Monday, March 4, 2019

Flaws in Canonical Theism?

Adduced here in recent days, "Canonical Theism" is the proposal that the Holy Spirit, for the church's benefit, has not only blessed the church with a canon of Scripture but also with a canonical heritage which includes "a canon of doctrine, a canon of saints, a canon church fathers, a canon of theologians, a canon of liturgy, a canon of bishops ... a canon of ecclesial regulations, a canon of icons, and the like." (from Thesis IX, p. 2, Canonical Theism:A Proposal for Theology and the Church, edited by William J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers, Natalie B. Van Kirk, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).)

Having been invited to reflect on this proposal, after dipping into the book cited from above, I am left underwhelmed.

Before we get to the underwhelming of me, let me underline the great strength of Canonical Theism: it joins with movements in theology, past and present, in which we the church are reminded and renewed by re-acquaintance with the riches of the past. Christianity is now historically old and it is highly probable that few issues and question of today were not addressed in the past and so ... why reinvent the wheel?

Why am I underwhelmed?

1.  Canonical Theism - in itself, as a conception of how the church might refresh its life and mission through retrieval from its heritage - offers no ability for the church to discern what is unhelpful, unhealthy and uncongenial from its canonical heritage. Lurking in our canonical heritage, for example, are some appalling attitudes to women, expressed in writing by some of the same saints that, otherwise, are properly lauded for their contribution to theology and liturgy. Our criteria today for rejecting those appalling attitudes of yesterday are not informed by Canonical Theism.

2. While it is true, as I mentioned above, that there are few issues and questions today that were not addressed in the past, the fact is that there are a few issues and questions today that were not addressed in the past, and thus Canonical Theism is of limited value in addressing the sharp edges in the contours of modern Christian life. Take, again, a matter concerning Christian women. Even if there were no appalling attitudes to women among the ancient Fathers, we could not get from those venerable men a positive steer on the ordination of women. Yet many of us - valuing though we do, what is good about our canonical heritage - think we are not bound by that same heritage to refuse the ordination of women.

That is, there are, notwithstanding the attractions of talking about the blessings of the Holy Spirit for the church today by reacquainting ourselves with yesterday, significant limitations in the proposal called Canonical Theism.

The Holy Spirit continues to bless us, of course! But the blessing of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church today is the blessing which comes from hearing what the Spirit is saying to the church, and what the Spirit says to the church today is not bound by the limitations of Canonical Theism.

This will be my last "provocative" post till after Easter. In a Lenten fast I will post weekly in as anodyne way as possible, eager that no one comments - your Lenten fast! - but also, being honest, I have another writing project to complete before the end of March, and there is a bit of travel coming up, and ... well, Easter creates its own episcopal deadlines re my workload.


Father Ron said...

Dear Peter, you've asked this: "Flaws in canonical theism"?

Of course, it all depends on whose canons we happen to be following whose we question. If one is a Roman Catholic; an Orthodox; an Anglican; then our answer might be very different.

Also, the place of individual conscience is very important in our understanding of "what the Spirit is saying to The Church". For instance, today's wisdom from the Jesuit website, quoting Gal.5:5, has this to say:

"We live in a world that encourages individual choice and personal freedom. We might think this freedom entitles people to do whatever they want. As Paul notes in his letter to the Galatians, true freedom means following the Spirit. When we live in the Spirit, the Spirit helps us to make prudent choices. We can’t just assume that being led by the Spirit requires no effort on our part. It’s our responsibility to form our conscience. Then we’ll be prepared to follow where the Spirit leads.

"We live in a world that encourages individual choice and personal freedom. We might think this freedom entitles people to do whatever they want. As Paul notes in his letter to the Galatians, true freedom means following the Spirit. When we live in the Spirit, the Spirit helps us to make prudent choices. We can’t just assume that being led by the Spirit requires no effort on our part. It’s our responsibility to form our conscience. Then we’ll be prepared to follow where the Spirit leads."

The Holy Spirit may be speaking differently to different people in a very different age - according to the plurality of the differing traditions of different Churches. This can be problematic - especially for the dyed-in-the-wool 'traditionalists' of any one.

Anonymous said...

Is there a Holy Spirit?


Has he given gifts to the whole Body?


Should the whole Body receive them?


If we do, will we be informed by them, both individually and corporately?


Is that our duty to the God who was in Christ?


If we do not, have we a distinct identity in the world?


If we do not have a distinct identity, do we do the world any good?


Anonymous said...

