Thursday, July 23, 2009
I'll be back in August and I hope to be ready to comment on Pope Benedict XVI's new social encyclical by then.
I hope you are getting some rest and relaxation this summer too.
Al Mohler has a good article explaining that Carter takes liberal positions in defiance of Scripture on a range of issues. He hasn't been in doctrinal agreement with his own conservative Baptist tradition for a long time. He quotes Carter as saying in The Observer.
"So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God."
He sure sounds Baptist in his high regard for the Bible, doesn't he? Except that he is a bit selective in which verses he regards so highly. Mohler writes:
"All this fits a pattern for which Mr. Carter is now well known. He simply rejects the texts in the Bible that clearly establish different roles for men and women in the church and the home. He dismisses these verses for the simple reason that he also rejects the inerrancy of the Bible.
He may well be the world's most famous Sunday School teacher, but over just the last several years he has publicly expressed his rejection of the belief that persons must come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. He has also stated that his faith would not be shaken if Jesus did not perform some of the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament. His denial of biblical inerrancy is not merely theoretical -- he actually operates on the assumption that at least some texts of the Bible are false, untruthful, malignantly oppressive, and thus untrustworthy.
President Carter actually makes no argument for women as pastors. He simply dismisses out of hand what the Christian church has believed for centuries -- and what the vast majority of Christians around the world believe even now. His argument should embarrass any serious person who considers this question, for it is grounded in little more than his own sense of how things ought to be. He makes claims about the Bible that are reckless and irresponsible and historical claims that would make any credible church historian blush. He straightforwardly rejects what he admits some texts of the Bible teach."
It is depressing to read the reasons people give for demanding that the Church change its teaching and ordain women. So many boil down simply to putting the conventional wisdom of the contemporary culture above the Word of God. It is no wonder that denominations that ordained women in the 70's and 80's are now talking about or actually ordaining homosexuals. The rationale for doing so is the same in both cases for liberals.
Of course, conservatives think the cases are different and that the rationale for ordaining women (unlike homosexuals) can be defended from Scripture. No one disputes their good faith on this point. But a large number of those who voted for women's ordination were voting that way because they felt comfortable going aginst Scripture in the name of the "new revelations" of modernity. So the precedent was set and as the liberal drift continued and conservatives gradually drifted away, the pattern repeated itself.
In the 80's, the Southern Baptist Convention was able to stop the left-ward drift in time and therefore it was the liberals like Jimmy Carter who drifted away in splinter groups. At the time a lot of us were critical of the SBC "Fundamentalists," but in hindsight it appears that the movement was prescient and that what they did was necessary. The Episcopal Church could have benefited from a movement to depose Pike and Spong and turn the Church around back when it was still a real possibility and it is paying the price now for not having done so.
"Let's take the second criticism first. The belief that there is no single basic gospel outline in the Bible goes back at least to the Tubingen school of biblical scholarship, which insisted Paul's gospel of justification was sharply different from Jesus' gospel of the kingdom. In the 20th century, British professor C.H. Dodd countered that there was one consensus gospel message in the Bible. Then, in turn, James Dunn argued in Unity and Diversity in the New Testament (1977) that the gospel formulations in the Bible are so different that we can't come up with a single outline.
Now hundreds of websites of young Christian leaders complain that the older evangelical church spent too much time reading Romans rather than Jesus' declaration that "the kingdom of God is at hand." But to be true to first-century Christians' own understanding of the gospel, I believe we must side with Dodd over Dunn. Paul is emphatic that the gospel he presents is the same as the one preached by the Jerusalem apostles. "Whether it was I or they," Paul says, referring to Peter and the others, "so we preached and so you believed" (1 Cor. 15:10-11). This statement assumes a single body of gospel content.
One gospel, many forms.
So yes, there must be one gospel, yet there are clearly different forms in which that one gospel can be expressed. This is the Bible's own way of speaking of the gospel, and we should stick with it. Paul is an example. After insisting there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8), he then speaks of being entrusted with "the gospel of the uncircumcised" as opposed to the "gospel of the circumcised" (Gal. 2:7).
When Paul spoke to Greeks, he confronted their culture's idol of speculation and philosophy with the "foolishness" of the cross, and then presented Christ's salvation as true wisdom. When he spoke to Jews, he confronted their culture's idol of power and accomplishment with the "weakness" of the cross, and then presented the gospel as true power (1 Cor. 1:22-25).
One of Paul's gospel forms was tailored to Bible-believing people who thought they would be justified by works on judgment day, and the other to pagans. These two approaches can be discerned in Paul's speeches in the book of Acts, some to Jews and some to pagans.There are other forms of the gospel.
Readers have always noticed that the kingdom language of the Synoptic Gospels is virtually missing in the Gospel of John, which usually talks instead about receiving eternal life. However, when we compare Mark 10:17, 23-34 , Matthew 25:34, 46, and John 3:5, 6 and 17, we see that "entering the kingdom of God" and "receiving eternal life" are virtually the same thing. Reading Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:15 and John 3:3, 5 together reveal that conversion, the new birth, and receiving the kingdom of God "as a child" are the same move.
Why, then, the difference in vocabulary between the Synoptics and John? As many scholars have pointed out, John emphasizes the individual and inward spiritual aspects of being in the kingdom of God. He is at pains to show that it is not basically an earthly social-political order (John 18:36). On the other hand, when the Synoptics talk of the kingdom, they lay out the real social and behavioral changes that the gospel brings. We see in John and the Synoptics two more forms of the gospel-one that stresses the individual and the other the corporate aspect to our salvation.What, then, is the one simple gospel?
Simon Gathercole distills a three-point outline that both Paul and the Synoptic writers held in common. (See "The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom" in God's Power to Save, ed. Chris Green Apollos/Inter-Varsity Press, UK, 2006.) He writes that Paul's good news was, first, that Jesus was the promised Messianic King and Son of God come to earth as a servant, in human form. (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:4ff.)
Second, by his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin and secured our justification by grace, not by our works (1 Cor. 15:3ff.)
Third, on the cross Jesus broke the dominion of sin and evil over us (Col. 2:13-15) and at his return he will complete what he began by the renewal of the entire material creation and the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8:18ff.)
Gathercole then traces these same three aspects in the Synoptics' teaching that Jesus, the Messiah, is the divine Son of God (Mark 1:1) who died as a substitutionary ransom for the many (Mark 10:45), who has conquered the demonic present age with its sin and evil (Mark 1:14-2:10) and will return to regenerate the material world (Matt. 19:28.)
If I had to put this outline in a single statement, I might do it like this: Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever."
Read it all here.
Liberal Protestants seek to align themselves with the forces of "progressive" politics in order to advance the causes of peace, justice and the environment. For liberals, this is not being conformed to the world but fighting against the evils of the world in cooperation with the unbelievers who already are engaged in doing so. Liberals want a society in which the State ensures equality for all and individuals have equal opportunities for fulfilling life projects. This is what liberals mean by the common good.
Conservative Protestants seek to align themselves with conservative politics in order to resist the encroachment of the State into more and more areas of life and to defend civil society, especially the family. Conservatives want a society in which the State does not become totalitarian and in which families, civic organizations and churches can flourish so as to enrich human life. They value subsidiarity as part of the common good.
Neither of these appraoches can be said necessarily to be conformity to the world even though liberal Christians work as allies of secular liberals and conservative Christians work as allies of secular conservatives.
The uniqueness of Christianity is centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is a message of sin and salvation for individuals and a witness for the kingdom of God that will come through the work of Jesus Christ. To enter this Kingdom, which Jesus will set up on earth at his return, one must be born again. So Christianity is focussed, not on this world, but on the eschatological Kingdom of God. Both liberalism and conservativism are focussed on this world and, to the extent that we all have to live in this world, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that.
