Thursday, January 29, 2015

Are women bishops a collusion with culture or development of Galatians 3:28?

"A great read, an encouraging read, about a contemporary theologian who realized the moral bankruptcy and theological impoverishment of liberal Christianity and who also teaches the merits of a broad consensus Christianity which is preferably to narrow and sectarian varieties."

Those words come from a quick review by Michael Bird of Thomas C. Oden's autobiography A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014).

I am looking forward to reading the book - on order for the Theology House library - and appreciate the brief review Michael Bird provides. The review highlights, I suggest, one of the great issues in the life of the church today. This issue is present when (say) we visit a church and find that 80% of the congregation are aged over 70 years, or we shake our heads and wonder at the future of theological education and ministry training when we find that yet another seminary somewhere in the Western Anglican Communion is closing down or just reconfiguring, or, as this week, we see that Libby Lane has become the first woman bishop in the C of E.

I guess the issue could be described in various ways such as how we interpret the Bible or working out tradition in modern contexts but, working from Bird's review of Oden's memoirs, I describe it as the church discerning the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Oden, it seems, spent a number of years pursuing that discernment along a pathway which promised much and delivered little. At that point Oden rediscovered the pathways charted by the ancient Fathers, including the Super Highway charted by Athanasius Augustine and Aquinas. In part this is about resisting the temptation to love heresy more than orthodoxy (remembering that heresy is not the opposite of orthodoxy but an attractive deviation from it) and in another part this appears to be about the ongoing matter of God's truth in human contexts or the relationship between revelation and culture.

When we worry about church attendance declining or participation in church life reducing to one or two senior generations rather than the all generations, or argue over whether women may or may not be discerned for presbyteral or episcopal ministry, we are engaging, directly or indirectly, in reflection of God's truth in human contexts. What is the Word of God for today? How do we answer that question honouring the Word of God in its fullness and precision while living in a world which did not exist when the Word of God was revealed to us in the form we read as our Scripture?

If, taking one issue, we have no young people in our churches, what has happened to the Word of God which the remnant elderly generations once heard as a clarion call to follow Jesus? Taking another issue, in a world sensitive to full participation of women in human community, what does the Word of God mean for the life of the church when it announces that male and female are one in Christ and declares that humanity is made in the image of God?

That in some parts of the church we might (as in 'just might, let's pause and think about this very carefully') be misunderstanding God's Word as we seek to discern its full meaning for life is highlighted when we find absurd applications being pursued. In that part of the church led by the Bishop of Rome, we find some oddities around persisting with segregation of men and women in leadership so that not only may women not be priests but some think girls may not be altar servers either (here). But that is perhaps nothing much in oddity terms compared with the extraordinary compromise the CofE has carefully and seemingly secretly worked on which prevents the Archbishop of York from laying hands on Philip North at his ordination.

Back to Oden. His approach to theology has a very interesting parallel with that of Jaroslav Pelikan, as we read about the latter in First Things. My question of both theologians as they followed the ancient ways of orthodoxy is whether they picked and chose what they consider to be orthodoxy! Oden remained a Methodist which suggests he did not agree with everything he read in Augustine and Aquinas (for the combined logic of both, if agreed with, must lead to membership of the church of Rome). Pelikan eventually eschewed Lutheranism in favour of Eastern Orthodoxy which highlights a choice to no long subscribe to the creed of Western Orthodoxy!

All theology involves choice as we seek to fully discern the Word of God written for us in Scripture. Notwithstanding the impressive scholarship of Oden and Pelikan and the power of their arguments that in modernity theologians have made some bad choices, neither offers an infallible method for maintaining, let alone developing orthodoxy. To wit, the creedal differences between East and West remain; Rome has not reversed its teaching on the assumption of Mary; Aquinas has not proved to be the last word on the mystery of the sacraments.