To the post-liberal mainstream and post-Reformed evangelicals, this is revolutionary stuff. To Anglicans-- say a bishop who reads Henri de Lubac and a priest who censes his altar at mass-- not so much. Tradition? Oxford Movement. Ecumenism? Lambeth Quadrilateral.

For the latter, canonical theism's direct appeal to the Holy Spirit is the novelty, one made possible by the Western retrieval of trinitarian theology and especially Byzantine theology in the C20. Following Hooker, traditionalism among Anglicans has often made a sophisticated appeal to a somewhat Nestorian reading of Chalcedon and a pragmatic appeal to the wisdom of the governors of churches. This why forward looking Anglicans of to-day can be squeamish about explicit traditionalism whilst standing in churches that look as though they were built soon after the Battle of Hastings.

And in contemporary devotion, two tribes who do not quite get along both believe that they are devoted to the Holy Spirit. Some, who emphasise reception of the Holy Spirit's gifts (eg the canonical scriptures), tend to a scrupulous pietism that curls up in alcoves and emerges into fresh air and sunlight only for rare acts of mercy. Others, who even indoors walk briskly around heirloom china and crystal and open windows to let the storm blow in, deeply revere the Holy Spirit as a force for disruption in the world outdoors where all the action is. Although utterly sincere, each devotion is more human than divine.

Every religion known to us has curators devoted to some vishnu, fidgets devoted to some shiva, and occasional fights between the two. God has not revealed either idea, nor favoured either temperament, but he did make both contemplation and action. That is, he created both the indoors and the outdoors, and he wants his children to play together in both.

If the curators and the fidgets cannot agree on scripture, then how on earth can they agree on all the other canons proposed by canonical theism? On both fronts, the proposal on the table is a compromise-- canons are educative, but not quite directive. Evangelicals like Kevin Van Hoozer and Tom Wright describe the Bible as the first three acts of a five act play. Those of us onstage in the fourth act are improvising everything we do, but we do so to continue the story already told in the first three and with the ending in the fifth act already revealed. As we have just noted, some actors are better at learning lines, and others at improvising onstage, but the one play needs for the whole cast to do both.

If that is the sort of authority that the canon of scripture has, then why would the other canons be less formative or more fixative? As Anglicans normally are, + Peter and Father Ron are grateful enough to have scripts for their first three acts. But as we improvise with these canons onstage, it is natural for them to ask, how should the fifth act of the great narrative influence the way we chant psalms, conserve order, guide souls, etc?


To all at ADU or in Christchurch, a blessed Lent!


Jean said...

What the Spirit says to the Church today is not bound by Canonical Theism; but what the Spirit says may be closer to Canonical Theism than to culture. There is many a saint such as C.S.Lewis whose thoughts on Women in Ministry differ to my own but I attribute this not to the influence of the Church/Canon/Scripture but of the culture of the times he lived in. Just as perhaps Luther’s view by the end of his life regarding Jews had as shocking as it comes across to us now, I am taking a step of assumption, had much to do with culture. And while we are all culturally influenced, and it is not all culture is bad, for me personally it is the Holy Spirit which leads us (the church, as disciples) into all truth; who acts as our helper to discern God’s way to navigate and keep His truth as best as our humanness allows in the particular culture we find ourselves.

I read recently that a Church in Canada was compelled to retain an atheist Priest as an acting minister - via a pending lawsuit by said Priest. It was reported that the Church body said they were conflicted by two competing priorities - inclusion and truth. Inclusion has become quite the loaded word in current media/writing/culture and I think the plural we the Church must be careful how we both interpret and apply the term in a Christian context. Inclusion can be used instead of qualification for example. I would be most surprised to attend meditation at a Buddhist temple taken by a Monk who said he doesn’t follow the teachings of Buddha. This is because in my mind one of the qualifications of being a Buddhist Monk is following the teachings of Buddha. Is such a position in this case discriminatory, non-inclusive, lacking in love? Is the Bible non-inclusive when it says not all people will receive all gifts but to some will be given, and to others...? I think the true meaning and application of many a ‘pert’ and ‘frequently quoted’ cultural more needs some discernment before being adopted into the Church. .... and what does this last paragraph have to do with Canonical Theism; probably not much, maybe it could keep the Church grounded a little?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Jean
There are many strengths to Canonical Theism - I hope that is clear in the post above.
Indeed we could go further and say that for many things we do in the church every week and for many decisions we make, we act according to Canonical Theism, that is,we listen to the Spirit through the filter of our past, of the tried and tested wisdom of our forefathers and foremothers (thinking not only of saints and teachers but also of synods and councils).
So your first sentence is spot on!
But once we get into what culture is saying, what we think is right/wrong and true/false, on matters of the day which do not appear to have been previously engaged by our forefathers and foremothers, listening to the Spirit is, well, challenging.

