Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Reply to Turner's "ECUSA's God"

If you haven't read Turner's piece, go find it online (try the Anglican Communion Institute)--in spite of itself, I believe it reveals a peculiar orientation among some of ECUSA's theological conservatives. It seems to me his arguments assume liberal individualism--the kind of thing one finds in Hobbes, Locke, and Paine, as well as Hayek, Rand, and Nozick. This liberal individualism is almost certainly un-Biblical: from a Biblical perspective, arguments that require liberal individualism are unsound, and those Christians who push them are putting forward a tendentious version of Christianity.

Turner's rhetoric is misleading, overheated. For Turner, ECUSA's "working theology" is fixed on the idea of "radical inclusion" as a consequence of God's being love, inasmuch as God's being love implies we shouldlove others. He calls the preaching of God's being love and radical inclusion "vacuous preaching," preaching empty of traditional stresses on substutionary atonment and the personal need to repent for sins. But read carefully, and note well that he admits "the theology of radical inclusion has its location in what I have called the Great Tradition," sc. Nicene Christianity; preaching radical inclusion really isn't then, as he said earlier, "vacuous preaching."
His complaint is not that ECUSA's working theology lacks content, but that ECUSA should be preaching more--not just "A ( radical inclusion),"but "A & B (repentance and atonement through Christ's death and resurrection)." Overheating the rhetoric may give the misleading impression that radical inclusion is somehow un-biblical, or even heretical--a perversion of the true Gospel woven anew from out of thin air by preachers who are completely abandoning genuine Christianity. But Turner admits radical inclusion is in fact legitimate--ECUSA's emphasis on it, at the expense of substitutionary atonement, is new and troubles Turner. But to put it that way leaves Turner's position wobbly, and would have left him with much less sympathy from readers. I fear--and I hope I am plain wrong--such obfuscating demagogic rhetoric is a trope, a strategy too popular among rabble-rousing conservative writers.

In dropping or de-emphasizing B, Turner claims ECUSA has fallen into "truly monumental" theological poverty. According to Turner, ECUSA has lost interest in confronting the people with their sins, has lost interest in witnessing the need for repentance, and has lost interest in preaching Christ's atoning death: it is no longer a religion of salvation, interested in helping put the petitioner/God relation right. These are big claims made with little evidence, but Turner isn't reluctant about characterizing ECUSA's working theology.

Alas, he gets that theology almost all wrong--and the curious thing is Turner's apparent utter blindness to why he is wrong. ECUSA is focusing on sin, namely sins of social injustice: the oppression of women, the evil of segregation, discrimination against homosexuals, immoral wars, etc. Surely these sins of social injustice implicate individuals in sin. To address a social injustice--for instance, addressing the oppression of women by instituting their ordination--does in fact confront individuals with their sin, and does call for their repentance. Getting right with God requires confessing one's part in these sins, and turning around with God's help, coming out of Babylon as it were. Indeed, this is a matter of salvation. How is it then ECUSA's working theology of radical inclusion fails to confromt people with their sins and fails to call for repentance? It looks to me like some schismatic conservative ECUSAns have been confronted with their sins about oppressing gays, and they are angry, ready to divorce and divvy up property rather than repent.

But Turner is oblivious to this--for him, you see, the misogynist,the racist, the warmonger, the robber baron, et al. are not sinning in being these things. To him, the social injustices ECUSA is exercised over are merely moral issues, and just aren't really about sin, properly speaking.
For Turner, an unjust social structure is not primarily of religious interest.

Rather, he implies ECUSA's working theology should be set on individual members and their sins, calling them as individuals to personal repentance for individual sins unrelated to social justice concerns. As if petitioners in the pews could be sealed off from being responsible for the sins of their secular communities!To him, individuals are like little sealed units who can repent and become just via Christ's sacrifice without having to address social structures and social injustice.

But that is just false--he underestimates how much humans are continually constituted in their personhood by the communities to which they belong and the relationships into which they enter. And his view is unbiblical as well--the Bible calls social injustice sin, and calls us to repent. A focus on social injustice need not exclude calling attention to personal sins and calling for personal repentance. Indeed, this is the current issue. Turner is not alone in his odd adherence to the premises of liberal individualism. His blindness, his curious obliviousness to human nature and what the role of the Church should be is shared by many conservative ECUSAns who sympathize with his reading of the times. To them, the call of the Word is: Repent!

Addendum, May 27, 2005: At the end of Part IV, Turner writes "The theology of radical inclusion as preached and practiced within ECUSA must define the central issues as moral rather than religious...." Above, I infer that for Turner issues of social justice, the "central issues," are merely moral in ECUSA's preaching.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Closed said...


I found your site via Preludium. All I could say is ahh! thank God, something intelligent arguing within the Tradition to some of the very not traditional stuff coming out on some fronts that call themselves traditional and "orthodox". {ahem}

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Closed said...

I just read through you post on Holmes and Griffis. We need more of this from folks like yourself for whom this seems to be a forte. I do have one question, which I posted at Preludium regarding lesbian relationships in your Christological-Eschatological analysis with regards to human person versus human nature/being. Chalcedon and III Constantinope that Jesus Christ is the Son, one Divine Person with a divine nature and a human nature. The personhood of Christ is divine, not human. And like Gregory Nazianzus, I cannot understand that by our use of Father and Son we are literally attributing maleness only to the Son, especially as maleness is understood from a human vantage point?

At 10:13 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the good word--I appreciate it. Approaching these questions through the Creeds,and especially their understanding of incarnational theology,definitely seems like the right way.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Derek the ├ćnglican said...

I also just found your site (but not through Preludium).

This is a thoughful reflection on the piece. It doesn't bring up on of the things that frustrates me as a moderate. I'm caricaturing here, but the collapse of all sin into social sin also allows a certain smugness--which I have witnessed time and again at liberal seminaries--on the part of political liberals who suggest that since they stand against social sin they are somehow *without* sin.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanksfor the comment. I agree when you imply nobody is above sin. The preface of Job provides a test for human action: Are we righteous merely for its own sake, or from fear of punishment and hope of reward? In Job, satan bets on the latter, and in truth, even at our best moments I think all our actions are vitiated by some degree of external motivation. Which is to say even our good deeds are tainted with sin.

At 6:50 PM, Blogger bls said...

It's true, what you say. I've actually heard quite a bit of "fire and brimstone" from liberal Anglican preachers - on justice issues!

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Well, you are moving here towards the classical distiction between the servile fear of God and the filial fear of God. Do we fear God on account of his wrath or for fear of the displeasure of one whom we love and adore.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Pontificator said...

Trackback Pontifications.


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