Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Theology (Page 1 of 2)

Anglican theological distinctiveness

In the recent essay I wrote for The Living Church, “Reviving the quadrilateral” (which interested readers can find here), I made the following remark without explaining it in detail: “Whether one looks to Jewel’s Apology, Hooker’s Laws, or the works of the Caroline Divines, there is clearly an Anglican identity, expressed more clearly in the manner and tenor of interpretation and in the particular sources of authority than through specific doctrines.” I did not really feel the need to defend the statement since I believe it is a widely held understanding, at least among some Anglicans.  I know that I’ve read similar statements in the works of Rowan Williams and Michael Ramsey.  This evening however, I read a very good summary of the idea from Henry R. McAdoo’s Spirit of Anglicanism: A Survey of Anglican Theological Method in the Seventeenth Century (not to be confused with the similarly titled book by Michael Ramsey, Anglican Spirit).

After reading the first chapter of McAdoo’s book, I thought I’d share some of it with you:

The term theological method needs some comment.  There is a distinctively Anglican theological ethos, and the distinctiveness lies in method rather than in content, for Anglicanism, as Chillingworth put it, has declined to call any man master in theology.  There is no specifically Anglican corpus of doctrine and no king-pin in Anglican theology such as Calvin, nor is there any tendency to stress specific doctrines such as predestination, or specific philosophies such as Thomism or nominalism or any other one of the several medieval brands of philosophy.

Richard Montague’s assertion that he was neither a Calvinist nor a Lutheran but a Christian, illustrate the point that Anglicanism is not committed to believing anything because it is Anglican but only because it is true.  Perhaps the most important thing about Hooker is that he wrote no Summa and composed no Institutes, for what he did was to outline method.  What is distinctively Anglican is then not a theology but a theological method. (p. 1)

The Anglican Spirit: Theology

Archbishop Michael Ramsey

Archbishop Michael Ramsey

“First of all, the close connection between theology, doctrine, and Christian worship is very powerful in Hooker. He describes what we believe very much in terms of how we worship. That has remained a characteristic of Anglican theology right into the present century, and German theologians, very rigorous in their academic method, have sometimes laughed at Anglican theologians for doing their theology to the sound of church bells. Well, continue to do theology to the sound of church bells, for that is what Christian theology really is all about–worshiping God the Savior through Jesus Christ in the theology of the apostolic age.”(The Anglican Spirit, 8-9)


The Anglican Spirit

Blogging Jeremy Taylor: Christian Consolations

Jeremy Taylor

Jeremy Taylor

I’ve recently decided to take advantage of the collection of “The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor” in my possession and take the time each week to blog through it.  Its several volumes will likely be a test of endurance for me, and I can’t promise I’ll blog every word he wrote, or comment extensively on everything I blog, but I hope my readers will enjoy this glimpse of the works of the late Bishop.

CHRISTIAN CONSOLATIONS


CHAPTER I.

That Faith is the Ground and Foundation of a Christian’s Comfort: several Doubts and Scriples about believing, answered.

Faith is the root of all blessings.  Believe, and you shall be saved: believe, and you must needs be sanctified: believe and you cannot choose but be comforted: believe, that God is true in all his promises, and you are the seed of faithful Abraham: believe that you are Christ’s, and that Christ is yours; and then you are sure that none can perish, whom the Father hath given to him.  “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”  And as Martha said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died (John 11:21):” so let all that groan and pine away in sorrow, say, Lord, if thou hadst been here, if thou hadst appeared to my soul in thy goodness, I had not fainted in my trouble.  Isaiah fortels (Isaiah 61:3), that it should be Christ’s office “to give the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”  For St. John saw in the spirit, that they that follow Christ, are clothed “in white garments,” in garments of joy, in the livery of gladness.

Faith & Doubt

I wrote the following reflection for the June edition of The Canticle, the newsletter of St. Francis Church, which you can download in PDF version here.

Faith in the Midst of Doubt

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
–Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

The context of the great commission is interesting. Here we are in the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The task is accomplished, the resurrection has occurred and Jesus has been lifted upon the cross in expectation of his exaltation at the right hand of the Father. (John 12:32).

Here, we have one of the great moments of Christian history, the drawing to a close of Christ’s earthly ministry and the inauguration of the Church as the sacramental and missionary body of Christ on earth.

As our reading begins, we find the disciples doing as they were instructed and returning to Galilee to await the Risen Lord. Because of this, we also know that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” (the mother of James and John), did as they were instructed by the Lord himself at the empty tomb where he greeted them saying, “Do not be afraid: go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matt. 28:10).

