Friday, September 29, 2017

Ontology of Scripture

Did you know Scripture has ontology? A lovely piece here on the theology of the late John Webster.


Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, I found this particular paragraph meaningful to me:

"Webster was not one to shy away from, or be apologetic about being erudite and rigorous in his theological activity and ministry; but this is what made him so endearing, at least to me. Yet his acumen wasn’t an instance of showing off his intellect either, instead he was full steam ahead in striving to know God for all His worth; Webster allowed worship to shape his theological discourse and endeavor — I think this was the most impactful thing he impressed upon me, that theology is and should be an act of worship."

Here was an obviously humble scholar, not prone to demonstrate his learning for its didactic capability, but rather as a means of "striving to KNOW GOD for all His worth". This deep and heartfelt knowledge of God could only be encountered in the act of worship!

Bryden Black said...

Amen Ron! And beer too - with JBW!

Bryden Black said...

If John Webster is indeed correct in his granting ontological status to Holy Scripture as the instrument and sanctified servant of the self-communicating triune God of the economy of grace, then it does seem rather curious that many of us in the Church spend an inordinate amount of time prevaricating about its message, selecting only those bits that accord with our own predilections and refusing to adhere to those others that rub us up the wrong way. In both his Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch and The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason he emphasizes how its “saving instruction” is so often avoided nowadays by the interpretive tools we bring to bear upon the text. His contrasting Schopenhauer with Calvin and Bonhoeffer is seminal. Perhaps Peter you might make these two glorious works of the late John Webster set texts for your POT sessions.

Anonymous said...

Bryden agreeing with Father Ron liking Bobby Grow on John Webster in Peter's blog-- I don't know if I can take this in!

This may be the best time and place to answer Peter's question elsewhere about why I am so sceptical of national synods as a site for sorting That Topic out. I will pray for another miracle.

If the Holy Spirit is a coequal Person of the most blessed Trinity, then he is not just an Illuminator of individuals, but the Source of the testimony of the whole Church-- here and there, ancient and modern, top and bottom-- and this has intrinsic authority. Tradition is that testimony in all its forms-- recognised, gathered, and embodied in informal ways that are validated at every step by prayer. It informs all the apostolic fellowship in Christ; those not informed by tradition are those others who, although not disciples, also cast out demons in the Lord's name.

National synods can regulate a few things, but they have no intrinsic authority for four reasons. First, they do not claim any. Nobody stakes his life and soul on a synod resolution adopted by a majority vote, and nobody seriously thinks we should. At the beginning of football season, there is no reason to pay attention to a synod.

Second, national synods are the last shadow of Constantine's intrusion into the Body of Christ. Constantine begat imperial intervention in the church, which begat the papacy, which begat the monarchy's intervention, which begat parliament's intervention, which begat parliamentary synods a bit more than a century ago. In time, Christ will liberate his Body from all alien interventions, including that one.

Third, national synods cannot decide anything for the global and trans-temporal Body. To believe what they say, you must either believe in several national bodies of Christ, the heresy of ethnophylitism, or you must believe that truth is geographically relative, that it is different on different slopes of the Pyrenees.

Fourth, and mainly, the informal dynamic of tradition is not really compatible with the rigid procedures of synods, and so to follow the Holy Spirit's lead one must free oneself from them, much as we must get out past city lights to see the stars in the night sky. Put another way, I empathise with Bryden and Stu when they object to the soulless pragmatism of synods implementing whatever seems to be the institution's worldly interest at the time. It is just so that synods can do this without constraint that they disable the Spirit's life of tradition in the Church.

In hell, where the Sadducees admire our synods, they ask themselves, "Why didn't we think of that?" And the Pharisees there retort, "You did. That's why you are here."

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Dante!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Perhaps we have been to different synods :)
Yes, of course, if a synod passes a motion that the Trinity really consists of four cats, then that is stupid, has no impact on the universal church and advances your thesis about synods(!!). But, actually, such a synod may do a great deal of damage because far from that decision being ignored it likely will lead to a lot of members of that church leaving, looking to find a church with a sensible governing body.
Synods are not nothing. They can do damage. Can they do good?
Yes. They can help sort out local disputes (as, indeed, we are trying to do in the life of our church). They can find their way through tensions between pragmatism and principles, between theology and praxis (as, indeed, we are trying to do). They won't find their way through if they change doctrine in the process, but they might find a bit more width in it that previously thought, in order to accommodate yet more complexities in the human lot (as, indeed, I think Francis, his synod and Amoris Laetitia are trying to do ... and the GS of ACANZP might yet do).

Synods also, of course, attempt to put doctrine into words by approving liturgies. Our GS has a reasonable record of doing that ...

So, no, I can only go so far down the road of your criticism of synods. As long as they are helping us find the via media I am willing to keep participating!

Bryden Black said...

My problem with via media synods Peter is this. Is the media being sought that between "Popery and Puritanism"? Or between say Marx and Franco? For I've seen it clearly annunciated these past 20 years that the genius of Anglicanism is assuredly the latter. And frankly JBW wld have none of that "instruction"!
My sympathies lean towards Bowman on this one ... Apart from anything else, I don't see Christian formation of the laity high on the agenda. But we've sparred on that one ...!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
I think it is between doctrine and practice, between law and mercy and it is neither Marx nor Franco providing the underlying theology because synods people are reading their Bibles and trying to think what Jesus would do in our day - the Jesus, that is, who both taught strictly about sexual morals and demonstrated great mercy to sinners.

