Monday, December 11, 2017

Upstream: judgment

Advent is the time when we reflect theologically on various things ... Christmas ... shopping ... meaning of "Advent" ... whether we should have four Sundays in Advent if Christmas Day falls the day after Advent 4 (as it does in 2017) ... but, really, we ought to reflect on JUDGMENT.

When Christ came that first Christmas, the world was under judgment. According to the Magnificat, things were going to be turned upside down. Every time Jesus opened his mouth about his return - according to the Synoptic Gospels - he talked about an imminent, sudden, shocking judgment. We dodge the meaning of Advent if we focus on "coming" and do not talk about "coming to judge."

If we face Christ as Judge, if we have a day of reckoning in the divine court of justice, what might that mean for us? Would it, should it make any difference to how we live? And how we live, of course, is shaped by our understanding of Scripture. The prospect of judgment is the prospect of an inquisition about hermeneutical method!

At a biblical studies conference recently I was introduced to the idea that the first hermeneuticist was Eve, who questioned the meaning of what God had said. Perhaps not the best start to hermeneutics (!), nevertheless Eve's "Did God really say?" question is critical to hermeneutics. As all of us who freely ignore the Bible's entreaties against usury should know ...

I do not for a moment believe that at the Day of Judgement those of us who profess to being Anglican versions of Christians will be asked whether we faithfully believed all that the Thirty-Nine Articles teach us. Nor will we be quizzed on whether our use of modern Anglican liturgies represented a reprehensible departure from the eucharistic theology of the Book of Common Prayer.

No, on the Day of Judgment, we are going to face a Judge concerned with justice, with compassionate love and with how we have lived our lives as a gospel people (e.g. have we proclaimed the gospel? Have we followed Jesus by following his teaching?)

My question here is how the prospect of judgement, that is, of getting our hermeneutics right, measured by the "downstream" effect of accountability might affect what we think the "upstream" (deep background, hidden presuppositions) of Anglican theology means for how we live today. (See further the comment at the foot of this post).

(Put another way, every hermeneutical approach to Scripture has a theological starting point or "ground." And, re judgement, also an endpoint or "goal." Thinking "upstream" and "downstream" is thinking about what that theological starting point and ending point is. In 21st century language, we should ask, What is the "big picture" which shapes the details of our lives as Christians?)

Take the issue of the ordination of women as an example. It is entirely possible, and indeed happens in reality, that we take Scripture, a contemporary hermeneutic, thoughts about tradition, throw them into the melting pot and out comes a cast iron determination that women might be deacons, cannot be priests and certainly are not able to be bishops. But on that Day of Judgement, will that wash with Jesus the Just Judge? Will we get a commendation for "faithfulness to Scripture and tradition"? Or, will we be asked why we were confused about roles when we recognised that women could be doctors, judges, teachers but insisted they could not be priests and bishops? Such a question being driven, of course, by the matter of just treatment of one another as equal, participating human beings, made in the image of God and redeemed for life in the kingdom of God.

The "upstream" counterpart to this "downstream" could be asking whether Jesus came that gender roles as assigned by interpreters of Scripture might be reinforced? Is the "big picture" of creation and redemption not much, much bigger than a determination that the great work of God in the eternal plan for the universe is precisely forwarded by forbidding women from being successors to the Apostles?

This post sets the stage for another which I am hoping to post before Christmas. A seasonal reflection on the Incarnation and what it means for Christ to be incarnated in the world today, as he is through us, his body on earth. This post is NOT an invitation to resume discussion about That Topic. The Working Group is working on the Final Report and its publication will come soon enough. Fear not!

NOTE: In the background to this post and others in a series of "Upstream" posts is this comment by Bowman Walton, recently made here:

""I hope you will not despair of the loss of sight here of your appeal for debate about what is upstream rather than what is downstream."


It is worthwhile to try to identify the upstream assumptions that bedevil downstream discussion, so from time to time I try. My inspiration is the patient work of that 1922 CoE commission on doctrine that reported in 1938.

But even they admitted to a difficult problem: better thought had overtaken the positions that they were trying to reconcile. This could happen to That Topic in the C21 as it happened to the notion of *eucharistic sacrifice* in the C20. For subversive example, what if Romans 1:18-32 really is *prosopoeia*?

November 18, 2017 at 4:19 PM"


Anonymous said...

