Tuesday, 11 July 2006

the heartlands of Anglicanism

ACNS reports that the Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, has written a lengthy reflection on the nature of Anglicanism, and what it means to be an Anglican. The reflection is addressed to his fellow Primates. Here are a few snippets from the early paragraphs:

What does it mean to be Anglican? What is it about Anglicanism that has led so many to conclude that it provides the most productive spiritual soil for living out the Christian faith? What is it that we have, which we dare not lose?

Archbishop Rowan offers his own description of our distinctive Christian inheritance…

It is indeed within the territory encompassed by these strands that I find my own experience and understanding of Christianity. These describe the rich heartlands of Anglicanism — the solid centre, focussed on Jesus Christ, to which we are constantly drawn back by the counterbalancing pull of the other strands, if any one threatens to become disproportionately influential.

These Anglican heartlands are the subject of my reflections — the historic fertile middle ground, which is in danger of being forgotten amid polarising arguments and talk of schism.

The ACNS summary is included below the fold. The full reflection by Archbishop Ndungane is here.

‘Heartlands of Anglicanism’ — Archbishop of Cape Town Promotes Middle Ground

The Archbishop of Cape Town has written to the Primates of the Anglican Communion issuing a strong call to uphold the ’ broad rich heartlands of our Anglican heritage.’ He argues that this must be ‘the territory on which we debate our future.’ He adds ‘it is not something to be fought out at the limits of conservatism or liberalism, as if they were the only possibilities before us. ’

In a lengthy reflection on what it is to be Anglican, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane declares, ‘we cannot lose this middle ground.’ He argues that the central core of Anglican tradition is not bland or shallow, but offers ‘productive spiritual soil.’ He refutes any suggestion that embracing the middle ground means ‘anything goes.’ Rather, he affirms uncompromising dedication and obedience to the heart of faith, as it is lived under the authority of Scripture, of Church order and structures, and of Christian tradition.

His call follows the recent ‘profound and stimulating reflections’ by the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today.’ In responding, the Archbishop of Cape Town asks ‘What does it mean to be Anglican?’ and affirms Archbishop Rowan’s description of the fundamental character of Anglicanism as combining the best of both catholic and reformed tradition, which together inform mature engagement with contemporary culture. He contends that any authentic solution to current differences within the Anglican Communion must preserve these strengths.

He also argues that the best means of finding such a solution is to proceed in a characteristically Anglican way: in a spirit of tolerance, trust and charity, and through the existing structures of the Communion. Acknowledging that these have evolved over time to serve changing needs, he now calls for their ’ renewal, transformation and revision’ rather than ‘radical replacement,’ so as to preserve their strengths. He points out that legal authority rests with the synodical processes of Provinces, and calls for fuller engagement of clergy and laity in the current debate, which he says will inevitably be lengthy.

Archbishop Ndungane speaks of ‘creative and dynamic diversity’ within his own personal faith, as well as at every level of Anglicanism. He illustrates this by reflecting on experiences within Southern Africa, from which he also demonstrates that decisions to exist separately can leave a lasting and difficult legacy.

He offers a fresh understanding of what it means to live within tradition, not seeing it as ‘dry history’ but rather as ‘holy remembering’ through which we ‘find our place of participation within the unfolding narrative of God’s redeeming acts.’

The Archbishop does not propose specific solutions. Instead, he writes that his intention is to help Anglicans be faithful to what God has done in the past, and so preserve and pass on the best of that heritage — and that he believes that holding on to the middle ground, the Heartlands of Anglicanism, is the best way of achieving this.

- ENDS -

For further information, please contact Penny Lorimer, Media Liaison for Archbishop Ndungane on +27 82 894-1522

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The second opening question ("What is it about Anglicanism that has led so many to conclude that it provides the most productive spiritual soil for living out the Christian faith?") makes me wonder whether there are more converts to Anglicanism in South Africa than England, more Christians who made a conscious choice in favour of this "productive soil" rather than another, Christians who have not been born and bred Anglican. Those of us who have converted to Anglicanism from other branches of the catholic church have done so for a huge variety of reasons. Evangelicals have come to Anglicanism out of respect for liturgy and the sacraments, (Roman) Catholics have come to Anglicanism because of its commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture, liberals have come to Anglicanism because of the narrow-mindedness of some other branches etc. Both converts and "natives" will value Anglicanism for different reasons.