The problem with both liberalism and conservativism arises when these worldly ideologies come into conflict with the Gospel. The question of worldliness (conformity to the world) arises when one's social and political ideology leads one away from a focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So which one of these ideologies leads us to compromise the uniqueness of the Gospel message? Which one takes our attention off Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? Which one leads to a down-playing of the Gospel of sin and salvation and makes personal faith superfluous?
My conviction is that, while there are dangers in both ideologies, liberalism hold the most potential for leading the Church to be conformed to this world. Utopianism and Pelagianism are the hidden presuppositions in much of so-called "progressive" Christianity and these presuppositions embody a false doctrine of human nature and are, therefore, dangerous.
While it is true that unthinking conservativism can lead to nationalism, violence and imperialism, it can only do so when it is perverted from its true nature. It seems to me, however, that liberal progressivism need not be perverted from its true nature in order to be dangerous.
Whatever the case may be in theory, the historical evidence of the past 200 years is very clear in indicating that liberal Christianity has in fact become conformed to the world as it has made common cause with progressive politics. There is no logical reason why cultural liberalism (ie. promiscuity, divorce, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality etc.) need accompany economic liberalism (ie. the welfare state, equality of opportunity, etc.), but the fact is that it does. The Democratic Party in the US and the NDP in Canada promote cultural liberalism every bit as much as economic liberalism. Theory aside, this is how it has worked out.
But to say this is not yet to settle the matter, for the real issue is which kind of alignment with the world leads to the silencing of the Gospel. And here the evidence is in and it is unambiguous. The liberal Protestant denominations (eg. the United Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church) no longer preach the Gospel that all Protestants preached at the time of the Reformation. On the other hand, the Southern Baptists and other conservative denominations do. So worldly politics aside, the fact is that only conservative branches of Christianity still preach the message of sin and salvation that Peter, Paul and the other apostles took to the Greco-Roman world and the Reformers emphasized. This, then, is the definitive answer to the question of who is conformed to the world. The liberal churches are conformed to the world, in disobedience to the Scriptural command, because, and to the extent that, they no longer preach the Gospel.
Forget sex and economics for a moment. The Gospel is far more important. With the Gospel issues of ethics and lifestyle can eventually be sorted out. Without the Gospel no such issues matter because the Church has no message for the world that the world does not already know and the Church has been conformed to the world.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Bishop N. T. Wright, a strong supporter of Williams, the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant, has spoken out clearly in an article in the Times of London stating that the Americans know this will end in schism and (presumeably) don't care. He writes:
"Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart."
These are strong words and they have apparently struck fear into the revisionists' hearts. Especially worrying to the TEC leadership was the strong hint that the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury might very well now recognize the newly formed Anglican Church in North America. If that were to happen, then the exodus from TEC would likely become a flood as it would now be clear that one need not remain in TEC in order to be in communion with Canterbury and the wider Anglican Communion. That would leave the Revisionist leadership free to expand its own "mini world-wide Liberal Anglican Communion and its pseudo-Gospel of Western individualism in fancy clothes, but that is already the case now. Instead of conquoring the world, a more likely possibility would be the slow death of TEC - perhaps staved off only by a merger with the Lutherans, Church of Christ and possibly the Unitarians.
The Presiding Bishop and other TEC leaders have now written two letters in two days to the Archbishop of Canterbury "explaining" that the votes didn't really mean that they were abandoning commuion and walking apart. But the Anglican Communion Institute website contains insicisive articles analysing these letters, setting them in their historical context and coming to the conclusion that TEC has chosen to walk apart and cannot fudge the reality of what they have done. Schism is here. I quote:
"We deeply regret yesterday’s decision by the House of Bishops to repudiate the Anglican Communion’s moratorium on the consecration of bishops living in homosexual relationships."
The article goes on to quote the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the close of the recent Anglican Consultative Council:
"Speaking at the close of the Council’s meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury anticipated yesterday’s action and spoke directly to The Episcopal Church on its place in the Anglican Covenant when he said “Action to negate that resolution [the moratorium] would instantly suggest to many people in the communion that The Episcopal Church would prefer not to go down the route of closer structural bonds and that particular kind of mutual responsibility.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury flew all the way to California at the start of the TEC General Convention to reiterate this warning publicly and clearly. It was ignored.
Noting that TEC is already out of communion with the majority of world Anglicans, the Anglican Communion Institute calls, as Wright does, for a way to be found to allow orthodoxy dioceses and parishes in TEC to remain in communion with the wider Communion. The presupposition of this statement by both Wright and the ACI is that TEC will not be in communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion after its schismatic acts in Anaheim. But until Rowan Williams confirms this fact with clarity, it is still possible that the rug will be pulled out from under his loyal, Evangelical followers.
What will Rowan Williams do? Will he announce that he will support the recognition of ACNA and the orthodox dioceses and parishes in TEC? Will he fail to recognize ACNA and seek to find a way to recognize the orthodox in TEC? Will he declare Canterbury to be in a state of impaired or broken communion with TEC? Will he declare support for recognizing ACNA and his intention to work through the Covenant process to maintain communion with orthodox member of TEC? Only time will tell. We should pray for unity in the truth of the Gospel for Anglicans and all Christians worldwide.
Here is an excellent article by David Virtue addressing this question: "Rowan Among the Ruins: What Should the ABC Do Now?"
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
What is outreageous is that the Human Rights Tribunal claims jurisdiction to stick its nose into the Catholic Church and tell the bishop who the Church must allow to lead worship. This is an outrageous violation of the integrity and freedom of the Church from arbitrary interference by the State. If this case type of thing is allowed then we have the State basically running the Church and determining its doctrine and discipline. No State has the authority or competence to do this.
Where are all those people who said that the law on marriage had to be changed in Canada because of the "separation of Church and State?" They bitterly complained that the Christian view should not be enshrined in law because the Church should not control the State. So they weren't really against mixing Church and State, apparently, they just wanted the control to flow in the other direction. They apparently want a union of Church and State with the non-Christian majority dictating what the Christian minority is allowed to believe.
What a heavy-handed case of religious oppression! How the case is decided is irrelevant. The very fact that the HRT thinks it should have the right to determine how Catholics should worship is in itself offensive and wrong. The HRT's are a menace to religious freedom and an outpost of totalitarianism in a democratic society. They need to be abolished now.
You can agree or disagree with the Roman Catholic Church on its doctrine and ethics. You have the freedom to join that Church or leave it. But no one should have the right to enlist the heavy hand of the State - complete with fines and coercion - to force the Church to change its beliefs and practices to suit the currently fashionable opinion of the social majority. Let no one say that Christians are not being persecuted in Canada today.
But that may be beginning to change. In some conservative Evangelical circles (eg. Southern Baptist, Focus on the Family, etc.) questions are increasingly being raised about the negative impact of "the contraceptive mentality" on contemporary society. Mary Eberstadt published an excellent article on the prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae in First Things on the 40th anniversay of the publication of that encyclical. She notes that everything Pope Paul VI predicted has come true:
1) an increase in marital infidelity,
2) a general lowering of moral standards, especially among the young,
3) husbands viewing their wives as sex objects
4) governments forcing massive birth control programs on their people.
Within a year of Humanae Vitae's publication another Paul (Paul Ehrlich) published a book entitled The Population Bomb in which he predicted massive famine worldwide in the 70's due to the "population explosion." None of Ehrlich's predictions came true. Instead, worldwide programs of contraception and abortion have led us to the brink of demographic winter and economic disaster. One of these two Pauls was a false prophet. Read Deuteronomy 18:21-22 and tell me which one you think it was.
At Tyndale University College, the Evangelical liberal arts college where I teach a number of students have expressed great interest in the traditional view of marriage including contraception. Many are rebelling against the "Pill" for a number of reasons including health, ecological and moral reasons. Many are surprisingly open to NFP. I know of at least three young married couples at Tyndale who have started using NFP instead of artificial contraception and two or three more engaged couples who are seriously considering using it when they marry.