In the first part of chapter 28 we see the resurrected Christ coming to his disciples in the midst of the fear brought about by the presence of the Angel and the sight of the empty tomb. In the second half we see the response of the eleven to Jesus’ resurrection appearance to them on the mountain in Galilee.
And yet, in spite of these experiences—and perhaps in part because of their amazing and unbelievable character—they still doubted.

One of the most difficult things many Christians struggle with is doubt. Sometimes we believe that our doubt makes us bad Christians; some have even gone so far as to doubt their salvation because they’ve experienced moments or even seasons of doubt.

Continue reading

The Rev. Dr. George Sumner: Convention Address, Diocese of Tennessee, January 26, 2008, St Bartholomew’s Church Nashville

I found Dr. Sumner’s address to convention to be very interesting and inspiring during these times. I’m glad they posted it on the Diocesan website.

In the spirit of the past as prologue to the future, and of reclaiming the rich treasure of our Anglican past, let us begin this morning by asking what clergy life and ministry were like at the parish grassroots two centuries ago in merry old England. If we listen to the commentators of the time, the answer is often very, very odd. One priest, we read, would give a normal homily in the morning, but at evensong insisted on preaching only about the Empress Josephine. An historian named Brendon tells us that another parson in the West Country did not enter his church for 53 years, and kenneled the local foxhounds in the vicarage. A neighboring priest refused to do any services, but would greet the parishioners in the Churchyard wearing a flowered dressing gown and smoking a hookah. Yet another drove his flock away, replaced them with wooden and cardboard images in the pews, and “surrounded his vicarage with barbed wire behind which savage Alsatians patrolled.” Another spent his whole ministry searching for the number of the beast while the rector of Luffincott devoted all his time to calculating the date of the millennium. Yet another installed his own sanitary arrangements in his choir stall, while a nearby priest declared himself a neo-platonist and sacrificed an ox to Jupiter on the church grounds.

But my personal favorite is one Joshua Brooks of Manchester. During a burial service he abruptly left the church, went nearby to the confectioner’s shop, bought some gumdrops, and came back to finish up the service. One Easter Monday, the traditional day for marriages in the parish, he had a number of couples to marry at once, got the names confused, married several to the wrong spouses, and so at the end of the service declared imperiously “just sort yourselves out when you leave…” All this inspired the archdeacon to tell the new bishop ‘your clergy, my lord, may be divided into three categories: those who have gone out of their minds, those about to go out of their minds, and those who have no minds to go out of.” And then there was Montague who hung the coat of his late dog Tango in the sacristy closet …maybe that is enough! So good news, Bishop John, our little history lesson makes even your most vexing priest and parish of the diocese of Tennessee look pretty good! My point, brothers and sisters, is simply this: if you have your days when Episcopal church life seems to you confused and deformed, right you are, and if you think this is unprecedented, think again!

And it was into just this sort of a church, a church so moribund that many commentators did not suppose it could survive another generation, that Charles Simeon had, by the grace of God, a most fruitful and groundbreaking ministry. My topic this morning is mission, but I want to get at that topic through the historical lens of this one parish priest in the town of Cambridge, diocese of Ely, Church of England. You might call this a bit of missiological hagiography, since Simeon finds a place in the list of saints in Lesser Feasts and Fasts of our Church on November 12. As a young man Simeon came to Cambridge in 1799. He was not a particularly religious sort, and in that time evangelicals were looked down upon. Six had recently been expelled from Oxford for Methodist practices, and many bishops frowned on what they called “the serious clergy,” far too earnest, and their sermons far too long. At matriculation Simeon was told that as a student at Cambridge, he had to prepare for, and make his communion, three times a year. He was a dutiful young man and so set about reading what he could find about a holy life, concluding his own lack of that quality, which in turn disturbed him. During lent he heard in university church the story of the scapegoat in the Old Testament, and became fascinated with the idea that one could bear away the wrong of another- all this on his own, not bad for a freshman! On Easter morning, the Holy Spirit touched his heart, as he writes: “Jesus Christ is risen today, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul, and at the Lord’s Table (of king’s chapel), I had a sweetest access to God through my blessed savior.” He held to this, the insight of a moment, the core of the Gospel, throughout his whole life. He was ordained soon thereafter, and was offered a struggling old parish in the heart of the town called Holy Trinity.