"What is the "big picture" which shapes the details of our lives as Christians?"

"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." Proverbs 4:23, AV.

If the "deep background" and "hidden assumptions" are the *upstream* in this metaphor, and shaped "details of our lives" lie *downstream*, then temperament meeting openings and resistance on the way down shape the *riverbed* itself.

Variations of two big pictures of judgement turn up in the threads here and there. Both have ample precedent in tradition, Anglican and ecumenical; both have notorious deformations. Personal temperament and development seems to drive most-- but not all-- persons to the virtues and vices of one picture or the other, and thence to some tribe of like-minded others. Usually, these tribes do not see how the temperaments of their members have enabled their affinity and made their favoured picture seem self-evidently true. They see at least some intellectual, spiritual, and moral faults of other tribes, but they rarely see the primal temperamental differences that sort persons into tribes in the first place.

(a) The main thing is to get to heaven when you die, and to avoid the alternative. Judgement is God's determination of each person's ultimate destination according to his just deserts, which are his compliance with or defiance of the posted entrance requirements for heaven. These requirements shape the details of our lives insofar as we try to control our destination by meeting them. This struggle is the worthiest undertaking of our lives and their ultimate purpose. A little knowledge of God is helpful insofar as it motivates our efforts, and a fear of God is still more helpful because it cuts through the noise of the mind to rescue us from novelty, distraction, temptation, conformity, complexity, impurity, and luxury. Had Eve had more holy fear, she would have rejected the testimony of the serpent, clung to the reliable words of God, and avoided the Fall. A serious Christian reads the scriptures to verify the entrance requirements, and to motivate more conscientious effort with a more exact understanding of them. Death is blessedly unpredictable; it is the end of our possible influence on our destination.

Anonymous said...


(b) The main thing is to know that God loves his whole creation and all souls, and that everything that Christ does to creatures is meant to heal them, both for his greater glory and for their own intrinsic good. Judgement is the surgical side of God's healing which severs all attentive souls from desires to destroy themselves and others. These harmful tendencies are indicated, albeit imperfectly, by the laws, rules, and counsels collected in scripture and heard in the more derivative testimony of souls of exceptional sanctity. None of these are arbitrary; all serve a manifestly healing purpose: souls are freed for a spiritual life. Yet painful and daunting as God's judgements must necessarily be, there is danger that fearful souls will flee from him altogether. Indeed, incomprehension of the depth of God's love has been distorting human choices since Eve chose the Knowledge of Good and Evil over Life. Therefore God mainly saves souls through contact with himself in the means of grace, which confer and secure the faith, hope, and love to conceive the depth of his healing will, to withstand his severe providence, to nourish the spirit in a fallen world, and to do works of mercy in it. A serious Christian reads the scriptures to strengthen the inner man for love and work, and to be consoled that, although God does demands union with the Son, he himself is faithful, never rejecting souls for mere frailty and failure. To be healed by God is already in this life to be a better bearer of his *image and likeness* but death completes God's surgery, and at the End the healed soul will walk the streets of the New Jerusalem.

As Peter suspects, each big picture is aligned with hermeneutical and even epistemological prejudices. With that we draw near to one well-known sorter of temperaments-- one's degree of openness to new experience.


Jean said...

I have to say Bowman my tendency err's towards your second version. Believing in Jesus we are judged 'in him' as well as 'by him'. Albeit there is warning to remain 'in him' and work out our salvation, within this I think grace is at play also for the errors we make as we run our race.

There is the separation of the sheep and goats judgement, but is there also a judging of what one has done the reward for which will be in heaven?

MichaelA said...

"by forbidding women from being successors to the Apostles?"

Since I can't think of a single man who is a successor to the apostles, why should women get special treatment?

Apostles were chosen directly by Christ to deliver his teachings to the Church (Acts 1:24-25; 2 Pet 3:2). There have been none since the Apostolic age. Congregations were led by elders (presbyters), both before and after the apostles left this earth, so they can hardly be called successors to the apostles.

So the ladies aren't missing out, at least on that!

MichaelA said...

So Peter, if I understand your point correctly, when Christ questions us at the judgment about "have we proclaimed the gospel? Have we followed Jesus by following his teaching?", what this really means is:

Have we followed the liberal line on ordination of women?

So many embarrassed Christians, almost 2,000 years worth!

David Wilson said...