Nevertheless, talk about the danger of one of the strands becoming "disproportionately influential" seems to me unhelpful - can you have too much cultural sensitivity or too much commitment to the priority of the Bible? Would it not be more accurate to state that any imbalance stems from lack of commitment to one or two of the strands? The AB hints at the fact that none of these strands is optional but he does not give much thought to how their interrelationship is properly ordered.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 2:30pm BST

This *is* a valuable contribution. It reflects from Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. It is not so general as to offer nothing new (as with Archbishop Sentamu's address), nor so subtle as to simply become the canvas on which others project their own eisegeses (as with Archbishop Williams' recent statements).

It's not that I don't think there are points to the other statements. I do, and have said so, here and elsewhere. However, the breadth, depth, manner, and source of this statement has more to commend it in actually calling us to all that continuing to work together (much more meaningful than to simply walk together) than other recent statements.

I am particularly interested in heeding Gamaliel's standard. Let us in America be, if you will, the Research and Development Department of the Communion. We have not demanded that others follow us in such things as our governmental structures, or even in appreciating how the Spirit is moving in women in orders (although we may make moral appeals). We have simply said that we see the Spirit here, and want to see where the Spirit leads us. We trust in God, and trust that God will let us see what is working and what isn't. We know others will not be ready to follow until they see the fruits of the Spirit. We simply ask that others watch what happens, and work with us in the meantime.

But, then, perhaps that is what some fear: that the Spirit will lead to new places. Perhaps. In any case, it seems clear Cape Town does not fear that. As the Archbishop notes, Cape Town has experienced real evil, and knows that, compared to that history, this current difficulty is bearable, and a context within which we can continue to work.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 2:36pm BST

A certain self-centredness is maybe unavoidable in reflecting on what it means to be an Anglican but this can be a dangerous thing. Would it not be more helpful to seek to define what is essential for any Christian church while trying to discern what it is that makes us Anglican? The "heartland" of Anglicanism must surely be a land we share with other branches of the holy, apostolic and catholic church!

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 2:36pm BST

Coming from a mother raised in the fundamentalist Welsh Baptist tradition and a father raised as a Glaswegian, Celtic supporting Roman Catholic, my journey into Anglicanism came because it made me smile, no – laugh!
When I came, by God’s graciousness, to faith, I looked around for a vehicle for that faith and the Anglican Church appealed to me most. In that community I found people more Protestant than Ian Paisley and more Catholic than the Pope and then some! Somehow they all muddled along under the same roof and there was ample room for someone like myself to ask the questions I needed and room to take root and flourish. It was not the breadth alone of Anglicanism that I valued (and found so warming) but its depth – it was indeed a fertile place.
Somehow I am not surprised by the questions Thomas Renz asks here, his journey was different to mine, but how my heart burns within me when I read the words of the Primate of South Africa as he talks to my heart of a place I once knew, and how I long for that place where Jesus walked, laughed and talked with me. If this is self centeredness and I did not worry too much about what troubled those others in the holy, apostolic Church then I did indeed walk in danger. Lord! Make me walk in this danger all the days of my life!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 6:31pm BST

I really enjoyed this reading. I think Anglicanism needs to work. If we're committed to Christ but cannot live in communion with each other how do we witness Christ's Peace to others?
We need to focus on what we have in common; the love for Christ Jesus, for the building of God's kingdom. We may have different interpretations but focusing on common goals is a way to move forward instead of this pompous postering.

I hear a voice of reason here. Thomas: I agree many people join the Anglican/Episcopal Church for various reasons. When we join I do think we need to be aware that others also join and join for different reasons.

We could be a great force to show how people who differ can still work together, live together and show peace and compassion for one another.

Posted by: Robert Christian on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 6:46pm BST

M. Scott writes: -
I am particularly interested in heeding Gamaliel's standard. Let us in America be, if you will, the Research and Development Department of the Communion.

