Friday, May 26, 2006

TBTM20060526



So that's what I'm leaving behind...



...and that's what I'm going to. The only question weighing heavily upon me is:



... will he still love me when I get back?

Happy Birthday dear blog...


My first post was this one on Tuesday May 31 2005. As I'll be away on the exact anniversary, I thought I'd say Happy Birthday dear blog a little earlier.

The graph is quite exciting, even if the numbers are still rather small in an absolute sense.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A John Milbank paper

John Milbank is one of the best contemporary British theologians. I came across this paper today, whilst looking for something else, and it's great. I particularly liked this: "This ‘designing’ God is not the God of classical Catholic theology because his causality operates on the same plane as finite causes even though it is all powerful. One can trace the beginnings of such a way of conceiving of divine causality as far back as Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, but it displaced an older and essentially neoplatonic way of looking at things, still holding good for Aquinas, in which the divine cause was a higher ‘influence’ which ‘flowed into ’ finite levels of causation, entirely shaping them from within, but not ‘influencing’ them or conditioning them on the same plane of univocal being, as a less metaphorically-rooted meaning of ‘influence’ tends to imply. Put briefly, the ontological versus ontic difference between primary and secondary causality was lost sight of."

It was the 'put briefly' bit that really made me smile...

(Just for the avoidance of ambiguity, I too find Milbank difficult to read. I was saying much the same thing here.)

TBTE20060525


Can You Still Hate Wal-Mart?

It's a shockingly eco-friendly plan from the world's most toxic retailer. (HT Energy Bulletin)

As it happens, Tesco are doing something similar.

I haven't forgotten that I need to write up 'Am I wrong about Tesco (part two)' - but it'll be after my holiday...

TBTM20060525

This sad world we live in

Why do the British get so hung up about nudity?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

TBTE20060523

Crematoria


Big funeral today, which went OK. Finished with a cremation.

I don't like crematoria. Bit too industrial - but may also be the experience of several hundred services endured, which has taken off any charm that may have existed at the beginning.

However, crematoria are often redeemed by the staff, like this man, who deserves a medal for excellence. (Hi Paul ;-)

Why I love Rowan Williams

Is "ditto" sufficient?

Layer Cake



He's going to be a very good Bond.

This film was OK as well.

Alfie



Honest, and rather sad.

'What's it all about Alfie?'

Quite.

TBTM20060523

How to Talk to a Global Warming Sceptic

How to Talk to a Global Warming Sceptic

Does exactly what it says on the tin.

See also this, "The Debate is Over". There's still a bit of me that thinks '100,000 lemmings can't be wrong', but it's getting smaller all the time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

spiritual but not jewish

I've been trying to ration how often I link to Chris Locke's site, but I can't resist a link to this.

I think one of the reasons why I like the site so much is that I still have a fair amount of residual New Ageyness in my own thinking, and it is bracing when such elements are brought up into the light, there to vanish. Of course, what is happening with me is a slow transformation of New Age 'not religious but spiritual' flabbiness into a more tautly muscled (!) orthodoxy; not sure that's what Chris has in mind :o)

Da Vinci Code: the real challenge to the church



Final Learning Church session of the 'academic year' last Saturday, and it was on 'Debunking the Da Vinci Code'. Not that difficult... Then on Sunday beloved and I went off to watch the film, which was fine - less anti-Christian than the book, if anything; competently directed and acted. I suspect most of the criticism of it (as a film) is driven by the media's desire to have something different to say about the phenomenon, not from any unprejudiced assessments of the film's merits themselves.

Anyhow, what I wanted to say was something which I emphasised in my LC talk, which is that the Da Vinci Code phenomenon is holding up a mirror to the church, and I believe we should pray and ponder seriously how we should respond. In particular, I think that the implications are much more radical than what the church, in its various parts, has undertaken so far.

My point is this: all of the dramatic charge in the Da Vinci Code comes from echoing the Reformation-era controversies against the Roman Catholic church; in particular, however, it is seen as radical and controversial to argue that Jesus was human. (Same thing that drove the reaction to The Last Temptation of Christ).

Why is this at all interesting? The orthodox teaching is that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine - therefore, anything which is simply spelling out an implication of his humanity, ie that he could have been married to Mary Magdalene, is perfectly in tune with Christian doctrine. There is nothing shocking about it.

So why do people believe that there is?

The implication is that church teaching is functionally docetic. Whatever we might officially say, the wider world hears the church presenting Jesus as someone who was wholly divine, and who only seemed to be (Greek: dokei) human.

In other words, the world hears the church teaching that Jesus was a Superman figure. Jesus put on his humanity in the way that Kal-El puts on a pair of glasses, in order to pass amongst us. Yet his true and authentic nature is other than human.

It is a catastrophe that the church has allowed this to happen. It is a rebuke to the church: it is a prominent signal of the church's failure to communicate the truth of the gospel and to allow itself to be caught up in ephemera and adiaphora - all the things which are ultimately of no importance, which have obscured that which is of paramount and eternal importance.

Underlying this is an understanding of God which sees the Greek philosophical attributes (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence etc) as determinative, and as standing over against the human, where the human lacks all these attributes. Christianity is about the overthrow of that conception of both the divine and the human - that is precisely what the Incarnation is about - demonstrated symbolically by the tearing of the curtain in the temple. In other words, being a Christian is about allowing Jesus to teach us what divinity and humanity are - it is not about importing our understandings of divinity and humanity, and trying to use them to understand Jesus.

Given that the world hears the church teaching a heresy, and yet - as the response to DVC demonstrates - there is a tremendous search for the truth about Jesus, and a fascination with Him - what is the church to do?

It must stop using language that is interpreted docetically. When we claim that Jesus is the Son of God, however orthodox we may understand that language to be (and it is!) we must never forget that it is heard docetically. I suggest that in all of our conversations with non-Christians we should abandon that language. Completely. All that it does is reinforce error. Our language instead should emphasise that Jesus is truly one of us, that we should begin to approach Him on that basis, and that we should then allow Him to teach us about our humanity, and about our own divinity - our inheritance as children of God, fellow-heirs with Christ.

We must begin from the wholly orthodox truth that Jesus was fully human, and build from there, allowing his humanity, as we enter more deeply into it, to teach us about his divinity, and therefore what divinity truly is.

We do not need to abandon orthodoxy - that is the liberal error - but nor is the aggressive reassertion of orthodoxy sufficient, for the consequence of that is simply to apply fertiliser to the weeds of DVC and its ilk.

We must allow our language to be broken up and recreated. It is not our words which will lead us to God. It is the Word. To be true to him requires a letting go of words, however wonderful and meaningful, and an embrace of the Word. He will lead us into the truth, if we let Him.

The apathistic stance, and asophism

I'm prompted to put this on my blog by reading this post. The link between science and faith has always been something of a driver for me, but I am often tempted to think that a plague should descend upon all theologians who seek to write a 'scientific' theology. It seems to me that there is something inherently idolatrous in the scientific method, taken as a final step in the discernment of truth; at the same time there is something profoundly holy in the scientific method, when it is taken as a penultimate step in the discernment of truth. To call a theology ‘scientific’ is, to my mind, to implicitly favour the former option. Theology may well be the Queen of the Sciences (I think it is, for reasons that will become clear) but to call – in today’s society – a theology ‘scientific’ is, I feel, trading upon the idolatrous elevation of scientific enquiry above theology – and that I believe to be wrong.