Did Eve say "Did God say..."?

[Slithers away]

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
1:23 am: I don't think you understand me correctly (though I accept that what I wrote could be interpreted that way!). My hermeneutical point is that if we are wrestling in the church re the question of the ordination of women, then a hermeneutical perspective from Judgment Day should see us more interested in fair treatment of women than in a notion of faithfulness which (resting on other hermeneutical judgments through time) believes we must insist on prohibiting women being ordained.
Whether Jesus asks us about ordination and views thereof on that Day is, I think, unlikely.
1:19 am: you cannot be unaware, surely, that a significant number of Christians view bishops as successors to the apostles and large proportion of those Christians subscribe to the implication that women cannot be bishops because none of the Apostles were women? (There is also, of course, a view that (whether or not there are successors to the Apostles), because the Apostles were all men, Jesus intended all bishops and presbyters who continue the apostolic ministry of teaching and preaching to be men.) Neither view, incidentally, being affected in the slightest by the possibility that there were also some small "a" apostles, not of the Twelve, who were women, such as Junia. And, under no circumstances, may notions of Mary Magdalene being an apostle to the Apostles affect our thinking on the matter ...

Peter Carrell said...

Dear David
Very droll!

Anonymous said...

So, Peter, is St Paul, by being "not of the Twelve" in your hermeneutic a "small "a" apostle"?



Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bosco
Paul was neither of "the Twelve" nor of the "apostles" (nor of the "super apostles). He was - as you know - unique and thus I place him in the category: THE APOSTLE.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Jean and Bowman
I err and stray, like Jean, to your second approach, Bowman.
But I confess to not entirely understanding you when you write at the end:
"As Peter suspects, each big picture is aligned with hermeneutical and even epistemological prejudices. With that we draw near to one well-known sorter of temperaments-- one's degree of openness to new experience."
I understand the first sentence: indeed!
But the second sentence ... do you mean that openness to experience leans one towards B rather than A?
And, if you do, to what extent might you be opening your proposal to critique as "driven by experience" more than by "Scripture" or "Scripture and T/tradition"?

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

In the spirit of your OP, I am describing what I see people here doing rather than prescribing what they ought to have been doing instead. If anyone sees third, fourth, fifth... nth big pictures upstream of our discussions, I'm sure that we would all like to see them.

In the same spirit, I am open to contrary argument, but prima facie, it does seem that (a)'s quest for control is somewhat less *open to experience* than (b)'s careful maintenance of resilience in the face of God's providence. When somebody goes on about faith being a journey, (a)'s mind wanders off, and (b) pays close attention. Conversely, when somebody else explains that X poses a problem for *authority*, (a) is concerned and (b) is relieved.

" what extent might you be opening your proposal to critique as 'driven by experience' more than by 'Scripture' or 'Scripture and T/tradition'?"

None whatever. The headwaters are upstream of the riverbeds; the riverbeds are upstream of the delta. Scripture and tradition are prior to the temperaments of their interpreters; the temperaments are prior to how they interpret them; the interpretations are prior to what they say and do in daily life.

For example, because both (a) and (b) read the same Bible (headwaters), Eve can and does appear in both descriptions. But each sees her error in accord with its respective temperament (riverbed)-- 'uppity Eve was disobedient' says authority-loving (a); 'unhopeful Eve did not accept God's amazing offer' says opportunity-seeking (b). When we get to any given discussion about the frailty of human cognition (delta), (a) will tend to see a penchant for rebellion at the root of error because that is the sort of mistake that (a) makes, while (b) will tend to see a faint-hearted pessimism because (b)'s worst failure were those of thinking too small, daring too little, underestimating God's mercy. To (a) curiosity killed the cat, but to (b) opportunity knocked but she was not listening.

Why *resistance to experience* versus *openness to experience*? Well, why not?--

And in light of the above--

Jonathan Haidt explaining how to live with the cognitive distortion of tribalism. And pastor Tim Keller debating him on the best way to form a truly multiperspectival society--


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
Perhaps [as my thinking percolates through this particular day] what I am uncomfortable with is the openendedness of being "open to experience"!
That is, "open to experience" seems awfully (dangerously?) close to "experience is an authority from which we might derive revelation."
But what you are saying, and what I am comfortable with, is that experience may shape our understanding of what God reveals through Scripture and experience may inform our reception of that revelation.
At least, that's how my experience of reading you informs my understanding of what you write :)

Anonymous said...

