming change or confirming status quo. It could be good to do that.

For myself: I am cautiously open to (a) being persuaded that I am wrong; (b) that our church might be able to find a way to hold two opposing views together.

A betting person might put more money on (b) coming to pass than (a).

Father Ron Smith said...

"For myself: I am cautiously open to (a) being persuaded that I am wrong; (b) that our church might be able to find a way to hold two opposing views together." - Dr.Peter Carrell -

Peter, I do applaud your openness here - openness to what God might yet want to reveal about God's-self in relation to the complexities of our innate affective capacity to love, as perfectly as we are able in the given circumstances of our individual lives.

There is ample proof of God's power to change us - even from what we had been convinced of our own rightness about the authenticity of our own experience of God at work in our own lives - and in the lives of different 'others'.

The conversion of Saul to Paul was perhaps the most dramatic about-turn in the N.T. Scriptures. He was absolutely convinced of his right-ness, based on The Law - until he witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen, a radical disciple for Jesus, who prayed, in extremis, for his persecutors. And what a conversion that eventually became - from absolute conviction that Paul was on the 'right' path (faithful to the Scriptures), to absolute conviction that he had been wrong all along.

Thank you for your basic honesty about 'not knowing' - with that deadly certainty that can get in the way of whatever it is God might want to reveal - in order to 'let go, and let God' teach you/us.

Anonymous said...

"I may be intelligible after all!" Rev. Dr. Bryden Black

It is unclear, Bryden, whether you are pleased or annoyed about this ;-)


Bryden Black said...

Nice one Alison! The young people (and the oldies too who come along) seemed well enough pleased with the intelligibility of the presentation of the ‘cash value’ of real Trinitarian theology last evening ...

Lucy said...

Peter, thanks for your comments re the lack of a coherent theological argument – although I now have the Gospel of Lucy attributed to me courtesy of Father Ron, I will bow to your superior wisdom!

Peter, you said it is possible ‘that our church might be able to find a way to hold two opposing views together’. If that were to happen, do you think the resulting amalgam would prove to be robust, truthful and just?
If we were to make this our final-ish position, would we be saying something like, ‘we are bound together by cords of affection, there is so much love and respect between us all that we find ourselves unwilling to separate over this issue’. I feel a Tui moment coming on at this point (for those of you who, like Kurt, lack the benefit of an Australasian education, hear ‘Yeah! Right!’ said with some feeling).

If we found ourselves claiming that the Spirit’s voice to us was, ‘listen folk: homosexual relationships are wonderful holy things, created to bring joy and fulfillment, and to witness to my marvelous diversity … oh by the way, they are off limits to my disciples, so please repent ASAP’ … what would that say to us and to the world about justice and about truth?

About justice: we would have formalized a position, and claimed that the Holy Spirit had led us to it, in which LGBT priests, and lay couples, would be celebrated here and rejected there. Peter, that is not an honourable position for the Communion to take.

About truth: if the Communion claims that after prayer and reflection we believe our future best practice will be to affirm two utterly irreconcilable views, we will have deeply compromised our proclamation of truth. It is self-evident that such a position, being internally contradictory, must be inherently flawed.

So much more to say … have taken too much space already.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Lucy,
I like "the Gospel according to Lucy". Will there be, like the Gospel of Luke, a follow up volume? :)

It could depend a bit on how "opposing" the opposing views are. The Anglican church has been this way before, e.g. trying to amalgamate catholic and evangelical wings, etc. To give a possible hypothetical case, could our church agree that "marriage" is for "a man and a woman" but priests are permitted to pray for other relationships ... that would not be quite as "opposing" (IMHO) as holding together the views that marriage can only be about a man and a woman and marriage can be about any combination of two people.

But, you may well wish to cast that into Tui billboard territory.

Bryden Black said...

A question Lucy: would that be the Gospel according to Peanuts, Charlie Brown, et al, BTW?

Bryden Black said...

1/2 Many thanks Lucy for the way you set the matter up, via the categories of ‘justice’ and ‘truth’. How of course we might better relate these two we may eventually come to. Meanwhile, I want only to pursue one particular thing, which your approach prompts, to my mind.

When one proposes any scientific theory or hypothesis, one is in fact doing two things at once. In the first place, one is attempting to explain as best one can certain phenomena, their interactions, their causes, their outcomes, and so on, by putting specific questions to these particular phenomena. However, one is also by just such an explanation attempting to show, secondly, how other, often previous, attempts to explain just such phenomena are now rendered obsolete by this (new) explanation; they have been shown by this alternative ‘theory’ to be somehow inadequate, or even false.

Newton’s Laws of Motion give us a good example. For while people still resolutely rely on them - they are not exactly false! - Einstein & Co have however demonstrated their serious inadequacy in specific circumstances - which we may horridly abbreviate as ‘the very small, the very large, and the very fast’. It is now the case that we see Newton’s ideas, his theories, his paradigm even, as but a subset within an Einsteinian universe, which latter paradigm is more comprehensive.

But there is another way such paradigms and/or models of understanding may operate. The history of science has thrown up also the contrast between how we view the solar system in a Ptolemaic way or a Copernican one. Either the sun goes round the earth or the earth goes round the sun. We simply cannot have it both ways, both being the case simultaneously; they are mutually exclusive ways of looking at things.

So now to return to Peter’s and your ways of expressing our Communion dilemmas, regarding whether we may live together, with opposing views, or whether we may regard them as somehow complementary, and so may better live together.

