Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 22 March 2017

Linda Woodhead Modern Church The Philip North affair has exposed the theological weakness of ‘traditionalism’

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Jules
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Jules

It continues to amaze me that academics such as Professor Woodhead have such a back-to-front theological understanding. It seems to me that the dominant liberal faction within the Church created their own new ‘orthodoxy’ and have then since held that up as the standard by which traditionalists ought to be measured. This is, I admit, a very clever move. Certainly, if one accepts the principle of the ordination of women then the arguments surrounding catholic order are clear, and provision for traditionalists is indeed ‘uncatholic’ and theologically unsound. However, traditionalists fundamentally reject the invented ‘orthodoxy’ of the current day Church… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

Jules, your post sets forth a very traditionalist position very well. The premise seems to be simply that the ordination of women is wrong. And the rest of your post follows quite logically from that.

Conversely, your post candidly concedes that “if one accepts the principle of the ordination of women[,] then the arguments surrounding catholic order are clear, and provision for traditionalists is indeed ‘uncatholic’ and theologically unsound.”

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re Jules, “…the dominant liberal faction within the Church created their own new ‘orthodoxy’ and have then since held that up as the standard by which traditionalists ought to be measured.This is, I admit, a very clever move.”

Conversely, one might say, a conservative phalange has created their own throw back orthodoxy and have since held it up as the standard by which non-hyphenated Anglicans ought to be measured. Not a very clever move.

Excellent article by Linda Woodhead. For one thing, it makes perfect sense.

Charles Read
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Charles Read

Jules – this is extraordinary and extraordinarily offensive. I am a charismatic evangelical who fully supports the ordination of women. Please don’t accuse me of quasi-Arianism. The appointment of only men to the Twelve is but one part of a much bigger picture regarding the NT witness on gender issues. You might look also at how Jesus treats women and especially at how he uses a woman as a type for God in Luke 15. If you want to see quasi-Arianism, see the way in which the Trinity is redefined into subordinationism by some evangelicals: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/11/23/kevin-giles-the-ets-response-to-grudem-and-ware/ and closer to home:… Read more »

Charles Clapham
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Charles Clapham

I can’t help thinking that Jules has misunderstood the argument Linda Woodhead was making. The question seems to me this: given the theological views of traditionalists (as outlined so well by Jules), how can someone who holds this view function, with integrity, as a diocesan bishop in the current Church of England? If you genuinely believe (as Jules puts it) that the rest of the Church of England is ‘afflicted with a form of neo-Arianism’, that women cannot be true priests, and that any sacramental ministry they claim to offer is dubious at best, how on earth can one sponsor… Read more »

Jules
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Jules

Charles Read – I think you’re confusing sex and gender. I’m well aware God is not biologically male or female. However, the way in which he has chosen to reveal himself is as Father and Lord. These are gender-distinctive terms, and the ones Jesus himself used. While of course accepting that God is neither male nor female, there is an erroneous tendency among some to gender-neutralise God in a way that distorts the very clear way in which he is presented in the Bible. Though feminine terms are found in reference to God in Scripture, these are only similes. It… Read more »

Charles Read
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Charles Read

So Jules, are you saying that to call God ‘Father’ is not a metaphor? If you are, then you have created a doctrine of a gendered God; if not, then God remains ‘beyond gender’ as Christian theology has almost always held until modern times when God has been seen as male by some who wish thereby to argue against women in leadership, women preaching or the ordination of women (take your pick…).

An approach favoured by some is to see God as somehow both male and female rather than neither male nor female.

philip o'reilly
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philip o'reilly

The CofE does not claim to teach infallibly on the ordination of women. During the period of ecumenical reception it is perfectly admissible to have a diocesan Bishop who declines to ordain women as the universal church has yet to come to a common mind. A Bishop in favour can give whatever reassurance he likes but he is only speaking on the uncertain basis of provincial authority. Only a weak ecclesiology would be completely convinced by an assurance based upon provincial authority rather than catholic consent. God’s grace is far wider than narrow sacramental assurance and this is why traditional… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re: Jules, “I think you’re confusing sex and gender.” Or perhaps you are confused about mythological expression?

“However, the way in which he has chosen to reveal himself is as Father and Lord.” Better to say that this is the way The divine was apprehended in the patriarchal culture that produced the scripture.

Peter Kershaw
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Peter Kershaw

If God has gender is the German language then heretical by referring to the Holy Spirit by using the feminine gender (die heilige Geist)? Or is it rather that applying gender to an infinite God is actually denying His/Her infinity?

Jules
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Jules

Rod –

“Better to say that this is the way The divine was apprehended in the patriarchal culture that produced the scriptures.”

With respect, I think your comment goes to the heart of the dispute within the Church of England.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“Only a weak ecclesiology would be completely convinced by an assurance based upon provincial authority rather than catholic consent.”

Only a weak mind would think that the Roman church’s assent is necessary for something to be correct.