"That is, "open to experience" seems awfully (dangerously?) close to "experience is an authority from which we might derive revelation."

Peter, my comment must not be not as clear as I thought it was. Maybe these will clarify what I mean by *openness to experience*--


Peter Carrell said...

Got it, Bowman.
I think, for myself, I would speak (at least on this blog!!) more of "intellectual curiosity" and "investigating matters with an open mind" rather than "openness to experience" which, as you know, is a somewhat loaded phrase round these parts of Anglican Land!

Anonymous said...

Good, Peter, but if *openness to experience* (O in the mnemonic OCEAN) is a dimension of personality as Costa and McCrae of NIMH posit, then its influence on eg moral sentiments are not known to the personality. Someone who scores high on measures of O does not have a reasoned justification for taking authority lightly; he just likes experience and so enjoys novelty that he does not mind a little uncertainty or chaos; he does not worry that an exegesis might make the Bible less revered as a rule book. Conversely, someone who scores low on measure of O, liking experience less, has an aversion to the unpredicted that issues in an affection for instruments of order, which are pleasurable in themselves; he finds satisfaction in a theory of why it is that the Bible is a rule book. Human beings vary, and O is a dimension of that variation.

Jean, I have not forgotten your questions, but must come back to them later.


Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,

What then is the basis of your intended voting at the next General Synod; if it is not your subjective and emotional response to your "EXPERIENCE" of being friend and college to certain people? It would appear that you have elevated that experience, to the level, of being the basis of your understanding of Scriptural Justice; contrary to the Scriptures.

Anonymous said...

"There is the separation of the sheep and goats judgement..."

In which those who thought that they were (dis)respecting nobodies discover that Christ has so identified himself with them that they have (dis)respected the Lord himself, and both *goats* and *sheep* experience the appropriate consequences until the end of the age (aionios). Or did you have another judgement in mind? ;-)

"...but is there also a judging of what one has done the reward for which will be in heaven?"

Maybe, Jean. A universalist reading of St Matthew 25:31-46 is sometimes cited in support of that idea. Some respected scholars (eg Robert Wilken) have defended an affirmative answer to your question in other ways. Personally, I think that *new creation* may entail that good works of this aeon are part of the mosaic of the next. If so, that in itself is a strong intrinsic reward for good works. Whether *new creation* also entails an extrinsic reward is less clear to me. What do you think?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glen
The basis of my voting at General Synod next year will be an informed mind - informed by Scripture, tradition, reason, experience and, I hope, the Holy Spirit. I imagine some considerations of the life of our church as a diverse, Three Tikanga church, will also inform my mind. I also imagine some specific consideration of what would be a good decision for our Diocese, which kindly elected me, will also inform my mind. It will also be important for me to be sure that what I am voting for is consonant with our constitution.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, coming back from a funeral this morning (beautifully simple with Requiem Mass) I was struck by just how much of our theological pondering seems a wee bit pretentious - in the face of death's astounding reality.

I have hesitated in joining this esoteric thread, believing - with the Quakers that: "It's a gift to be simple, it's a gift to be free; it's a gift to come down where you ought to be. And when you find yourself in a place just right - you'll be in the valley of joy and delight".

Drifting through these comments I found this from you:

"Perhaps [as my thinking percolates through this particular day] what I am uncomfortable with is the openendedness of being "open to experience"!
That is, "open to experience" seems awfully (dangerously?) close to "experience is an authority from which we might derive revelation."

Then, Peter, in this context, would you seriously discount the 'experience' of the disciples' revelation by the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost? Or, on the other hand; was 'revelation experience' limited to the time of the First Apostles? In which case, all Church Doctrine confected since that time is invalid and has no value in the body of Christ.

I hate to imagine that the stigmata of Saint Francis of Assisi was self-delusion. Or, even, the inspiration of John XXIII in calling Vatican II.

But then, I suppose, it might be hard for us who have had no 'experience' of a specific divine revelation - to believe in the possibility.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I distinguish between revelation-via-experience which is definitive-for-doctrine and revelation-via-experience which is definitive for personal guidance and deepening of devotion to God.

With respect to the latter, stigmata and auditions and visions have been of considerable value to many Christians through the centuries, impelling some towards the mission field and others towards (say) the religious life.

