Thursday, April 24, 2008

Another Illustration: High vs. Low Church

The topic of hunger is replete with Gospel and sacramental--particularly Eucharistic--overtones of course, and possesses a rather specific Anglo-catholic resonance; consider typical Anglo-catholic practices like reserving the sacrament, adoring the Host, fasting before and after the Eucharist, and so on. The doctrine of, and devotional practices around, the real presence of Christ in the sacraments implies the importance of the doctrine of the Incarnation for Anglo-catholics, I should think, and it goes without saying that there is a tradition of Christian socialism at home in Anglo-catholic spirituality. It is not at all as if high churchfolk have no resources from which to draw in addressing the concrete monstrosities of hunger, malnutrition, and starvation.

Having said that, I should mention Anglo-catholicism's public face in the US--which probably is constituted largely by Fort Worth and the like rather than, say, Affirming Catholicism types like Griswold--likely does not give the impression of being sympathetic to socialist intervention on any level of society.

The leftist evangelical is bound, however, to be struck forcefully by news of Haiti's government falling from food riots, food riots erupting in Yemen, development ministers urging steps be taken to address a world-wide food crisis, Walmart in the USA "rationing" rice, and--recalling Barth's mention of holding a Bible in one hand with the day's newspaper in another--to feel Christians are duty bound as Christians to do something now. They might feel the MDGs are highly relevant as a moral response to the kerygma, even concomitant to living faith. You might find them celbrating a Eucharist with an MDG banner behind the Altar instead of, say, a banner of Charles I behind an altar, a banner of choice at the rather Anglo-catholic St. Clements. Yes, one could work out the social relevance of Charles I with, for instance, the reissue of Trevor-Roper's provocative biography on Laud on hand--even so, so what? That kind of virtuosity is, and will most likely ever remain, too much of a stretch for many in the pews.

There is a difference here, I'm convinced, between high church, Anglo-catholic responses to news of global hunger and left evangelical responses--even if both embrace the virtue of almsgiving. For instance, moving afield from Anglicanism, consider some well known authors who seem to me typical of these different approaches. Onn the low-church, evangelical left:

Ron Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?

and one of my favorites: Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger , which came out in a new version, it seems, here.

Speaking of reissues, don't miss this one, whose timing--considering the real and terrifying propect of global economic chaos--is exquisite. And the list could be extended with works from Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, among numerous others. My point? Well,

(1) This left evangelical stuff is well done and immediately accessible. It does not require the kind of familiarity with ritual that goes with smooth celebration in Anglo-catholic parishes ("Just when do I cross myself around here?") or even, say, using the Daily Office at home--much less familiarity with the technicalities of Eucharistic or Incarnational theology (what I mean by the "metaphysical theology" embedded in the Creeds). Yet this stuff is solid enough to stand as a credible articulation of what a life lived under the Gospel really looks like; it is sufficient qua moral response to the kerygma.

That is to say, it's not just catechetical; it's the didache--from the left evangelical point of view.

Thus, (2) the left evangelical point of view has its own coherence and cogency quite apart from Anglo-catholic sensibility, even if the two are, as I think, compatible and even mutually reinforcing. Moreover, it seems important to note left evangelical moral sensibility, going light on metaphysical theology, stands a good chance of appealing to modernists--say, those schooled in and sympathetic to the scientific method--in a way high churchfolk insisting on high and not simply aesthetic views of the dominical sacraments, anthropology, the church, ordination, Incarnation, and the Trinity could not. Saying "this high stuff is a pretty part of our story, so let's keep these claims around in our liturgy and common life" is quite different from saying "this high stuff is literally true, and you had better come around to believing it, brothers and sisters, if you know what's good for you." The latter is apt, I'd contend, to offend a modernist--and the left evangelical might not ever get around to saying the latter.

So, (3) the left evangelical point of view can always become detatched and in practice within a denomination, foreign and even competitive with other points of view, like the high church, Anglo-catholic point of view. This is already happening in the Episcopal Church with mutual ministry--which could easily lead to lay celebration, communion without baptism, and preaching MDGs as necessary moral response to living the life Jesus wants you to lead.

On the basis of (1)-(3), it seems the left-evangelical movement will likely gather momentum in the mainstream and in the Episcopal Church, eventually becoming the majority voice heard in the prayerbooks. One can, I think, already see this among our Lutheran friends; their new prayerbook seems to me to lean in a left evangelical direction.