There is within the USA a demand that Episcopalians (especially the clergy) follow the new teaching. In certain dioceses those who dissent are crushed and no longer allowed to be part of the process. The leadership clearly does not tolerate dissent, nor welcome the dissenting minority. There is a win all totalitarianism at work. It has been seen regarding the ordination of women and is now taking place (in some dioceses more than others) regarding the acceptance and blessing of homoerotic bahaviors. To this ++Rowan speaks when he refers to people who for good and solid Biblical reasons cannot accept such behaviors as being labeled bigots by the prevailing majority in ECUSA - sorry TEC USA.

Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 9:38pm BST

But you want to throw all liberals out of Anglicanism, Ian. Can't see there's a lot of difference - and I haven't heard anyone in ECUSA talk about expulsions. Not from the liberal side, anyway.

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 10:49pm BST

Thomas Renz wrote: "Would it not be more accurate to state that any imbalance stems from lack of commitment to one or two of the strands" (Scripture-based, Catholicity, cultural & intellectual sensitivity) "? The AB hints at the fact that none of these strands is optional but he does not give much thought to how their interrelationship is properly ordered."

Dear Thomas, I must say that I agree completely with your assessment and am not convionced by +Ndungane's article. "Middle ground" or "Via Media" seems to be just some of the latest *fad words* that liberals use to describe themselves (previous examples being "tolerant" and "generous").

But what all these words really mean is just plain old "liberalism". They leave no ground on their "middle ground" for anyone who is not liberal... nor can liberals tolerate or act generously towards anyone who is not liberal enough!

New words old song !

Posted by: Dave on Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 11:31pm BST

*Graciousness* . . . arising from God's grace.

In part of Anglicanism, you see it (without regard for color or continent, as in +Ndungane's words).

And in another part of it, you don't. :-(

Pour out *more* grace, Lord!

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 3:26am BST

It is natural that at various points in our personal history, we are more enthusiastic about some aspects of the faith than others. It is also not suprising that in specific contexts we stress the value of some aspects of the Anglican way more strongly than others. But this is very different from effectively abandoning one of the key ingredients.

A church which dispenses with cultural sensitivity and intellectual honesty becomes a sect.

A church which does not celebrate Christian Baptism and the Eucharist is a sect.

A church which does not uphold the Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith is a sect.

This is the heartlands of the one, holy, apostolic and catholic church. An Anglican who sees these "strands" as specifically Anglican is either badly ignorant or polemically sectarian.

The Anglican way includes the threefold order of ministry (and the claim to belong to the historic episcopate) and common worship in the Western tradition on the one hand and (against Roman Catholicism) an affirmation of the Scriptures as the church's sole source of revelation and the only final and infallible standard, on the other hand.

(This latter point is technically expressed to stress that it is not a particular emphasis that came with the Reformation. As K. A. Mathison demonstrated, it is the view of the early church and was still the majority view in the middle ages up to Trent.)

+Ndungane's essay does not really get to the heart of the issue because it fails to acknowledge that, at least in the view of some in the communion, "the Research and Development Department" (to use M. Scott's words) has abandoned the Scriptures as authoritative in the traditional sense of the word. To "reasserters" what many in TEC-USA propose is akin to substituting matches and gasoline for bread and wine in the Eucharist. "Let's just see what happens" is not likely to prove an attractive proposal.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 9:10am BST

Ian Montgomery wrote: "In certain dioceses those who dissent are crushed and no longer allowed to be part of the process."

Names, times, places, please - or for ever keep your peace!

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 9:25am BST

I spose my trouble is I'm 'a' nature mystic,Marian,agnostic,Evangelical,Plymouth Brethren, BCP, Catholick, eros devotee, Catholic, Charismatic, atheistic, Buddhistic, agnostic, jungian, phenominological, painterly,Friendly ( / 'Quakerly') person.

These adjectives and wot not are in the order they first appeared in me (as far as I can recollect). Starting at about age 3 with unitive experiences (as they call them) around nature, Police cars & police men, vision of our lady at 8,and going on from there. As all these 'phases' live on in me, and are alive in me, I know I feel and think differently on different days. And ('I') have different experiences on different 'days', times.'

I'd probably be wise to avoid labelling 'mySelf' or 'the Other(s)'. :-)

I don't know what all of it--or any of it means, but am glad to be alive, breathing, smiling, following as best I can the / a Way as my feet come across it. Hoping to live so as to cause as it little suffering to other sentient beings (& me!) as possible, and hoping to 'help' a little.
Also, to enjoy 'my' body, mind, creativity, and relationships.