Anonymous said...

"... keep the Church grounded a little?"

Jean, I wish you a blessed Lent!

Our difficulty-- apart from the usual quarrels of curators and fidgets-- is that civil selves are contemporary in a way not deeply in the past while churchly selves have eternal roots in both the very distant past and a scarcely imaginable future. The reforming slogan "Be the change you wish to see in the world" is lived on both the left and the right, and it means, if you think about it, enobling your social self today by living in imagined possibilities a year, decade, or generation ahead of anyone's actual social situation. This differs subtly from an ecclesial self being redeemed through an allegiance " the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints..." to which our moment is our duty but otherwise just another flicker of the candle no more virtuous than any other before or after it.

Sacred tradition can and does adapt to the best possibilities available as forms of life emerge and disappear-- eg the lost and found again ministry of women-- but only because they are the best available, not because they are especially old or new. So tradition has first to do with the sort of identity that one has if one truly believes in the Holy Spirit, and only indirectly to do with lists of one's favourite old things (eg Jerusalem Declaration) or the degree to which arrangements for governance should make them compulsory (eg Anglican Communion Covenant).

There are always happy warriors excitedly fighting for and against those lists and arrangements. Spiritually speaking, whether they are bolting all of the furniture to the floor or putting wheels on all of it, they are at least momentarily insane. Instead of relying on the fullness of our Spirit-given identity, they are agitated by the narrower and brittler political one, and so they are stuck in a sense of self and church that is too small to compass things of the eternal God. And when we pay too much attention to them, we ourselves forget that we are the Body of Christ playing before the thrones of God, not a civil parliament ruling subjects someplace. With a memory loss like that nobody can be very grounded. But happily, all that we need to stay grounded is memory informed by the faith of the creeds.


Jean said...

Good Morning Peter, it is challenging indeed!

Greetings Bowman, a blessed Lent to you also! I noticed a quality in my Grandparents I do not see in myself, and this was a strong sense of self-worth without the need to prove themselves significant or have it endorsed by others. And so you point I believe to a pivotal trend in current times, whatever ones persuasion, and this is to be self-referential - as a consequence, the plural we equate our personal identity or worth as synonymous with our present causes or viewpoints. It is difficult having been raised in such an environment to not be consumed by it; and I dare say many a people past faced the same struggle. Hence, the beauty of the Way leading beyond ourselves and providing a reference point not of our own making.

Just don’t get me started on the fading value of common sense - smile. I marvel at our own ‘blessed-isles’ where Christianity is knocked and scrutinised for all it should or should not teach, its perceived lack of tolerance, and its perceived brainwashing potential while at large in the interests of religious tolerance Hindu festivals are embraced without a degree of scrutiny as to their underlying philosophy. It keeps ‘Chrisitian’s’ busy on the defensive rather than living and promoting the Gospel. But then, I guess, spiritual warfare in all forms is real.

Enjoy the sunshine ☀️

Bryden Black said...

Once again Peter, a little knowledge might be a dangerous thing. To adumbrate: a more thorough hermeneutical appraisal of the context, wherein the Holy Spirit forged the full gambit of divine/human gifts now reassembled under the auspices of “canonical theism”, would have witnessed the fruits of ... say, the likes of Pelikan’s Christianity and Classical Culture: the Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian encounter with Hellenism(1993). For here we may discern the due outcome of the Christian Faith’s engagement with a culture, where we see clearly BOTH the continuities AND discontinuities. One of the pressing difficulties of our own day, with its melange of ‘inclusivity’, is its utter failure to realise there truly are real falsehoods.

For as BW also suggests, there’s a subtle, important distinction and interplay between the educative and the directive, the formative and principled and the positive and immediately prescribed/proscribed. You/we/the church rush to seek practical solutions which apparently could be deemed due to the Spirit’s prompting. Yet without the quiet persistence of tending the soil that would help germinate genuine fruits eventually of the Holy Spirit, all we’re likely to get in our own pragmatic context are ... brambles! A mixture of replicating branches of thorns with the possible bonus of occasional, annual berries ...! Apple pie anyone?!

Peter Carrell said...

