2009 Reflections…

Tony SigReaders will know that this last semester has drastically reduced my ability to post.  I’ve been pretty weak on regularity until my recent binge with daily Propositions.

Over the short time that I’ve been blogging, blogging has helped me learn to focus my thoughts and hone my (incredibly limited) writing skills.  I’ve enjoyed greatly all the interaction and pushback I’ve gotten from readers from which I’ve grown immensely.

I hope I will be forgiven then for allowing Reflections on the past year flow over into 2010.  I had late finals and the Holidays have totally cramped my style.  I am excited to throw out some of the things that have been rumbling inside my head.

I also hope I will be forgiven for some of the narcissistic perspective many of them will take.  There are few things that will make me unsubscribe from a blog than daily spewing forth what are essentially poorly written journal entries.  But, being in The Episcopal Church, and considering all that has happened in the last year, I wanted to throw out there some thoughts on what is going on in Anglicanism.

I will certainly make for these reflections to be theological, but I imagine that some will fall back into sentiment and they will have a sense of arbitrarity, for which I cannot apologize.  It may seem that at times I will ramble but I hope, especially for our Anglican readership, that my fears and hopes will reveal a bit about the struggles in our Churches to be faithful both to the “gospel” as we perceive it, and to ourselves as a Communion of Churches.

I’ve grown a bit more into the role of a “Traditionalist” in matters of theological revision but I hope that I will never be received as a “Stand Firm” type.  I have no pretensions about having the whole of Truth wrapped up and if I say things that are “conservative” or whatever the damn word we want to use, I am quite passionate about living together in diverse minds.  But it is the width and nature of and reasons for diversity that is up for question.

Without further ado:

“My Reading and How It’s Affected Me”

2009 marks the first solid year of me reading “academic theology.”  I’d read some theology before this but mostly it had been the historical and exegetical work of N.T. Wright and the theology of Walter Brueggemann.

I read a substantial amount of the work of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.  I stumbled through his organized book of essays “On Christian Theolgy,” as well as most of the sermons in “A Ray of Darkness.” I was astounded at his incredibly concise but deceivingly deep account of Christian spirituality “from the NT to St. John of the Cross” in The Wound of Knowledge.” I came to understand facets of Anglicanism (especially with his two essays on Hooker) that I hadn’t known about in his “Anglican Identities,” I found fresh air in his collection of poems and I got a glimpse into his ability to make wonderfully revisionist yet clearly insightful readings of historical theology in “Where God Happens,” which as it so happens I took to be an excellent primer on Rowans ecclesiological leadership “method.”  I felt his introduction to Christian theology was just the book I would give to one to be confirmed or evangelized or an ‘old soul’ who needed to hear just how Christian theology makes any sense or difference.  His book on Christ’s “Trial Narratives” also unearthed the hidden ways that we can will to power.  I’ve begun but not finished his book on violence, on church history and on “cultural bereavement” and will soon take up his essays on St. Teresa Avila, Modern Theology, Christian devotion, art,  Russian theology and literature and the formation of orthodoxy.  There are several other books I’m looking forward to reading, he’s a rather prolific author.

All of these were an utter joy to read.  I came to get a feel for his style, for his themes, for his perspective and for a deftly compelling vision of how and why to do theology.  “Theology,” he says “Moves between the Celebratory, the Communicative, and the Critical styles” – On Christian Theology xiii

From my completely objective and unbiased perspective, the crown of his work that I’ve read so far and the most powerful book I read this year was his essay “Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel.” It’s a paradigm for how I should like one day to perform theological reflection.  It moves almost seamlessly through the three registers of theology he spoke of above, at times fully aware of the historical-critical problems, at other times practically doxological and always conscious of being a work directed to the Church, not simply among theologians.

The Archbishop is acutely aware of our propensity to deceive ourselves into thinking we can control our safety, our identity, our orthodoxy, or even those of other peoples.  So the Gospel is often Judgement, Christ is preached to those who condemned him and so condemned themselves.  He extends his forgiveness to those who abandoned him and those who betrayed him.  And forgiveness is nothing other than the giving of mission and restoration of trust.