May all being s be well.
May all beings be happy.'

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 9:52am BST

Why do you expect different treatment from liberals than you are prepared to offer to liberals, Dave?

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 1:00pm BST

Thomas Renz wrote: "A church which dispenses with cultural sensitivity and intellectual honesty becomes a sect.”

Pray, what exactly is “cultural sensitivity” and h o w is it linked to “intellectual honesty”?

Strange visions tumble in my mind....

Thomas Renz wrote: “A church which does not celebrate Christian Baptism and the Eucharist is a sect.”

What, may I enquire, is “celebrate” in this context? A manifestation of the “faith” of the individual – or the Faith of the Church in Christ’s Sacraments?

Thomas Renz wrote: “A church which does not uphold the Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith is a sect."

Oh dear, poor Dr Hooker (line and sinker ;=) who says Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary – but not all things.

And who says with Saint Paul that nothing “beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4.6) is to be required of anybody – which is precisely what is being done today, again.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 1:43pm BST

"A church which dispenses with cultural sensitivity and intellectual honesty becomes a sect."

Cultural sensitivity is a bad(ly) thing? Intellectual honest as oppposed to dihonesty?

A church which does not celebrate Christian Baptism and the Eucharist is a sect."
As a "liberal, revisionist," I still celebrate communion every week, as well as Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I try each and every day to live fully my baptismal promise.

A church which does not uphold the Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith is a sect." Here I might deviate since like the Roman Church I don't recognize either creation story (and there are two) as factual/historical events nor do I observe the laws in the book of Leviticus, else I'd be stoning someone just about every day and wouldn't eat shell fish and would sell my daughter into slavery.

Posted by: Robert Christian on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 3:21pm BST

"There is within the USA a demand that Episcopalians (especially the clergy) follow the new teaching. In certain dioceses those who dissent are crushed and no longer allowed to be part of the process. "

Yes indeed. Try Pittsburgh, Dallas-Foprt Worth, San Joquin [which I think I just spelled wrong], Quincy and a few others.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 3:26pm BST

Ian: I have heard such allegations made. My observation is that those allegations are coming on both directions: that in the identified ACN dioceses that moderate congregations that wish emphatically to stay in the Episcopal Church are being excluded/restricted, and that pro-AAC/ACN congregations in liberal dioceses are being excluded/restricted. Where we find that we must consider that unacceptable. At the same time, there are cases where, as near as I can tell from reading in the net, a handful of pro-AAC/ACN congregations have foreclosed beforehand any thought of reconciliation (the Diocese of Florida is a particularly sad situation, but the cases of Los Angeles and the Connecticut 6 seem to have started that way). Surely no bishop, no diocese can be expected to succeed in reconciliation where clergy and congregations have stated on the front end that there is no grounds for and no interest in reconciliation. At that point in almost any human relations there's nothing to do but try to establish clear boundaries.

Thomas: my concern about Scriptural authority is that literalism is not a part of "the Christian faith as this Church has received it "(the Episcopal Church, certainly, but also, I think, most provinces of the Anglican Communion). To say that because I do not hold Scripture as authoritative "in the traditional sense of the word" is to focus on the practice of a part of the Church for only the past 200 years or so. The tradition of the whole history of the Church reflects from the earliest generations multiple ways of understanding Scripture, hardly limited to the literal, but all of them authoritative. There are, somewhere in the archives of the Diocese of Tennessee, two cards with my signature on them, on which I acknowledged that I believe "the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation." I still believe that; but I don't think that means, and I don't believe it requires, receiving Scripture as "literally true, verbally inspired, inerrant, and infallible," as the Baptists around me proclaimed in my childhood.

I make the metaphor of the Episcopal Church as "R&D" with all humility. I grew up in a research environment, and work now in health care, with its heavy focus on "evidence-based" practice. I know that not all experiments succeed. I know, also, that nothing is learned if a valid experiment is shortcircuited. We have not demanded others follow, even though, I would repeat, we have made moral arguments and appeals. We need to look for the evidence of the Spirit, who is the abiding presence of the resurrected Word, whom we know first but not solely through the derivative word of Scripture.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 3:55pm BST

The idea that what distinguishes Anglicanism as a path - or a range of inter-related contexts? - from all the other paths/contexts in which people are following Jesus of Nazareth can be simply put to some narrative extent, but not so simply lived.

