Rowan Williams on theological education

Call me theologically naïve, or ignorant, or not well enough read, but I simply do not understand some of the criticisms directed at Rowan Williams. Archbishop Williams is a person of deep faith and prayer, of contagious love for Christ, for the Scriptures and tradition which bear witness to him, and for Christ’s church, and who for decade after decade has been among the church’s finest public theologians (and poets!), producing first-rate scholarship with exemplary integrity and gospel-spirited passion, and helping a new generation of Christians to find the words and posture to understand and bear witness to the deepest realties of their faith in a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Moreover, his literary and spoken output alone – books, radio interviews, lectures (his 2011 Holy Week Lectures on Lewis’ Narnia are outstanding), reviews, articles, etc. – not to mention his gracious and steady leadership of the Anglican communion, leads me often to wonder if there are not two equally-brilliant and identical twins that Mr & Mrs Williams named ‘Rowan’ sometime last century.

Put differently, I keep an eye open to read and digest everything he writes. And why not, when it is so edifying and educative, and models a way of doing theology so worthy of emulation, if not entirely uncritically so. But there’s one lecture that I’ve missed, until now – his CEFACS lecture, given some years ago at the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies in Birmingham. So thanks Jim for pointing me to it, not least because the lecture attends to a subject in which I have some serious investment, namely theological education.

In that lecture, Williams invites us to think about theological education by way of the analogy of a musical education: ‘Just as, in relation to musical education, I might be reasonably sure of being able to identify what a musically educated person is like. I would know what sort of skills to look for and listen for in that case. Now I want to suggest that a theologically educated person is somebody who has acquired the skill of reading the world, reading and interpreting the world, in the context and framework of Christian belief and Christian worship … That means that a theologically educated person is not someone who simply knows a great deal about the Bible or history of doctrine but somebody who is able to engage in some quite risky and innovative interpretation, and who is able, if I can put it this way, to recognise holy lives. Because I think that the skill that belongs to being a theologically educated person is a very significant part – the skill of knowing what an exemplary life looks like lived in the context of doctrine and worship’.

Then, drawing upon the work of Thomas Aquinas and the example of God’s revelation to Moses, Williams proceeds to argue that ‘theology is inevitably, consistently to do with human lives, not in any sense that excludes theology having to do with God – far from it: but in recognition of the fact that because God is not an object lying around for examination, God’s impact upon and the difference God makes to human lives is where we are bound to begin. The word of God, the self communication of God is always bound up with the actual and concrete transformation of human situations – corporate and individual … From the vantage point of Christian theology that should not surprise us at all. Christian theology begins from the series of events – events of transformation’.

And later on: ‘Theology begins when something in the human world and human lives has struck at such depth that we need language more than just the conventional language of human agency and historical forces. Theology arises then when the world looks new. One of the saddest things that can be said about theology is that it has become stale; that it no longer speaks of transformation. Because the impulse to do theology arises when the world looks different from what you thought it was. The New Testament is riveting, exasperating, exhausting, inexhaustible because it is the work in progress of the people whose world is in “in the business” of being reformed, reshaped’.

And here is the point – the challenge, if you like – for those engaged in theological education: ‘Theological education is bound … to be regularly a matter of looking at the patterns of human lives. Theology has a great deal to do with biography and with history – the Bible containing many examples of both. It is out of those narratives, out of those stories and transactions that the ideas emerge and I would venture to say that a bad theological education is one which never gets you from the ideas to the narratives; and a good theological education is one that pushes you inexorably from the narratives to the ideas’. One thinks here of James Wm. McClendon Jr’s fine book, Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can remake Today’s Theology, or of the work of Ray Anderson whose entire project is an outworking of the conviction that ministry precedes theology.

And that is why, Williams reminds us, contra Nietzsche, ‘theology is inevitably a component in the business of Christian discernment’, and good theology is concerned not to ‘set out to give you a map of another world but a set of instructions for this one’. And that is why, Williams notes, ‘theology is an uncomfortable partner in the academic enterprise … An uncomfortable partner in the enterprise because universities on the whole do not set themselves the task of educating people in the discernment of holiness. Why should they? And yet there is something in the level of critical questioning which theology ought to bring to the intellectual enterprise overall that is essential to intellectual health’.