My own personal journey with this ‘phenomenon’ of ‘homosexuality’ began early in life, due to the fact that I went to two all male boarding schools between the ages of 8 and 17. I met there both those who engaged in this form of behaviour and those who were probably what we would now deem ‘gay’ (and subsequent life-style has corroborated this, in some examples, to be the case). Very soon in my late teens, I also met bisexual folk and those who engaged in lesbian behaviour, as well as those who were adamantly “non BMs” (as they called themselves: not Baby Makers!). I say all this merely to show my ‘experience’ is just as ‘solid’ as some who try to claim, somehow, a deeper ‘appreciation’ of these human phenomena.

Returning to the west in the mid 1980s, having ministered for quite a while in Africa, I encountered however not just these old familiar people, but what amounted now to an aggressive social and political movement. They had really upped the anti - with for example the likes of the Channel Four Australian ‘doco’ “The Clinic”, a fascinating piece of ideology (and I use that word in its neutral sense and its pejorative one). For quite a few years, there ensued a real engagement with this entire question; and Australia was an excellent context for this, given the openly chosen and even forcibly presented members of the LGBT communities I met and spoke with. For quite a while, not only did I sit on the fence but even started climbing down the ‘progressive’ side!

Bryden Black said...

2/2 But what made me climb back up and firmly get off the fence entirely was just your sort of approach, triggered by Peter’s questions. For if one evaluates your approach via the sorts of methodology I briefly and all too inadequately outlined above re the sciences, this appears to be the conclusion.

To date the ‘progressives’ have just not proffered an ultimately satisfactorily comprehensive enough view or paradigm. Sure; many have made a number of approaches. Ron frequently offers his own here on ADU; Bosco’s Liturgy site hosts many a supportive stance that would overturn the ‘trad’ view. But nowhere have I encountered any view of any ‘progressives’ that would perform BOTH tasks mentioned above of any ‘theory’. To name but two. Even Bosco’s putting me onto - thanks again, BTW! - was not convincing enough. Nor is the otherwise excellent A Time to Embrace: Same Gender relations in religion, law and politics by William Stacy Johnson. And the reason is actually simple enough.

Both, but Johnson especially, presuppose a liberal democratic paradigm. And what’s wrong with that, I hear many scream! Well; while I am immensely grateful for living in various political cultures that are part of this overall political family scheme (particularly since I’ve known nastier arrangements!), as Christians and as members of the Church we also need to be well aware of the actual, ambivalent history of the rise of the Nation State and its counterpoint, the Church, these past 350 years - to pick but one time-frame, starting with Hobbes. For, as I am all too fond of suggesting, the last creature to ask questions of the water is the fish. Just as the likes of Alison, and others, (on another thread) finds James’s use of Michel Foucault’s peeling back of the multiple layers of the sexual onion really rather tricky to ‘read’, so too most folk I know in the west just cannot ‘see’ it any other way: of course democracy rules, idiot! Ask Bush re Iraq!! Yet even that association does not quite make us truly pause to think deeply enough. Mercifully, there is now the work of William Cavanaugh and others (like Milbank) to refer to, who have peeled back sufficiently our root paradigms to show that all is not as it might be between the liberal democratic culture westerners so readily ‘assume’ and that richer ethos and world-view we might know as the Judeo-Christian social project, the Church.

For this project is supremely underscored by the Trinitarian view of Reality, where the language of inclusivity is properly that of catholicity, and of diversity more adequately accounted for and explained by ecological created differentiation. And where the Human Image of Male-and-Female truly reflects this triune Being, and where other forms of human relationship, however apparently and conscionably they appear to be similar, are but pale and inadequate ‘icons’, in the end. The Nuptial Mystery that is the Church, the Bride of Christ, is absolutely decisive here too.

So Lucy (and others); as we try to untangle all these layers, contemporary and historical, moral and political, spiritual and theological, I am most grateful for the approach you offered. As always too in the world of science, and as Einstein knew all too well: it’s the very form of the question that will help determine the answers. Ciao for now!

Bryden Black said...

Apologies folks: cyber gremlins rubbed out Bosco's hat-tip. Should read; "Even Bosco’s putting me onto What God has Joined Together - thanks again, BTW! - was not convincing enough."

Anonymous said...

"The Nuptial Mystery that is the Church, the Bride of Christ, is absolutely decisive here too."

Yes, that's the point all along: Christian marriage reflects the bond between Christ and his Church. Other kinds of human social life are evidently possible and are capable of manifesting what the Reformers called "common grace", which is to say they subserve an intermediate good end and (to put it bluntly), they are not as bad as they could be, but for the grace of God. These arrangements include slavery, polygyny and communism. Nobody but the dewy-eyed or ignorant would argue that these relationships are desirable as they stand, but they are a way of ordering human life to secure some goods. They can be touched with grace, but that's common grace, not salvific. Slavery and polygyny are not wholly oppressive (they provide some security) but hardly desirable: they must yield to the more excellent way of become slaves of Christ. The Soviet Union was not wholly bad, but it was not the Kingdom of God on earth (neither is the United States).
Talk of "justice" which 'betwitches' many in Tec and beyond is exactly reflective of Milbank's critique of liberal theology cited by Bryden. The Church's call is to see and proclaim things 'sub specie aeternitatis'. Much of oldline Protestantism has forgotten this (while a lot of newline Protestantism follows its wn idols of the age).


James said...

Peter, thank you for this lovely article;

Lucy, thank you for your own incisive commentary;

Fr. Ron, thanks for your own contribution, sharpening thought;

Bryden, thanks for your own autobiographical insights, and very incisive commentary;

Peter Pailailogos, thanks also for your own words here.