Having read even this much of ++Williams’ work it is strange to me that so many find his way of being Archbishop so unpredictable, unstable and dispassionate.  He has been nothing if not consistent that he is not interested in the role of condemning and controlling members of the current Communion.  But, he also has an intimate understanding of how Christians have come to perceive themselves historically (see his work on Arius as well as on doing Church history).  It is incredibly difficult for me not to believe honestly that God has raised up Rowan to be Archbishop at this crucial time.  I am so grateful for having chosen him to read in these the formative years of my own training.  I have the same feeling I had after having read N. T. Wright’s “Christian Origins” trilogy…”Let’s do that again.”  And as I did just that I may run through a couple Rowan books before I move on.

At the risk of lengthening this post to an obscene length, for the sake of keeping on topic I wanted also to mention another book that was paradigm shifting for me but was not a part of my ++Williams regiment.  That book is “Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and It’s Engagement With Scripture” by Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner.

Radner is famous as a central voice in the Traditionalist group of pastor/scholars known as the Anglican Communion Institute and as one who has helped frame the Anglican Covenant.  He has also been an incredibly creative and passionate theologian in regards to the Church, especially it’s boundaries and in discerning the “form” of Christ in diverse and sundry members thereof.  In addition to this Radner has also contributed to a series of Biblical commentaries that take an explicitly theological tenor.  An earlier book of his obviously provides a trajectory for this one which aims to look at how a Broken church can and should reflect theologically on Scripture.  Certainly there are few churches as broken as us Anglicans right now.

Though himself a self-styled “conservative,” Radner never comes off as a biblicist.  In fact it is difficult to read him as any kind of “Evangelical” conceived along any modern historical way of understanding the term.  This is because he reads Scripture Christologically following the famous Anglican-Catholic theologian and influential member of the “Oxford Tractarians” John Keble, who in Tract 89 laid out an impressive vision of Patristic exegesis.

Having set out a case for Christological interpretation Radner begins to reflect on “The Form of Christ” in Scripture and in the Church covering topics ranging from diagnosis of current ecclesiological ills to homosexuality and “bad bishops.”  All the while refraining from cheap biblical shots at those with whom he disagrees looking for Christ’s own form in them and in their readings of Scripture.

Keeping in mind Radner calls himself a “conservative,” and that he lays out a “traditional” sacramental reading of heterosexual marriage, it should astound “progressives” as much as “evangelicals” that he argues for the toleration of private practice and conscience in matters of sexual practice provided that the Church’s vision of Holy Matrimony is left unaltered.  Not, mind you, because he is a relativist or a closet liberal or “unconcerned with sin” (or some other boneheaded conservative phrase) but because he can see Christian faithfulness even in committed homosexual Christian couples!

This book really shook me up.  First, it challenged me to begin to learn to read Scripture, especially the Old Testament, Christologically.  I have long been captive to a narrow view of modern historical-critical exegetical methodology but this book, along with certain philosophical considerations, has convicted me that I’ve been reading Scripture incompletely, narrowly and even biggotedly as I poured scorn on so-called “metaphorical” readings of Church fathers and even of New Testament authors.

It also confirmed in me a conviction that I need to “commit” to this Anglican mess.  I must confess that even still, being a “johnny come lately” to this group of churches, finding in it a home and room to breathe, but also a gun to my head forcing me to “pick sides,” I’ve been hesitant to feel settled.  I’ve often got a sideways glance to the East as fundamentalist evangelicals and liberal revisionists fight this to the bitter end.  But this book stresses the virtue of “staying put” in a church.  In this he is much like Hooker:  Submission to a fixed law, even if perceived to be wrong, is preferable to chaos and rebellion and can even be the ground for greater growth.