These introductory points made, Williams then turns to some of the particularities of theological education in light of the definitions he has introduced. And here he wishes to speak about bible study, doctrine and church history.

Regarding the first of these, bible study, Williams is adamant that theological education ‘is designed to produce people who are really literate in the Bible’. Why? Because ‘the Bible is the primary record of the primary difference God makes. It begins, of course, by recording the greatest difference of all – the difference between things being there and things not being there and associates that with God. And in Christian scripture that primordial difference between being and non-being is latched on with an enormously ambitious theological pun at the beginning of St John’s Gospel latched on to the life of Jesus of Nazareth as the one who makes the difference between being and non-being within the world’s history. But the narrative of Hebrew scripture, what Christians call the Old Testament, evolves in a series of upheavals. The uprooting of Abraham from his native land, the release from slavery of the people of Israel, the betrayal and exile that follows the abandonment by God’s people of God’s justice, the restoration of the people around more liturgy. And within its contours we are not allowed at any point, I think, to come too quickly to a generalised version of what all this is about and who this God is. We have to watch the story in its process. We have to attend to and be involved in the drama of the narrative’.

Williams then encourages us to adopt a particular posture when we turn to Christian scripture:

‘Be patient, don’t assume the end of the story is come. God is a God who upturns the conventions and the ideas and the images we have and he does it centrally, focally, forever, in the life and death of Jesus. We watch them again as Christian scripture evolves, we watch people in that new landscape trying to find the words for it. To say that is not in the least to say that the Bible does not tell us the truth. The way the bible tells us the truth is by showing us how God’s reality, in its freedom and majesty, impresses itself upon human life. We read the impress, we read the impact, we begin to understand who it is that we are dealing with and that is as true of the New Testament as of the Old. Frequently as I read Paul’s epistles I read the impatient, inarticulacy of someone whose vision is bigger than his language and that is what makes Paul so intensely worth reading, so inspired, so much a vehicle of God’s spirit. Watching him struggle, sometimes very impatiently, with ideas that are getting away from him is precisely to be drawn into what Paul sees and what Paul knows – to meet Paul’s God. There is an extraordinary moment when Paul realises that he has dug himself in far more deeply than he originally intended to in an argument and suddenly breaks away saying “I don’t know where this is going but …” as he does, of course, so memorably at the end of his most agonised excursions – Romans 9–11. How am I going to bring all these ideas together, Paul asks at the end of 11 when he has been wrestling with the fate of Israel and he can say only, “O the depth and mystery of God”. And it is not a short cut because you have watched him getting there. I had a friend years ago who complained about the way in which theologians would revert to talking about mystery when things were getting difficult and it is a good discipline I think for any theologian to save the language of mystery, if you like, until the very last moment. That is to say to follow through argument, definition, refinement of terms as bravely and consistently as you can and not to give up too soon. Only when you have demonstrated that you are at the end of that story can you afford to say with Paul that you don’t know where to go but God does. Now that means, I think, that a person who is educated in reading the Bible is a person who, you can say theologically, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, has been brought into that relationship with the God of the Bible which allows them to recognise in the language of the Bible their own faith and their own narrative. And that is something rather different from quarrying the Bible for little bits that happily remind you of how you feel. That is not biblical theology. It may be a useful form of apologetical psychology but it is not particularly theological. But to find in that language, that narrative, that register of exploration, something of the faith that transforms your own life; that I think is to see what biblical understanding is … The Christian comes into the biblical world – a strange world, a world in which images and ideas and words are not always what you expect. But the education of the Christian in the biblical world is an education in the skills of analogy and connection … That means that being a biblically educated person is a great deal more than knowing the texts’.