There are falsehoods, Bryden, and our church knows that, as you do as an individual.There is a disagreement and agreement on falsehoods.
You agree with the whole of ACANZP that women may be ordained deacons, priest, bishops and you think it a falsehood, along with most of our church, that women should be inhibited from such ordination solely on the grounds of gender.
You also agree with the whole of our church that we are a church which uses common prayer - our agreed liturgies - and not individualised preferences.
All agree in our church agree that unfaithfulness in marriage, promiscuity and use of prostitutes is wrong and it is a falsehood to say or do otherwise; ditto with any exploitation of women.
In many and varied ways ACANZP has not given way to cutlure.
The specific point of disagreement between you and ACANZP is quite thin: that two people, of the same sex, committing themselves to love each other for life may be blessed is a falsehood to you while a truth to others.
Whether ACANZP has permitted this possibility is due to “culture” or to recognition and discernment of a truth of human love is actually a matter of dispute.
Yes, we may have rushed to judgement on our pragmatic decision, though you will realise that your brother and sister gay and lesbian Anglicans will not think it a rush at all!
They won’t exactly thrill to your thoughts that they are the brambles and thorns of our church’s life!

Anonymous said...

"You/we/the church rush to seek practical solutions which apparently could be deemed due to the Spirit’s prompting."

There are more, but it may clarify many discussions here to mention just five genres of the Spirit's prompting.

(1) St John Chrysostom often preached as a happy warrior. His subtle and flexible mind was capable of much more than polarised agitprop-- canonical theists will think first of his reputation as a liturgist-- but he did not hesitate to work the passions of a worldly crowd. Many of his sermons presented the latent conflict in situations, advocated one side in them, and invoked Truth as knowing which side to take. In fact, through many later centuries his sermons were read as entertainment. A contemporary analogue of this preaching today would probably be the work of musicians (eg Bono), journalists and screenwriters close to the Body.

(2) In the same world, bishops mediated many urban disputes, and wilderness hermits likewise mediated the conflicts of nearby villages. Living holy lives on the margin of society but available for counsel (cf England's later Julian of Norwich), holy men and women were trusted by factions that could not trust each other. ++ Justin's mediation ministry is a contemporary analogue.

(3) From then until now, there have been those who have codified practices of the Body's inner life and invented institutions that have later had broad social importance. As noted in various earlier comments, St Basil of Caesarea invented the departmental hospital, St Pachomius invented the monastery, St Gregory invented Western music, Benedictine chapters began the practice of voting, several figures invented the university, Innocent III invented licensed marriages, and Franciscan friars at Oxford invented empirical naturalism. Similarly, there were cathedral schools throughout the early medieval West, and in the reforming generations this became a project for mass literacy. European state churches played important roles in shaping each nation's welfare state. American churches invented the retirement community. Jean Vanier's L'Arche communities are perhaps the most recent such innovation.

(4) Amplifying the inventions of (3) is the power of the episcopate to replicate them throughout the world. Schools and hospitals are the most obvious examples, and what I say about the latter will illumine them all. Charlemagne commanded bishops throughout his domain to found local hospitals, and hospitals founded by CoE bishops in the C19 remain the backbone of the National Health Service. Usually, replication on that grand scale requires that net profit from established hospitals pay for the founding of profitable new ones-- capitalism (eg the medieval Cistercians). But bishops have often achieved that scale through a *network effect* among themselves, and one concrete value of the Lambeth Conferences is in their rich potential for network discovery.

(5) From the apostolic generation to the present, disciples have reshaped the wider society by abstaining from its worst practices and sometimes by disrupting them. Were those abstaining from idol-meat afraid of being contaminated by demons or disrupting the society's reliance on pagan sacrifice? There is no way to choose, and no need to do so. Similar abstentions have followed down the centuries, most obviously in sexuality and warfare, but sometimes also in laws of inheritance and lending. In fact, ++ Justin's project to make CoE churches an alternative to payday lenders is an example of disruptive action. Most mentioned today-- and perhaps least understood-- were the C19 disruptions to slavery.

Anonymous said...


(a) Only the first of these exemplars was pure talk, and that talk was brilliant. The rest were inventive action.

(b) Few of these fit into the modern box for religion or ethics, and even they blow it open.

(c) All of these began from some splash in the Body's own inner life that rippled out to the society as change. Often the progression is from devotion to practice to codification and institution-building to a renewed society.

(d) None of them addressed a problem that the world saw as such before the Body's influence had begun to solve it.

(e) None are explicable apart from some understanding of the stream from God's self-revelation through such practices as those articulated as the canons of canonical theism to the world.