Science has customarily been described as an ‘objective’ discipline. My argument is that the scientific method is better characterised as an emotional disengagement from the material being studied. This emotional distancing is at heart a spiritual discipline, one with roots in Christian and Stoic thinking about controlling the emotions: apatheia (apathism – the structured denial of emotion, apathist, apathistic). I therefore think that the most precise description of scientific investigation comes from talking about the apathistic stance underlying all such enquiry.

However, when this is seen as the concluding means for obtaining truth, all the most important elements of human existence are excluded. Drawing on some recent research and thinking in the philosophy of mind and related fields (principally Antonio Damasio and Martha Nussbaum) I argue that to put science to good use we require wisdom and judgement – emotional intelligence– which necessitates an emotional engagement, and which is necessarily non-scientific. This has historically been supplied by religious traditions such as Christianity, and a central part of such ‘wisdom traditions’ is precisely their ability to inculcate and develop emotional intelligence.

However, as a result of particular historical circumstances, our culture has hugely developed the capacity for apatheia but lost the capacity to integrate the insights generated into a larger spiritual discipline. Put simply, apatheia – science - is unable to supply any answers to questions of meaning, to guide us as to what is considered important – it is blind to ‘the seriousness of life’. This I summarise in a neologism – asophic, adj. meaning not connected with wisdom. I believe that contemporary Western society is built upon asophic foundations, and the effects are well known.

It seems to me that the spiritual roots of scientific endeavour need to be acknowledged and affirmed; in so doing the re-integration of science within the broader framework of Christian understandings can proceed, with profound benefits to both forms of enquiry. This is what my book is about (first two chapters found here). I haven't done much work on the book for a number of years, but I get the sense that something might happen this summer...

Partners in prejudice?

This is worth reading, although I don't agree (of course) with the characterisation of ++Rowan. Troubling though.

TBTM20060522

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Old and new



I'm getting into the habit of taking my camera with me more often, and it is starting to reap benefits. Waiting for the bride to arrive at a wedding this afternoon, the image above I found quite striking.

TBTM20060520

Friday, May 19, 2006

Birth


I found this a remarkable film. Disturbing and unsettling, excellently directed and acted. Much to ponder.

What difference does it make?

I have continued to mull over the question of fundamentalism, on which I have already typed many words. A particular question comes to my mind, though: what difference does it make? For it seems to me that fundamentalism constitutes something like a parasite - it hitches a ride on the spirituality inherent in reading Scripture, but the only thing which insistence on inerrancy contributes is: the perpetuation of the ideology of inerrancy. I can't see anything of spiritual or theological worth which it contributes. Which may just be my blindness, of course.

However, I'm going to put this to the test. I'm going to write a few posts over the next few days (prefaced with WDDIM?) looking at particular texts, and asking that very question. I'll begin tomorrow with Genesis 1 and 2.

On which, this is fascinating (HT Maggi.)

They call it life

This is rather scary. Watch and weep.

This is not to say that there aren't caveats to be made in the various arguments about global warming. It is truly very interesting that there are glaciers in Norway that are growing, and (if true) that Greenland's ice sheet is getting thicker.

But somehow I just don't think that these people are concerned with the truth...

OO this is good

I'm not a tremendous fan of Alister McGrath theologically, although I do have a lot of respect for his work rate(!) and his historical research, but this: shows him at his best, having a real go at Richard Dawkins. He's basically done all that needs to be done (there goes the first two chapters of my book ;-)

TBTM20060519



A very windy morning, and clearly it was a very windy night:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Before Sunset


Very good.