Williams turns next to the matter of Christian doctrine, rejecting the kind of doctrine-as-finished-product approach so often associated with theological education, and proposing instead a notion of doctrine as ‘the process of finding the words for a new landscape which like any such process is going to be in many ways vulnerable and rather bumpy’. ‘We can’t tell all the truth’, he says, ‘we can tell the truth consistently, we hope intelligently and then once again … come to the point when we say that is as far as we can go but we have done the work’. A ‘doctrinally educated person therefore is … somebody who can see what sort of human anxieties, aspirations, tensions, prayer, love, sin and grace led people to think it mattered to talk about Jesus in this way, to talk about God in this way, to talk about the Sacraments of the Church in this way. It was not a word game. It wasn’t a way of passing the long winter evenings’. Williams cites Barth and Bonhoeffer as examples of what it looks like to do theology in this way, i.e., in a way that takes the contemporary location seriously, in a way that seeks to profess Christ in a new and different space.

Williams then comes to the matter of education in church history, a subject with he has written very helpfully on before (see, for example, his wonderful book Why Study The Past?: The Quest for the Historical Church), and a subject which, he observes, ‘has tended sometimes to be a little bit of a Cinderella subject in theological education’. He continues:

‘When it has been done people don’t always quite see why it is done, whether there is a theological reason for doing it. It becomes another bundle of anecdotes. Facts about the past which may or may not be interesting, probably not very. Stories about people far away, speaking foreign languages with strange names with very bizarre ideas. Now I don’t think that will do as an approach to Church History because one of the things that comes out of being a biblically educated and doctrinally educated person is some sense of what it means to belong to the body of Christ. That is to be part of a community which has no spatial or temporal boundaries but in which every participant has something to give and something to receive … Those odd people in the text books are actually our brothers and sisters in Christ, and frequently you would much prefer that they weren’t. Almost as much as you would prefer that some of your contemporaries weren’t! But these are people in whom Christ is given to you’.

He argues that the difficulty with teaching church history is that the subject frequently falls apart into two equally unhelpful poles: ‘There is the kind of Church History which looks at the past as answering the questions. That is the story, that is how we got here and it all ends happily because it ended with us. And there is the kind of Church History which says we have to be deeply conscious of the absolute cultural gulf that separates us from everybody before 1550 or 1700 or 1981 or whatever. Both of those are unhelpful simply as historical method but they are totally insupportable as theological method’. And so part of the challenge, he goes on to say, ‘is being able to cope both with the continuity and with the gulf. These are people deciding to be disciples of the same Lord that I try to follow. These are people speaking of that discipleship in categories that are so strange that it will take me a lot of patience to learn what they say and listen to it effectively. Yet both those elements are true and essential in the process’. Not only is the position that nothing important happened between the NT and now (or between the first and the fifteenth centuries) ‘intellectually shabby and indefensible’ but such a view is also ‘spiritually impoverished’, for whether we like it or not, God has graced us with ‘a very, very large number of companions on the journey. Each one of whom will have something distinctive to say however well I hear it, however easily I digest it’. And here Williams returns to the question of reading the Bible, noting that ‘an educated reader of the Bible is also somebody who knows how to read the Bible in company – in company with other Christians now, in company with Christians through the ages’, in the company of the Christian community ‘and to find education and discipleship in that process’.

Finally, Williams makes the point that as alarming, pre-modern and unattractive as it sounds, one indispensable, if not largely forgotten, theological virtue is obedience. Naming Barth as ‘the greatest theologian of obedience in the 20th century’, Williams defines obedience in theology as ‘that absolutely faithful attention to the otherness of what you are dealing with, that springs you from the trap of your own preoccupations and preferences. Somewhere in all of this business of theological education we have to come to terms with that sense of an otherness, an elsewhere – not another place, another realm, another world but that which is not simply on the map of our concerns, our security, our ideas. An obedient theology is one which seeks to be formed by what is there and a holy life is one which lets itself be impacted, be impressed by the will of God. For Karl Barth, that meant of course, that an obedient theologian was someone who was free to be the most dramatic possible nuisance in church and world. Obedience to the otherness of God, such a person would be obedient to no other constraints and no tyranny that could be concocted on the face of the earth’.