With respect to the former some very dubious doctrines have been indeed "confected" via permission to allow experience an unwarranted say in matters best grounded in Scripture. I think we have already canvassed on this site my views [shared by many other Christians] on alleged dogma such as the Assumption of Mary and her Immaculate Conception (neither warranted by Scripture). Then there is the occasional TV evangelist coming up with Nine members of the Trinity and so forth! Even I do not presume your lean towards experience presses you to agree with such confections :)

The revelations granted to the earliest disciples and "the" Apostles (notably, and critical to the future of Christianity, to Paul himself) are in a special category, received and agreed by the church in its recognition of the special status of the writing down of the revelations as the "new" scriptures to join the "old" scriptures of Israel. All doctrine since has been a working out of those Scriptures (notably the Trinity) and where doctrine has been disputed (say, the meaning of the eucharist) the disputation has been grounded in Scripture.

So, no, I am not about to grant to experience an authoritative status which the universal church has never granted it.

Anonymous said...

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Joseph Brackett's song Simple Gifts was written for a ritual dance of the Shakers of Alfred, Maine, who believed that Ann Lee (b. 29 February 1736, Manchester, England) was the second and feminine coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, among other odd things. As their name suggests, the central acts of their worship were dances and marches.

In America, the very strictly celibate Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing or USBCSA) have no relation to the fecund Quakers (Religious Society of Friends), who have the amiable custom of remaining quiet when the Holy Spirit has given them nothing pertinent to say.

Those interested in the Shaker tune can hear Aaron Copland's arrangement of it here--

Those interested in the systematic theology of the Quakers can find that in Robert Barclay's Theses Theologicae and Apology for the True Christian Divinity here--

Those interested in the pretentious and esoteric act of reading the scriptures can ignore the trolls and follow the thread.


Dave Clancey said...

Hi Peter

You state: "At a biblical studies conference recently I was introduced to the idea that the first hermeneuticist was Eve, who questioned the meaning of what God had said."

The problem is, Eve didn't do that. The first one to posit the question 'Did God really say' was the serpent.

Genesis 3:1 "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

"Perhaps not the best start to hermeneutics (!)"


Eve's initial contribution wasn't to question God's word, but to add to it, and then for her and her husband to disobey it completely.

Anonymous said...

Anyway, Peter, the upstream difference between (a) at 4:47 and (b) at 4:48 separates moods, individuals, and churches in ways that influence many downstream details of faith and life. Tom Wright succinctly explains what is at stake in that difference for churches like our own today--

Thinking historically, the mindsets and their consequences could probably be seen on all sides of the ecclesiastical controversies of the C17. Janice Knight has written a particularly rich comparison of their rivalry among puritan churchmen in England and New England, and has shown how the tension between rationalist and mystical tendencies among them broke out into the Antinomian Controversy in Massachusetts Bay. To my ears, many or most threads of ADU unwittingly echo the basic difference between Richard Sibbes and John Cotton on one hand, and William Perkins and William Ames on the other.

Nor does biblical scholarship seem to have escaped an analogous polarity, although it has not led to the same degree of tribalism. For example, the reception of Albert Schweitzer's apocalyptic Jesus and mystical Paul were probably litmus tests in the early C20, just as Krister Stendahl's and E. P. Sanders's New Perspective on Paul became that in the later C20. Today, gravitating to (a) with Moo and Schreiner, or to (b) with Wright and Campbell, we can find readers of scripture at every level of expertise.

Interestingly, it is harder for me to identify contemporary Protestant systematicians or dogmaticians who baldly support anything like (a). Indeed, several currents show a momentum toward (b) that is visible in the sheer volume of studies on *union with Christ* from comparatively traditional scholars of diverse Reformed (eg Richard Gaffin, Robert Torrance) and Lutheran (eg Tomas Mannermaa, Robert Jenson) tendencies. But there are some trying to retain penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) and forensic justification (FJ) who struggle with their tendency to slide into (a) and resist (b). Tom Wright refers to them in the link above when he mentions whose who try to tack Love onto their image of a basically angry God.

Anonymous said...