(f) All of them differ from a C19-20 model of exalted "Speaking to the Issues of To-day" in which churches do good through their Main Street influence on voters, consumers, other institutions, and sometimes persons in government. Everything is better on the blessed isles, of course, and maybe they still listen to bishops in the House of Lords, but if the United States has ever had a society in which that model made sense to most people in it, it surely has not had that in recent decades. On the ground, churches and churchmen offering little but righteous talk sound polarising and partisan to much of the public here. Insofar as polarisation in the society has become a greater evil than any likely error that the C19-20 model might correct, that model should be replaced with something more fit for purpose

(g) My five-fold canon of exemplars above-- ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary-- shows how + Peter's helpful challenge to Canonical Theism might be met. However, although CT is mostly reliant on a welcome understanding of the Holy Spirit, a fully Anglican understanding of these also requires an account of the humanity of the *totus Christus* such as those sketched by Hooker in the Laws and by Barth here and there in the Church Dogmatics.


Bryden Black said...

Perhaps Peter your response is indeed akin to “apple pie” (ie set within those motherhood categories touted and deemed to be ‘required’). What BW is projecting, premised upon CT again, refuses to play that kind of language game, I suspect - as do I mostly, taking yet again now a cue from Jens. Herewith a quote from The End Is Music by Chris Green, a delightful intro to RWJ.

“Politically, he does not repudiate or abandon the radicalism of his youth in relation to issues such as race, militarism, and the American dream, although he does shift his focus to what he deems pressing social and cultural concerns—such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage—that bring him into alignment with conservatives on these particular issues.16” N.16=“Jenson differs from these conservatives most, perhaps, in his refusal of the nationalism that characterizes much of their thought.”

That is, while his clear repudiation of going along with contemporary solutions to pressing issues, sounds initially like mere “conservatism”, his roots and foundations are far richer and more robust. Just so, my own “disagreement” is not at all “thin”. There is absolutely nothing “thin” about my diagnosis, aired on ADU and in private papers, about the present competing Anthropologies in most Western churches: the classic Christian mixture of fallen Imago Dei versus that which views human being as “self-positing autonomous personal subjectivity”. Such that the latter is but “a bastard step-child” of the former; with the latter furthermore only arising necessarily socially and culturally from the former. Indeed; any such claim demands a deep genealogical assessment along the lines of an Alasdair MacIntyre.

And the beauty of CT is its ability to found a coherent root paradigm of “contemplation and action” (BW), and all that prospers its fruit - the likes of BW’s 1-5. With, to be sure, a due eventual weeding of falsehoods, social and cultural, and even epistemological, along the way ... Without such things, the brambles are likely to choke many another plant in the fullness of time.

Anonymous said...


+ Peter's wise challenge inspires a final reflection.

The plausibility of Canonical Theism flows from an upstream renewal of our understanding of the perichoresis of the Trinity and the proper work of the Holy Spirit. But Christians notoriously emphasise contrasting if not conflicting notions of what the Holy Spirit does. Father Ron posted an example on his blog the other day: the Holy Spirit as the fount of tradition has inspired texts such as Malachi 2:15 and 1 Timothy 2:15 that link sex to procreation in marriage, but again many would object that the same Holy Spirit has informed their conviction that sex today is not merely procreative. How is the Giver of good order in the Body related to the Enlightener of the consciences of Christians?

Protestants of the magisterial traditions have insisted that the proper work of the Holy Spirit is never unrelated to that of the Father and of the Son. For this reason, they have flatly rejected extravagant appeals to a Holy Hipster updating individual consciences directly. And their idea of the *wisdom of crowds* was formed by pogroms against Jews and the bloodbaths at Munster. This does not prove that adaptation of the tradition does not happen, but it does imply that in the right answer to our question the proper works of the Father and of the Son are also involved.

Father Ron himself has occasionally gestured here toward a better solution: because the Creator himself is improving the *orders of creation* through time, right action in those orders adapts to those improvements. The protasis of that thought is the apocalyptic conviction that makes it plausible that the God of the OT was in Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit too is God. The apodosis of it is the warrant for a holy wisdom that guides souls through the labyrinth of life.

So practice adapts to change in the human condition that has come from God. Because this change seems to unfold in the *la longue duree* the bare fact of it is not controversial. Returning to our examples, it is controversial neither that the breadth and depth of mass prosperity has risen haltingly since the C13, nor that human birthrates have reliably fallen with prosperity, nor that this has enabled a greater investment in fewer children. If the Father has not willed these changes in the human condition, then it is difficult to account for them with one's faith intact. But if he has, then we should not be surprised to discover that texts like Malachi 2:15 and 1 Timothy 2:15 read differently in the improved world.

