Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wisdom from Pannenberg

Recently I came across this from v2 of Pannenberg's Basic Questions in Theology, in an essay called "Faith and Reason" (pp. 51-2):

This insistence upon an authority that is no longer generally convincing as an authority takes on the character of external coercion, and an individual's acceptance of such a claim becomes an arbitrary decision--quite the opposite of what it was earlier [in the pre-modern period]....For in that case, no matter how much one may emphasize a prior authority, the believer turns himself into the ultimate ground of faith, as Hume incisively showed. For if an asserted authority is no longer able to prove itself convincing to our reason, then its acceptance can come about only be a sacrifice of the intellect and ergo as a work of man.

I've put the main point in bold-face. The authority of which he writes here is Scripture's. It seems to me Anglicans especially should pay attention to Pannenberg here when wondering what the role of reason comes to in our tradition.

With regard to my earlier post on Reconciliation and Same-sex unions, it seems obvious Pannenberg's quote implies mere divine command theory is an inadequate basis for articulating our moral obligations as Christians.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reconcilaition and Same-sex unions

I. Reconciliation in the '79 BCP
Christians are obliged to serve in Christ the reconciliation of all things to God. So our Catechism describes the ministry of the laity (BCP '79):

The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his
Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be;
and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on
Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take
their place in the life, worship, and governance of the

Follwing Paul at II Cor. 5:17-20, this ministry extends to all Christians:

17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 18And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. (KJV)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. (TNIV)

What does this mean? To return to the '79 Catechism,

Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of
harmony with creation?
A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their
freedom and made wrong choices.

Q. Why do we not use our freedom as we should?
A. Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in
the place of God.

That is, we sin in putting ourselves in God's place, taking upon ourselves the determination of moral right and wrong. Here is the fundamental wedge driving us from God and deepening our alienation from the Holy One. Reconciliation implies returning God to the proper place, even to the point of surrendering moral autonomy to God's direction. Thus, in the New Covenant, the response required from us, according to the Catechism, is that we believe in Christ and "keep his commandments." These include the Summary of the Law, which summarizes the Decalogue. The Decalogue, according to the Catechism, includes the command [t]o use all our bodily desires as God intended.

II. A tale of (at least) two approaches
So far, I have said nothing to undermine the critic of same-sex unions; the critic can go on to cite verses seeming to imply God intends sex to occur only within heterosexual marriages. Having been reconciled to Christ, we would obey his commandments, including this one about sex. This would be enough for the Christian who is willing to let the commandments rest as sheer divine command--once we know God's will, nothing more should be said; indeed, haggling with God at this point would seem to risk re-introducing alienation between us and God. Certainly many, including a number of influential modern Protestant theologians, have taken this route.

But there is another route, one with an equally impressive tradition: the commandments are not a matter of unmediated divine will. What God wills takes into account the nature of creation; God's decrees are aimed at the fruition of what God has created. In effect, God aims through reconciliation to bring creation to a fruition it cannot achieve in any part on its own, and yet this fruition is a completion of creation in the nature of its parts. And this is no mere accident--God being God, things won't get done in such a way that divine command stands over against creation. From this point of view, we cannot be sure we understand exactly what God has commanded apart from knowing whom God is addressing with the divine decrees. Thus, for instance, what God intends for human sexuality takes into account the natural fruition to which human nature is ordered.

The "problem" is this: we know, ECUSA claims, same-sex unions are capable of being morally virtuous, in the sense of cultivating those cardinal virtues we can attain by our own effort. Since, ECUSA maintains, this is actually so, it is a possibility rooted in human nature: that is to say, same-sex unions have always been capable of exhibiting cardinal virtues. Thus, God's decrees concerning human sexuality take this fact about humanity and its capacity for virtue into account. For God to issue a decree condemning all same-sex unions, given the human capacity for virtuous same-sex unions, would set his will against nature. That God would not do.
We have here two distinct understandings of God's moral decrees (among many others) .

III. Reconciliation in Same-sex unions
Given ECUSA's understanding of God's decrees, not all same-sex unions are against God's will. What would turn God against a same-sex union involves what would turn God against a heterosexual union. Thus, obeying the commandments does not imply condemning same-sex unions.

The significance of this is that it leaves the door open for God to make a same-sex union holy; they may be fit instruments for God's work of reconciliation. At a bare minimum, in a holy same-sex union God infuses the partners with his love so that they might be reconciled in love to each other in their mutual relationship to the Father through Christ. Of course, as with Holy Matrimony, we would expect more: that their God-given love become an agent for reconciliation to God in the world beyond themselves.