Finally, and I’m pairing this with my previous thoughts on Rowan, I’ve been encouraged that our current struggles are not going to be solved by “a Pelagian ratcheting up of the theological task” (Radner, 202), as if we can just nail down this or that dogma or wing of the Church we can force the stability that we all so eagerly desire.  Other Christians, even and perhaps especially those with whom we disagree strongly, cannot be seen as people and identities to bring under our control.  The form of Christ in their own life must be allowed to be seen.

Advertisements

17 Comments

  1. Good essay, Tony. Love the personal elements of change and questions.

    (1) I just recently watched two short YouTube videos by Walter Brueggemann. Seems an interesting sort of Christian. Do you recommend any books or videos or on-line stuff of his?

    (2) You wrote, “++Williams'” –> what does the “++” mean. I have seen that on another site. Looks like a new shorthand for something. Thanx.

    (3) Thanx — I put “Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel” on my list to buy soon. I really want to understand how you guys comfortably wrap this stuff in your mind. And I do believe it is possible — to do it comfortably and usefully, that is. Is Williams of the conservative wing in Anglicans or a mix? Sounds like a mix.

    (4) Radner seems a little too bought in, for my taste. Am I wrong? (You know me a bit)

    BTW — great photo of the fam !!

    Reply

    1. Sabio,

      1) Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament scholar and theologian. I always recommend anything by him but I’m not entirely sure what you would enjoy of his. His book on the “Prophetic Imagination” is very well respected; and short. I have his massive Old Testament Theology and Introduction to the Old Testament, both of which are highly aware of the historical critical issues yet very theological. To be honest I think you might find a little read book of his on the sociology of very early Israel, fascinating stuff.

      2) ( + ) is shorthand to denote someone is a bishop without writing “bishop” or “right reverend” over and over again. Two + would be an “Archbishop”

      3) Honestly I’m not sure you’d really like or “get” his Resurrection book. I mean no offense by it but it’s quite dense and I don’t imagine it would better help you understand “how we wrap this up.” For that I’d send you to N. T. Wright, who I’ve mentioned several times I’m sure. He wrote a tome that surveys the attitudes to Resurrection and “afterlife” in general in the a) classical world, b) the Old Testament, c) “Intertestamental and 1st C Judaism(s), d) the New Testament, e) the Early Church and f) early offshoot sects of Christianity. All of which has been helpfully shrunk down to manageable size in his much shorter and more straightforward book “Surprised by Hope”.

      As far as a ++Williams book that would help in the same way, I’d go no further than his “Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief” which will surely help you understand “how we wrap this stuff up.”

      Williams is generally considered to be a “Liberal Catholic.” He has been vocal, perhaps more before he became Archbishop of Canterbury!, in his support of Christians accepting homosexuality and women clergy. He is “conservative” in that he maintains a rigorous trust in Nicene ‘orthodoxy.’

      4) Yeah, I don’t think you’d like Radner

      Peace

      Reply

  2. Tony,

    Excellent post. Your reading regimen is impressive and convicting. I must confess I’ve never heard of Radner, but what he has to say sounds very interesting. It is very unfortunate that the battle lines seem already to have been drawn so that no one on the liberal side of the church even gives a second glance to anyone talking about Covenant, or even anyone talking about being “Anglican.” On the other hand I think there is a strong moderate wing who are going to stick around, and who are going to provide a way forward on the issue. Radner’s way forward (allow committed homosexual relationships, but don’t call it the sacrament of marriage) might just be the way to go.

    I have a copy of Anglican Identities and I’ve read several essays, I’ve yet to read the essays on Hooker, however.

    Also, from what I understand, a canon or dean of a cathedral also uses + before his or her name.

    I, too, have been faced with the dilema of sticking with TEC or jumping ship. This past year I’ve had several “calling” experiences leading me down the road priesthood in the TEC, culminating with one on Michaelmas where I finally gave in, and told God I would do it. Leaving the beautiful and confusing mess of Anglicanism no longer seems like an option for me. The priesthood discernment process on my parish level commences in 2010.