Broadly, the awareness of best practice has broadened from sex for mere procreation (eg reptiles) to sex for the deepened marital relationship in which now costly childrearing occurs (eg elephants). Importantly, even those who are not bearing children aspire to marriages as deep as those of the couples who do. In that way, procreation is continuing to set the contemporary ethical ideal of a responsible person living the best sort of life. Even when SSM is proposed, it is marriage with these hyper-procreative dimensions that is being proposed. And so, although Humanae Vitae seems to have missed some things, Malachi 2:15 and 1 Timothy 2:15 make more sense in this new world than ever.

But only the Body is likely to take inspiration from that. Which brings us back to the proper work of the Son, and to + Peter's question how Canonical Theism might enable us to find solutions to emergent problems. Obviously, the Body is in the Son, and solutions are selected by discernment. Given first that one believes the protasis above, the culture of the canons molds the context in which discernment can take place.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman and Bryden,
I do appreciate more of Jensen and CT than you might think! (Bowman seems to understand that; Bryden possibly not.)
I suggest I can agree with BB on competing anthropologies jostling unhelpfully for our church,s attention while yet proposing that the specific point of disagreement between us is “thin”!
Let me try to explain:
While away in another time zone - I hasten to mention that lest anyone thinks I am posting this when I should be in church! - I am working my way through the Abraham festschrift recommended by BB a few weeks ago.
Much, of course, is agreeable and much is a reminder of how shallow a lot of theological roots are in our Down Under pragmatic church.
Yet, trying to apply the course of the argument running through the various papers/chapters, I am not convinced that canonical theism is incompatible with our church’s decision.
Why not?
Something a long these lines: (prompted in particular by Gavriluk’s chapter)
If we emphasise the love of God for each person is all sufficient and that the height and depth of true catechumenal formation is that we who follow Christ understand this and thus have no need of anxiety about finding a lifelong companion and sexual partner, then one conclusion is that the true disciple is ascetic on those matters: a celibate. (And, of course, various aspects of the teaching of Jesus and of Paul head entirely in that direction).
But, practically, pragmatically, the universal church, not just the church Down Under, has never embraced that direction.
The anthropology of the church, including its deep heritage in canonical theism, has acknowledged (sometimes reluctantly) that utter dependence on the love of God as sufficient love for each person is the ideal but in reality it is not good that a person be alone, it is better to marry than burn ... we both need human love and we have a capacity to respond with love back to the one who loves us.
That is an anthropology which sits within Scripture and it applies across all human cultures and all human generations.
Thus I understand the point of difference between Bryden and myself on our church’s decision to go something like this:
BB: the only anthropology which could possibly account for two Christians of the same sex to commit to a life together in a marriage like state is one wholely derived from culture as in the culture of a secular, let’s do things without reference to God. = bad decision, lacking theology, lacking appreciation of (e.g.) canonical theism.
PRC: see above; there is an anthropology in an age when human society and communities within that society, including ecclesial communities are offering honest, robust and transparent recognition that not all adults are heterosexual yet most such adults have capacity to love freely, graciously and equally another adult, which, picking up cues from Scripture, recognises the theological virtues of: honesty, transparency (no more closeted, if not fearful homosexuals in the church), faithfulness, commitment, as well as, 1 Cor 7:7 again, the reality of sexual drive (which, it hardly needs saying, but I will say it, has wrecked havoc within some ecclesial communities which attempted suppression of sexual drive via imposed celibacy).
That is, I think anthropology with respect to SSB is not necessarily culturally shaped and formed in its entirety. (All anthropologies are shaped to one degree or another by culture - of course!). Bryden thinks otherwise.
I think our disagreement is thin; BB thinks it is thick.
Dear reader,
You be the judge!

Anonymous said...

In the lowlands over the border from Parador, a TEC bishop (who must remain anonymous) has adopted an interesting response to the General Convention's rite for SSM: he encourages it for all same sex couples comprising persons who (a) are baptised and in good standing with some recognised church, and (b) have neurologist's certificates that sexually dimorphic structures of their respective hypothalami cannot support union with the opposite sex. The Body has a stake in the marriages of serious believers; biological disabilities are certified by examining physicians, not clergy. Thus far there have been no weddings for SSM in his diocese. I think of this policy when I read the comments back and forth between Bryden and + Peter.

Nearly every good theologian I read argues a variant of Bryden's thesis about the individualistic subject of modern Western culture. If Bryden is wrong about that, then so is a generation of others from Allchin to Zizioulis. But even I am not postmodern enough to dismiss accepted findings about brain physiology and function as a mere epiphenomenon of that cultural theme. When I dissected brains at fair Harvard, their neural structures could be drawn, weighed, counted, etc no matter what their prior owners had thought about their own subjectivity. I am not sure what Bryden would say if the structure of, say, autopsy hypothalami turned out to be postdictive of the sex of their spouses.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Bowman.
You make my point better than I can make it myself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter.