Bryden Black said...

... and here was I thinking it was the media between progressives and conservatives - a classic synodical solution!

As for your pairings: the cross has already embodied them all.

Anonymous said...

"synods people are reading their Bibles and trying to think what Jesus would do in our day"

Clearly, yes, Peter, we have attended very different synods. But everything is better in the blessed isles, so I should not be surprised that synods are as well. If I had a synod whose members could explain eg Colossians 1, I might be as happy with it as you are with yours. It is unimaginable that you could have a diocesan synod as heterodox as the one Father Aidan Kimel attended in Baltimore in 1991, but if you did you might empathise with his and my doubts about quasi-parliamentary synods as an obligatory Anglican practise.

As I said, and as you you insist, national synods can regulate a few things of a strictly local nature. There is absolutely no reason in heaven or on earth why any Anglican matters in Central and South America should be under the General Convention of La Iglesia Episcopal de los Gringos. The main positive function of regional, national, provincial, and diocesan meetings is to express subsidiarity within the one Body. Since none of that subsidiarity is doctrinal or moral, it has little to do with That Topic.

And since Pentecost, valid expressions of the Body have manifested its unity throughout space and time, as well as its continuity with the recognised work of the Holy Spirit. This is the third article of the creeds. But as parliaments eager to mirror their constituencies in a rather narcissistic fashion, the synods that we know have tended to insist on a discontinuity of the present with the past and of the local with the world that is, frankly, unbelief.

I suspect that those non-disciples who cast out demons in the Lord's name may have a place in the New Jerusalem. But it is not with the fellowship of the apostles.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

As we discuss SSB and the resistance thereunto, the elephant in the room is that the office of the keys survives today mainly in our heraldry. Some are startled by the suggestion that a Protestant church might have anything to say about a chosen way of life, whilst others who have rather firm things to say about That way of life do not know how to say them as a word of grace. On the elephant (though not on That Topic), my old classmate David S. Yeago says some insightful things in the seventh chapter of Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, Marks of the Body of Christ. In his own way, Bryden has been saying similar things.


Peter Carrell said...

It is not for me to stand in the way of the giants of theology, both those cited here and those commenting here, Bowman and Bryden!
I am being somewhat contrariwise because,
(1) I genuinely believe that some less than accurate appreciation of the pathway we are on is involved in your critiques.
(2) I am also wanting to make the point that the high minded ideals of theology are both very well and all very well, but at some point it is worth trying to get in the mind of the ordinary Synod members' minds ... even if I am implicitly part of a failure to properly educate them in a higher level of theology!

Father Ron Smith said...

Are not synods a little like the local parish Vestry? They make decisions that do NOT affect the Divinity of Christ or the veracity of the Christian Creeds. However, they do tend to deal with the ordered life and worship of the local church, which is what these (representative) meetings are all about.

The upcoming Anglican Primates Meeting is one such meeting. Sadly, some of the GAFCON Primates are so intent on disagreeing with the housekeeping of the Western Provinces that they are unwilling even to meet up with them.

Here, again, this is not anything to do with the Doctrine of Christ (involving as it does the question of the human rights of a minority in the Church - rather than the theology of the Trinity or of Christ's gift of redemtion), but is, rather, a matter of how the Church deals with the problem of unfaithful human relationships (sexual promiscuity) that affects both hetero and homosexual people.

Bryden Black said...

Ah yes Bowman, Luther’s “On the Councils and the Church” (1539), with its seven essential “works of the Spirit”, which Luther identified and which perform for Christians in the Church their sanctification. To avoid confusion with the creedal four marks or notes of the Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) they are: “the external, orally preached word of God (which includes believing, confessing, and acting in accordance with it); baptism; the Lord’s Supper; the office of the keys as church discipline; ordination and offices; public prayer, praise, thanksgiving, instruction; and discipleship in suffering.” These seven “holy possessions” of the Church “mark” it as the sphere where the Holy Spirit fulfils supremely his salvific-economic mission; they “at once both constitute and characterise the church.”

As for David Yeago’s contribution to that Braaten & Jenson collection: it’s powerful, I agree. But not the sort of medicine prescribed much nowadays. More the pity! I mean, who stomachs this sort of thing: “where the people of God is absent, the Keys are also absent; and where the Keys are absent, the people of God is also absent”?! Who seeks just such an enactment of Matt 18?! Though I do take heart re his fourth and final “area” he mentions, the adult catechumenate, amidst our otherwise disastrous plight (by Luther’s standards, that is, which are but the Tradition’s). Now that’s a project, a piece of Faithfulness in a Day of Small Things truly after my own heart; and as he says, a step along the path towards reviving due discipline in the Church of God.

And lastly, all this sort of thing parallels exactly Webster’s frequent remarks about the ontological weight of Scripture needing to address our wilfully wayward hearts and minds, which are just so reluctant to listen and obey, refusing to cultivate a due ‘reading’ culture in the Church ...

Father Ron Smith said...

My 'reading' in the Scriptures - of the culture of Jesus' day - was that He was remarkably non-judgemental of sexual impropriety while saving his anger for the Scribes and Pharisees, the 'keepers of the Law'. That has to say something about the priorities of Jesus, and our need to keep that in mind when judging the inclusivity (and exclusivity) of today's Church leadership.