Apart from the resurgence of (b) from relative neglect, why is (a) being abandoned today? Conservatives on ADU attribute the drift away from (a) to some change in the social world around us, and I agree with them that the causation does look mostly exogenous. If the question is social rather than theological, then the simplest answer is probably found in the brilliant Marxist constructivist historian and homosexual, Michel Foucault-- in just a few centuries, we have evolved from a social order that relied on intimidation from wrong to one that relies on incentives to good. Read his grisly account of the execution of Damiens in first few pages of Discipline and Punish and you will recall that the world of our not too distant ancestors was one in which what we today disdain as bullying was the approved public image of moral authority, and that churches supported this theatre of punishment by representing it as God's will delegated.

See, for more recent example, the Visitation of Prisoners in the BCP (US 1786, 1789, 1892)--

Christians in societies for whom the state is mainly a monopoly on violence, and intimidation is its only way to restrain evil will naturally evaluate (a) and (b) from a perspective that is very different from our own. In that perspective, Tom Wright's words in the video or my words in (b) might still sound attractive, but also very naive. "The king's punishment is horrible, as it must be to avenge his royal honour, but of course he only does this for love of his subjects." Our challenge, however, is to disentangle the image of God from eg the Most Christian King of France more thoroughly than has been done before us. Because social structure is self-similar at every scale, this disentangling is being done not only with respect to kings, but also with respect to fathers and husbands. As this happens, (b) is slowly supplanting (a).


Anonymous said...

Postscript-- For a particularly intriguing downstream detail of one's upstream understanding of God, consider--


Anonymous said...

And even here--


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave
Good point! I am not sure what the mentioner of that matter at the conference would say in reply. I wonder if she would say that Eve was the first human hermeneuticist because the idea the serpent gave her was one she agreed with ... and in acting on it, she acted out her interpretation to her husband!

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,

Dave is totally correct,it was Satin who was the first to practice hermenuetics;the reason he was thrown out of heaven.He was at it in the Garden of Eden,misrepresenting God"s Commandments and he is still at it;Whispering in our ears,"Did God Really say"? He feeds subjective and emotional responses into our hearts and minds about the experiences we have. "Come on now,the Word of God may prohibit an action or desire but would a Loving God really deny it to you"?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
There is a lot to unpack there but we are in the midst of a new world which is already changed from that former day ... try being a teacher in a school these days where even the slightest physical touch of the "let's walk you to the principal" nature constitutes "violence" which might lead to the teacher being sacked, not to the child being disciplined.
And in that environment we Christians still think we can communicate a gospel in which God's wrath is abated ...

Glen Young said...

Hi Peter,

"Virtue on Line" has a post about a teacher in England who is being disciplined for saying "well done girls"; because one of them identifies with the boys. Such a short step from the subjective and emotional recognition and blessing of non binary relationships, to all this down stream nonsense. But why are we surprised when society at large can not grasp "REALITY"; when the COE and the ACANZP will not stand for TRUTH,that whether we believe in Him or not,we still face His JUDGMENT.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Glen, if you actually fathered a Child with gender dysphoria you might well have more sympathy with children who are not 'set' in their genitally-assigned persona. However, from your previous comments, it could be that you would attempt to force your child into itys assigned gender - a grave mistake from a psychiatric perspective.

Glen Young said...

Hi Ron,

You have obviously fathered a number of children and so speak from experience.
"Those who can do and those who can't teach. Tell us about your children.

Anonymous said...

Peter; I have often wondered how long it would take before someone raised gender dysphoria on this site. With a few exceptions, biological sex is an inconvenient truth for those in this argument.


Anonymous said...

"This post is NOT an invitation to resume discussion about That Topic."

--Peter Carrell

Anonymous said...

Peter, your quick reply captures the central problem of the moment.

Along with everyone else, the Christians we know belong to an incentives society and so are apt to intuitively understand the loving (though still coaching and hence judging) God of (b) and indeed of the scriptures. (In that way, we are all becoming a bit more orthodox and disciplined.) But up here, the very churches that should be helping people to live with God's call to transformation with (b) are instead becoming refugee camps for those who unconsciously resent and reject it. Conservatives and progressives, polarised by their love or hate for (a), differ mainly in what they resent and reject. Yet the divine call to change ourselves and encourage others is the only point of our divine election.

Everything is better in the blessed isles, of course, but here up yonder, while organised liberalism has become hollow and fascist, whipping the Body to be more worldly faster, organised evangelicalism has become bitter and dysangelical, eager to share the bad news of God's wrath and gloat over the creepy deeds of others. So far as I can read the numbers here, the Holy Spirit is gently but firmly leading the mass of people away from both sorts of unregenerate and hence useless churches.