Only love can believe

Digging through some old material (prior to something else I'm going to post today/ tomorrow) I came across this, which I thought I had posted. I wrote it in March of 2003, when I was on my sabbatical, and a lot of things were settling in my mind and heart about the faith. Thought it might be of interest.
~~~

"Only love can believe": what does it mean to believe in the resurrection?

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1.3)

The resurrection is both the origin and the definition of Christianity - Christianity could not have come into being without the resurrection, nor can it be sustained except by a belief in the resurrection - "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15.14). Yet there is still room to ask, what does it mean?

It should first be pointed out that there is no clear harmony between the different accounts given in the New Testament. The appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus, for example, is rather different to the experience of Thomas. So there is room within Christianity for differing understandings of what the resurrection was.

Many people see reason to doubt the resurrection, citing various scientific, critical or exegetical grounds for doubt. Perhaps the story was made up by the early church. Perhaps the apostles had psychological disturbances which they interpreted as 'appearances'. Perhaps it was a group pscyhosis, brought on by a combination of grief and guilt. And so on and so forth.

To my mind, these issues, although of some intrinsic interest, are beside the point. To explain why, let us engage in a little 'mind-experiment'. Imagine that somehow, we were able to send a team of scientists back to AD33, to the time of the crucifixion. These scientists can take whatever instruments and techniques they want, and they are to assess the 'evidence'.

Firstly, they examine the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. They confirm that Jesus is dead - the heart has stopped beating, the brain has stopped functioning, the body has begun to decay.

Let us next assume that, on the third day, they see something like what is described in John's gospel, specifically the experience of Thomas. Like Thomas, they examine Jesus' wounds; they positively identify that this person is Jesus; that he is alive.

The scientists then return to our own age, and proclaim - in the manner that scientists are somewhat prone to - 'Science has displaced religion! We can prove that Jesus rose from the dead!!'

To my mind, this is to miss the point. For Christian belief in the resurrection is not belief in a matter of fact, no matter how wonderful that fact might be. Christianity sees the resurrection as a miracle - as THE miracle - and, as Wittgenstein put it, "The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle".

There are many reasons for this difference in approach between science and Christianity, which I shall not enter into here. For what I would like to do is give an indication of what Christian belief in the resurrection is actually about. At its core, at its most simple, it is a claim about Jesus, that Jesus was justified by God and raised in glory - and that glory is something which the Christian participates in, by grace. In other words, belief in the resurrection is a belief that Jesus was the Messiah - and vice versa. Consider the sequence of events. Jesus proclaims the gospel, a new law of love and forgiveness, of including the outcast and healing the sick. He comes into conflict with the political and religious authorities, and is crucified. Now this demonstrates that Jesus has been rejected by God -

‘And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.’ (Deuteronomy 21.22-23)

The disciples are shattered, downcast, scattered and leaderless - and these people then establish a church which 'conquers' the known world. Clearly something happened, which transformed those downcast disciples into apostles and missionaries, filled with enthusiasm for proclaiming the gospel.

Whatever that something was, it justified Jesus. Instead of Jesus being condemned by God, he was instead held up by God in special honour - he was vindicated against his accusers. The world says this; the world makes this judgement about Jesus - yet God says this, and makes this judgement about Jesus.

We thus have a difference, right at the beginning of Christianity, between the judgement of the world and the judgement of God, and therefore the origin for all contrast between Law and Grace. For Grace is the principle of the resurrection - to stand condemned, and yet to be free from punishment. It is to be forgiven, to be included, to be accepted.

It should be clear, then, that this justification of Jesus cannot be divorced from who Jesus was in his life, and how he lived. For Jesus taught the path of forgiveness, of healing the sick and binding up their wounds. This was rejected by the religious authorities - and yet it was vindicated by God. So clearly God is like Jesus, and Jesus is like God. And the resurrection reveals Jesus in glory, a divine glory - a glory that we are called to share in.

We share in it through living that same life of grace that Jesus lived, ie by following the path of healing compassion, of including the outcast, of forgiving the sinner. That path was broken open by Jesus (the 'pioneer and perfecter of our faith'), in his life, death and resurrection.

In other words, belief in the resurrection is really a commitment to living the Christian life - that which was opened up and vindicated by the resurrection of Jesus, whatever that event could be described as in scientific terms.

Once more, Wittgenstein demonstrates his sure understanding of Christian identity:

‘Only love can believe the resurrection. Or: it is love that believes in the resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the resurrection; holds fast even to the resurrection. What combats doubt is, as it were, redemption.’ (Wittgenstein, 1937)

Getting personal with fundamentalism

I've been reflecting a bit on Tim's comment following my anti-fundamentalist screed yesterday.

Generally speaking I see that level of heat as a sign of spiritual imbalance, and whilst I don't (yet) want to retract anything that I said ('cept maybe the 'demonic possession' crack) I have been wondering why I am so vexed by the phenomenon. So, a bit of personal history and interrogation (partly inspired by Neil's story).

I was raised in what could be described as a 'classic Anglican' household, ie my parents went to church maybe three or four times a year, but always at Easter and Christmas. I went to Sunday school occasionally, but gave up on that fairly early on, probably because my elder brother gave up on it. I remember picking up the Bible to read it (from the beginning...!) when I can't have been yet eight years old, and I stuck with it for a little while, I think until part of Exodus - not bad. I went to boarding school at age 11, and that's when memories start to get a bit clearer. I went to an 'evangelical weekend' one time around then, which didn't make a big impact on me, and I remember going to 'house groups' in one of the teacher's rooms, but I don't remember thinking very explicitly about faith matters until my second year at boarding school - I would have been aged about 12 - and the argument about Gandhi that made me an atheist (ie I rejected the argument that he was going to hell. I don't think I had rejected the living God. I think He was with me all the time).

After that I tended to lap up all the anti-Christian arguments I could come across, especially Richard Dawkins, although I consistently had debates with the very same people - in fact, I was often good friends with them. What I understood Christianity to be *was* what their perspective taught.

The things that began to undermine that point of view were (in order of time):
- a particular teacher for whom I had great (intellectual) respect, who was a committed Christian (lay reader in CofE) and who could cope fairly easily with my attacks;
- reading a number of books, most especially Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which undermined some of the rationalistic assumptions I had been making;
- a particular tutor at Oxford, who built upon the earlier teacher's work, and really got me to open up my understanding of Christianity;
- the process of academic study of theology, especially Biblical studies, which I had gone into with a very large axe to grind, but I found that the grinding of the axe destroyed the axe rather than my target (in other words, I came into Christianity after understanding source criticism, not before);
- reading 'Honest to God' by John Robinson, which convinced me that fundamentalism wasn't Christianity. I definitely came into Christianity through the door marked 'liberal', although my views have evolved in major ways since then (I'm a long way from being a liberal now).

In the growth in understanding since then, it would probably be fair to say that the devotional understanding of Scripture wasn't prominent, prior to ordination. Although certain texts held great meaning for me, I didn't spend time really getting to know the Bible all that well, not in a spiritual sense (I've always been able to lap up the academic stuff easily, however, even though I'm a long way from being a linguist).

However, I've always had an uneasy relationship with fundamentalism/evangelicalism. I bracket the two together simply because I always equated the two.

Part of the problem, looking at it now, is that I have accepted the fundamentalist insistence that theirs was the 'right way to interpret the Bible', and that therefore there was something illegitimate and not quite right about my own understandings. Some of the reason for this was where I started from, as a very liberal 'Christian', and therefore possessing a guilt about not taking the Bible with suitable seriousness. I think I have the sort of personality that, in a different world, could easily become fundamentalist - very head dominated, with a need to make doctrine central. The only thing that has prevented me from accepting fundamentalist perspectives (other than questions of honesty/ intellectual integrity) is, I think, an instinctive embrace of the mystical tradition, which was God's gracious way of immunising me against absolutism. One of the earliest theological lessons I learnt and absorbed was that God is ultimate, and ultimately unknowable, and therefore anything which we can articulate and understand cannot be God. Which is liberating - it allows for growth into God.

So I think what has given the research into fundamentalism that I've done in the last couple of weeks such a 'charge' is that I am excavating something that is still within me. I think this has also driven my gnawing at the problem of the Virgin Birth - a sense that I'm still not quite there, as if I'm still not quite legitimate.

Time has taught me that things which I don't understand (eg resurrection, incarnation) I come to understand over time, as I unpack the implications of my original revelation of the nature of God.

Oh. Haven't gone into that have I? I'd better say something about that.

