Friday, April 27, 2007

The Archbishop in America

It may well be that conservative dioceses in the Episcopal Church are on the verge of leaving, though I think it is much more likely that they are becoming more galvanized at the top around the conviction that they should leave; an actual break before a destination is found and articulated to vestries and standing committees--such as a secret and sudden jump to Rome and an Anglican Rite or some such thing--seems unlikely. Conservative leaders have to keep a certain measure of hope for a favorable peace outside the Episcopal Church alive: seemingly causally accessible somewhere, even if the intended place is yet merely possible.

The alternative to a leap into the unknown would be to openly embrace becoming part of the emerging CANA-structure headed, for the moment, by Akinola. It may very well be that this CANA thing is thought by interested parties to be the seed of a new parallel Anglican province in this country that will eventually replace the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion. For all I know, dioceses attempting to formally leave the Episcopal Church may intend already to join with CANA--but it seems to me that conservative leaders have been slow to come on board with CANA, despite its obvious power in the AC via Akinola.

Yes, there are many conservative Episcopalians who would object to the realignment project that conservative leaders have been pursuing for some time. Regardless of conservative sentiment for unity further down the hierarchy, the realignment project continues to gain momentum--and I do not think the PV scheme in any of its versions ever sufficed, or would have sufficed, to derail the progress of that project.

Did the Archbishop before Tanzania know that the AC's conservative leaders--esp. his and ours--were bent on a split with the Episcopal Church? That there was no avoiding it with a PV-scheme? Surely he knows it now. Will it make any difference to his conduct? Let's revisit his situation. He still shepherds a volatile mass of fissiparous English evangelicals with great power in his church, and they still look to Nigeria and the so-called Global South for fellowship. That basic problem has not changed.

So go ahead and talk to Archbishop Williams--and go read his On Christian Theology with its essay on the discipline of reading Scripture--esp. part IV of the essay. The notion of diachronic reading developed in the earlier parts is good, but part IV strikes out along a different path, noting in effect

(A)the integrity of a community's Gospel witness may require conflict and rupture.

(A) is consistent with (B), an imperative Williams sees himself under as standing under as heading the CoE here below, in only some circumstances:

(B) Keep the CoE together.

It is easy to see how (A) and (B) might come apart for Williams--he might keep the CoE together at the cost of its integrity. Indeed, one might think of the CoE's odd and merely partial
recognition of gay civil unions in this way. Or he might insist on integrity and accept a split in the CoE. On the other hand, (A) and (B) might well go together in cases where the CoE is kept together at the cost of a rupture somewhere else--or a loss of integrity somehwhere else.

Williams is the wrong man to invite, I think. Maybe you can argue successfully and convince him (B) should give way to (A), but I doubt it. Such a case would have to be made with consummate skill in order to bring Williams around to accepting rupture as what doing the right thing demands. Talking to Williams will not get results, at least the results we want--I think. Maybe Williams will reassure the HoB of his personal sympathy in TEC's ongoing fission.

Better to bring in and attend to the only real players on the right with power--certain English evangelicals, and maybe Akinola. Talks with Duncan, Iker, Schofield, etc etc are pointless inasmuch as they are not running the show, they do not have the relevant power, they are not leaders--they are followers. They have constructed no viable alternative to CANA; they are dithering around helplessly, and will likely continue to do so until they join CANA or finally form their own CANA-substitute. The genuine leaders on the right seem to be those English evangelicals who led Akinola at Tanzania. The HoB, or someone with power in TEC, should be talking to them: Minns and Sugden, I think. Are there others?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Speaking out Ouldly

Two recent articles over at Stand Firm attempt to draw a clear line between Reformed and Roman Catholic faith: one by David Ould critical of efforts to canonize JPII, and another by Matt Kennedy trying to clarify a Reformed/RC contrast. While others have helpfully pointed to flaws in these short works and engaged the authors in debate, I thought it imperative to point out the principle I see coming to the surface amidst the turbulent waters.

It is, in short, what Tillich called the Protestant Principle, "the prophetic judgment against religious pride, ecclesiastical arrogance and secular self - sufficiency and their destructive consequences" embodied in refusing to take the finite as infinite, the creature as Creator, a mere existent as Being Itself. Protestantism has this principle as necessary--though of course by itself insufficient--content in its faith, and that principle renders prophetic judgment against any human, creaturely attempt to attain or embody divinity for itself in any form: in creeds, in confessions, in writings, or in ex cathedra pronouncements. Ould, and to some extent Kennedy, seem to have recovered for the time being a genuine application of the principle, and a kind of laudable, undiluted protestantism much to the consternation and annoyance of no few of their readers.

The way Tillich wielded the principle--in my humble opinion--left little logical room for the reality of the Incarnation traditionally conceived. He is always, so far as I can tell in my limited reading, very cautious in his language regarding the divinity of Christ, but I cannot help feeling he would reject high Chalcedonian christology. Alas! I can see someone posing this dilemma:

Either the Protestant Principle or the divinity of Jesus, but not both.

But Tillich's hesitation over Chalcedonian christology seems to me a move per accidens, driven not by the Protestant Principle itself but other, outside considerations which end up getting tacitly reinforced by the principle. The principle itself seems logically consistent with Chalcedonian christology, inasmuch as the divinity of Jesus is no human attempt to embody the infinite, but the inbreaking of Being itself in union with his humanity, a unique initiative of God. We need not take history-driven criticism, for instance, of Jesus' divinity as properly basic; the results of such criticism are not demonstrative, whatever other probability they may have, and so they leave open "logical space" for contrary starting points. Thus the dilemma above is falsely posed; we may pry the Protestant Principle away from Tillich's skepticism of Chalcedon.

In effect, the principle serves to check a particularly Anglican tendency to read Incarnational theology in a sloppy way, extending hypostatic unity to cover events other than Jesus' life and ministry. At an extreme, one might try to see hypostatic union everywhere--a kind of neo-Spinozism or perhaps panentheism. Or somewhat short of the extreme, one might see a hypostatic union or some other rough equivalent merely elsewhere than with Jesus, but not everywhere: in Scripture, icons, offices, et al. The Protestant Principle says No to our claims for such extensions of the infinite. But the Protestant No extends beyond misunderstandings of the Incarnation to any human attempt to lay claim to possession of the infinite; all of our actions are always here below under the judgement of the Cross. Ould seems to have extended the Protestant Principle to apply to (a certain interpretation of) the RC tradition of canonization.

Good. I suspect where protestantism abandons its principle it loses its center, God, and drifts into various and sundry idolatries, eventually losing its reason for being and rightfully fading from view. While sudden assertions of the principle are bound to scandalize and offend, the loss entailed by forgetting the principle seems infinitely greater.