And that dysfunction is the cause of what Ross Douthat recently called the "Christian penumbra"-- the spiritual wasteland where people wear *conservative Christian* (or *progressive Christian*) as an identity, and maybe fiercely defend bits of (a) [or (b)] in online discussions, but are not supported in their actual lives by robust pastoral care and inspired community. In going it alone, they get lost and fail; in failure, they compensate with fanaticism, get more lost, and fail more.

Put another way, what enabled the Crucified to take over the empire of his crucifiers was that his Body was brilliant at organising and supporting life in the underclass of Roman cities, which the pagan priesthoods in their endowed temples had no interest in doing. Today, our priests or presbyters, if you prefer, have at least a hypothetical motivation to be more helpful than the ancient pagans, but they are nevertheless organised more or less like them. What is actually supporting the lives of many flourishing Christians is not their religion but the social capital of the class into which they were lucky to be born, and it is just because churches today seem so much worse at generating social capital that they no longer command the respect that they once did.

Myriad details of daily life flow from (a) and (b), some from both and others from just one. For example, every Christian can and should help struggling people by teaching them to pray, but if you yourself think (a), you will probably explain to them how not to go to hell, while if you think deeply about (b) you will probably encourage them to acquire a Christ-like mind and heart and then find and live a vocation from God. Of the two, (b) demands more skill, much relevant knowledge, and more organisational support.

Anonymous said...


So, a modest, five-part proposal for implementation over a generation:

(1) let us reinvest the bulk of the treasure and energy now invested in the priests-in-temples in a renewed diaconate educated for life-long stewardship and service to people, baptised and otherwise, in geographical parishes;
(2) let a somewhat smaller priesthood return to its ancient status as an order for teaching;
(3) let the episcopate oversee teaching, worship, discipleship, and unity; (4) let all the baptised study, worship and conserve the unity of the Body in accord with their order;
(5) let all persons have a primary canonical relationship to the bishop through the cathedral church, and a secondary relationship to the clergy of nearby temples, monasteries, or intentional communities as their discipleship may require.

There are many advantages to such a reform. That it more closely resembles the undivided Church of the NT and the fathers is also very interesting. My point in mentioning it here is simply to show that the upstream difference between (a) and (b) implies downstream, not just different emphases in personal practise, but correlative shifts in where the Body puts its resources.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Commenters of Recent Comments
Thank you!
Let's leave gender dysphoria out of things for a bit - it is too close to THat Topic ... but we should discuss it sometime ... I think it raises challenging questions for conservatives and liberals :)
Ron and Glen: your most recent comments are getting a bit close to personal (which then is close to ad hominem ...)
Bowman: where does the eucharist fit with a smaller presbyterate?

Anonymous said...

"Therefore God mainly saves souls through contact with himself in the means of grace, which confer and secure the faith, hope, and love to conceive the depth of his healing will, to withstand his severe providence, to nourish the spirit in a fallen world, and to do works of mercy in it." -- (b)

"Where does the eucharist fit with a smaller presbyterate?" -- Peter at 9:02

(B)'s stronger emphasis on the means of grace supports an informed participation in the eucharist. At the same time, the C21 mission and finances of many churches require that small dioceses rather than tiny congregations be seen as the local Body, and that other sorts of communities join congregations as matrices for the lives of Christians. Ancient canons and practises that conserve the unity of the local Body by emphasising its one eucharist, at least on the major holidays, are again making sense. What is the point of dividing the Body on Christmas or Easter so that every temple gets a least a few souls?

A smaller presbyterate need not make the eucharist less accessible. From a point of view informed by the scriptures and the fathers, what matters is not so much which powers go with which inferior order, but rather that, as far as is practicable, the unity of the Body is maintained by the single eucharist of all.

Absent a bishop or priest, a deacon* may preside at the eucharist with presanctified elements. Tiny congregations in remote areas are sometimes thus served by a deacon just out of seminary. Deacons also take communion to persons who are unable to attend the local service.

And of course, ancient laymen communicated themselves during the week with the consecrated bread given them at the local eucharist on the Lord's Day. This is the origin of the Orthodox practise of distributing antidoron-- bread blessed for the local eucharist but not consecrated-- after the Divine Liturgy.