After my first year at Oxford, during the summer holidays - it was the last Tuesday in August, 1990, I think - I was at my parents home, on my own (they were away on holiday) reading this book and I find myself vigorously disagreeing with it. I caught myself saying 'God's not like that' - and after catching myself saying it, I realised that I did believe in God, although belief wasn't the right word - I loved God. And I had the most amazingly transformative experience, literally falling to my knees, blinding white light, utter euphoria, and two things were imprinted upon my soul: that love truly, really, literally makes the world go round (God is love); and 'become who you are'. I was on an emotional high for about two weeks, and I have been exploring the implications of that revelation ever since. Anything which is in accord with that revelation I accept; anything which is not in accord, I reject. It planted an understanding in me that is more fundamental than my own opinions or preferences; if those understandings are unmade, then I shall be unmade - there will be no more 'I' capable of discernment. That way is madness. The way that I was provoked into walking was life, and 'Jesus' blood never failed me yet'.

So that is what has been driving me - a seed implanted, which has been growing vigorously ever since - I'm now a priest for God's sake!! - yet the legacy of the poison that I absorbed has been there alongside all the time. I think this is the spiritual tension that I referred to the other day. My system is mustering itself to expel the poison, and that is a large part of what was driving the repudiation of fundamentalism.

It is as if I am trying to clear a space within which I can grow. Possibly, even, to clear a space in which I can become more evangelical without letting go of all the things which have formed my theological understanding up until now (ie the essential sacramentality of faith). A place where I can express - BE - all who I am, all who I'm called to be - without self-harm and mutilation.

I tend to now see evangelicalism as a style, rather than a theological stance - something in which enthusiasm (that great English bugbear and taboo) can be expressed, and I am a very enthusiastic person.

Maybe I'm just repressed ;-)

It's as if I have been carrying around this monkey on my back all my life, and I have finally got to a place where I can throw him off. A sense of not having been quite right with God - that, to put it differently, I have received a sense of shame from the fundamentalist community for not accepting their tenets.

Yet I really don't believe in that. I don't believe in shame as a ground for forming character. In fact I see shame as of the devil (part of what underlies my use of 'Satanic' as a description of fundamentalism). I think that is precisely what Jesus comes to set us free from - the burden of obligations impossible to fulfil. Instead of the works of the law we have these intellectually impossible contortions forcing our souls, Procrustes like, into harmful shapes. That is exactly the problem, and that is exactly where the spirit of the Pharisees still roams. You must be like this, then you will be acceptable. Whereas Christ comes and says: you are acceptable in my sight, come and enter into my rest.

Become who you are.
Become who you are.
Become who you are.

I'm not there yet.

Become who you are.
Love makes the world go round.
Become who you are.

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

Bright white light euphoria joy bliss loss of self affirmation of self love God love freedom love bright white light.

Become who you are.

God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you."

Become who you are.

I'm not there yet.

"Behold, I am coming soon."
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

In response to Neil’s comment a quick run through of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which if nothing else will clarify what we disagree on! My comments are in square brackets.

Article I.
We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.
[I have problems with this straight off. The authoritative Word of God is Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity – as Scripture itself testifies (John 1 above all). The authority of Scripture is derivative from the authority of God. Scripture has authority precisely because it is the principal testimony to the Word, not because it IS the Word (in this sense).]

We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.
[Hmmm. Maybe. This gets to the debate: when the church selected and gathered the Scriptures together (which is surely indisputable?), guided by the Spirit etc, were they recognising a pre-existing authority, or were they bestowing the authority? I think more the latter, but I don’t see this as either/or, it wouldn’t trouble me too much to accept the former option.]

Article II.
We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.
[Happy with the first bit, not with the second, not so much because I want to say that the authority of the Church is higher than that of Scripture, but because I reject the division. I don’t think Scripture can be understood without a community of interpretation.]

We deny that church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.
[Same as previous comment. The Nicene creed is non-biblical (homoousios) but it is the determining interpretation of Scripture, I would argue, and inspired.]

Article III.
We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
[OK]

We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.
[Erk. This is what might be called ‘Scriptural Apollinarianism’; it’s profoundly anti-incarnational. It presumes a radical division between God and man which is what I understand Christianity to be all about overcoming. This is where the philosophical problems become most apparent, for this perspective can only make sense with an Enlightenment-era understanding of text and meaning. If you don’t accept that (eg, if you think Wittgenstein’s account of language makes sense, as I do) then this article is literally meaningless.]

Article IV.
We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.
[Yes.]

We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God's work of inspiration.
[Yes.]

Article V.
We affirm that God's revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.
[Good.]

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.
[Hmm. Not sure about the first one. It seems to give the written text more authority than the living Word. Needs a bit more unpacking. Happy with the second sentence.]

Article VI.
We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.
[Still has the Modernist understanding of ‘text’ hovering behind it.]

We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.
[All of Scripture is God-breathed (even if that’s a reference to the Septuagint!)]

Article VII.
We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
[No, this is profoundly wrong. The INCARNATION “was the work in which God by His Spirit… gave us His Word”. This sums up everything I disagree with about doctrines of inerrancy – it places the text in the place of the living Christ.]

We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.
[OK, pretty much – the weight is in the word ‘reduced’. I think human insight is precisely the way in which revelation works – that doesn’t stop it from being God-driven. Again, there is a gnostic distinction (anti-incarnational) being presumed here.]

Article VIII.
We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
[Fine.]

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.
[Good.]

Article IX.
We affirm that inspiration, through not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.
[Yes – the intentions of the Biblical writers were met.]

We deny that the finitude or falseness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God's Word.
[Hmmm……. What are the criteria being assumed?]

Article X.
We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.
[Nyaah…. This is just the sort of cul-de-sac which the earlier mistakes lead into. Inspiration works through the relationship (that’s an implication of accepting the doctrine of the Trinity) between text and reader. It doesn’t stand on its own, as if the tablets of the Ten commandments should be discovered by people who didn’t speak Ancient Hebrew, and suddenly they understood the point!]

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
[First sentence is fine, but I suspect the second sentence is true regardless of the questions of authorship!]

Article XI.
We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.
[OK, dependent on what ‘all the matters it addresses’ refers to.]

We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished but not separated.
[This is entirely dependent upon what the criteria of error are taken to be. I don’t see a problem with something being spiritually and theologically without error, and also in contradiction to present day scientific knowledge (which is also liable to error and change over time).]

Article XII.
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
[As previous comment.]

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
[Ah. This I disagree with, and this I think is the application of Modernist philosophy to Scripture (an idolatrous undertaking IMHO). I think the only valid inerrancy is ‘spiritual, religious and redemptive’. I don’t think questions of historical and scientific accuracy were a part of the Biblical writers’ worldview and I don’t see it as being at all important. (The viewing of such questions as important indicates the degree of Babylonish captivity held by the person asserting it, I would argue; ie, it shows how far secular values have taken root.)]

Article XIII.
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
[Like homoousios, inerrancy is a non-Scriptural term being used to determine the interpretation of Scripture. The difference is that homoousios was affirmed by the wider Body of Christ, and assented to for centuries. The same cannot be said for inerrancy, which is clearly a recent innovation, and one which is repudiated by the vast majority of the Body.]

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of metrical, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
[As I read that first sentence it seems exactly what I’m criticising the doctrine of inerrancy for doing!! Maybe I’ve missed something crucial here… ]

Article XIV.
We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
[OK. The unity and internal consistency of Scripture comes from its pointing to Christ.]

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved violate the truth claims of the Bible.
[OK]

Article XV.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.
[OK (don’t agree, but it’s a reasonable argument).]

We deny that Jesus' teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.
[OK, but His humanity mustn’t be evacuated in gnostic fashion.]

Article XVI.
We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church's faith throughout its history.
[Rubbish. At least, not in the sense argued for here.]

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.
[That is pretty much what I think it is!!]

Article XVII.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God's written Word.
[Fine.]

We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.
[Huh? John 3.8 anyone? Sure, it doesn’t operate ‘against’ Scripture, or contrary to Scripture, but to deny that it can operate apart from Scripture is (again) to elevate Scripture up into the Godhead.]

Article XVIII.
We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
[Good.]

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims of authorship.
[Fine. Though I don’t think an understanding of source criticism does (necessarily) lead “to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching”.]

Article XIX.
We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
[Once more, there is a ‘spin’ here which I resist. Acknowledging the authority of Scripture, I’m fine with that (I’m that much of a Protestant) – it’s the inclusion of ‘infallibility and inerrancy’ that I have difficulty with.]

We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
[Wow, that’s a remarkably liberal sentiment to conclude with! What are the grave consequences being referred to?]