A good book on NFP from a Catholic perspective is The Art of Natural Family Planning by John and Shiela Kippley. Another book, from a non-religious perspective, is Taking Control of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Several Tyndale students are using the latter one.
One of the most intriguing things about NFP is the extremely low rate of divorce in couples using NFP consistently. For example, one study of 500 NFP using couples as compared to artificial contraception using couples found a divorce rate of 0.2% in the NFP using couples. It also found that NFP using couples had deeper levels of intimacy, better husband-wife communication, more frequent sexual activity (!), more happiness in their marriages and with life generally, attend church more often and have more conservative moral views in general.
Students have showed a high degree of interest in rethinking the theology of marriage and I'm offering a new course "Marriage in Theological Perspective" this Fall. I will be using two textbooks one conservative Evangelical by Andreas Kostenberger et. al. entitled: God Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation and one by Pope John Paul II entitled: Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. The secular view of human sexuality is all around us and Liberal Protestantism seeks to accomodate itself to this dehumanizing, degrading and ultimately destructive view of human beings. So in this course we will take a look at the alternatives.
Many students today are not happy with the understanding or practive of marriage handed down to them by the baby boomer generation that came of age in the 60's and now runs society. The legacy is the tripling of the divorce rate, the separation of sex from procreation, routine abortion as birth control, loneliness, high suicide rates, materialistic hedonism and depersonalized sex. They are ready to rebel against the revolution. The old sexual revolution is dying and a new revolution has begun. Conservative is the new radical. I have great hopes for a new generation and its search for love, fidelity, trust and virtue. We all should be praying for them.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
But if you take the time to watch it, one of the points that is made effectively is that the issue is not really sex; it it is Christology and Scripture. This got me thinking about how best to frame the real issue plaguing most liberal Protestant denominations today, a major symptom of which is sexual permissiveness. How is the sex issue a symptom of the theological drift?
If you look at the Apostles' Creed, you notice right away its Trinitarian character. Article one deals with God the Father, article two with God the Son and article three with God the Holy Spirit. It shocks me to think that the 90 + bishops of The Episcopal Church who voted for normalizing homosexuality recite the Creed every week. I find that difficult to imagine. Here is why.
Article One: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."
This article expresses the doctrine of God as Father and the doctrine of creation. We are not random accidents of impersonal forces. We are creatures of a wise and loving Father. We are designed by God, as Scripture teaches clearly, to be male and female. I don't care what your views are on six-day creation or progressive creation or theistic evolution. The point is that if you no longer believe that men and women were designed by God for marriage and procreation, then you have denied the first article of the Creed. The mechanics of how God created are utterly beside the point. All Christians agree that He did create. And Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5 are clearly unanimous in teaching that marriage is part of God's creational design.
Article Two: "And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell On the third day rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father almighty, thence he will come to judge the living and the dead;
This article is Christology. It teaches the virgin birth and death, descent into hell, resurrection, ascension and future second coming of Jesus Christ as historical facts (cf. the reference to Pilate). It teaches that Jesus now reigns as Lord. This is a basic thumbnail sketch of biblical and orthodoxy Christology as has been taught in the Church since the time of the first apostles. Jesus Christ is the God-Man who died for our sins and rose again trimphantly.
To believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord is to believe in the need for humanity to be rescued from sin by the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus did something for us that we could never have done for ourselves. Therefore the Gospel preached by the early Church from the Day of Pentecost on was "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins." (Acts 2:38)
The Episcopal Church, officially, no longer believes in preaching the biblical Gospel to homosexuals. But it is not really discrimination. Most of the clergy of that denomination, along with many other liberal Protestants of many denominations, no longer believe in the message of sin and salvation for anyone. They must think Peter just got it wrong on the Day of Pentecost and that the real message should be the social gospel or liberation theology. I think it is fair to say that the Millennium Development Goals define mission for The Episcopal Church. As the Presiding Bishop said in her opening address, the gospel of personal salvation is a heresy. From her vantage point it is, for she has moved beyond Christianity into a new liberal culture-religion.
Article Three: "I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . the forgiveness of sins, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Holy Spirit fills and empowers Christians for sanctification and discipleship. Christians know that homosexuals are not the only sinners; we are all sinners. All of us are lost apart from the incredibly generous grace and forgiveness of God offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The only one whose sin cannot be forgiven is the one who refuses to ask forgiveness, perhaps out of a conviction that he is not really a lost sinner in the first place. The Pelagianism of liberal Protestantism is the basis of a works righteousness that strives for a Christian life without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Since only the Spirit of God can help us overcome deepseated sins, to deny that such sins can be overcome is a denial of the Spirit.
To call homosexuality (along with other sexual sins like fornication, adultery, divorce except for adultery, etc.) good is to deny all three articles of the Creed. It is deny the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of Christ's saving work in dying for our sins and the need for the power of the Holy Spirit. The split in the Anglican Communion (and other Protestant denominations) is not over trivial matters or even over questions of ethics. It is over the Gospel itself.
Orthodoxy is more than a matter of reciting the creeds in worship; it is a matter of believing them and living according to the Holy Scriptures out of which they arise. Our prayers should be with those orthodox members, clergy and bishops of The Episcopal Church who continue to stand for the biblical Gospel.
Anyway, here is the editorial with my comments in [bold and square brackets] as usual.
"Just how much power should human rights commissions have? It's a question that's been directed at bodies at both the federal and provincial levels, and most recently at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
At the federal level, we have what amounts to two-tier policing of racism and hate speech in Canada -- one through the courts applying Criminal Code and the other through a human rights act. [No one is for racism or discrimination. The issue is how to address it in accordance with principles of natural justice.]
Critics say the Code is all that's needed. They contend that the CHRC, with a bar set far below criminal standards, often adjudicates trivial complaints and serves as a censor of ideas that are not intended to provoke hatred or violence, but to promote controversy and debate. As well, the commission has an almost never lost a case it's prosecuted. [These are just some of the ways the HRC's fail to uphold natural justice.]
Jennifer Lynch, chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, counters that the Code and act "serve useful purposes in protecting Canadians from discrimination in today's society."
Lynch's view of freedom on expression is that the "power of words and ideas) while overwhelming positive, can also be used to undermine democracy, freedom and equality." [If you are going to have government officials deciding when to harrass and fine people based on such gloriously vague criteria, it is conceivable that whole political parties and even newspapers could end up banned. This leaves far too much power in the hands of government censors. See further below.]
However, the problem is that the CHRC is essentially the investigator, prosecutor and judge of complaints of racism and hate speech. The burden of proof under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is also subject to interpretation. It says it's an offence to communicate anything "likely to expose a person ... to hatred or contempt." [All that is needed to get you convicted is that the HRC decides that what you said is "likely" in their opinion to expose a person (any person anywhere - no one in particular) to contempt. Can no one show contempt for anyone anymore? Not even for Wall St. bankers? Not even for George Bush? Or is this vague criteria just a way of putting totalitarian power in government hands?]
Ezra Levant, who was the subject of an unsuccessful complaint before the Alberta after he published controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, says CHRC's standards make it an advocate of censorship. [This is the Orwellian part - usually freedom from censorship is itself considered to be a human right, not the way to ensure human rights!]
"The word 'likely' is amazing. The CHRC doesn't have to prove you've actually done anything, just that you might in the future," says Levant. "And all they have to prove is that you said something that might cause one person to have hard feelings about another." [So, basically, they can harass anyone they want.]
The Criminal Code, meanwhile, has clear sanctions to deal with true hate speech -- which must clearly encourage or incite hatred and violence. This is far different than making individuals account for expressions of thought that are controversial, offensive or deemed to be politically incorrect. [Completely different.]
