Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Reviewing McGrath's "The Renewal of Anglicanism"






McGrath's call to evangelize anew with the Gospel is surely right on, but his version of the "via media" is bogus (see below for his caricature of liberalism), and his call to Lindbeck's postliberalism is perilous. With McGrath (I hope), I believe liberalism carelessly tends to dismiss Chalcedonian dogma as if it were indefensible; in fact that dogma has enormous resilience and relevance to liberalism's interests. But Lindbeck's postliberalism is a trojan horse, smuggling in a kind of postmodern relativism about the incompatible claims of competing religious traditions--Lindbeck would have done better to stick with Scotus.

Although McGrath scores hits criticizing Spong's scholarship, Spong is a straw man, a popularist elevated by McGrath into a foundational theologian. McGrath seems completely ignorant of the questions at stake--he should have addressed liberalism's strong side (e.g. the liberation theology of Gutierrez, Segundo, Boff; Moltmann's early work; process theology). I suspect he knows better, but his omissions serve his project, putting Anglican liberalism on par with comparatively brain-dead fundamentalism.

His nadir--a knuckle-dragging argument ad Nazium: Anglican liberalism's "cultural accomodationism" "shows alarming parallels with the situation that developed in the German Church crisis of the mid-1930s," that is, where the poor German liberals "were unable to discern the dangers" of theology hostage to Nazi culture(pp. 122-3). Ugh. Note his convenient selectivity: McGrath is silent on important successes in liberalism's track record within the ECUSA: support for desegregation in the US in the 60s & the desegregation of the ECUSA, the ordination of women, prayer book reform, an ongoing activism for social and environmental justice. To have mentioned them would have made clear that Anglican liberalism does not accomodate, but criticizes and reforms the dominant culture.

Anglican liberalism is not just Spong and diluted Bultmann; its actual theology and practice make formidible demands on its adherents, and it is no surprise if many seek comfort elsewhere. Here evangelism should do its work, calling those tempted to seek the wide and easy road elsewhere to the Gospel and to life in the Spirit, a life of justice, of loving engagement reconciling wayfarers to the ways of God.

5 Comments:

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scotist, the ad Nazium argument against liberalism is also endemic to devotees of neoconservative avatar Leo Strauss--he of the "noble lie." See Shadia Drury: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article6750.htm

 
At 5:12 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Good point--thank you for the reference.

As you may know, there are elements in the realm of neoconservatives who are very fond of Strauss--however, to me he seems to have adopted too much of Nietzsche's aversion to essences and moral absolutes. McGrath, for all his doubts about liberal Christianity, at least seems to take the word of Chalcedon as an absolute. Or wait--am I wrong about that? I recall reading him somewhere ready to give up the attribute of impassibility--that would be a fairly substantial step away from Chalcedon, no? Oh well.

 
At 5:24 PM, Blogger bls said...

"Anglican liberalism is not just Spong and diluted Bultmann; its actual theology and practice make formidible demands on its adherents, and it is no surprise if many seek comfort elsewhere. Here evangelism should do its work, calling those tempted to seek the wide and easy road elsewhere to the Gospel and to life in the Spirit, a life of justice, of loving engagement reconciling wayfarers to the ways of God."

Beautifully put. It's about time that somebody made the point that ECUSA is willingly engaging difficult issues, while others are content to avoid them and look away.

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks, bls.

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous John Wilkins said...

Its good to know of a philosopher doing theology. Alas, there are too many theologians who do philosophy badly.

Thanks for your precision.

 

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