{Read it all}


Being Salt: A Theology of an Ordered Church

[ad#basic-anglicanism]

As someone with some pogonotrophy of his own…

I have to share this review of Rowan Williams’ Wrestling with Angels from David Bently Hart. Before you read it, you should know that when I first read Hart’s In the Beauty of the Infinite I had to re-read the first page about three times before I had a firm enough footing to continue on. Once I got started though, it was well worth it.

At any rate, Hart lays to rest any doubt about Williams’ theological prowess… while at the same time making me run for the dictionary twice. Enjoy. (HT: PSA+)

In a bracingly venomous Spectator article on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent remarks about sharia law in Britain, the journalist Rod Liddle opined that it must be Rowan Williams’s beard that has won him the reputation of an intellectual. Certainly, Liddle remarked, “it cannot be anything he has ever said or written”. I have to confess my doubts that Liddle has really read much of Williams’s oeuvre. No one who had – whatever reservations he or she might harbour as to the Archbishop’s wisdom, prudence or pogonotrophy – could possibly dismiss the man as a featherweight or a fraud.

Well before he moved to Lambeth Palace (heedless, alas, of a few desperate voices calling him back from the edge), Rowan Williams had established himself as perhaps Britain’s most impressive theological virtuoso. His gifts as a linguist alone set him apart from most of his contemporaries, granting him access to texts and conversations well outside the orbits of more narrowly specialized researchers, and his ability to speak authoritatively, reflectively and creatively on authors as diverse as the Greek Fathers, the medieval and early modern mystics, the German idealists, the Russian Sophiologists, and so forth, marked him from an early age as an uncommon talent, possessed of a scholarly range that even the most accomplished theologians might envy. Whether his intellectual attainments have translated well into the sort of public skills required of a church leader is a legitimate matter of debate; whether those attainments are real and substantial, however, is not.

{Read it all}

Note: Pogonotrophy means: the care and cultivation of beards. Don’t worry, I had to look it up too.

Score another for Bishop Wright: Euthanasia–a murky moral world

The more I’ve read about Bishop Wright recently, and the strong moral stands he has taken, the more I believe we should be thanking God for leaders like him and praying that he would life up even more in the Church and society at large. Having done my CPE training in an area of a veterans hospital that was transitioning to a focus on palliative care I can testify to it’s benefits for the patient and family.


Legalised killing is unacceptable. We must consider the radical alternative – palliative care

David Aaronovitch, using the pulpit of his column, challenged me to justify an “outrageous claim” that I made in my Easter sermon. I said that there was a “militantly atheist and secularist lobby” that believes that “we have the right to kill… surplus old people”. He replied that it was simply not true.

But there is clearly a strong body of opinion – part of a larger, albeit unorganised, secularising or atheist agenda – pressing in this direction. Such an agenda doesn’t need protest marches. It has powerful politicians and journalists presenting the case.

Lord Joffe’s “assisted dying” Bill, rejected by the Lords last year, was, at one level, about “voluntary euthanasia”. The normal word for that is, of course, suicide. But his Bill was about those too ill to achieve that unaided – it was proposing not just “voluntary dying” but “lawful killing” by people enlisted by the patient. You can’t reduce this, as Mr Aaronovitch implied, to “people having a right to end their own lives”. The question is, do other people have the right to help them do so? Those who support this Bill reckoned they do.

He might want to come back at me on two other counts. First, I said “old” people. But clearly young people, too, suffer debilitating and incurable diseases. Reports from the Netherlands suggest that moves are being made to extend the euthanasia protocol to cover new-born children.

{read it all}

From Inhabitatio Dei: The Role of Hauerwas in Contemporary Theology

I intended to post this several days ago, but got very busy during and after Holy Week. I hope Halden doesn’t mind me directing attention toward an older post.

Good stuff from Inhabitatio Dei:

Nearly everyone who’s interested in contemporary theology has heard of Stanley Hauerwas. Indeed out of all contemporary theological figures he may be the one who today its hardest to have not heard of or read. One way or another everyone has to deal with Hauerwas. Whether you’re Jeffrey Stout, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Robert Jenson, Stephen Webb or whoever, if you’re writing on ethics, politics, or anything pertaining to the Christian use of force, you simply have to deal with Hauerwas.

However, the flip side of this is that it also seems somewhat fashionable in contemporary theology to not take Hauerwas seriously. A great many theologians seem to take joy in deriding him as little more than a cantankerous bastard with a squeaky voice who is better laughed at then engaged. Now, to my mind both of these dynamics in contemporary theological discourse only point to Stanley’s importance as a theologian. If, on the one hand a great many people find him an indispensable interlocutor and a comparable number of other folks consider him simply someone to ridicule away, it would seem a reasonable conclusion that whatever Stanley’s got to say it is either vitally important or vitally dangerous.

