Thursday, January 11, 2007

PB Schori and Right Belief

For some Episcopalians, John 14:6 is a litmus test, unum inter alia, for orthodoxy, and indeed Christian being itself. That is a big mistake, I think, but more on that in a moment. First, have a look, a rather long look, at the verse in question:

(VULGATE) dicit ei Iesus ego sum via et veritas et vita nemo venit ad Patrem nisi per me

(KJV) Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

(NRSV, NIV, TNIV) Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

(MESSAGE) Jesus said, "I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.

(AMPLIFIED) Jesus said to him, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me.

(GOOD NEWS) Jesus answered him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.

(ARABIC LIFE APPLICATION) فَأَجَابَهُ يَسُوعُ: «أَنَا هُوَ الطَّرِيقُ وَالْحَقُّ وَالْحَيَاةُ. لاَ يَأْتِي أَحَدٌ إِلَى الآبِ إِلاَّ بِي.

And we could go on and on, but I think it is clear that the verse is ambiguous between at least two contrary readings. For it does not specify, and neither does the context, exactly what is meant by coming to the Father through Jesus and Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus doesn't stop to Chisholm his theology; that is, he never stops to list out necessary and sufficient conditions in clear language. So we are left with a couple readings at least:

EXCLUSIVIST: All those who do not come to the Father by consciously accepting Christ here below are damned.

INCLUSIVIST: All those who do not come to the Father by accepting Christ, whether conciously here below or in some other way, are damned.

The inclusivist leaves it open that there may be, as the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner suggests, anonymous Christians who accept Christ without making any conscious assent to him. Or it may be, as Karl Barth suggests, that God may yet give those who have not consciously accepted Christ here below an opportunity to do so. There are other ways of setting out just how Christ could be the single and only way, even if it does not involve conscious assent.

The exclusivist closes the door on any such interpretations of John 14:6: without conscious acceptance, damnation--period.

Rihgt away I admit, being a father myself, to having a problem accepting the Exclusivist reading of our verse. One might well worry about certain special cases; so much, for instance, for baptized infants who die before developing the ability to consciously assent to propositional content: damnation for them too? Would the moral absurdity, even atrocity, of damning babies baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit suffice to move purblind exclusivists to inclusivism? I do not think so; the vitriol hurled at our PB is just too damned bitter--indeed, such Episcopalians seem to be well on their way to becoming Baptists. You might have other questions for our crypto-Baptist bretheren in Christ, but pace nunc.

PB Schori and John 14:6
Here, in a recent interview, is how PB Schori reads John 14:6:

ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?
KJS: [1]I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith.
I think Jesus as way – that’s certainly what it means (A) to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be (B)in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of (C)being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? (D)Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.
ADG: What about the rest of that statement –
KJS: The small box?
ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.
KJS: [2] Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities.
In its broader construction, yes, (E)human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. (F)Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. [3] But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.

What I have marked out above as [1], [2], and [3] imply a key point in Schori's reading of John 14:6 that nobody will dispute, I think: her complete rejection of the Exclusivist interpretation.

However, if you take just these pieces together, I think you get also a more positive view, that of the Inclusivist interpretation. In [2] she claims to want to leave open "other possibilities" through which God may work to save. What does she mean? Possibilities other than that of conscious assent. Certainly that is what she wants to leave an alternative to in [1], where she rejects using the verse as a litmus test: repeat this or else! Not repeating the relevant formula, or even choosing not to say it, is insufficient to make one non-Christian. [3] is 'icing on the cake' confirming my understanding of where she is on John 14:6.

And folks, notice that is an orthodox reading of John 14:6. That is not a Pluralist reading of John 14:6; the fact she affirms 14:6 and brings up the issue of conscious acceptance and using the verse as a litmus test affirms she is an Inclusivist reader of the verse rather than a Pluralist reader. Surely anyone so heedless as to condemn Inclusivism as unorthodox bears a tremendous weight, going against both Barth and Rahner among others, and even the weight of theological understanding in the Roman Catholic church.

What Suffices?
I removed italics from certain other parts of Schori's answer that I would like to note for the light they shed on her positive vision about how one might qualify as Christian without having made conscious assent to Christ. For all we know, the atheists, Buddhists, New Agers, and openly fascist, epicurean investment bankers, say, whom to all the world appear to be anything but Christian do in fact count as Christian--and that is perfectly consistent with Inclusivism. We just, in effect, cannot tell saved from damned, city of God from city of Man, even Christian from mere Heathen here below with certainty.

Still there might be marks of belonging to Christ which fall short of bringing certainty but might bring some confidence; I think that is what Schori has in mind when she talks in those parts from which I removed italics. Thus, as she notes above at (A), one could accept at least part of John 14:6 nonconsciously by being on a spiritual journey, one whose destination is given in (B): a relationship with God. I.e. being in a process constituting a relationship with God at least brings one toward being Christian, even if one had never heard of or even rejected Christ. But she has more to say.

What else? (C) and (D) go together--(C) speaks of becoming wholly and fully human and (D) gives the content, as one becomes fully human after the pattern of Jesus. Presumably patterning oneself after Buddha or Paul, Gandhi or Stephen--all that is good, but why drive a Pinto when you can go with the Rolls? I.e the pattern for her, the supreme pattern, is set Christ's human life: imitate this.

Putting (A)-(D) together, you might picture a reluctant atheist who nevertheless desires a relationship with God (perhaps even crying out: help my unbelief!) and in this desire is led to pattern his life after that of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels, even though he thinks Jesus is not God. So far, such a one on Schori's understanding could count as Christian, I think.

You might even picture a rigidly devout pagan in Julian's day who does (A)-(D) without having Jesus in mind at all--he just happens while having a Stoic or Cynic sage in mind to be following a pattern substantially like that of Jesus in the synoptics--even such a one could be Christian.

Look at (E) and (F); whence the pattern to follow? One learns the right patterns from experiencing and being affected by God at work in the lives of others: i.e. mimesis. God may be at work in a number of ways--through those preaching Jesus, through those working for the MDGs who are atheists. Either way, patterns become actual in such work, contagious, infectious patterns which are the stuff of transformation, which are the stuff from which God gets Christians even without conscious assent. That is to say in churchyspeak, God's grace overflows the exterior acts of faith in confession, indeed grace is like floodwater, waves of anointing oil, in relation to attempts that aim to cage the Spirit in confessions and tests of conscious obedience.

The "broader construction" Schori speaks of is, I am just about sure, the Inclusivist reading of John 14:6. The points in (A)-(F) give the lie to hollow chatter among Anglicans who pretend clarity on Schori's being somehow unorthodox; Schori seems to have a very firm, concrete sense of what inclusivism comes to in the world here and now.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Perils of Orthogluttony

I am so sorry to post this, but I could simply not leave it by the wayside; and I confess I gained at least 8 lb.s over the holidays:

I, for one, am far more concerned about the number of gluttonous priests that are being married, because gluttony is a mortal sin and more than 30% of the population is eating itself to death and yet less than 5% of the population is homosexual, but we let fat people get married and have babies and adopt babies and no one cares so why is homosexuality getting everyone’s attention when obesity and gluttony are far more pervasive? What kind of Biblical fidelity is this, anyways? I’ve met too many orthogluttons, I guess that’s it. And the orthogluttons tend to not be too well informed historically, but they believe the Bible when it is against gay sex, but not against gluttony apparently. So they trumpet the Bible and sexual morality as the sine qua non of orthodoxy, even as they eat and eat and eat…