Last year, an independent report by the University of Windsor's Richard Moon said the Canadian Human Rights Commission should be stripped of its power to investigate online hate messages. That job, says the free speech expert, is best left to police, prosecutors and Internet service providers. [The Canadian HRC paid for this report, didn't get the outcome it wanted and so buried the report.]
"Censorship of hate speech should be limited to speech that explicitly or implicitly threatens, justifies or advocates violence against the members of an identifiable group," Moon said, having concluded that the commission's current mandate to probe Internet postings "likely to expose" complainants to hate was just too broad. The commission didn't agree with Moon's recommendation. [Why not? Unless they are not really committed to human rights.]
In Ontario, new Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is calling for the scrapping of the province's Human Rights Tribunal, which hears complaints similar to the federal CHRC. Hudak also feels the courts are the right place to deal with human rights issues. [Hudak gets my vote in the next election on this issue alone. It is about time. And the Liberals better get onside on this one or they will regret it.]
We agree and, at least Ontario, there is going to be a debate. It's one that should also be going on in Ottawa." [Now if only Ontario's other "Star" could see the light - the Toronto Star. Fat chance of that, I'm afraid. But if the Toronto Star wants to be against human rights in the name of political correctness and statism, well that is its choice. One gets the sense that this issue in not going away.]
Saturday, July 18, 2009
"Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”".
He is obviously frusterated by the obstinance of the Americans after all the meetings, all the drafting of reports, all the dialogue and all the efforts expended by so many in good faith to hold the fractured Communion together. He would certainly be justified in feeling as if a dirty dish cloth had been flung in his face by Jefforts Schori and the extremist liberals who now run The Episcopal Church. I especially liked the way he dismissed the lame arguments put forward by the revisionists showing them the contempt they deserve from reasonable people:
"That wider tradition always was counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive. Our supposedly selfish genes crave a variety of sexual possibilities. But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse. This is not (as is frequently suggested) an arbitrary rule, dualistic in overtone and killjoy in intention. It is a deep structural reflection of the belief in a creator God who has entered into covenant both with his creation and with his people (who carry forward his purposes for that creation).
Paganism ancient and modern has always found this ethic, and this belief, ridiculous and incredible. But the biblical witness is scarcely confined, as the shrill leader in yesterday’s Times suggests, to a few verses in St Paul. Jesus’s own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behaviour outside heterosexual monogamy. This isn’t a matter of “private response to Scripture” but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition."
I don't think it is accidental or just excessive rhetoric to refer to "paganism" in this context. The Episcopal Church has not just embraced a liberal Christian position, but has admitted pagan sexuality into the Church. The religion of the Canaanites that Israel was to exterminate, but which infected the people of God in the Old Testament, is now being welcomed into The Episcopal Church by vote of the bishops.
The "new morality" is nothing new. What is new and revolutionary in history is the Judeo-Christian sexual morality that ties sex to marriage and child-rearing. It is this ethic that has made Western civilization possible and which now is being tossed out by the late modern West in its decadent phase.
Finally, Wright does not fail to get at the heart of the matter by tying the permissive attitude to various sexual perversions and sins to the Gospel itself when he writes:
"We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to “homosexual clergy” and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may “love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise”. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel."
At the end of the day, the Gospel is a call to repentence, faith, forgiveness and sanctification. It is the good news that sinners can change. It is the counter-cultural faith that we, as creatures made in God's image and endowed with reason and the ability to make moral choices may, with the aid of Divine grace, face up to our sins and not simply sink under the waves of immorality. No one is perfect and there are many kinds of sins, not just sexual ones. But the good news is that Christ died for our sins and the Spirit's power is available to all of us in our great need. There is hope in Christ for all sinners - even the currently fashionable ones.
All orthodox Christians the world over owe Bishop Wright a vote of thanks for acting like a true bishop and telling the truth. Most of all, we commend him for preaching the Gospel even when the truth is unpopular.
David Virtue of Virtue Online, that idefatigable chronicler of all things Episcopalian, called her statement "dead wrong." He writes:
"Her ridiculing of personal salvation in favor of social amelioration through Millennium Development Goals is little more than a rehash of the Social Gospel of the Sixties that has seen a massive hemorrhaging of mainline denominations in America.
Jefferts Schori is on the wrong side of history. Her, and the church's understanding of mission - to save the world for God - is arrogance and hubris. No one human being, organization or ministry has that capacity. God alone has the power to save the world. Jesus himself admitted that the poor would always be with us.We are called to be obedient to The Great Commission, "to go into all the world and preach the gospel" of God's grace, inviting people into his kingdom based on the very (and personal) call to repentance."
Al Mohler admits that in certain contexts her words could be interpreted in a positive sense:
"Interestingly, the bishop's comments could, in other contexts, have been directed at a legitimate concern more commonly known among evangelicals. A good number of American evangelicals press a simple formula often known as the "sinner's prayer" as an instrument of demonstrating conversion. The use of such a formula can be a way of reinforcing a convert's understanding of the Gospel and of assisting a convert to articulate the Gospel in a way that makes sense and expresses the new convert's faith.
On the other hand, the sinner's prayer can be used in a mechanistic and manipulative way in order to insinuate --- if not outright to declare -- that the repeating of these words in itself constitutes the experience of salvation. Had the Presiding Bishop been concerned about evangelistic excesses and confusions in her church, her concern might have been both timely and legitimate. Regrettably, this bishop has made clear that her concern is something altogether different."
It seems to me that Mohler is right to be skeptical that her words were directed at "evangelistic excesses" in the Episcopal Church. "Evangelistic excesses" may be a fault to be discerned in say the independent, fundamental, Bible church movement or even the Southern Baptist Convention, but it is rather far-fetched to imagine that it is a big problem for Episcopalians! Mohler goes on to write:
"Indeed, her assertion of heresy was directed to the very idea of individual conversion to faith in Christ -- the faith that has always and everywhere defined authentic Christianity. In her address, she made her views clear: "I said that this crisis has several elements related to that heretical and individualistic understanding. We’ve touched on one – how we keep this earth, meant to be a gift to all God’s creatures. The financial condition of the nations right now is another element. The sins of a few have wreaked havoc with the lives of many, as greed and dishonesty have destroyed livelihoods, educational possibilities, care for the aged, and multiple forms of creativity – and that’s just the aftermath of Ponzi schemes for which a handful will go to jail."
Don't miss this -- the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church openly lamented a focus on evangelization that would seek conversions for such a focus would divert the attention of her church from ecological, economic, and other political imperatives. This was the main thrust of her address, with this central theme indicative of her larger episcopal agenda."
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, took a slightly more irenic line in an article for Christianity Today online but it is important to see that he understood Jefferts Schori's words in exactly the same way as Virtue and Mohler did. Under the heading of "The Heresy of Individualism?" he begins:
"In her opening address to the Episcopal Church's recent General Convention, the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the church's presiding bishop, made a special point of denouncing what she labeled "the great Western heresy"—the teaching, in her words, "that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God." This "individualist focus," she declared, "is a form of idolatry."
There is good news and bad news here. The good news is that the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop is not afraid to denounce heresy. The bad news is that we evangelicals turn out to be the heretics she is denouncing."
Mouw is willing to meet Jefferts Schori half-way and admits that individual salvation is not enough:
"We never say that an individual's very personal relationship to God is not important. What we do say is that individual salvation is not enough."
But he ends by saying:
"Call that "individualism" if you want. But for us not only is it not heresy, it is at the heart of what it means to affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Friday, July 17, 2009
"The following are offered as statement of undeniable fact. [I love a theologian who occasionally passes on the overly common false modesty evident in the guild today in order actually to assert the truth with conviction!]
1. The Church has always taught and known from Scripture that Christ's offering of himself was the kippor (atonement) typified by the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, as foretold most clearly in the Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), and by his title Lamb of God. [In the comments, Hart responds to a critic by saying that he ought to have used the term "propitiation" and did not mean to imply that he did not hold it by not using the term here. So, yes, Hart means what he writes here seriously.]