* When persons are not ordained for the diaconal tasks that they are licensed to perform, the reason for this anomaly is at bottom a confusion between what God sees as an inspirited *vocation* and what the world sees as a compensated *profession*. If persons are good enough for the bishop to license, then they are good enough for the Holy Spirit to ordain, even if they happen to support themselves by doing carpentry, going fishing, making tents, etc.

"Yet the divine call to change [for] ourselves and encourage[ment for] others is the only point of our divine election."

Again, Peter, I apologise to you and to all for the infelicities that mar my hasty typing.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Not to argue "against" what you propose but to keep exploring options, it is also possible that we think of a future church with more bishops and priests (but less administration, legal responsibilities and "national" church meetings attendance for most of the additional bishops and priests).

Nevertheless I take your point that we could have less "full" eucharists, concentrate them on "holy days" and gather people for them under the presidency of 'the bishop' of a large-ish region.

Any which way, your proposal joins with thoughts and concepts here and there that the future emergent church of the 21st century will be an ancient-but-fresh expression relative to what has been "the church". Business as usual will not "cut it" - and, Down Under, the Diocese of Wellington is certainly charting "a" way forward.

Anonymous said...

"The future emergent church of the 21st century will be an ancient-but-fresh expression relative to what has been *the church*"

Yes. Modern indulgence for certain inconsistencies has finally run out. Churches that cling to them will be too unintelligible to grow.

"Business as usual will not cut it"

No. Business as usual has been failing for a long time, although I in no way mean to speak ill of the many *servi servorum Dei* who do faithful and effective work every day.

"Not to argue "against" what you propose but to keep exploring options"

For me, it is a bit more consistent both with what the Holy Spirit has done in the past, and with what we know about the renewal of organisations generally, to expect that the future eg 10-25 years from now will only make complete sense in retrospect from a future eg 50 years farther from now.

It probably cannot arrive through selections from a menu-- there is no *nowhere* from which such choices can be made; both reformers and entrepreneurs must contend with many unforeseen consequences; some future successes may undermine present ones; not all good things organically grow to adequate scale.

That said, there are modern bodies that have successfully planned their futures. In the US, the RCC, UMC, and LDS have been most successful in large scale organic growth. I have learned a lot from the histories of these cases.

"we could have fewer 'full' eucharists, concentrate them on 'holy days' and gather people for them under the presidency of 'the bishop' of a large-ish region."

Yes. Even evangelicals should have a eucharistic (= thanksgiving) orientation to life and prayer because that is bedrock scriptural faith in a Creator, and it is weird when that does not lead Christians to eucharist-centred worship with Jesus. Eventually, everyone will see this.

But evangelism is not rearranging the people you already have in a cheaper organisation for a better experience. It is reaching new people in a new way that organically scales to something excellent yet larger and more inclusive. Fortunately for us, the evangelism of the ancient church was effective enough to reform and save a civilisation. There is no reason not to use it as a model.

" is also possible that we think of a future church with more bishops and priests"

Yes, but--

This is surely inevitable in some places eg most of the Western Hemisphere south of the Rio Grande. However, it may be that a big diaconate is the only way to get to that result. Bluntly, nobody cares what a church says if it does not take material care of people, not as the hobby of a few but as the calling of the whole. And amazingly, even reasonable criticisms of a church tend to be defused when people see that it does in fact take excellent care of its own and others. The question is: what is the place of bishops and priests in a church that at street level is less cerebral and more diaconal?

Interestingly, this constraint does not seem to be true of the institutions of other religions. Nobody objects that a Buddhist meditation centre must be a scam because it does nothing for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. I am not sure anyone would conclude that Buddhist meditation works if a centre opened a soup kitchen. Such considerations apply to us because of the actual content of the Christian religion, as the patristic and medieval Church understood well.

"Down Under, the Diocese of Wellington is certainly charting *a* way forward."

Yes. The diocese, not the parish, is probably the right scale for innovation. For example, after the revolution here, the RCC reformed and refined the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and then (re)founded dioceses from the Atlantic to the Pacific on that American template.


Jonathan said...

Not sure what connection full eucharist has with ministry models, e.g. smaller presbyterate. Isn't the point the scriptural use of sacrament, and the details get modified according to time and place (I think the 39 Articles says something about that... ) ?