~~~

I’m not going to comment on all the ‘exposition’ at the end, except to quote this:
“The result of taking this step is that the Bible that God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one's critical reasoning and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.”
This is exactly what I’m accusing fundamentalism of doing!! Irony upon irony.

Some thoughts on Gandhi

So, is Gandhi saved?

First a caveat - I don't think that the Fathers were all that concerned with being 'saved' in the sense in which post-Reformation Christians understand the term, and I believe that the Eastern Orthodox church tends to downplay any conversations of this sort, on the grounds that judgement belongs to God alone. I have a lot of sympathy with that perspective. An excessive concern with 'salvation' is a spiritual neurosis IMHO.

Second, a quick philosophical preamble. On the question of other faiths, and how far it is possible to be 'saved' outside of the church, there are three broad views (I'm deliberately avoiding some of the technicalities): exclusivist, inclusivist and pluralist. Exclusivist says only those who call on the name of Christ are saved; inclusivist says other faiths can save but only in so far as they take on the nature of Christ (Karl Rahner calls these 'anonymous Christians'); pluralists say that salvation is possible in all religions.

I'm an inclusivist, that is, I see Jesus as 'the way, the truth and the life'; I think nobody comes to the Father except by Him (in other words, Jesus is the criterion for what being 'saved' is, and salvation lies precisely in being conformed to Him, by grace - this is what the Eastern Orthodox call 'theosis', being 'divinised'); but I think that He has sheep in other pens, and that if those other sheep recognise His voice, they will come by Him even if they don't call Him Jesus. I give great weight to Matthew 7.21-23 in saying that.

Which should make clear why I think Gandhi is saved. I think he pursued the will of the Father, even if it was explicitly not pursuing the will of Christ. What hovers behind that, of course, is that Gandhi was not pursuing the will of Christ as he took it to be ie as he had been taught it by the Christians with whom he had come into contact. In other words, I think a large part of the 'blame' for Gandhi not accepting Christ rests with a distorted presentation of the gospel (not all the blame).

Why do I think Gandhi pursued the will of the Father? He was by no means perfect, he was very human, but his redemption comes, I would say, through his courageous embrace of non-violence, putting the Sermon on the Mount into practice, leading people in the way of peace, and being irrevocably committed to the truth (satyagrahi). I think grace was active in his life. I don't think he 'earnt' salvation; I think he was open to God's life working through him. When he comes into the truth I think he will turn towards it (Him), not away from it, and I think Jesus will recognise him as one of his own.

That's my two pennies anyhow.

UPDATE: "Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right'." (Acts 10.34)

TBTM20060518

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Spider Jerusalem

Spider Jerusalem is my hero, as anyone observant should have realised by now. Sister Mary explains why, despite his rather RUDE behaviour, he's so admirable: "Because for all that he's a big ol' jerk, he is trying to make the world a better place. He actually cares about people, in a world where when you get sick of being a person, you can easily change your species. He challenges the ruling powers, and they fight back. He goes from riches to poverty to riches as regularly as a clock, and he still keeps writing the truth, as he sees it. You might even say he's a prophet for his age."

Exactly so. It's about holding on to the truth, no matter what, for the truth shall set us free.

The Slow Crash

The Slow Crash

Just read it, it's really good.

Spiritual cancer (or: why I hate fundamentalism)

The traditional job description for an Anglican incumbent is ‘the cure of souls’, and that is what I see as the core of my ministry – the healing of the psyche, the binding up of the wounds which destroy meaning in life – worked out both through individual pastoral conversation and through group teaching, and all summed up in worship. Whilst this is in an obvious sense a pastoral task, it is also precisely a theological task, for that is what theology essentially is – the right description of our relationship with God, ie the correct understanding of the world. If Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life then it means that establishing a right relationship with Him is something which leads to the fullness of life that He promised, that we become ‘at home in the world’, that our Joy in him will be made complete (Jn 15). The task of the theologian, the pastoral task of the priest, is precisely to enable that right relationship which leads to life. This is what drives theological argument at its best – the search for what most gives life.

A significant proportion of the damage that I deal with, and which is successfully cured by the application of good theology (ie the orthodox faith) comes from contact with fundamentalist traditions. Most of the time this occurs at a young age; there is a breaking off of contact, but the inner guilts and torments are embedded, twisting barbs deeper and deeper into the wounds, until, through grace, they are pulled out into the light and destroyed (no demons can withstand the power of Christ). My impression – borne out from quite a lot of experience of it – is that the consequence of embracing fundamentalism is the opposite: that fundamentalism is something which destroys lives, which is a blight upon all that a Christian holds to be of value, that it is, in short, a spiritual cancer. I mean that description not just in an offensive fashion (although if I do offend a fundamentalist, I would take it as a sign of the truth of my argument) I mean it as quite a strict analogy. A cancer, as I understand it, is a part of a body that has become malignant: a group of cells that is no longer regulated and contained within the usual rhythms of the wider organism, but which replicates itself catastrophically, first hindering the wider body, and eventually destroying it.

Fundamentalism today seems to be precisely what Christ fought in the Pharisees: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are!”

So, having set out my stall rather robustly, what is it that I object to? Well, first a clarification, because if I didn’t make it, everything else that I say would be misunderstood.

Fundamentalism is not the same as conservative evangelicalism.

They often get lumped together, but they are not the same – even if they occasionally make use of the same arguments. The difference, as I perceive it, can be explained like this. Consider this spectrum:



Nice, bright, colourful, lively. That’s what I think is a good representation of the Body of Christ. A lot of variety, but also a clear continuum from one point of view to another. You could say – all the different parts are in communion with one another.

Now consider this:



Which is simply the same spectrum converted into a grayscale image. The life has gone. What I am trying to convey by the difference is that something essential has now been lost – there is no longer any light passing through; the form and outward structure might be present, but now the spirit – that which animates – is absent.

So in the first, whatever the theological differences, Christ is present. Love for the brother is present (1 John 4.20). Fear is absent. In the second, those things have vanished. All of which is really just a commentary on what St Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3.6: “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Whatever the overlap on questions of doctrine between a fundamentalist and a conservative evangelical there is a vast difference in the way of life embodied.

To return to my fundamental metaphor: in the first example, conservative interpretations of Scripture take their proper place within the life of the Body, aiding the whole in its expression of the divine life. In the second example, the conservative arguments have become separated from the wider Body, they are no longer part of the shared life, they have become autonomous, and therefore cancerous.

Now a second clarification, a bit more straightforward: I object to the –ism, not (necessarily) to the –ists. In other words, someone may hold the beliefs of a fundamentalist and yet, in practice, be a vessel for the Holy Spirit. I am happy to concede that possibility, partly from personal experience of people who would qualify, but also because I don’t see doctrine as having over-riding importance… but I’ll come back to this point, because it is crucial.

Having set out my conclusion, and cleared some grounds for potential misunderstandings, let me press on to the substance. What is it that I object to so strenuously about fundamentalism? In a word: inerrancy. The key thing about fundamentalism, in so far as I understand it, is the notion that the Bible is without historical or scientific error. There are serious theological problems with this (and remember: the theological is pastoral).