‘What obedience means for us’, he continues, ‘is a far tougher, far more complex matter to work out. And yet’, he says, ‘a theology that does not somehow tackle that issue of obedience somewhere along the line as part of the education we are talking about, will fail to be theology. And that is an obedience, of course, which challenges great deal of what we often mean by the term’. Williams then provides some examples of what he is talking about, examples which underscore his claim that obedience is far from what we often associate with terms like passivity or docility: ‘Whatever obedience means there, it does not mean docility. Obedience can mean again Paul throwing down his pen with exasperation and say “I don’t know what more to say; it is too big for me to speak of” – that’s obedience. It’s St Thomas Aquinas saying at the end of his life saying, ‘all I’ve written seems like so much straw compared with what has been shown to me’. It is Luther throwing his inkpot at the devil. It is Barth wonderfully, at the end of a deeply boring and conventional parish mission, designed to make everybody feel a great deal worse, decided as he tells us to preach a sermon on little angels with harps and sheets of music. Because he felt he had been listening for a week to a mission all about how ‘I’ ought to feel and not about how God was, therefore he wanted to turn the whole thing back to praise, and that’s obedience’.

Linking this back to the subject of theological education, Williams concludes by noting that obedience properly belongs in the very DNA of any theological education worthy of its subject, for such education is about ‘passionate intention to what is there, to the extent that I am changed by that attention, and set free by it from other pressures to conformity’. And he then offers some specific words to his own Anglican Communion, words which I venture to say are pertinent to the entire body of Christ: ‘We have a very long way to go in making our Anglican church a coherent, communal, obedient, renewed family of congregations. And yet we share the reality given in Christ by our baptism, the reality of Christ’s body. The theological education we need, I believe, in the Communion is something which will make that come alive for us, which will make us literate in reading scripture and doctrine and church history, which will deepen in us those skills of discernment that we need in respect of our own calling and the calling of others, which will set us free from being simply an ecclesiastical organisation preoccupied with policing itself in various ways which will perhaps make us a more effective servant of the world into which God calls us. The world in which God invites us to recognise him, respond to him, praise, be glad in him, a world which is on the way to becoming that new creation which is really the context, the locus of any theology worth the name’.

Rowan Williams: Fighting the good fight

A week or so ago, the Guardian published a delightful interview between David Hare and Rowan Williams in which they discuss politics, education, economics, localism, prisons, the church, faith, self-absorption, and Welsh poets.

The entire interview is worth reading, but here are a few snippets to whet appetites: When asked by Hare whether Williams is paying too high a price for keeping together people who believe different things about gender, priesthood and sexuality, Williams responds: ‘I’ve no sympathy for that view. I don’t want to see the church so balkanised that we talk only to people we like and agree with. Thirty years ago, little knowing what fate had in store, I wrote an article about the role of a bishop, saying a bishop is a person who has to make each side of a debate audible to the other. The words “irony” and “prescience” come to mind. And of course you attract the reproach that you lack the courage of leadership and so on. But to me it’s a question of what only the archbishop of Canterbury can do’.

And on Welsh poet(-priests):

‘I always get annoyed when people call RS Thomas a poet-priest. He’s a poet, dammit. And a very good one. The implication is that somehow a poet-priest can get away with things a real poet can’t, or a real priest can’t. I’m very huffy about that. But I do accept there’s something in the pastoral office that does express itself appropriately in poetry. And the curious kind of invitation to the most vulnerable places in people that is part of priesthood does come up somewhere in poetic terms. Herbert’s very important to me. Herbert’s the man. Partly because of the absolute candour when he says, I’m going to let rip, I’m feeling I can’t stand God, I’ve had more than enough of Him. OK, let it run, get it out there. And then, just as the vehicle is careering towards the cliff edge, there’s a squeal of brakes. “Methought I heard one calling Child!/And I replied My Lord.” I love that ending, because it means, “Sorry, yes, OK, I’m not feeling any happier, but there’s nowhere else to go.” Herbert is not sweet.’

Thinking about Anglicanism

I have a deep and abiding appreciation for Anglicanism, and for Anglican theology, fostered in no small part by a year that I spent as an undergrad studying at Ridley Theological College. But it is no news to anyone that Anglicanism finds itself in hard times. Not uniquely hard, nor uniquely for this time, but still hard. And it may be fair to say that the Anglican communion needs all the friends it can get at the moment. So I was struck by these stinging words from Thomas Merton:

‘The Church of England depends, for its existence, almost entirely on the solidarity and conservativism of the English ruling class. Its strength is not in anything supernatural, but in the strong social and racial instincts which bind the members of this caste together; and the English cling to their Church the way they cling to their King and to their old schools: because of a big, vague, sweet complex of subjective dispositions regarding the English countryside, old castles and cottages, games of cricket in the long summer afternoons, tea-parties on the Thames, croquet, roast-beef, pipe-smoking, the Christmas panto, Punch and the London Times and all those other things the mere thought of which produces a kind of a warm and inexpressible ache in the English heart’. – Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1988), 72.