On a specific contemporary question, doubly highlighted by the ordination of Libby Lane this week in England and by the extraordinary manner in which his archbishop and other bishops will be 'absent' at Philip North's ordination next week, it is easy to charge the church of God as colluding with culture by ordaining a woman to the episcopate and to invoke the spectre of failure to maintain the orthodox faith of the church of God. It is harder to explain how orthodoxy with its conundrums highlighted by the differing examples of Oden and Pelikan guarantees that in 2015 we may KNOW that woman may not be bishops.

Actually, almost hidden in the review of Oden's memoirs, is a clue we could reflect on concerning knowledge of God's revelation in its full depth and breadth. The great strength of orthodoxy has been its consensus, the sensus fidelium in which the people of God agree together on what is and is not God's truth:

"Oden treasures “consensus Christian” which is a lot like C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity.” Oden says, “The clergy did not create this consent; it was achieved by an act of the worshiping community confirmed by the laity in song, prayer and Scripture” (p. 176)."

In the end the question of whether women bishops represent the church colluding with culture or are a proper application of our discernment of Galatians 3:28 will not be sorted on this blog, but by the reception of the people of God in the ages to come ...

But I could be wrong!


Father Ron Smith said...

Maybe we need to look at the beginnings of Christianity, when circumcision was abandoned, as an unnecessary hurdle for Christian spirituality.

I believe that the ordination of women has been a natural progression of the mature understanding of Saint Paul; that "In Christ, there is neither male nor female".

We were told by Jesus that the Holy Spirit would be given to enable us to discern the Truth - about Sin, about God, and about Righteousness. Maybe the Church has become more ready for that discernment to take place. As Pope John XXIII re-iterated: "Semper Reformanda".

I believe the Holy Spirit is still alive and active, but the Church has been too wrapped up in its own culture to keep up. "Come, Holy Spirit!"

Bryden Black said...

I too shall look forward to reading this “memoir”, Peter. Not least, I suspect it is the mature reflections begun in his earlier confessional work After Modernity ... What? Agenda for Theology (2nd ed 1990), from which I took much courage.

For here was an avowed and respected "liberal" who had the courage to acknowledge his disquiet about the "illusions of modernity", and so sought an alternative "agenda for theology" - one that would not merely engage with "context" but dare to evaluate it even more "critically" than that context was itself prepared to do of itself, and by means of a Tradition far more robust than the shifting sands of "criticism" or even "critical theory"! All a delightful irony, and one furthermore at the expense of those contemporary ‘prophets of irony’.

I suspect too that his later The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity (2003), in which he sounds the revitalizing depths of this Tradition amidst what he terms “the lingering expiration of failed ideologies: individualism, narcissism, naturalism, and moral relativism”, is an important stepping stone between these two.

[There are other texts of course, especially his three volume systematic theology, and his editing of the five volume Ancient Christian Doctrine series on the Nicene Creed, which I have found fascinating and a labour of true love. He’s been a busy bee! Those who might wish to see how others have viewed his work, there’s Ancient & Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century - Essays in Honour of Thomas C. Oden, edited by Kenneth Tanner & Christopher Hall (2002): a tour de force engagement with that very Tradition Oden embraces while the various authors probe multifarious facets of our 21st C world. So; please be quick with your reading of this memoir, Peter!]

Andrew Reid said...

While you're on women bishops, the Diocese of Egypt & North Africa(where I live) has just released a statement re-affirming its position of not ordaining women as priest or bishop. It's only in Arabic until now, but I'll do an update if an English version is published. Interestingly, the primary reasoning was unity with other Eastern churches (Orthodox and Catholic) rather than Biblical grounds.

Anonymous said...

Call me pedantic, but I do wish we could stop talking about 'women bishops'. The words 'men' and 'women' are not adjectives, they are nouns! The proper adjectives are 'male' and 'female'! (this, by the way, Peter, is a line I learned from your bishop, when she was my bishop!).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Tim
I might try to wean myself off that particular habit!

liturgy said...

I'm sorry, pedantic Tim, but if you really are going to be pedantic at least get it correct and not use highly-outdated categories.

Contemporary grammatical theories distinguish grammatical categories like noun and adjective from grammatical functions like head and modifier (and both from semantic categories).