1. It places Scripture under human authority, specifically the human authority of scientific and historical modes of investigation. The highest authority in matters of human understanding is given to ‘facts’, and the Bible gains its authority through being the reliable vehicle for accessing those facts. As such this doctrine shrivels the human spirit; it renders impotent the wider human faculties of intuition and imagination; it embraces the secular assumptions of Enlightenment modernism; it distorts what the Bible actually is. Note well: fundamentalism is not the same as giving Scripture supreme authority. That is Protestantism (it’s even Anglicanism, where Scripture is seen as the principal authority, just not sufficient on its own, ie not sola scriptura. Sola scriptura isn’t fundamentalism either, needless to say). Fundamentalism is essentially the claim that the authority of Scripture rests upon its scientific accuracy. This is not often stated so explicitly, but the shortest conversation with a fundamentalist swiftly reveals where authority lies. Often the line is trotted out ‘if one error be proven in the Scriptures, then the whole becomes worthless’. That is the attitude which I believe has lost touch with the wider Body of Christ, and which is therefore – using that as my working definition – cancerous. Bizarrely, this is how fundamentalism is the siamese twin of scientific atheism – Richard Dawkins, for example, holds a fundamentalist view of Christianity, and the only difference is that he rejects what a fundamentalist would accept. A plague on both their houses! Both misunderstand Christian faith.

2. It is an entirely human philosophy; specifically, it is a form of philosophical Modernism owing a vast amount to the school of Scottish Common Sense philosophy. It assumes an emaciated account of human language - the idea that language is transparent and independent of any mediation. No sane person now holds this philosophical background to be true – the only place where it is insisted upon is in the fetid miasma of fundamentalist philosophy. One particularly pernicious consequence of this philosophical stance is the status given to propositions, that is, that faith is reduced to propostional assent. Correct belief replaces correct life. (See my post on orthodoxy here.)

3. It is an entirely human philosophy: specifically it elevates into the role of pope particular human thinkers, eg John Nelson Darby, and it allows the individual interpretation of prophecy to overcome that which has been established and accepted within the wider Body of Christ over millenia (this being in direct conflict with the instructions given in 2 Peter). Specifically, its understanding of apocalypse owes more to the Stoics than to the Hebrews.

4. It is an entirely human philosophy: it is particularly formed by the wider culture of the United States. It tends to join forces with the heretical revival evangelicalism stemming from Charles Finney (see my previous post), elevating human free-will in an Arminian fashion, and is liable to diabolic Concordats with the secular principalities and powers.

These are the specifically intellectual criticisms that I would throw at fundamentalism, which all boil down (if it wasn’t obvious) to the argument that fundamentalism is a doctrine of recent, philosophically driven human origin. I think it fits perfectly with the warning in 2 Peter. It discounts all scope for the Holy Spirit – all that the Spirit achieved in the first 1700 years of Christian history; all that the Spirit achieves now; all that the Spirit may be able to achieve in the future. You could say that fundamentalism is characterised most precisely by sinning against the Holy Spirit, for it rules out as illegitimate anything which is dynamic and new.

However, these intellectual criticisms, cogent as I find them to be, aren’t really the most important thing. They all centre upon doctrine, and underlying these specific disagreements lies a more profound disagreement on the nature of doctrine itself. This is where I believe the biggest difference between the mainstream tradition and the fundamentalist innovation can be found. If you take the apophatic tradition at all seriously, then you must acknowledge a point at which language fails, when we can no longer even attempt to capture the reality of God with our words. In other words, in the mainstream tradition, there is a prominent place given to intellectual humility. There is a vast amount of Scriptural support for this (inevitably!). Think of what St Paul says about prophecy and tongues in 1 Corinthians 13, for example, or what Jesus says in Matthew 7. So, part of the doctrine is that doctrines in and of themselves will not take us fully into the Godhead. This is something that I view as humanly essential, and as pastorally imperative. The denial of intellectual humility is to erect an idolatrously closed mental system, which inevitably seeks to displace God. The practical consequence of which is to deny life to those who submit to it, which is precisely what seems to characterise fundamentalism.

Again, to return to my underlying metaphor – this is where the doctrines associated with fundamentalism become cancerous, where they are no longer regulated by the other elements in the Bodily system. The understanding in which the Christian church has found consensus for two thousand years, ie that represented by the Nicene Creed and all associated with it, has been jettisoned, and these human philosophies have been set up as barriers against interaction with the wider Body.

So can a person accept the doctrine of inerrancy and find salvation? Possibly. Just as I believe that Gandhi was ‘saved’ (ie pursued the will of the Father) despite not confessing Jesus as Lord, so too I believe that it is possible for someone to accept a particular doctrine, and yet not succumb to the corruptions inherent within heresy. That is grace (something which has no real home in fundamentalism). The real question is whether they recognise Jesus’ voice when he calls. What we say, or even what we believe (in an intellectual sense) doesn’t matter quite as much as the shape of our lives. After all, as we are assured in the Book of Revelation, we shall be judged according to our deeds.

Pondering these things, and pondering the strong reaction that they have provoked within me, I am led to a surprising conclusion. There are lots of heresies in the world; lots of ways in which false teaching is put around, and which also destroys lives (eg materialism). Why should fundamentalism anger me so much? Partly, I think, it is because it is too close to home, too similar to Christianity itself. It is like ivy shaping itself around a tree – from a distance it may seem part of the same organism; it is only up close that it is possible to perceive a mortal struggle taking place, from which there can be only one survivor.

More personally, though, I think what drives me is an anger, for it is the doctrines associated with fundamentalism that I rejected as a teenager which prevented me from understanding Christ, and from coming into that fullness of life which was God’s eternal intention for me. Knowing what I know now, and knowing ‘from the inside’ how liberating Christianity is, I am enraged at the spiritual havoc and cost of fundamentalist ideology. I now see fundamentalism as a Satanic ideology, a demonic possession: a cancer against which the Body must be eternally vigilant. Each instance must be excised and brought out into the light, thence to be cast out into the place where there is great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Let’s give St Paul the last word, as he sums up what I am trying to say: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5.1)

What is the kingdom?

Another great quiz from Sven. (I can't quite get Graham Norton's Nancy Dell'Olio impression out of my mind whenever I write that...)

You scored as Kingdom as a Christianised Society. Christians shouldn't withdraw from the world, but by being present in it they can transform it. The kingdom is not only spiritual, but social, political, and cultural.

Kingdom as a Christianised Society

92%

The Kingdom is mystical communion

83%

The Kingdom as a counter-system

67%

The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia

58%

The Kingdom is a Future Hope

50%

The Kingdom as Institutional Church

33%

Inner spiritual experience

33%

The Kingdom as a political state

25%

What is the Kingdom of God?
created with QuizFarm.com

Whom can we mock?

Whom can we mock with impunity? Double standards abounding in the Western Media - Christian beliefs are fair play for untrue reportage, but Muslim beliefs are out of bounds for true reportage.

I'm enjoying preparations for my talk on the Da Vinci Code this weekend. I'll try and get to see the film first, as well.

Commodity price inflation

This is good. In fact, it's a great site full stop. Am I a spod for finding economics interesting? (PolEcon rather than the abstract mathematical stuff)

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm playing with my 'Just Blog it' tool, whilst I catch up on my blogroll (which I try and do twice a week these days - can't do it every day now that it has about 60 people on it...)