Let’s just pretend for a moment that Merton is not completely off the page here, and that most Anglicans really are like Jane Austen’s Mr Collins; is this all that we might want to – even feel compelled to – say about our Anglican sisters and brothers, few of whom I know enjoy ‘tea-parties on the Thames’ or anywhere for that matter, and about Anglicanism itself?

Forsyth’s assessment of Anglicanism has significantly more currency than that of Merton’s and, in true Forsyth style, he goes to the bottom of things. Forsyth locates the enigma and scandal of Anglicanism in the schism which occured at the time of the Reformation. Painfully aware that he may cause offense, and that he is stepping on toes long blistered, some of which like it so, Forsyth, addressing a British audience from the Free Church camp, recalls that it is the judgement of the chief branch of the Catholic family that Anglicanism is guilty of sponsoring (ongoing) schism in the church:

‘If it is denied that there was a schism, how is it that the put with so much learning (whatever insight) fails to convince? It fails to convince, on one side, Rome and the Greek Church (which know a good deal about schisms), and, on the other hand, ourselves (who are not ignorant of them). If the Anglican Church did not owe its existence to a schism from the Pope and, in connection therewith, to a schism from the great Church of the West, at least it came out there. By its detachment from European Christianity it acquired much of the insular spirit, which in a Church is the sectarian note. It seems extravagant, not to say harsh, to speak thus of a Church so great and even glorious. But I am only speaking the language it has taught us. Of course, it is a true Church and a noble, with a great glory both in past and future. Historically it is the mother of us all. And we should differ as Churches – respectfully, and not bitterly, like political parties or petty heretics. But, if it will insist on treating as sectaries and schismatics those outside itself in virtue of a succession now more than shaky to its own scholars – it must not be grieved if we interrogate its own history and explore it with the torch of the Gospel. It is a schism and a sect, which abjures the name because of its greatness just as the Norman raid is dignified as the Conquest, and claims to be the beginning of the true England and of English nobility. But it is not size that parts a Church from a sect. Indeed, the larger the Church the greater is the risk of corruption into a sect, by the spirit of ascendancy; while quite small “sects” may be full of the faith and love that make a Church. Most of the sects were, in their inception, nearer the actual conditions of the New Testament churches than the Churches were which they left. And, if the actual form, practice, and precedent of the New Testament Churches, as distinct from their Gospel, were decisive for all time, it is the sects that would be in the true succession, the true Churches. But, if a sect is the debasement of a Church, and if a Church is really debased only by moral faults, then the egoism, the pride, the spirit of ascendancy that gather these up is more likely to beset a great institution with a prerogative, a history, and vested interests. A Church becomes a sect when it develops the egoism which for the Church is moral marasmus and when it sees in its size, its splendour, and its domination the chief sign of its calling’. – The Church and the Sacraments, pp. 41–2.

Recent wanderings: ‘The sudden disappointment of a hope leaves a scar which the ultimate fulfillment of that hope never entirely removes’