To say that "snow" in "snow flakes" is an adjective because it modifies the noun confuses the grammatical category "adjective" with the grammatical function "modifier". Sometimes a noun can modify another noun.

There are, hence, plenty of habits that, Peter, you might wean yourself off well before this one.



Father Ron Smith said...

Just love those percentages from the Diocese of Egypt & North Africa. Are they signs of the mathematical make-up of the local opinion polls - per parish?

Anonymous said...

Bosco, in this country we spell it 'snowflake' - it's something we're very familiar with!

Jean said...

Hi Peter

Regarding the role of women and the collusion with culture tis an interesting debate and as you say one that will not be solved on this blog : )

Twas a thinking re women and leadership. This led to a bit of research and an understanding that actually woman as preachers/leaders has in past had times when it was acceptable, and times when it wasn't, as far as culture goes.

While Deboroah not only judged Israel, she was also a prophetess and directed Israel spiritually, and she was married. Then there were the odd female teachers of housechurches who arrived on the scene after the crucifiction of Christ.

In years to come woman evangelists have been accepted in some churches, rejected in others. In America woman preached prior to women's 'liberalisation'. They did so without a salary, only if their husband approved (if they were married), and did not baptise. Some churches allowed them to preach others didn't so they preached out in the open. Some husbands allowed their wives to be co-leaders with them. But what they did was counter-cultural to the patriarchal norm of society then.

Now for many the role of women as leaders in some countries is culturally accepted in the church and in society, which of course makes it easier for women to do so. It has not, however, as far as I can ascertain come about because of a collusion with culture. They were on the scene long before the suffragete movement.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jean!
Your survey makes a good point as we try to understand where we have come from when making decisions about where we are going to ...

Jean said...

Oh Tim and Bosco can I shock you completely re grammar.

As it was decided during my educational years by the power that be that this particular aspect of the english language was to be learnt through osmosis it was not in the curriculum.

As such I am extremely pleased if I recognise a noun from an adjective, or if I get the possessive hyphen in the right place, or even use a comma correctly. It is amazing where trial an error get you.... : )

But I appreciate your tips!

Anonymous said...

Jean, your historical point is well illustrated by George Eliot's famous 1859 novel 'Adam Bede', which is set in 1799 in the days of the Methodist revival and features as one of its main characters a female Methodist preacher named Dinah Morris (who certainly '' although she is not shown in the novel presiding at Holy Communion, but then, in those days that would have been a very infrequent observance anyway). Interestingly, it is the evangelical woman Dinah who exercises a preaching ministry, which the latitudinarian rector Mr. Irwine disapproves of. Apparently the character of Dinah was based on Eliot's aunt Elizabeth Evans, who was a Methodist preacher.

So yes, acceptance of the ministry of women has 'waxed and waned' in the history of the church. Interestingly, in Britain one of the first denominations to accept their ministry was the Salvation Army, hardly a bastion of theological liberalism!


liturgy said...

"Women bishops" is a term used by the BBC, The Tablet, and other reputable publications.

Since "snow flake" didn't cut the Canadian mustard to demonstrate that a noun can be used to modify a noun, here are some other examples (some of which must surely be used in Canada) where even Canadians must surely not be insisting that the modifying noun be rejected and be replaced by a cognate adjective:

boy scout
candle flame
church spire
string theory
women bishops
toy shop
car door
arms dealer
door bell
picnic table



Peter Carrell said...

I hesitate to enter where grammatico-spelling angels fear to tread (!) but one of the caveats on my grammatico-spelling conscience re 'women bishops' has always been that their opposites (in general usage in a world of 'women bishops' has not been (in my estimation) 'men bishops' but 'male bishops'.

Thus my question to modern grammarians (or should that be post-modern grammarians?) is this: whether a noun or an adjective is a qualifier, does its perceived opposite qualifier have any bearing?

Speaking simply as an ecclesiastical blogger, I wonder if some kind of fairness dictates that if I am a 'women bishops' rather than 'female bishops' person then I should consistently refer to their counterparts on the bench as 'men bishops' and not as 'male bishops.'

liturgy said...