    Reply

  3. James,

    For your sake especially I should have added that I’ve been reading The Brothers Karamazov, but I’ve not finished it yet. I will never be able to read the Temptation narratives without reference to “The Grand Inquisitor”.

    And that’s wonderful about your calling to the priesthood! My own discernment has been complicated on account of ours being a disconnected parish known as the ‘conservative’ one. Plus I’m unsure as to whether I’m even “officially” in local discernment!

    I’ll be praying for your journey.

    Reply

  4. From what I have seen and heard about the discernment process it is rather fuzzy and unsure all the way around whether you’re in a “disconnected” church or not. Talking to one of my priests, he told me that it would be about a 5 year process (including seminary), but that some in the diocese think that’s way too hasty. I’m just going with the flow. We’re without a bishop until April 2010, and so when he/she gets elected, they might change the whole process.

    Reply

  5. James and Tony,

    Of course, i barely know you guys, but I am excitied to heasr you are contemplating ordination. I hope the “process” at the parish and diocesan level does right by you. We certainly need more young clergy in TEC.

    One of my very best friends, Bill Bulson, is rector of St. David, Minnetonka (formerly vicar of Holy Apostels, St. Paul). You might give him a call and talk some of this over with him.

    Might I suggest you add to your reading list, The Gospel and the Catholic Church and The Spirit of Anglicanism by Michael Ramsey? He was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1960’s and a fine theologian. Of modern occupiers of the see of Canterbury, he was most like R. Williams – theologically, but he had a similar pair of imposing and eccentric eyebrows as well. Both books should be on any list of introductory books for new(ish) Anglicans.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Fr. Matt, I appreciate the recommendations. I’ve already read his “Anglican Spirit” this year and am midway through “The Gospel and The Catholic Church.” I find his “participatory” idea pre-emptive of several modern moves in Pauline scholarship; likely on account of his deep sympathies with the Eastern church? I look forward to reading his “The Christian Priest Today,” his book on prayer and his account of Anglican theology “From Gore to Temple.”

      I’ve been meaning to get in contact with your friend as well. I’ve not found the time yet. You were saying that he has been hard at work translating the Prayer Book into Hmong right?

      Reply

  6. Tony,
    I just ordered +Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope” and William’s book. They were actually in our library system.
    Looking forward to broadening my mind.
    Later

    Reply

  7. Fr. Bulson might still have his hand in the translation of the Prayer Book into Hmong. But, he is no longer at a perdominantly Hmong church.

    Reply

  8. Tony – great to read about your recent theological travels. I’m especially convicted to read Radner’s book, a gift which has been sitting on my shelf for too long.

    James – discernment, eh? Good luck out there. I recently broached the subject with my parish priest.

    I want to encourage you guys to keep speaking in public.

    I’m also in TEC, also from the EV world and also been letting others battle out those issues when I should be committing.

    Then I remember that I’m already pretty committed…I eat and drink the body and blood of Christ with these people.

    I’m in the Los Angeles diocese. Discernment would be an interesting trip for someone like me in a diocese like this.

    Prayers all around.

    Reply

  9. I sympathize with everything in this post. It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve seriously considered calling myself an “Episcopalian.” The ongoing conflicts made me wary of committing, even as I was attracted to other aspects of the church.

    I recently began reading ++Williams stuff as well, beginning with Christian Spirituality (which is apparently Wound of Knowledge under an earlier title.) His intelligence, insight, and originality are impressive, but what really stands out for me is the sense of humility in his writing.

    Charismanglican, I’m an Angeleno too (a Valley boy, actually.)

    Reply

  10. Thank you Fr. Matt, Tony and Charismanglican for recommendations, encouragement and prayers.

    Tony, it took me over a year to conquer the Brothers Karamazov, but it was well worth it.

    Reply

  11. Believe me, it’s very difficult to be interested in much of *ANY* Reformed crowd these days, with the so-called “Young, Restless, and Reformed” running around. We have entered a Dark Age in the tradition. 😦

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s