2. The Church has always taught and known from Scripture that Christ's offering of himself was forensic, because God's Law is perfect justice. Therefore, our salvation required a sacrificial victim (as it proved to be, the self-offering from love). [Justice and love are rightly held together here.]
3. The Church has always taught and known from Scripture that Christ's offering of himself was a ransom to free those held hostage to sin and death.
4. The Church has always taught and known from Scripture that Christ's offering of himself was the victory, as Christus Victor; and that it is one act with his resurrection.
In modern times, theological writers have set points 1 and 2 against points 3 and 4. [This is an unfortunate move, but a common one. It is an attempt in most cases to explain salvation without explicitly affirming our moral guilt due to sin, which is highly offensive to late modern Western man.] In this scenario points 1 and 2 are attributed to St. Anselm and considered to be uniquely western, whereas points 3 and 4 are considered to be uniquely eastern. [This east versus west thing has gotten entirely out of hand and Hart is going to counter it effectively.] Furthermore, in this modern scenario that reinvents history, Anselm is believed to have written that God was infuriated with us until Jesus pacified the Father's rage. In even worse misrepresentations of Anselm, God is said to have taken pleasure, in the modern sense of the word, from his Son's crucifixion. Of course, these last two ideas are expressed with most certain conviction by those who, apparently, do not know Anselm from Popeye the Sailor Man. [Well said! There is altogether too much equivocating on this point even by those who do or ought to know better.] His writing very clearly sets forth the Atonement as the will of the whole Trinity (for God had one will), and therefore Christ's self-offering as the manifestation of the love of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost (as St. Paul taught, Rom.5:8). The images of God the Father as a raging tyrant pacified or pleased (in the modern sense of the word) by his Son's agonies, has never been western theology at all, and was never taught by Anselm. [Right; it is about time someone defended the Western theological tradition, especially St. Anselm, against the calumnies being hurled against it even in publications by Evangelical publishing companies.] Use of Biblical language that is metaphorical, such as "wrath," does not change this fact.
Having read the Bible over and over since I was 14 (and I am now, in 2009, 51), and having studied for well over three decades the teaching of the Church, east and west from Antiquity forward, it is obvious to me that all four points are true, and that the people who insist that we must choose between either 1 and 2 or 3 and 4, suffer from deficiency of logic or from blind spots in their knowledge of the Bible. [I would only add that the blind spots in some cases appear self-induced as part of a campaign to discredit the whole Christian doctrine of the atonement in stages. Normally, one ought to adhere to the rule "Never attribute to malice aforethought what can more simply be explained by stupidity" (a form of Occam's Razor usually applied to university administration). However, in some cases, heretics sieze on #1 and #2 and appear outraged by them in order to sink the whole ship. Never trust anyone who denies #1 to faithful to #4 for long.]
Fr. Hart is to be commended for a fine article. I have only quoted part of it and you can read the rest here.
In the editorial to the most recent issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology, he describes what he called in his book Holiness, "holy reason." This quote is well worth meditating on and pondering:
"Reason is a grace; by the redeeming work of the divine Word, made real in the Spirit's power, reason is made new, brought back from ruin and alienation and restored to its vocation of knowing God in his self-communication. Reason's 'seeing' - the sphere of its operations - is the divine economy, and in this economy, reason is formed and brought to life and activity, so that it becomes an instrument of fellowship with God. Through reason creatures apprehend God and are enabled to fulfill their calling to intelligent adoration of the creator and all his works. Yet in the wake of the Fall, the condition for this is the humbling of reason: the setting aside of reason's pretence to be the author of knowledge or the adjudicator of what may or may not be said. Reason must be redeemed and sanctified, and only then may it judge and direct. But it is indeed redeemed and sanctified: mistrust of reason (as, for example, merely an exercise of power) is as ruinous as trust in its omnicompetence. And Christian theology is an instance of this redeemed intellectual judgement."
Thursday, July 16, 2009
"Sisters and brothers, we live in a strange time in relation to the E-Word. For many of us, the word evangelism evokes ugly and morally tainted associations with colonialism, religious supremacy, and shabby televangelism. As a result, many Episcopalians would say that evangelism may be Southern Baptist or Pentecostal, but it's not Episcopalian, thank you very much. May I humbly propose that the time for this reactionary prejudice against evangelism is over? May I further propose that from this day forward, we see E-piscopal and E-vangelistic as a holy union joined together by God, and what God has joined together, no one should put asunder. Amen?
Think of it this way: If only fundamentalists evangelize in America, what predictions can you make about the future of the American religious landscape? If Christian moderates and progressives seldom if ever share their faith with love and enthusiasm, what will their future be? [The natural sense of this paragraph in light of the previous one is that Southern Baptists and Pentecostals are "Fundamentalists." This is playing to the gallery and unfair.]
To rediscover the good and true essence of evangelism, we need to rediscover evangelism in a more biblical light.And we can start with today's reading from 2 Corinthians. There we see evangelism as our call to demonstrate and proclaim a new creation in Christ. We see our call to live and invite others into a new way of life. We see evangelism as recruiting early adopters to be part of a radical new beginning for the human race - which Paul calls the new creation in Christ.
This world and its empires are living by an old script, Paul would say. Politics of domination and exploitation, economies of consumption, sociologies of exclusion and prejudice, and psychologies of shame and self-justification all flow from the old destructive narrative that is passing away. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ mean for Paul, among many other things, that it is time for a new politics of service and the common good, for new economies of sustainability and regeneration, for new sociologies of reconciliation and love, and for new psychologies rooted in grace and faith [So here he explains what he understands to be the meaning of the cross. No mention of sin or repentence or faith or justification. The only meaning is a social justice meaning and "new psychologies rooted in grace and faith" whatever that is supposed to mean.] . . . in short, in Christ, all things are made new, and evangelism means recruiting and training people to defect from the old order and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the new way. [Essentially people "see the light" and roll up their sleeves to save themselves by saving the world. This is entirely Pelagian. Apparently there is no need for repentance from sin, forgiveness and grace. The cross is an inspirational story, not an event of cosmic salvation.] The E-word for Paul, then, is the R-word: reconciliation. We are God's reconciling co-workers; we are God's reconciling co-conspirators; we seek to demonstrate what it looks like to be spiritually and socially reconciled individuals and communities in the Spirit of the risen Christ.
This ministry of reconciliation gives us a vibrant new identity, according to Paul. We are not merely religious insiders huddled in our stained glass ghettoes, nor are we religious outsiders living without reference to the living God, but instead we are God's peace ambassadors, insiders who intentionally move outside to invite - actually, please is Paul's word - to plead with others to be reconciled to God. So we plead with them to rethink everything [rethink - that's it?] and follow the way of Jesus. [We can do this?] We plead with them based on the good news that in Christ, God is offering amnesty for all offenders, whatever they've done, whoever they've been. We plead with people to stop being part of the problem, and to join God in Christ as agents of the solution, so God's will can indeed be done on earth as it is in heaven. ["We plead with people to stop being part of the problem." Does works righteousness get any more banal than this?]
If we go to our reading in John seeking a more biblical understanding of the E-word, we see none of the ugly things that typically scare well-bred Episcopalians. [Unlike the great unwashed of other denominations, one presumes - can we say shameless pandering?] away from evangelism. Instead, we see intelligent and earnest people engaging with Jesus in mutually respectful conversation, and at the center of the conversation, we see Jesus ask a simple, powerful question: what are you seeking? In this way, evangelism first means inciting redemptive conversations, asking good questions, helping people think about what they're really seeking in life . . . and then it means inviting people to come and see . . . to come and experience . . . to join us on a journey of faith and mission and see what unfolds.