To add to your point, Peter, the word "men", until relatively recently, was understood to include "women", and I'm sure that there are readers of your blog who still see it as doing so, and use it so.

The point behind that is that, until relatively recently, the word "bishop" referred exclusively to men (in the uninclusive sense of those with the Y chromosome).

We are in a transition time of language around this when we need to stress that a bishop can be a woman. The time is coming when the term for a woman bishop will be "a bishop".



Peter Carrell said...

Excellent, Bosco!

Andrew Reid said...

Fr Ron,

The web address is in Arabic, which html doesn't understand, so it converts it to symbols instead. Let me try and write the Arabic here.بيان-إقليم-الكنيسة-الأسقفية-
It means "statement of the Anglican province of Jersulem and..." (cut off).

Jean said...

Hi Andrew (Reid)

There is no doubt the Anglican Diocese in Egypt walks a fine line among many social and political issues; and also that it's decision not to ordain women is for 'the greater good?" - perhaps an example of contextual decision making?

As an aside no doubt you are ahead of me on this one. But have you read the Son of Hammas and did you know the arabic version (e-book) is free.

All the best for the good work you do,

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Andrew. Now I understand - not perfectly, but to a lesser degree! Agape. Ron

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Jean & Ron,
Thanks for your comments :)
I have read Son of Hamas, but in the English version. My Arabic isn't quite good enough to read novels.

Your comments are quite perceptive. There would be a negative reaction from other Christian churches here, none of whom ordain women as priests. The Coptic Orthodox and Brethren still require women and men to sit separately in the congregation. Also, relationships with Muslim groups would suffer somewhat. The concern I have is that there are all sorts of other differences with other churches we are able to live with - e.g. fasting, clergy marriage, sacraments and monasticism. Why can we live with those differences but not women leaders? I think the answer is culturally in the Middle East female leadership in any form is unpopular, so the church reflects that opinion. Not that they would put that in a statement.

Father Ron Smith said...

Your last post, andrew, highlights the elephant in the room on how one is to practise their Christian Faith. There are different cultural suppositions that already presuppose difference in the understanding of basic disciplines that may be different for each part of the Body of Christ. As you have so wisely said: If these can be accommodated - without severing relationships, then why not others - such a those concerning gender and sexaulity.

However, we might already have our answer - the divided Church. If the Body of Christ can be divided on the acceptance of a common understanding of the gospel, then why question division on cultural aspects in society?

The only hope for the Church and the world may be to learn to live together in harmony - with peace and justice as our watchwords. After all, these are very 'Christian' principles - based, not on Judgement but on Love. ("They'll know you're my disciples by your Love")

Bryden Black said...

Oh dearie me! I have been waiting for the so-called “elephant” to appear with trumpet-like sounds ... And even considered a post to that effect myself y’day ...

For of course there is a real tension: cultural accommodation and/or relativism versus counter-cultural Gospel transformation and/or appropriation, even purification. Church history is littered with examples of this dynamic and its seemingly often contradictory, intermediary stances. But that is what they almost always are: intermediary positions, as the Gospel takes its own redeeming time to act, like yeast. But what if the salt then becomes “foolish” - the literal Greek of Matt 5:13?

Deep down it’s a matter of ontology, of a theology of creation. Matter matters! That’s why the title Peter has given this thread is so intriguing. For Gal 3:28 has a delightful shift when the third pair of 1st C binaries is mentioned, citing Gen 1. It’s not that ontology is being done away with “in Christ”. Rather, membership in the People of God is coming to its fruition as per the blessing of Abraham and the fulfilment of God’s economy of salvation for all the world. Chs 3-4 is the most delightful exegesis by Paul of further Genesis passages in light of Messiah’s arrival.

But it’s exactly at this point that western contemporary culture is at its most ironic: besotted with materialism, it eschews any real ontology, as its idolizes its autonomous capacity to “construct” its own cultural “identities”, one after the other in rapid succession. Yet curiously, a lingering Christian ethic somehow remains - like a grain of salt. And so we still hanker after “love” and “justice” - even if these and similar words are virtually emptied of their real content by means of what MacIntyre rightly calls “emotivism”, such is the state of moral discourse given its history these past decades, even centuries.