One last thing whilst I'm rambling - why is the Times website so awful? Not because they don't have interesting stuff - they do, especially Anatole Kaletsky - but because their site is so clogged up with junk ads that it takes forever to load and work through. When I'm on their site I get transported back to the days of dial up modems. Gah.

9/11 Pentagon video

This was a bit of a disappointment. Not what you would call unambiguous.

I still have to write up my review of the David Ray Griffin books. In time, in time....

A reformation of deeds

Independent Online Edition >"The first Reformation was about creeds, and this one is going to be about deeds". Something I agree with from Rick Warren. There are some things ;-)

See also this for a different perspective, which, on the whole, is closer to mine. Dolphins?

TBTM20060517

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Just the thing to make me smile

Having got a bit fed up with fundamentalism (a magnum opus is on its way - delayed because I'm trying to be less intemperate, and find another word for the phenomenon than 'Satanic') this made me laugh.

"Protestants believe the Bible is literal and exactly true in every detail except the description of the Eucharist..."

TBTM20060516



Thought this might be of interest, taken yesterday (one of those things which looks insane, but I'm sure is exhilarating. Or should that be, looks exhilarating, but I'm sure it's insane?)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bible Meme tracking

Back on March 28 I invented a meme, which didn't seem to go anywhere. But I just checked on Google - at least 80 people have answered the questions.

I find that remarkably gratifying.

I also now find myself incredibly silly.

Some thoughts about evangelism and salvation

This was something I wrote nearly two years ago, and I thought I had posted it before. Better late than never.

How can I keep from singing?
Some thoughts about evangelism and salvation


SN July 04

When I was twelve years old, I had the first of a long sequence of vigorous discussions with a school friend who was an evangelical Christian (before his tragically early death he was a youth worker with the Icthus fellowship). We were arguing about the possibility of access to heaven, and my friend was telling me that only those who called on the name of Christ would be saved. I asked whether this meant that Gandhi was doomed, and was told that yes, unless Gandhi had confessed Christ as Lord and believed in his heart that Jesus was raised from the dead then he would be damned. This was significant for me, for it was following that conversation that I became an atheist.

Since that time, despite what seems to have been a long journey in faith, I have never had to properly engage with the evangelical understandings of Christian life. At University there was a distinct division between 'chapel' and 'CU'; when I was in London I was part of a very Anglo-Catholic church; similarly at Westcott and then my training parish, evangelicals were semi-mythical beasts who were somewhere over the edge of known territory - 'here there be dragons'. My formation as a priest has been rooted in the catholic side of the Church, with authority given to the orthodox creeds, the church fathers and the Anglican Divines like Richard Hooker. Then the Lord in His infinite wisdom and mercy sent me to Mersea, where I have had to engage with what it means to be an evangelical, not least because I was concerned that I was becoming a bull in a China shop, and imposing extreme beliefs on vulnerable sheep - that I was the wolf, not the shepherd. I've been reassured by what I've discovered, which can be summarised quite simply: there are two sorts of evangelical, and I'd like to describe them.

Sola gratia
One of the fundamental principles of the Reformation was 'grace alone' - that we are creatures embedded in sin and incapable of making our own salvation. This still leaves a little wriggle-room for interpretation, so let's use an example. The Fall can be understood graphically as a transition from walking gladly in the garden to being plunged to the bottom of a dark pit. Grace is what enables us to come out from that pit, but there are three ways in which grace can work:

a) Option 1: the grace of God is the light that shines in the darkness; our true condition is revealed; and in the light of Christ we are enabled to crawl out of the pit into which we have fallen;
b) Option 2: the grace of God not only reveals our condition, the hand of God reaches down to us and we grasp it, thereby allowing God to haul us out of the pit;
c) Option 3: the grace of God sees that we are at the bottom of the pit with broken arms and legs, and so comes down into the pit to pick us up and carry us out.

Although those three accounts of grace all have contemporary echoes in different churches, only one is orthodox: Option 3. Options 1 and 2 (which in fact collapse into each other) go by various names in the different traditions, but are versions of Pelagianism, the heresy which Augustine strove against. Each of the first two options ultimately undermines the sovereignty of God's grace in the drama of salvation, that, as Paul puts it in Ephesians, "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions:­ it is by grace you have been saved."

Two sorts of evangelical
What I have discovered in my reading is that, although evangelicals (as with catholics) come in all varieties of shape and size, the underlying theological stance tends to fall into two categories, which I will call 'Reformed evangelicalism' and 'Revival evangelicalism'.

The Reformed evangelicals come across as the more conservative, and at first I had thought I wouldn't find their thinking congenial (thinking of Reform as the pressure group in the Church of England) - and I would certainly wish to interpret the authority of Scripture in a less literalistic fashion. However what I have been surprised by is the level of theological agreement that I have with this tradition. Specifically, the emphasis in the Westminster Confession on grace alone, and especially its first article relating to worship, I find profoundly congenial. Specifically, it is this 'conservative' evangelical tradition which maintains the orthodox beliefs of the Church relating to the sovereignty of God's grace. I have always believed the Church of England to be 'Catholic and Reformed' and in many ways my ongoing engagement with this side of evangelicalism has been putting flesh onto the bones of that belief. I now have a much clearer understanding of what it means to be a 'Reformed' Christian.

However, the alternative tradition of evangelicalism is founded upon a denial of sola gratia, and is - as a matter of both history and current practice - closely tied in with the culture of the United States. The key thinker is Charles Grandison Finney, who pioneered the use of 'new techniques' in evangelism in the nineteenth century. I quote from a paper by Kim Riddlebarger (available here)

Finney is the father of revivalism, characterized by the frontier revival tent meeting and the sawdust trail. Finney's revivalist legacy is most clearly seen today in a stadium filled with Promise Keepers. Finney is the father of the altar call and the "evangelistic meeting" that takes place apart from the normal preaching and sacramental ministry of the local church. It was the stress upon the "new measures," as Finney called them that largely served to displace the sacramental and preaching ministry of the church for technique-oriented evangelism. The entire church growth movement, which seeks to entice so-called "seekers" to church by removing those things from the church service which offend them (in other words, anything distinctly Christian), can be traced back to Finney's new measures; only the new measures now come to us couched in the language of marketing and sales, target groups and demographics. Whether it be Chuck Smith, Bill Bright, or Billy Graham, there is no doubt that one branch of each of their respective intellectual family trees traces itself back to Charles Finney, and even if another branch in that same family tree can be traced back to Protestant forbears, these traits are now most certainly recessive. For Finney's family characteristics are now dominant in the American church. And sola gratia is no longer a doctrine to be defended, it is an offence and an embarrassment. Who needs God when man is quite capable on his own?

Strong stuff. The theological roots do need to be made explicit, however. Finney wrote in his Systematic Theology "Regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love and benevolence; or, in other words, in turning from the supreme choice of self-gratification, to the supreme love of God and the equal love of his neighbor. Of course the subject of regeneration must be an agent in the work" [Sam's underlining]. In other words, the decision of the believer is the key step in salvation; this is a doctrine known as decisional regeneration and it underlies all that I have ever found problematic in evangelicalism - from that first conversation about Gandhi onwards.