Alas, I'm sure that I have not put Bryden's point nearly as well. After a few years of reading his comments on it, and agreeing with them in so much, it bothers me that I still cannot do that.

The case that he argues seems to be against the culture that champions homosexuality as an instance of the wider narrative of self-authoring one's life. The damage that SSB does is to ACANZP's ability to say no to that narrative in defense of a more biblical reliance on providence and vocation.

But to advance that biblical narrative we need, as Eve Tushnet etc have argued, to be able to talk about individuals with SSA in terms of it. At that level, the question of causation again seems urgent. I cannot discern Bryden's position on that.


Bryden Black said...

“The question of causation again seems urgent.” BW
Your sense of urgency should’ve already been assuaged Bowman by a title I’ve previously cited here on ADU. Herewith again: Finding ourselves after Darwin, gen. ed., Stanley Rosenberg (Baker Academic, 2018). One of the earlier contributors pursues this important work, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb’s, Evolution in Four Dimensions (2005), from which we may say “that humans are constructed by, and involved in the construction of, contexts that are simultaneously physiological, behavioral, historical, social, and symbolic.”
Apart from the not insignificant qualification that we should properly speak of “social mediation” rather than “social construction” tout court (cf. AEMcG’s A Scientific Theology), I have to follow their conclusion. And again from their conclusion, your own suggestion re autopsies smacks rather of out of date behaviourists like Skinner, to my mind. Pity!

Bryden Black said...

To be sure Peter; let readers evaluate this:
“If a household is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mk 3:25).

Now; one of the tag lines of Anglicanism is “comprehensiveness”, a “broad tent” in common speak. So that we often hear our present dilemmas paralleled with the likes of: divorce and remarriage, just war vs. pacifism, usury vs. interest ... But on closer inspection, beyond the 13 sec political grab, none of these is equivalent to GS’s decision to grant legitimacy to two mutually opposing, contradictory stances. In time, either the one or the other will win out; given the sheer logic of the case, either one or the other must prevail.

No one justly celebrates divorce, even if remarriage may indeed help to heal some old wounds (to say nothing of either the Matthean or Pauline (1 Cor 7 again) exceptions). Just war practices are always seeking to limit the evil of any war itself, while seeking certain more peaceable outcomes; etc. For medievals, money was deemed “barren” (Aquinas), a medium of exchange only, and so any interest (“fruit”) charged was usurious; yet when mercantilism and then capitalism came onto the scene, the nature of money itself changes and is viewed to be fruitful per se, and fair interest is not usurious but a just return on capital - a fruit indeed.

But now Anglicans (well, some Anglicans) are seeking to embrace simultaneously two utterly opposing stances, the one deemed blessed, the other deemed sinful; nor may things get any more irreconcilably thick. No organisation may tolerate such an incoherent ideology like that under a single roof for long. So indeed; let the reader decide.

For any Christian anthropology worthy of the name is resolutely incarnational, one which therefore shuns any dualism, akin to the resolutions of the nascent economy (NB the etymology!) of the Holy Spirit now revived via CT. Comparison with our own era and the sorts of convoluted thinking summarised by PC’s latest shows what passes for “loving” echoes very much a dualist frame of mind. [Even BW seems to have mingled the deeds of God’s left and right hands, of state and church, at this point.] The sheer physiology of our human bodies sits misaligned with other goals - albeit supposedly loving ones. Unitive teleology is logically divorced from any possibility of a procreative purpose. The two are as separated as any Gnostic divide of old! Here we’ve another division within our contemporary ‘household’ ... which long term may not stand. The anthropological sense that undergirds it is just too schizophrenic. Just so, any restorative ways of the Spirit among members of the Body reveal a more wholesome mindset, a reintegration of disparate parts in divine charity. But here’s a church now pursuing the very opposite: prompting the discerning question as to its real source ... Back to Mark ch.3.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bryden, over the past few years the debate in the pews has been between high moderns and late moderns too preoccupied with each other to pay much attention to postmodern arguments. Every small town has its rivalry between the lawyers and the physicians and at times this seems like one of them.

Usually, the former have been defending a high view of biblical law at the cost of some derpism about whether any physiological variances constrain persons who have them to develop differently. Conversely, the latter have taken the reality of that variance as a social given, and have tried to respond to civil SSM in a way that conserves the customary place of weddings in modern church life. Both positions are shallow, but neither is faithless or crazy.