And so what kind of chance is there for ‘consensus’ when such contradictory cultures as those of the Middle East and those of the contemporary West meet each other? “Lost in Translation” becomes the rule. Thank God we are reminded of the Creator’s way through this quagmire during the Season of Epiphany, a due vestige of the Tradition extolled by the likes of Oden ... But just as the Matthean Gospel uniquely warns of “foolishness”, even as it narrates the story of the Magi at the beginning, so it also narrates at its conclusion the Great Commissioning of the Church to the task of Christian discipleship - of all nations and cultures. As Oden and others are only too acutely aware: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” So Jaroslav Pelikan, author of that landmark five part tome, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.

Father Ron Smith said...

Oh! Dearie you, Bryden. In the midst of your travail I detect a lyrical Song of Despair:

" And so we still hanker after “love” and “justice” - even if these and similar words are virtually emptied of their real content by means of what MacIntyre rightly calls “emotivism”, such is the state of moral discourse given its history these past decades, even centuries." - B.B.

"Emotivism" (new word - presumably meaning emotiveness or emotivity) is an essential element of being human. We are creatures of our emotions. Or else, we may hardly be called 'human'.

The words Peace and Justice - like Love are gospel words, relating to the sort of behaviour enjoined on all humanity by none less than Jesus Christ. One;s understanding of such words, of course, will depend on one's personal experience of their meaning.

My own experience of Peace, Love and Justice, is securely anchored in the understanding of how the life of Jesus has affected my heart, mind soul and very existence. If that is not emotive, I'm not sure what it can be. Is that not a part of our common humanity? And is it somehow invalidated by my ability to use Scripture, Tradition and Reason - those 3 characteristics of classic Anglicanism that has formed my faith?

Jean said...

Hi Andrew

I would imagine you are right the reason why the issue of women as a whole as preacher's is so controversial in the Middle East is because culturally women in leadership positions is universally unwelcome in the region.

At the same time the same stance was held for years historically in the UK and America and it took years to change. The difference I perceive perhaps in your current situation is at 'this point in history' and the current climate with Islam is the unity of the churches in your area is of great importance.

This does not of course mean that those within the diocese can not agree with women in leadership even though it is not practiced in your region. Nor that there won't come a time when God will choose or call people to change this landscape. Or that He may be doing so even now.

Wisdom and discernment seem key aspects.

Blessings Jean

MichaelA said...

"Oden remained a Methodist which suggests he did not agree with everything he read in Augustine and Aquinas (for the combined logic of both, if agreed with, must lead to membership of the church of Rome)."

John Calvin also thought highly of both Augustine and Aquinas.

Like Oden, I believe that he did not become a Roman Catholic.

MichaelA said...

"...although she is not shown in the novel presiding at Holy Communion, but then, in those days that would have been a very infrequent observance anyway)."

Tim, I think you will find that the methodists at that time set great store by the celebration of Holy Communion. It was one of their chief complaints against the leadership of the Church of England, that placed so little emphasis on the Eucharist and celebrated it infrequently.

Bryden Black said...

Well Ron; let me say this. “Emotivism” is clearly and specifically defined by MacIntyre in his After Virtue, now in its 3rd edition and the subject of global conferences and much secondary literature. It has nothing to do with your own experiential musings. On the contrary, the term seeks to nail the poverty of moral discourse in western culture these past decades, even centuries, in order then to restore our sense of what passes for contemporary ‘ethics’ to a far more robust search for “virtue” once more - that is, to ground human morality upon an ontological appreciation of reality and human behaviour as a reflection of what that is.