So this brings me to my question, what is the role of Stanley Hauerwas in contemporary theology? What position does he, or should he occupy in the cartography of doing theology today? What do people think?

{read it all}

Ok… here’s my response. I’m closing comments here because I want to encourage everyone to go over to the Inhabitatio Dei blog and leave their responses in the comments there.

Hauerwas is by his own admission a contrarian, but I think what is first and foremost is that he is a Christian contrarian, and he is someone who strives to allow the gospel to challenge his inclinations and then announces that challenge to others. Sometimes the challenge Hauerwas proclaims isn’t necessarily the one that others might see–sometimes the challenge is seen as simply part of Hauerwas’ own biases. Be that as it may, and taking into account that there are places where I disagree with him (his total commitment to non-violence for example), I can’t recall a time when he has asked a question that I’ve thought about later and said “that really wasn’t important” or “why address that?” Instead, I’ve been challenged to examine my own beliefs in light of the Holy Scripture and the Christian tradition. At times I have come to change my perspectives, while at others I haven’t. But even in the latter cases, my foundation for thinking as I do has been greatly strengthened.

Ironically perhaps, several of the critiques leveled at Hauerwas in the discussion thread seem to be highlighting aspects of this thought that he is intentional about. For instance, one commentator in particular criticizes Hauerwas for “inconsistency” because he largely focusses his criticism on liberal protestantism while remaining in “liberal” protestant institutions, i.e. teaching at a United Methodist University and attending United Methodist and Episcopal churches. As another commentator pointed out quite succinctly, to view this as inconsistent is to miss a major facet of Hauerwas’ thinking: to be a witness where God has placed you. There is a particularly poor example of “consistency” given by comparing Hauerwas to his former student R.R. Reno who did in fact leave the Episcopal Church for Roman Catholicism. This is not intended in any way as a slam on Reno (whom I have a great deal of respect for), but his move to the RC Church can hardly be considered the most “consistent” outcome of his theology.

But while Hauerwas isn’t particularly inconsistent, it is important to note that consistency as such doesn’t deem to enter into his project as any sort of laudable goal. There is consistency to be sure, but only in the sense that he tries to make faithfulness to the Jesus we know from Scripture the hallmark of his work. Hauerwas would be the first to say that any particular point of his theology that was seen to be in conflict with scripture should be rejected (of course, those pronouncements are debatable, as always). Hauerwas’ work primarily consists of “occasional theology,” that is, he writes for particular occasions or purposes, which is appropriate when one considers his Methodist/Anglican roots. Certainly he has ranged widely and been influenced by those he has come into contact with (Roman Catholics and Mennonites etc…), but perhaps there is a reason he finds himself at home among Methodists and Episcopalians.

In the occasional nature of his theology, one can also see the sense in which it is practical (one of the reasons he is not taken seriously by some academic theologians). Hauerwas’ writing serves, at least in my humble opinion, as a bridge between academic theology and practical theology without fitting squarely in either place. His work is too academic to be considered “practical” by some, and it is too “practical” to be considered sufficiently academic by others. But what he is doing is providing a framework for engagement with the world on the gospel’s terms (at least as he sees them), and in that sense he is providing a great service to the Church.

In the end, it seems that the person leveling this particular criticism of Hauerwas is simply irritated about the fact that there are people within their Church (it seems they are Episcopalian–probably could’ve guessed :-p ) who criticize liberalism. In addition to destroying any possibility for self-criticism, the commentator seems to have totally missed the differences between the various ways we use the term “liberal” in our society and instead views that as interchangeable. So, Hauerwas shouldn’t be in a “liberal” Protestant body because he critiques “liberalism” and he certainly shouldn’t be attending an Episcopal Church where the parishioners tend to be the most “liberally educated” among the various church bodies. Of course, “Liberal Protestantism” when referring to the theological movement, such as those professors of the German State Church that cozied up to Hitler, overlaps but is not coterminous with “liberal protestant” when used to refer to the mainold-line Protestant churches which is not the same as what is meant by a “liberal education” and none of the above is the same as political “liberalism,” all of which seem confused by this criticism.

In the end, I think Jonathan Wilson offers the best and most balanced assessment of Hauerwas’ place in contemporary theology. I could go on in more detail and at greater length, but this post is already very late, and I want it out of my “drafts” section. Perhaps it will be worthwhile to some of you.

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