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“Professor Woodhead’s article is based on a rejection of this historic understanding of the faith” Or perhaps her article is based on a much more truthful understanding than the historical one plagued by understandings of a pre-scientific culture and a patriarchy that is still with us. And her article is based on a much broader and more learned understanding than Jules is displaying. The Wisdom literature has a lot of feminine language for God. Plus, of course, there’s Genesis where God creates man AND woman in God’s image. The pronoun “his” is grammar, not physical reality. Plus there’s Jesus, Mary… Read more »

Charles Clapham
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Charles Clapham

I’m grateful to Philip O’Reilly for providing a theological comment on the traditionalist position. But (at least for me) it still doesn’t seem consistent. If one declines to ordain women or to receive the sacrament from them (because the universal church has yet to come to a common mind), one ought presumably also not offer encouragement to women who believe they are called to ordination (because they are mistaken), and decline to license them in a sacramental ministry (because that will put in doubt the efficacy of the sacraments offered in that ministry). It doesn’t make sense to say one… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re: Jules, ” …your comment goes to the heart of the dispute within the Church of England.” And beyond ( :

rjb
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rjb

Linda Woodhead does make a reasonable point when she observes that “it is the so-called liberals who are the ones clinging to orthodoxy and tradition, and the so-called traditionalists who are appealing to liberal principles of freedom, toleration, and equal respect. Lacking a strong theological basis for their position, the defenders of North are behaving like relativists who believe their position must be upheld not because it is true but just because it is their identity.” There is more than a grain of truth in this. Unfortunately Professor Woodhead doesn’t draw the obvious corollary, which is that the supposed liberals… Read more »

David Runcorn
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rjb You write ‘Unfortunately Professor Woodhead doesn’t draw the obvious corollary, which is that the supposed liberals (among whom I would until recently have counted myself) are behaving like fundamentalists, insisting that things have to be done their way…’ Well there is undoubtedly bad behaviour on both sides. Not all liberals are tolerant people. But it doesn’t follow that when someone challenges another viewpoint they are demanding their opinion in place of it. I see no ‘obvious corollary’ at work here at all. Time and again over the Sheffield situation those questioning the appointment or the use of the Principles… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

Re: Jules, “With respect, I think your comment goes to the heart of the dispute within the Church of England.” And beyond! ( :

Alastair Newman
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Alastair Newman

Jules – “God reveals himself as Father (indeed, he has no sex, but he most certainly does have gender), he was incarnate as a man”; “I’m well aware God is not biologically male or female. However, the way in which he has chosen to reveal himself is as Father and Lord.” How does that fit in with Trinitarian theology? I’m also not quite sure how that fits with the Biblical image of God creating man (male and female) in God’s own image. From the great Karl Barth: “The fact that he [man] was created man and woman will be the… Read more »

Philip O'Reilly
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Philip O'Reilly

Legal authority always rests with the diocesan. But the diocesan can ask the PEV, a suffragan or the archbishop to give sacramental authority. This can serve the needs of both traditionalist and women priests serving under a traditionalist diocesan. All this was made clear during the debates about the archbishops’ amendment.

Kate
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Kate

I hate labels. What happens is that once we put a label upon something we then project our concept of that label back on the object. People are doing this with “traditionalist” and “liberal” and then arguing about their notion of liberals and traditionalists based upon their personal understanding of the labels. With respect to both sides, it is not a fruitful debate. There is, however, a very well-formed question concerning the apparent theological paradox of a diocesan bishop who won’t ordain women which those who support Philip North are dodging. With respect also, I think Jules is making the… Read more »

Cynthia
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Cynthia

“this dispute is less about theology than it is about factionalism and the abuse of power.” Yes, exactly right. Theology certainly went by the wayside, as Linda Woodhead clearly explains. The abuse of power is that the status quo wants to continue to impose its ways and that isn’t “mutual flourishing.” Theology has to involve lifting up the vulnerable. The “compromise” lifts up “traditionalists” who do real damage to the vulnerable. An attack on one’s being is way different than winning or losing an argument. That wrong headed theology of taint offends every woman and girl on the planet. I… Read more »

RosalindR
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RosalindR

If my memory serves me correctly, this (Phiip O’Reilly’s comment) is why the Archbishops’ amendment was not passed and why in 2013-4 this was not included in the legislation. There was strong theological opposition to this sort of division of episcopal authority. For me, the basic question is the same now as it has been since 1993 – if we cannot share in the eucharist, whoever is the president, then how can we call ourselves a church? There is a fundamental impairment at the heart of who we are and while it remains, these sort of painful tensions wil recur,… Read more »

Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

@ Kate, ” Since God could clearly foresee that incarnation as a man would reinforce the notion of patriarchy, why did He [sic] not choose for Jesus to be female? The argument that it was a patriarchal society doesn’t wash if we believe that God is a a god.” This is something of a tautology regarding God and patriarchy. Additionally, it is similar to the mistake Jules makes (above) i.e. it posits one’s uncritical acceptance of historical vectors and circumstances as certainty about the will of God. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume we can know the nuances… Read more »

Kate
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Kate

“I’ve experienced that Grace through female priests, bishops, and a Presiding Bishop.” This is a point which seems to be overlooked. Priests are appointed through a process of discernment. There are, like you, those whose gifts include being able to reliably detect the grace of the Spirit and who say they have experienced it from a female minister. Doesn’t that in some way trump any other arguments about theology? We are taught by Jesus that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So if women are called to ordination and demonstrate that they are backed up by the Spirit, doesn’t… Read more »

philip o'reilly
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philip o'reilly

‘If my memory serves me correctly, this (Phiip O’Reilly’s comment) is why the Archbishops’ amendment was not passed and why in 2013-4 this was not included in the legislation. There was strong theological opposition to this sort of division of episcopal authority.’

The majority of the General Synod voted in favour of the amendment. It was lost by two votes in the house of clergy but passed easily in the houses of bishops and laity. Hardly a powerful rejection of the argument.

JCF
Guest
JCF

“God reveals himself as Father (indeed, he has no sex, but he most certainly does have gender), he was incarnate as a man, born in Bethlehem at a fixed point in time, he chose specific men to be his apostles…this historic understanding of the faith”

What an extraordinary assertion. Jules, you have indeed revealed your own (2017) understanding “in the particularity”, but history will just have to speak for itself.