As for your attempt at authoritative ‘Anglican’ reasoning on matters of faith in your last para, I shall let one far more eloquent than I give his verdict:

“My suggestion will be that the idea [of the “Triple Cord”, as he calls it] is less helpful than it appears and that it proves impossible to argue that Hooker’s view really illustrates it or that the Caroline divines after Hooker follow his views”. So Rowan Greer, Anglican Approaches to Scripture: From the Reformation to the Present (Crossroad, 2006), p.14. In fact, it is just a modern, ideological ‘invention’! One moreover that many today spout but few are able actually to employ ... because it is unemployable, giving rise to basic contradictions.

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Bryden, it all comes down to the opinion of one person - be s/he historian, theologian or humanist. One can only live by one's own experience of 'The Truth'. There are many who would argue with your representation of it - as with mine, come to that.

Bryden Black said...

Are you advocating solipsism Ron?!

Please google Rowan Greer.

Jean said...

Hi Bryden

I don't really comprehend what you meant in your comment but if it means:

We have become a culture that justifies itself by how we feel and that emotive words such as love have had their meaning reduced to this then I would need to concur.

The number of times my friends will say, 'but I no longer love them' or if it 'feels (good or right) then it has to be right'.


Bryden Black said...

Hi Jean! The first thing to say is that “emotivism” is MacIntyre’s term from After Virtue, not mine.

That said however, he himself has borrowed the term from notions in the early 20th C derived from one GE Moore - with a severe twist. For we must go further and note that, while Moore used the notion of emotivism to describe seemingly the meaning of so-called objective moral judgments as being in his view nothing but subjective attempts to get other people to agree with the one making the judgment - this is Moore’s claimed theory of meaning - MacIntyre on the other hand suggests this theory of meaning is actually a theory of use - how moral utterances are being used by particular people, in a whole variety of settings. All of which is MacIntyre’s chapters 2 &3, in which he displays how emotivism cannot create any context in which genuine authoritative moral discourse can occur; we’ve only clashes of autonomous wills towards a variety of self-perceived goals which mostly have little in common.

All this then becomes the foil for his own reconstruction of Virtue as the Means towards a Common social End. The snag however is that practitioners of emotivism - most post Enlightenment western folk, who try to engage in moral discourse - continue to employ a host of words (to try to convince others to their point of view), which were properly once upon a time both only meaningful and used in alien systems of thought and practice - alien that is to the now assumed notion of the individual who is sovereign in their moral autonomy; just so, “my opinion”!

I.e. back to my previous comments about ontology and creation: either human being IS a creature, albeit in God’s Image, and so accountable to the Creator and the Creator’s world/reality; or, humans, with a marred Image, try to ‘speak’ and ‘do’ ‘morality’, yet without reference to the Author - hence marred - for it is deemed humans may be their own, even ‘loving’ moral selves. BUT: who determines what ‘loving’ actually looks like, what the ‘loving act’ actually is? For who would have guessed a strange Jew strung up on a Roman gibbet one afternoon centuries ago was The Act of The Loving God? That great Pauline Sermon, 1 Cor 1-4, now has not the rich context of Jewish, Graeco-Roman society but the post Reformation/Renaissance, post Enlightenment world as its foil.

The bottom-line: my opinion versus your opinion versus Fred’s opinion; or, nothing less than God’s revealed ‘opinion’ ... that climax of the drama begun in Abraham and fulfilled in the Son of Abraham, Son of David, Son of God. So that our participation in that drama wherever, whenever human selves become shrouded in the Great Triune Divine Self - viz Gal 2:20 or Augustine’s Confessions ala Jean-Luc Marion - is the only basis for and expression of authoritative human morality.

PS the link with Oden is that both he and MacIntyre have modernity's construction of the identity of human being in their sights.

Jean said...

Hi Bryden

Thank you for explaining that further for me. I understand more comprehensively now.

Without a moral plumbline (a.k.a.) the authority given to Christ, morality is reduced to the subjective terms of those who interpret it. And the terms they use often lack their original intent/meaning. As human's we do not determine virtue (this is not within our sovereignty) but are subject to working on developing those traits of character as informed by scripture.

It is noticeable in schools recently with the urgent call for teaching of "values"; as my mother commented to a parent one, but whose "values"?

Thanks again,