  • An attack on liberal Anglicanism – and on art?
  • Some words for teachers on the relationship between teaching styles and learning styles
  • David Fergusson on Rudolph Bultmann
  • Michael Gorman on why Christmas ought not include singing Happy Birthday to Jesus
  • Saddened to hear of the news of Edward Schillebeeckx’s passing. Schillebeeckx’s was one of the great voices in recent years, a true scholar and gentle prophet of reform. Here’s what he had to say twenty years ago: ‘My concern is that the further we move away in history from Vatican II, the more some people begin to interpret unity as uniformity. They seem to want to go back to the monolithic church which must form a bulwark on the one hand against communism and on the other hand against the Western liberal consumer society. I think that above all in the West, with its pluralist society, such an ideal of a monolith church is out of date and runs into a blind alley. And there is the danger that in that case, people with that ideal before their eyes will begin to force the church in the direction of a ghetto church, a church of the little flock, the holy remnant. But though the church is not of this world, it is of men and women. Men and women who are believing subjects of the church’. This mature voice once stated, in God Is New Each Moment, that ecumenism means ‘that we have to bear in mind the great Christian tradition that can be found in all the Christian churches – the Catholica, which does not in itself coincide with the empirical phenomenon of the Roman Catholic Church … In that sense, my work is, I think, a valid contribution to the unity of the church, in which there may be all kinds of differences, but in which the one Church community recognizes itself in the other communities and they recognize themselves in it’ (p. 74).
  • Some disturbing religious activities
  • An interesting interview with Better World Books
  • Robert Minto brings Simone Weil and Graham Greene’s Whiskey Priest into the same frame
  • Andrew Errington shares some Seamus Heaney
  • David Guretzki begins some reflections on Barth’s Credo
  • Jim Gordon posts on the importance of ideas in the practical renewal of the church
  • James Merrick shares some Marilynne Robinson on evangelicalism and Protestant liberalism
  • Finally, as one who has posted on beer before, I was delighted to read Arni Zachariasse’s post on  ‘6 reasons why your church needs (more) beer’:
  1. Beer is good for the community. Beer reduced inhibitions and nowhere are people more inhibited than in church. Congregants want at least one chair between them and the person next them. Even better if they get the entire pew to themselves. With a few pints down them, on the other hand, that invisible wall, that awkward space is all but gone. People will start laughing together, they will start crying together. They will even hug! Paul’s “holy kiss” might once again become commonplace, and not a relic of the Bible sped through by embarrassed readers-aloud. In addition to strengthening the ties between those already in the local church, the stranger will be welcomed with open arms, both his presence and his strange thoughts. Which leads me to the second point.
  2. Beer is good for the church’s communal theological inquiry. Here again alcohol’s inhibition reduction is beneficial. Imagine if people actually asked what was on their mind and weren’t afraid of embarrassing themselves because they weren’t among the chosen few in the front five pews, because they didn’t know the jargon or didn’t worry about having the Bible quoted at them. Imagine if people actually voiced those fleeting thoughts, objections and ideas. Theology would then, at last, actually be done in the church and by the church. Dogmatics, you could say, would finally become church dogmatics. Beer would not only have people doing theology and doing it more freely, but would strengthen people’s ties to the church while simultaneously opening the doors to new ideas from outside the church. (Maybe that’s why church leaders are against alcohol!)
  3. Beer is good for the worship. Have you ever heard drunk people sing? Of course you have! It’s about 80% of what drunk people do. They don’t do it well, no – but they do it with sincerity! With vocal chords and emotional capabilities lubricated by some good brew, the church’s worship would be amazing. It would be loud, brash, unashamed and totally in keeping with that unruly Holy Spirit. Liturgy would be shouted back at the minister. Hymns and choruses would sung on top of lungs along to bands unafraid to actually jam. And I can’t imagine what would happen in charismatic churches with all their tongue speaking and other pneumatalogical craziness.
  4. Beer is good for moral reflection. If you’re like 90% of Evangelicals, you’ve been taught that beer is bad. Consuming of alcohol is something that heathens and liberals do. But look at it this way: Drinking a beer is a physical manifestation of you re-evaluating your morals, of you thinking through, maybe for the first time, how you act out your faith. And it will be an entry into wider reflection, a small, very fun step in the direction of the examined life. And in light of the points raised previously, you’ll do it with your friends and you’ll have a great time.
  5. Keeping with the morals, beer supports Christian brothers and sisters. Or, more specifically, brothers. Some of the best beers in the world, Trappist beers in particular, are made by monks in Belgium and Holland. Trappist monastics brew this heavenly ales in order to keep their communities afloat and to support charitable causes. By buying Trappist beer you not only get some of the best tasting beer you’ll ever try, but you’ll also keep some of your brothers in Christ in their special monastic service.
  6. Beer will introduce you to the finer things in life. Not all beer will do this, granted, but if you do take my advice and buy some Trappist beer you will be introduced to a fascinating world of subtle flavours that will titillate your taste buds and satisfy your soul. Now, I’m not suggesting hedonism for it’s own vacuous sake. I’m suggesting that enjoying God’s gifts can be a worshipful activity and experience. Slowly savouring a glass of fine beer will inspire deep gratitude to the Lord for the blessings he has bestowed upon you, your ability to enjoy them and for existence itself. Fine beer will further introduce you to other tasty beverages like wine, whiskey, brandy and the like. Which means even more thanksgiving. This thanksgiving is great in solitude, but fantastic communally, with brothers and sisters in the church. Imagine a service of beer tasting. No, imagine the Eucharist with gourmet beer. Beautiful!