I'm sure agree that these are good things, beautiful things, needed things. I think that Episcopalians could get downright excited about evangelism if it were defined like this. [Instead of being defined in those old-fashioned ways that talk about sin and repentence] And frankly, I believe Episcopalians will get excited about evangelism again. [Oh yeah, its bound to happen any minute now in a denomination losing 1,000 members per week.] I think it's time. I think it's happening already. But dear brothers and sisters, three obstacles or distractions must be overcome for that to happen.
The first and most obvious is institutional conflict. I believe your community has been doing a difficult but needed service for the whole church and the whole world by wading into turbulent waters in recent years. [This is as clear an endorsement of the heretical and divisive decisions to endorse homosexual behaviour in Christian leaders as one could imagine. What else could he be talking about in this context? He is commending them for schism!] But there is more at stake than the immediate outcome in terms of policy. What good would it be for your side - whatever that is - to win the debate if in the process you lost your balance and lost your identity as God's evangelistic agents of reconciliation? [Is McLaren so dense that he actually believes that TEC is an agent of reconciliation? With a Presiding Bishop who calls individual salvation a heresy? With a social gospel that focuses on politics and economics and not on personal salvation? What does the word "reconciliation" mean here?] Your challenge, it seems to me, is to faithfully work through this season of conflict without letting it form or deform your identity. Your challenge, it seems to me, is to reaffirm at this very moment of institutional conflict your deeper incarnational identity as ministers of reconciliation.
That brings us to the second potential obstacle or distraction, which I would identify as institutional identity. People like you in these times of institutional conflict and stress could easily be tempted to lodge your identity in the saving of a beloved institution. But here we encounter, I believe, a great spiritual paradox. To recall Jesus' words, what if those who try to save their institutions will lose them? What if the best way to save an institution is to focus on saving something else, something bigger? What if the point isn't saving the institution but rather leveraging the institution in the saving of . . . the world, the world God so loves, according to John 3:16? In your simultaneous commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and to true and deep evangelism, [OK, they at least claim to be commited to the MDG but where in this Convention do you see any committment to evangelism? Where - unless evangelism is redefined as social work.] you are in the process of choosing this outward, missional [the word "missional" has now been hijacked - it is an empty word] focus . . . leveraging your institution for God's mission in today's world. So much depends on this.
That means that we can't afford to have a single one of you, as leaders in the church, to see yourselves as institutional maintenance people alone. From oldest to youngest, from the most seasoned bishop to the most newly baptized disciple, you must see yourselves as leveraging the institution for the mission of making disciples, and not vice versa. Do you see the difference? If you seek to do evangelism for the sake of the institution, I think you will lose ground and experience frustration. But if you align and retool the institution for the grand biblical mission of making authentic, fully-formed disciples of Jesus Christ for the good of the world, I think you will find God's empowerment and blessing at every turn.
Which brings us to the third obstacle which all denominations face, not just Episcopalians: along with institutional conflict and institutional identity, we must grapple with institutional rigidity. From my outsider's perspective, your most urgent issue of institutional rigidity related to the complex ways candidates are accepted and trained into ordained ministry. To put it bluntly: for all your system does well, it is perfectly designed to scare away from Episcopal leadership almost everyone with the spiritual gift of evangelism. And I have to make a confession: I am one of those people who was scared away about twenty years ago. I was deeply drawn both to evangelism and to the Anglican tradition while I was in graduate school in my twenties. But as I approached my discernment retreat with the bishop, I increasingly felt that a call to Episcopal ministry was at odds with my primary calling to evangelism. I hope that you will make it possible for people like me not have to choose one over the other in the future. May it be said to all people who are gifted and called in evangelism that the Episcopal church welcomes you. Amen?
The good news is that this would be a relatively simple thing to change . . . and the Episcopal structure itself, I believe, has remarkable inherent powers of self-renewal. And that's why, I believe, this moment of Episcopal crisis is also a moment of Episcopal opportunity. Perhaps, in the ways of the Spirit, the crisis and opportunity always go together. In that Spirit, let us pray:
My Summary: This is a sad and abysmal sermon that is simply not Evangelical. No one should be in doubt now about where Brian McLaren stands theologically. He stands with The Episcopal Church - the most radical left wing denomination in America just barely to the right of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. You don't need the Jesus of Nicaea and Chalcedon to fund the vision of evangelism as social work proferred here. Whether McLaren still believes in the deity of Christ or not, he doesn't need to in order to preach this kind of sermon. He can talk the lingo, but the theological content has been evacuated. It is really too bad. He is a nice man; but his theology simply does not measure up to Scripture and Tradition.
One of the comments near the end tried to summarize what Halden's problem is with my post and said the following.
"Clearly Halden is concerned, at least on some key level, with the politics effected (or perhaps at the heart of) a certain discursive strategy: whereby an opposition to modernity functions to present Christendom (as what is prior to modernity) and modernity as the only two games in town.”
Halden then quoted this statement and said: "Thanks, Dan. This is quite well put."
So we have a starting point for discussion here. Halden's problem is that he thinks that by calling Modernity a Christian heresy, I am setting up a choice between Chrisendom and Modernity: Choose One! This is so far off from what I was intending to say that it means that clearly there has been a breakdown in communication. Halden and I are not using words to meant the same things. We may well disagree dramatically about Jesus and the Gospel, (or maybe agree), but it would take a lot of terminological clarification to be sure one way or the other.
Christendom - Halden uses this word pejoratively exclusively. He apparently thinks there should never have been a Christendom. The fact that Christendom arose at all is proof positive that the Church had fallen into compromise and true discipleship had been overshadowed by worldliness. I would now use "Christendom" in a more neutral way that I did in my book, Rethinking Christ and Culture, to mean the geographical location where most people are Christian. Christendom need not necessarily imply Constantinianism. (Se below.)
Constantinianism - Halden does not use this word. He does not need to because it for him appears to be synonomous with Christendom. I disagree. I understand "Constantinianism" to be an eschatological heresy first identified by Yoder. (See my: The Politics of the Cross, ch. 6.) Constantinianism is the false doctrine that Christ's future kingdom can be brought into existence here and now by human effort and does not need to await the Second Coming. This heresy allows the Church to over-identify itself with a particular human government or ideology and sanctify it. This leads to utopianism, totalitarianism and ecclesial compromise with violence. I would not say that Christendom necessarily needs to be Constantinian, although it is a constant temptation.
Orthodoxy - I never mentioned either Constantinianism or Christendom in my post, but Halden seems to hear "Christendom" when I say "Orthodoxy." This is deeply concerning to me. Tolstoy took this approach to the limit when he says that one must choose between the Nicene Creed and the Sermon on the Mount: one have one or the other but not both. Is that true? Or is it exactly the opposite of the truth? I contend that one can never have the Sermon on the Mount without the Nicene Creed. One can have a bland form of liberal tolerance, yes, but not the radical discipleship of the Sermon on the Mount without orthodoxy. (If Jesus was just a man and he said what Matt. 5-7 says he said - then he was insane.)
I would not deny that the concept of orthodoxy was misused in Christendom as a tool of oppression. The Church should have stuck to excommunication and not become complicit in killing heretics. There should have been religious freedom. But the abuse does not negate the proper use (Aquinas). Orthodox doctrine is still essential to the Church, its abuse in Christiandom notwithstanding. Christians too are sinners and will abuse everything holy: sacraments, church office, canon law, tithes, music - you name it! We cannot drop everything that has been abused or there would be no Christianity left.
Heresy - I used the term "heresy" in its precise, technical, theological sense. A heresy is a twisting of a true doctrine either by over-emphasizing one aspect of the truth at the expense of other aspects or by over rationalizing the mystery. Contrary to Halden's concerns, "heresy" can never be completely "the other." On the other hand, he goes too far in implying (without actually saying so) that true doctrine "generates" heresy. No: sinners generate heresy, not by faithfully handing on true doctrine (orthodoxy), but by twisting and distorting it.