Importantly, vocal minorities on both sides have not only agreed with their own partisans, but have also opposed the basic premise of the other, and these have wanted this debate to end in division rather than reconciliation. That ulterior motivation has both embittered the tone of discussion and narrowed the thinking of the participants, deepening disagreement into polarisation. The institutional forum for settling the matter uses procedures that, in giving one side control of the debate, amplifies such polarisation. Any social scientist-- anybody who works with crowds-- would have expected the result. We have seen similar debates, processes, and results elsewhere in the Communion.

There are opinions and there are forces. As the dust has not yet settled on the battlefield, it is too soon to claim confidence about what those forces have been. But the hand to hand combat seems to have pitted pietists led by fideists against missionists led by rationalists. Some plausibly see Anglicanism-- their Anglicanism anyway-- as an English reformation pattern of denominational piety, others no less plausibly see it as a mission from Mere Christianity to modern societies. Happy warriors of both sorts have been restless in churches that are trying to do both. Since that is what bothers them, they have not paid much attention to views like yours or mine that tinker with the options and refuse the hobson's choice. Again, there are opinions and there are forces.

Amid all that, + Peter has been like a pastor counseling a couple who say they want a divorce. No, restless Edward should not have run off with alluring Sydney. Yes, social Elizabeth neglects her husband when she is embarrassed by his lack of politesse. But God's will for them is plain.


Anonymous said...


Here up yonder we call this derping--

A: "X is true. Here's 700 milligalileos of evidence to prove it"

B: "Well, hypothetically, I could believe that if only you had 800 milligalileos of evidence and a purple chicken. So I guess my opposing view still stands."

A: "Here's 850. And the chicken. So you agree?"

(Cluck, cluck, cluck...)

B: "No, the chicken needs to be a purple hen laying purple eggs, and the 800 is just enough for me to think that you might not be wrong. It is not nearly enough for me to think that my view is wrong. So I guess my opposing view still stands."

(Purple hen lays a purple egg.)

A: "So, you now think I might not be wrong?"

B: "Well, that was only one egg. You could still be wrong. So I guess my opposing view still stands."

(Purple hen lays a second purple egg.)

A: "So, you now think I might not be wrong?"

B: "But neither egg has hatched. If the chicks are stillborn, the eggs are not proper eggs and they don't count. So I guess my opposing view still stands."

(Two purple beaks begin to crack eggshells from within.)


Of course, denying that X is true, even with warrant, is not directly showing that the opposing view is even plausible. And B's pattern is consistent with commonplace reasons for resisting the acknowledgment of the truth. For example, B could be a witness under cross-examination in a murder trial, or a politician funded by billionaires who believes that tax cuts for his patrons always benefit the econonmy, or an executive for a tobacco company who believes that nicotine is not a carcinogen, etc.

As more precisely defined by Brad Delong, derping is defending a proposition by continuing to raise the estimate of the probability that an opposing proposition is wrong so that no amount of evidence for it is ever enough to persuade. Obviously, if we did this while wishing for a green traffic light, we would drive through red lights we did not quite believe that we had perceived, would crash, and could die. And note that if we actually had warranted doubts about our perceptions of traffic lights, we would have no business driving a car. So this pattern is an artifact of discourse, not a habit of practical reason.

Nobody has time for derping during Lent.


Anonymous said...


Your thought makes the most sense to me as a future-directed project.

At present, one of the usual sides is leaving the rapid changes in their societies to its next generation of leaders, and the other is giving the paradigms and institutions of those societies the benefit of the doubt today. Neither strategy is faithless or crazy; both have high risks. Today, these old skins cannot hold the new wine you offer, but another generation is rising.

No, diachrony is not synchrony. Churches were once both for and against a free speech, free press, elected governments, etc. History is hard on inorganic systems, hence Jens's sustained engagement with Hegel and his own post-Barthian revision of metaphysics.

Alas, we have not the time to explore the theology of a philosophy of the neurological sciences. On the sexually dimorphic structures of hypothalami, there does seem to be some statistically significant association between these and the rare but recognisable deviations. There is also a plausible though hypothetical embryological account that could explain on a molecular level how they happens. That should not be taken as a conversation-stopper anywhere, but it is sufficient to show that those constrained to decide this afternoon are thinking reasonably if they decide to acknowledge a biological constraint. Just what else they should decide, given that provisional understanding, is another matter.

Sometime after Trinity, it would be interesting to hear where you think I have "mingled deeds of God's left and right hands, state and church." Apart from a few in Escondido, I am almost the only person who has emphasised that locus from the beginning.

Until then, I know that you will find much encouragement in Lent, as we all must.



Bryden Black said...

Multiple blessings indeed Bowman be thy just reward. Whatever the season ...!