Soup by the path …

  • James Macintyre on the Death of Anglicanism? Want more on this? Ruth Gledhill posts some informative links at Rome parks tanks on Rowan’s lawn
  • Kyle Strobel continues his series on Lash’s Theology on the Way to Emmaus: A Theology of History
  • Rick Floyd posts a great recipe on my favourite soup at When life gives you beets, make borscht!
  • A five-part interview with Miroslav Volf discussing ideas of forgiveness, memory, identity, religion and violence:
  • HegelAnd Peter Leithart reminds us why Hegel still rocks with some Hegel quotes on the Trinity from Anselm Min‘s article on ‘The Trinity and the Incarnation: Hegel and Classical Approaches’, The Journal of Religion 66, no. 2 (1986): 173–193:
    • ‘The three Persons are thus mutually internal in the unity and totality of the divine process, of which the Father is the originating principle, the Son the pluralizing, and the Spirit the reintegrating and unifying principle, and from which none could be separately considered. The distinction of Persons is thoroughly relative to the self-unifying totality of this divine process of which they are moments. This, however, must not be understood in modalistic fashion, in which the three Persons are merely manifestations of and thus subordinate to a more primordial divine nature or divine ground …’.
    • ‘The divine “nature” is not something that exists apart from the divine Persons and that somehow exercises control over them. It is an internal principle of the Persons in their concrete existence and as such not to be reified into an autonomous entity in its own right. The divine nature is precisely the nature of the Father and identical with him, by which he, not the nature, differentiates him-self from himself, returns to himself from that differentiation, and thus exists concretely as one God’.
    • And on the incarnation: ‘Creation is a function of God’s self-differentiation ad extra by virtue of his self-differentiation ad intra. The separation of the finite Other from the infinite is itself posited by God’s separation of himself from himself. By the same token the human need for reconciliation with God is simply the finite side of God’s need for reconciliation with himself through the mediation of the finite, a mediation not imposed on God from without but posited by God himself. The need for the Incarnation is first and foremost a necessity inherent in the immanent Trinity and only secondarily a human need. Hegel’s doctrine of creation and the Incarnation, in this sense, is thoroughly trinitarian’.