So Orthodoxy can be used under the guidence of the Holy Spirit to discern truth from error, to correct false teaching and to guard the purity of the Gospel the Church is charged to preach. Orthodoxy can be radical! It can take us back to the roots of our faith. Orthodoxy can condemn deviations from tradition that distort the biblical narrative centering on Jesus Christ.
Of course nominalism arose out of the Medieval Church and of course many orthodox ideas were in the mix of concepts used by Occam and others. It didn't drop out of the sky. It wasn't imported from India. But heresy is always a twisting of truth. Strictly speaking, that which is completely "other" (such as Hinduism or pre-Christian paganism) can never be heretical. Only a Christian doctrine twisted or over-rationalized can be heresy. And that is what the nominalist view of God turned out to be. As one commentator noted, nominalism is not itself a heresy (which is not to say it could not be wrong) but applied to certain doctrines (God and man in this case) it can lead to heresy. And it did.
Halden is too quick to reduce everthing to politics when he says that Orthodoxy conjurs up images of coercive, violent Christendom for him. This is as reductionistic as what he opposes.
One last point: Halden tries to play off "Jesus" against "Orthodoxy" in his post and is rightly criticized for it by Harink and Long. I don't mean to pile on, but there is perhaps one more point to be mentioned here. The question that is begged in using "Jesus" to critique Christendom or Orthodoxy or whatever is "Which Jesus?" There are many concepts of Jesus floating around out there. Which Jesus is the basis for critique? I'm reading Harnak's History of Dogma right now. If Halden does not mean Harnack's Jesus, then what terminology (other than the terminology of the creeds, i.e. orthodoxy) can Halden turn to in order to clarify what he means by "Jesus?" Surely Harink is correct to say that my call "Back to Orthodoxy" in the end is the same as Halden's call "Back to Jesus." But if so, then why cannot Halden admit that Orthodoxy may function as a way of critiquing Christian unfaithfulness today?
I did not have the pure pagan or total non-Christian in my sights, but rather liberal Christianity as in The Episcopal Church. Now they are heretics and also as Constantinian as they come. They are so intertwined with the dominant culture of Modernity that they cannot even conceive of the Church standing against the destruction of marriage and the abandonment of the virtue of chastity. I would go further and say that their heresy even arises out of their Constantinianism because it is their desperate lust for "relevance" that drives their abandoment of communion with orthodox Christians.
However, I have been thinking about how Christians should think about contemporary politics for a while now and recently I noticed Halden Doerge worrying about Milbank's increasingly conservative position on sex, which some attribute to the influence of Pope Benedict XVI and others to growing up. Anyway, in the comment thread was a link to this Milbank essay "The Politics of Paradox" in Telos. In reading this essay I felt as though someone was reflecting back to me some of the thoughts I have recently written (some of which I have included in conference lectures that are to be published in a couple of upcoming books of essays).
It appears to me that Milbank is on a similar journey to the one I've been on for the past few years. I used to say that I was conservative in theology but liberal on social issues and I even got to the point of becoming slightly uncomfortable with the label "conservative." But over the past five years I have lost all confidence in anything leftwing at all and have come to view political and theological liberalism as two aspects of one reality. I have never been able to see that socialism and liberalism are really all that different from one another in their philosophical presuppositions, although many people view them as opposites. Socialism, insofar as it has anything to do with Marxist or other modern thinking, seems to me to be to share too many assusmptions with liberalism and can be subsumed under the heading "modernity" along with liberalism. (Pre-modern "socialism" seems to me to be a completely different animal and not usefully labelled "socialism" at all.) Contemporary Western democracies are moving toward an integration of the equality principle (Marxism) with the freedom principle (Liberalism) in a statist paradigm that I refer to as "soft totalitarianism."
Anyway, the only adequate label I have found to describe my political and theological stance is conservativism. The problem, of course, is that neo-conservativism,which is a form of classical liberalism, has been taken by many to be the only possible definition of conservativism. But I think this use of neo-conservative is a passing fad and will eventually be a footnote in history. Future historians will revert to more accurate terms like "capitalism" and "classical liberalism."
To be conservative is to be respectful of tradition, suspicious of all forms of utopianism, aware of the limits of politics, conscious of the effects of original sin and to know that ultimate hope for peace and justice lies beyond this world as it now is. Therefore, conservatism comports well with the Christian hope in the glorious second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Chirst, which will usher in the radical transformation of both us and the world that is necessary for the kingdom of God to come in its fullness. The Hebrew prophets, Jesus and Paul were all conservatives in this sense. The Bible as a whole and creedal orthodoxy are also conservative in this sense.
Below is an extract from Milbank's article. I will put my comments in [bold and brackets].
"As Phillip Blond has suggested, there are now three crucial global forces in the world: capitalist rationality, Islam, and Christianity. [I mostly agree, but I would say "liberal modernity" instead of "capitalist rationality" because pure capitalism is pretty well non-existent in the 21st century. Big business and big government now cooperate and inter-penetrate in the bureaucratic micro-management of so much of modern life that freedom has been reduced to consumer choice rather than true moral freedom. If capitalism were triumphant, big government would be practically non-existent.] And of the latter two, the global reach of Christianity is far more serious and far more likely to prevail in the long term. This means that the anomaly pointed out almost a century ago by Hilaire Belloc is likely to pose its cultural contradiction ever more strongly upon the world stage. This is the manifest gap between the teachings of Christianity which still undergird Western morality, on the one hand, and the theory and practice of capitalism, on the other. [Agreed with one priviso - that we understand that even democratic socialist countries (which after all are supposedly alternatives to capitalism!) also share in the rational administration of life that is the bane of modernity. Is Sweden or Spain really not fully immersed in modernity's individualism, hedonism and rationalistic disdain for tradition, family and the sanctity of life?]
I believe, along with Radical Orthodoxy in general, that only the Church has the theoretical and practical power to challenge the global hegemony of capital and to create a viable politico-economic alternative. [Amen] I stand thereby in a long tradition of Anglican and Catholic Christian socialism, which has always insisted on the necessity of the "Christian" component for the "Socialist" one. In that sense I have always stood proudly amongst those who see themselves as "conservative theologically, radical politically." [The debatable point here is whether "Christian" and "socialist" in the modern sense can ever be reconciled.]
But over the years I have become more aware of the potential for smugness and inertia in that perspective. [Me too.] One can gently challenge it in three ways. First, there is a dimension that I have already hinted at. Can Christians really, fundamentally, categorize themselves as either left or right? [This is to rephrase my question at the end of the paragraph above.] Surely, as André de Muralt has argued, both the ideas of "the rule of One," of the sovereign center, and of the "rule of the Many," of individuals either in contracted dispersion or collective unity, are equally "nominalist"—both genealogically and ontologically? For both deny primary real relation, the real universal that is "the common good" and the role of "the few," whether that of the guiding virtuous elite or of the mediating institutions of civil society. But "right" and "left" define themselves variously in terms of either "the One" or the "the Many," both nominalistically construed. [Now we get to the heart of the issue! This is what I have been meaning all along by referring to socialism as "modern."]
Today, of course, what we really have is two versions of a "left" celebration of the "Many" either as individuals or as a democratically voting mass. For reasons still not yet sufficiently accounted for by historians and social theorists, we have a "liberal right," stressing economic negative liberty, and a "liberal left," stressing cultural and sexual negative liberty. In reality, of course, the two liberalisms are triumphing both at once and in secretly collusive harmony. [Yes, this is what I meant above when disussing the convergence of the equality principle and the freedom principle in contemporary politics. Western welfare states are merging Marxism and Capitalism into Statism.] So perhaps what still sustains party conflict is alternating anxieties among the populace about the inevitable insecurities generated by now economic and now cultural "freedom" in different temporal phases.