The problem with this mode of evangelism is not simply that it is unorthodox - although it is that - it is that there are significant implications for how the Church acts in the world. These can be summarised in the following way:

a) Worship: in a traditional Reformed service, preaching is given a central place, along with 'right administration of the sacraments'; in a Revival service, personal choice is given a central place, and the elements of the service are geared to either generating that decision or recapitulating it;
b) Evangelism: in traditional Reformed evangelism, Scripture and the gospel are central, and these are proclaimed directly, especially through a 'provocative' life, without concern for how they are received; in Revival evangelism the issue is 'what will work' and the emphasis upon the conversion of souls;
c) Church: in traditional Reformed evangelism the Church is seen as a necessary part of the Christian life; in Revival evangelism the Church is an optional extra as it is the individual who is saved;
d) World: in traditional Reformed evangelism, growth in faith is tied in with growth in good works, which are seen as the fruit; in Revival evangelism, good works are seen as evidence of salvation, and there is therefore a drive to demonstrate 'perseverance in faith' through social activism.

One church, one faith, one Lord
The above is, of course, a very hasty sketch, but I hope the main points are clear. It seems to me that at a point when our own wider church is threatened with schism, there is a duty placed upon all Christians to seek common ground and affirm those things which bind us together rather than focussing on things which drive us apart. As I understand it, it is the confession that Jesus is Lord which makes someone a Christian, and that confession is the basis of baptism into the Church and progression in discipleship, as the implications of Christ's Lordship flow out into a life. However, whilst the Church of England has very broad boundaries there are still places where it is possible to 'fall off the edge', and I think that 'Revival evangelism' (the denial of sola gratia and the emphasis upon personal decision making) does fall off the edge of traditional Anglican teaching.

Our calling is surely to affirm the sovereignty of God's grace in our salvation. That means honouring our inheritance as Anglicans, for that heritage is profoundly orthodox, both Catholic and Reformed. In particular, I believe that it means allowing God space to work his grace in our lives and in the lives of those whom we care for. There is a particular neurosis attached to Revival evangelicalism whereby the gospel becomes a burden not a liberation - which is odd, for Christ set us free for freedom. What I mean is that God is in charge of whether a particular person is saved or not, and He is both just and merciful. Our calling is to be faithful, to dwell in grace, and to give thanks.

One aspect of Option 3 above which I didn't emphasise is what we do as we are carried up out of the pit. Before the Fall, we wandered in the garden, and we were constantly giving praise to God, enjoying His presence. Like the birds in the trees, I am sure we gave glory to God in our singing. All that we can do as we are carried up out of the pit is to sing in praise and thanksgiving - a singing that we are enabled to do, through the grace of God. It is not something that earns our salvation, but it is the appropriate response to our salvation. And I believe it is the only true witness to Christian faith that we are capable of; the only authentic provocation. Which allows us to sing:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?


How can I keep from singing?
Words: Robert Lowry, 1860

"Gratitude (eucharistia) follows grace as thunder follows lightning." (Karl Barth)

Hmmmm...

I am watching this man. I plan to watch his film later in the summer as well. As a believer in the resurrection, no deaths, especially not political deaths, should ever be considered final. If the climate changes as I expect it to, he is now perfectly positioned to benefit.

TBTM20060514

Saturday, May 13, 2006

End of season report 06

Thought I'd return to my footie predictions, made last August, and have another look at how I did (original post here, today's comments in bold)

Champions: Chelsea. Only question is whether they go unbeaten or not.

Other than a late rally from ManU, quite straightforward. They weren't as formidable as last year, but they were good. Disappointed that SWP's move didn't work out.

Order of Top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, ManU.
I think it quite possible that ManU might drop out of the top four if they have a season like last one. I also think Liverpool might come second (and be the main challengers to Chelsea in the coming seasons).

Biggest surprise was ManU sorting themselves out in the second half of the season, and coming second. I still believe that Liverpool will be the main challengers to Chelsea next season; I really rate Benitez as a manager..

Dark Horse (ie might get into the top 4): Tottenham.
100% right :o)

Europe: Tottenham, 'Boro.
Boro were disappointing in the league, but I'd still back them to do well next year. They seem to have got fed up with McLaren, although I think he's a reasonable choice as England coach - continuity and all that. Scolari would have been better though...

Good seasons for Man City, Birmingham, Blackburn and Pompey.
1.5 out of 4. Not a good percentage. Birmingham is the biggest shock for me - they really imploded. Pleased about Blackburn though, I like Sparky and he's got a great managerial future ahead of him.

Bad seasons for Newcastle (unless they get Owen), Charlton and Fulham.
Well, they got Owen, but hardly for a full season. More significantly they got rid of Souness. I wonder if he'll get another job? I consider myself mostly right on this one.

Nothing happening at Aston Villa.
100% right

Relegation: Wigan, WHM (shame) and WBA. Which means I pick Sunderland to survive out of those four. Those having bad seasons might have terrible seasons allowing one of those to escape.

Bit of a failure there! My 'shame' comment was misinterpreted - I meant that it would have been a shame if WHM got relegated; I'm hoping that they beat Liverpool in the FA cup this afternoon. It's great for the Premiership that Wigan and WHM have had such good seasons. A good sign for those coming up next year.

~~~

I'll do some World Cup predictions soon, and some more Premiership ones in August. It's a fascinating exercise, going back to something that is so concrete and seeing how I've done. (Fascinating for me anyway ;-)

Fundamentalism reading list

The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong
Good introduction, surprisingly sharp for her.

Fundamentalism, James Barr
Escaping from Fundamentalism, James Barr
The Scope and Authority of the Bible, James Barr
James Barr is the doyen of fundamentalism studies. I didn't re-read his magnum opus for these talks, but I remember its quality from when I read it at Uni. I need to get my own copy.

What the Bible Really Teaches, Keith Ward
Commendably clear and thorough.

A Passion for Truth, Alister E McGrath
Intellectually a bit weak - McGrath is more of an historian than a systematician - but good for distinguishing the evangelical position.

Fundamentalism and American Culture, George M Marsden
Classic text (which I haven't quite finished)

American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips
Haven't started yet, but looks good, especially as it links in Peak Oil to the conversation.

Of course, I've also read the first three 'Left Behind' books. Slacktivist says all that is needed about them.

TBTM20060513



First time I had taken Ollie out in the middle of a thunderstorm. Sorry I couldn't capture the flashes of lightning for you - they were very dramatic over the power station.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Happy times













My mind is full of fundamentalism, preparatory to tomorrow's Learning Church talk, which has really got under my skin. And I had to take Ollie to the vet this morning - he acquired a limp when chasing a tennis ball into the sea the other day, which hasn't gone, so I thought I'd get it checked out - turns out he has sprained his left elbow, so he gets an anti-inflammatory tablet stuck in his supper for his pains. Anyhow, I've been meaning to post the above photos for a while - two family trips last week, to the woods, and to the beach. Happy times.