Around the traps: Jacques Ellul … et al

  • Ellul
  • Gabriel Fackre posts on Time in Eternity: the Lively Life to Come.
  • A timely challenge by Andrew Hamilton by way of a reconsideration of Bonhoeffer’s ethics.
  • Byron Smith offers some thoughts on Rowan Williams ‘two styles of Anglicanism.
  • And Halden shares two great quotes from Jacques Ellul’s Hope in Time of Abandonment: on prayer and on hope and apocalyptic.
  • And while we’re on that book, I’ll post here some further gems:
    • ‘We were saying that God is no longer anything to some … it would be better to say that on behalf of the practicing unbeliever, the systematic atheist, the doctrinal or practicing materialist, the antitheist, God makes himself nothing in order always to remain at man’s level. But when God makes himself nothing, it is still for the sake of the unbelieving man. He remains sovereign in so doing. In that case we have to be on our guard, for God is both the weak adversary who accepts the combat without putting up a fight and also the one who is capable at any time of revealing Himself as possessed of infinite power’. (p. 104)
    • ‘When man is not made hopeless by God’s silence, it is because he (man) has destroyed his awareness, to the point of wanting nothing better than to be identical instead of identifiable’. (p. 116)
    • ‘God, who has let himself be put to death in Christ, withdraws into His discreetness before the absence of love, the absence of filial relations, the absence of trust, the absence of gift, the absence of loyalty, the absence of truth, the absence of self-discipline, the absence of freedom, the absence of authenticity. God makes Himself absent in this world of absences, which modern man has put together with enthusiasm. Man certainly has not killed God, but in creating this world of absence for himself he has brought about the discreetness of God, which is expressed in God’s turning away and silence’. (p. 124)
    • ‘The passion for language and analysis and hermeneutics is the unintentional expression of God’s silence. It is reasons like this: God is absent, (we are not saying so, of course), so we are going to get along without Him. This demonstrates that it is not all essential that God speaks here and now in order that the witness be heard and received’. (p. 141)
    • ‘The tragedy of interpretation [of Scripture] is a tragedy, not because scientific interpretations enter into overturning the traditional Christian interpretations, nor because the procedures are highly sophisticated, but because God is silent. The Promethean role of Hermeneutics is that of claiming to find a meaning as though God were speaking. Strictly, it is a matter of putting oneself in the place of God’s decision. It is a matter of making Scripture alive and meaningful without God’s making it alive and meaningful. It is a matter of effecting the transition from Scripture to word, or of making language into the word, by putting together highly sophisticated humans means to economize on the use (or role) of the Holy Spirit. Hermeneutics is the business of interpreting revelation without revelation’. (p. 145)
    • ‘I fail to see the justification for accepting as legitimate all the questions about the revelation, more or less, validly raised from different points of view, while at the same time refusing to question those systems, methods, and conclusions from the point of view of revelation’. (p. 145)
    • And my favourite: ‘Man is living in an illusionary world, illusionary because it is made up of images transmitted by communications media. His world is no longer that of his daily experience, of his lived mediocrity of his personality or of his repeated relationships. It has become an enormous decor, put there by the thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance. They give him the feeling of living an experience, which is worth the trouble, in contrast to the rest of his experience, which is colorless and too plainly unimportant. It is an odd perversion which leads the person of this age to bestow importance and sense on that which does not concern him at all … while rejecting the importance and sense of that which is in fact his own experience 24 hours of every day’. (p. 35)

Journal of Anglican Studies

The latest edition of the Journal of Anglican Studies (1 December 2007; Vol. 5, No. 2) is now available online. It includes an article on William Paley by one of my former theology professors, Graham Cole (who is a genius! Cole did his doctoral work on Paley). The contents are: 

High Speed Conflict and Anglican Identity’, by Bruce Kaye (pp. 135–143) 

Introduction: Classic Texts and the Consensus Fidelium’, by Rowan Strong (pp. 145–148) 

Stephen Neill’s Anglicanism: An Anglican Classic’, by W.L. Sachs (pp. 149–162) 

Politics as the Church’s Business: William Temple’s Christianity and Social Order Revisited’, by Malcolm Brown (pp. 163–185) 

Grace and Nation: Coleridge’s On the Constitution of Church and State’, by Alan Gregory (pp. 187–208) 

William Paley’s Natural Theology: An Anglican Classic?’, by Graham Cole (pp. 209–225)           

Synopsis: ‘This article pursues the question of whether William Paley’s Natural Theology is an Anglican classic. I place Paley’s natural theology project in its historical context of skepticism about Christianity’s truth claims and in the context of Paley’s `system’. His teleological argument is briefly explained and four challenges, past and present, to its thesis are considered. The question of what makes a work a classic is explored in terms of its enduring interest, especially in the light of the controversy concerning Intelligent Design Theory, and its enduring value. It is argued that because of its enduring interest and value Paley’s Natural Theology may be judged a classic but not of a peculiarly Anglican kind.’

Jesus Christ – The Centre of Theology in Richard Hooker’s Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V’, by Egil Grislis (pp. 227–251)

Anglicanism’s self-searching

Writing in 1918, Forsyth said, ‘I doubt if in all its history Anglicanism ever felt the same self-searching as it does now.’ (P.T. Forsyth, Congregationalism and Reunion: Two Lectures. London: Independent Press, 1952, 63). I’m not sure that Rowan Williams would agree, nor Forsyth anymore … The times they are a changin’ …