What we do not need as a response to this development, if it comes to be, is more fracturing and splitting from Anglo-catholics. That is what is most distressing about how Fort Worth is responding to the rise of left evangelicalism in the Episcopal Church. I presume deals could be made with Griswold et al, and Fort Worth-types could come to make uneasy peace with Affirming Catholics. But PB Schori is definitely not another Griswold; her tenure represents, to me, the ascendency of left evangelical spirituality in our church. Left evangelical spirituality is dangerous to Fort Worth-types in a way left Anglo-catholicism is not--dangerous enough to drive them to do very un-Anglo-catholic things, like pretend the Anglican Communion is a church. The issue of how we may yet live together will not go away anytime soon.

NB "High church" is a bit ambiguous, as is "low church." Granting one may have high church baptists, reformed folk, and so on, I'm conflating high church sensibility with Anglo-catholicism for convenience, to give the term some concrete sense, and low church sensibility with evangelicalism likewise, ready to admit other parties are kicking around.


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Yes, and I have real issues with the ELW. It seems light in its understanding of Sin or eschatology, for example, as well as unnecessarily wordy. Personally, I think there are dangers in left evangelicalism of the sort emerging that someone like Stringfellow is careful not to allow, namely that somehow we can bring in the Kingdom of God (I've heard this language a lot) and overidentification of programs with God's Kingdom, as if MDGs can ever more than be contingent in light of God's Reconciliation and Consummation. It reads as a replay of some problems with turn of the 20th century liberal theology.

I think the issue will be can we who are "high" continue to worship in ways and words that speak to us, something left evangelicalism and likely the new Prayer Book will not be able to do. Will provision be made for us to use 1928 or 1979? If not, finally, there isn't a place for us in my estimation. And some left evangelicals seem as bent on having us all their way as anyone else. Abba Benedict gets it, it's power and control that are unchristian, and that's not limited to conservative evangelicals or conservative Anglo-catholics.

Though I don't identify as Anglo-catholic, I do identify as catholic with evangelical tendencies--or critically/reformed catholic. Benedictine life best sums this for me. What disqualifies me from being labeled Anglo-catholic? I don't accept that it is the priest who offers the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of the people, for example. But rather Christ offers himself to and for us as promised by his word and offers us to the Father in the Spirit throughout. If the priest offers anything on our behalf, it is only that we can ever plead Christ who first offers himself. That emphasis on God's initiative as primary is vital for me, and makes me closer to Lutherans in this regard because I see the dangers in Anglicanism that emphasize us and ecclesiology. Or for example, I'm committed to Real Presence without a need to define this as transubstantiation. But "high" church certainly is closer to my concerns.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Another thing these folks should consider is the younger sets are not "modernist" in the way Boomers mostly are. I don't have the quibbles about explaining the Virgin Birth or believing in miracles like so many of these folks seem to have.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I guess one could turn these differences into catechetical ones by bringing evangelical leftists a little further into Christian tradition. As you mentioned, there is no necessary reason for these trends to remain separated, and Episcopalians have had evangelical high church bishops in the past.

This is one good thing EfM does--yr 3 starts with the formation of Chalcedonian orthodoxy in great detail, and yr 4 is all about speculative theology. I think Kerygma program does this too with its four part "Bible and Theology" series; I don't know about the UMC's Disciple program.

Anyhow, the point would be that resources for bridging these divisions are already worked out and waiting to be used--at a parish level.

Perhaps for them to really be successful, the theology laity pick up in a parish-level program would have to find its way back into the liturgy--in preaching and bible study, for instance--and into the national church at every opportunity. I'm not sure that kind of thing happens--reference Morris' reply about why we celebrate on Sunday.

At 3:49 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Also--this just struck me--such programs as Kerygma and EfM compete with a nascent panentheist theology that found some favor, it seems, with Macquarrie and Borg, the mutual minstry movement, etc.

Some who return to church, say, via Borg of Crossan might have panentheistic ideas about God and sanctification. There might be some friction here, and rectors/bishops/PBs will have to be ready.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Ormonde Plater said...

When I think of Anglo-Catholic, I do not think of Jack Iker. I think of Desmond Tutu.

At 7:51 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Let me concede!

I want to add Kenneth Leech as Anglo-catholic in about the same way as Archbishop Tutu.

It amazes me that Tutu's word does not seem to carry much authority in the Anglican Communion, when it should have carried, I would have thought, more weight than that of Williams.

At 9:30 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

Archbishop Tutu is a fine example of the type of Anglican Christian I want to be irrespective of his churchmanship.

He's high into sacraments and takes that presence to the streets. Because he is willing to speak to sins and abuses not only in the world but in the church, he'll never be held up as a moral authority by those at the center. But that's precisely what makes him a moral authority for someone like me. Indeed, by comparison Archbishop Williams has almost no moral authority for my life precisely because of his willingness to allow gays to be treated poorly no matter if he means well.


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