It follows that the very division of left and right assumes a nominalist social ontology, which of course I would reject. And it is also critically important to remind oneself that this division only postdates the French Revolution. [Right - it is modern.] This has created a curious historical delusion from which almost no one is really free. For we suppose that the premodern is somehow allied with "the right," just as barbarous journalists frequently imagine that the divine right of kings was a medieval theory, when it was in reality an early modern one. But pre-nominalist modernity was neither left nor right, neither "progressivist" nor "reactionary"—it was simply "other" to most of our assumed sociopolitical categories. [Exactly; this is what I have been trying to say for a year or more now on this blog. The reason we have to go back behind modernity is to get something that is not contaminated with dead-end dualisms. The idea that pre-modernity (i.e. Medieval Europe) was "right wing" is ludicrous.]
There is a further point to be made here. When the French revolutionaries invented "left" and "right," they arguably took us back to paganism and indeed they often explicitly supposed that they were doing so. [I have not encountered many writers who have had the insight and courage to say this - but any I have encountered (Lasch, Belloc, Chesterton, Kreeft, Kirk, etc.) have all been conservatives.] For characteristically, the ancient Greeks lined up philosophies of the spirit and of "ideal forms" with aristocracy and philosophies of matter with democracy. It is as if they assumed that the latter was always a matter of lowest common denominator and not of highest common factor. But as I have already suggested, the Christian revolution cuts right across this categorization. Instead of siding with "the noble" over against "the base," or inversely "the base" over against "the noble," it paradoxically democratizes the noble: hence Paul addresses his interlocutors as "all kings." [This is the reason why Paul's letters contain the Haustafeln, rather than radical manifestos for slaves and women to revolt. Paul is so radical on relationships in Christ that he can be conservative about secondary issues like social organization.] Yet at the same time, if there is now a new possibility of the spread of virtue (virtue being redefined as the more generally possible attitudes of love and trust, immune to the instance of "moral luck" as usually understood), there is still a political place for the superior role of the more virtuous and of those appointed to be the "guardians" of virtue, the virtuosos of charisma." [This need for virtue as the prerequisite for true freedom is the reason for Pope John Paul II's great disappointment with much of the consumerism and debauchery that followed the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. They became like Western Europe to a great extent, which was not John Paul's goal.]
You can read the whole article here. It is not a clearly thought out manifesto, but rather a slow-moving groping toward the light. If Milbank keeps reading Benedict XVI and John Paul II, he is bound to end up a conservative and that would be a very interesting development!
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
They recently had a colloquium on the issue of the Birth Control Pill. Six of the contributors gave their perspectives and all were anti-pill. This is interesting. Here are some quotes, some longer than others. By all means read the whole thing.
"Ten years ago, I would have said if you are pro-life you ought to be in favour of preventing pregnancy. Today I am against the birth control Pill. Why?
A combination of factors. I read the book The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women by Barbara Seaman and other studies. I didn’t like what I learned regarding the history of the Pill, how it was developed and what the effects are on women.
I also consider that the Pill aids and abets our pro-abortion culture.
The Pill has created a world whereby sex and babies are entirely separate enterprises. They aren’t. A virgin birth? Very surprising. Pregnancies that follow sex—not very surprising. Planned parenthood (the idea, not the organization) is, in large part, a myth.
There’s nothing wrong with taking some measures to plan a family, and/or prevent pregnancy. But an entire culture that depends on a little Pill to be sure that sex never results in kids except exactly when you want it to? A culture courtesy of pharmaceutical companies, who always had their profits, not our best interests, in mind (read Seaman)."
I also harbour concern that the Pill functions as an abortifacient some of the time."
"Where I’m from (Modern Late 20th-Century Suburbia), good girls are the ones who are on the Pill. The other ones are irresponsible idiots or (worse) cloistered religious types.
It didn’t occur to me to question this proposition until well into my 20s. But once I did, it was impossible to look back, and it was (and still is) impossible not to feel angry and betrayed. For the Pill is not good. . . .
The worst is the idea that women ought to be on some form of “reliable” birth control so as to be available for sex at a moment’s notice. How is that empowering? No, there’s nothing wrong with sex; it’s just that sterile sex isn’t real sex. When they tell you good girls who want good sex ought to be on the Pill, they’re lying to you."
"Even for those women who eschew artifical birth control, the efficiency and ubiquity of the Pill bring consequences. Until its arrival fertility and children were irresistible forces of nature for virtually all women, and therefore for the culture. Today, fertility and children are mere options for self-actualization, commodites for which women may or may not make space in their lives. This is the culture today, whether or not you accept it."
"I’m deeply ambivalent about the birth control pill. My concerns fall into three general categories. First, the mechanism by which some pills act isn’t clear: do they prevent ovulation, or do they prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg? These are two very different things. . . .
Second, we know very little about the long term health effects of using the Pill, especially when taken for a protracted time. This should be of huge concern to feminists; and in fact they took on HRT for menopausal women by criticizing it as an attempt to make money off a natural part of women’s lives, by pharma companies who hadn’t done enough testing to demonstrate its safety. The same critique applies to hormonal contraceptives, but very few feminists are asking these questions. . . .
Finally, I dislike what the Pill has done to our culture. By creating a quite reliable barrier between sex and procreation, it helped to separate sex from marriage (or a committed loving relationship) and started us down the slippery slope to the hook-up culture. . . .
"I don’t like the birth control Pill. Not when I used it, and not when someone I love uses it. Mind you, I don’t dislike the Pill any more than the ring, the patch, the shot, or the IUD with that hormonal release action.
It – my disdain for the Pill – does have some to do with the nausea, headaches, breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, weight gain, sexual side effects and mood changes I and others have suffered at the hands of hormonal birth control. Not wild about blood pressure spikes and heart palpitations, either. And why is it that women with a history of breast cancer are discouraged against using the Pill? Then there’s the fact that many women using hormonal contraceptives get pregnant anyway. And when that happens to us, we tend to feel guilty, like we did it on purpose. How, I ask, is any of that at all empowering?
Véronique Bergeron de Grandpré
"My breaking point came when my third – and I thought last – baby was 6 months old: I read the fine print on my new Pill prescription. The nausea, the headaches, the spotting, the mood swings, the aneurysm hit me like a ton of brick. I looked at my husband and said: “Please tell me you don’t want me to take that shit. Please tell me it’s okay, we’ll learn natural family planning and welcome any unplanned pregnancy like they were meant to be. Please, I can’t do this to my body anymore.” We took the jump and never looked back."
In closing, let me just add this quote from the comment thread from "Husband." I think it is right on.
Permit me to provide one husband’s perspective.The pill demeans men. It permits us to indulge an appetite without any consequences at all, and that is demeaning.
Were I single and knowing that I could get what I want (sex), pretty much when I want (most days of the month except when she’s ….er… cranky), without having to fear what I don’t want (being tied to this chick indefinitely because of a kid) would be pretty darn hard to resist. I can gloss over the baseness of my pursuit by pretending to be sensitive along the way. (Sure, I’m fine with having the vegetarian thai instead of the beef…. Hell, I’ll even drink one of those damn coolers instead of a beer – just as long as I get sex later on). That sensitivity can then extend to other things – like co-habitating (I just think we should take the time to get to know one another….) or abortion (you know girl, I don’t want to interfere with your right to choose….) and man oh man am I scoring big time. Then, a few years later, when I get tired of her, I can toss her over (we just seemed to stop communicating….) without consequence, for another one, preferable a few years younger.
This is one hell of an arrangement. Except that it isn’t, because I am something of a Dorian Gray, apparently all good on the outside, pretty rotten within. If I’m married, it isn’t quite as bad, but almost, because I can continue to objectify her.
Sex with consequences is an extraordinary means to help men to continue to reflect on the inherent dignity of women. The act of reflecting helps us maintain our own dignity. The pill erodes that reflection, and demeans us as a consequence."
If you read the women's comments, you wonder how on earth the drug companies sell so many of these stupid little pills. But if you read "Husband's" response, I think the answer comes into focus. It is not empowering women, but irresponsible men.