Our historic Anglican tradition was simply what everybody already knows. Anglicans are united in a lived, acted theology of inter-relationship which is first and foremost enacted in sacramental liturgy-common prayer - the two emblems of which are typically baptism (which tends to get read as protestant or reform in its emphasis on the call-inclusion of all believers as equals) and eucharist (which tends to get read quite diversely in a distinctively open-ended way that seems quite impossible when compared to other churches in search of finality, certainty, and a reading that can be claimed to be trustworthy because it cannot change, cannot journey into greater understanding or wholeness. Major Anglican figures at different points in their lives embraced different theologies of eucharist, and sometimes died for changing their minds in public - so maybe that is a special clue to Anglican identity. This willingness to die because you have sincerely changed your mind in public as you follow Jesus?).

We Anglicans believe that we inherit, receive, nourish, and depend on bonds of affection and service which cross divisions or differences that have tended to split or poison other ways of being community. We Anglicans much more tend towards inquiring, discussing, arguing (almost without ceasing, as if arguing in certain ways were actually a form of prayer?). At the end of the day's disputations, we Anglicans are all standing together in one room as one body of Christ, not because of our orthodoxies and conformities but because Jesus is mystically indivisible, no matter how diverse we as a people are.

We Anglicans used to be fairly unwilling to engage very much in faked and forced intellectual dilemmas in which somebody wanted us to definitively choose between scripture, reason (including these days, empirical data & research), and the rich storehouse of legacy traditions. Duh, it ALL belongs to us as brothers/sisters in Jesus. No vineyard, no barn, no storehouse can be burned to the ground because it is superceded by another part of the property. Even our mistakes, like how the early church fought over circumcision and the converting of Gentiles to Jesus, like how we theologized Ptolemaic Cosmology and the theory of a flat earth, like how we theologized slavery, stand as revered monuments for all of us to see and ponder and ponder again. That is the Anglican way, not all this Bridge playing new campaign theology of trying to see what piece of scripture innately trumps tradition, or reason or vice versa. Scripture read without reason is just as false as tradition read without scripture as is reason uninformed by scripture and tradition as is ... well this list of silly walks is a very large and growing list of so-called orthodoxies.

Now, all is tilted by the realignment campaign. Suddenly, various groups of conservative Anglicans are urging all sorts of nonsense dilemmas upon us as if these were historic Anglican realities, but the historical fact is, simply, none of these claims are true.

If you are a conservative believer who thinks that queer folks are better off invisible, dead, or celibate - then stay your course; but by all means try to keep whatever open mind, heart, and discerning spirit you can - God could do a new and wonderful thing with those perverts, even if you cannot envision it. If you are a conservative believer who sincerely doubts the innovation of women in sacramental leadership/ministry, stay your course; but by all means cling to the mystical effective Anglican notion that Jesus is greater than even the orders of church ministry which are, in fact, based on our belonging in the body of Christ, not the other way round. We could make a good provisional argument that a woman's baptism grounds and trumps any difficulties she might have, if indeed, her genital anatomy and female physiology separate her from men, almost to the extent that she becomes like a separate species of para-human creature. If vocations do not arise from the combined effectiveness of baptism, the community's call and discernment, and the mystical work of the living and risen Jesus who is Lord - what is the point? Trying to sacrifice one stream of this deep and important vocational reality to only one controlling root is mischievous, foolish, and not characteristically Anglican very much.

Orthodoxists do not wish to hear these counter-campaign urgings, because they simply ask conservative believers to back off a bit, agree to disagree, give other sorts of followers the same sorts of space and breathing room that they ask for themselves, and above all, stop making everything different a rune of High Taboo - full of fear, loathing, and doomsday prophecies of impending toxic contaminations brought to us by the wrong sort.

Posted by: drdanfee on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 4:18pm BST

Göran - "cultural sensitivity" and "intellectual honesty" belong together as a habit of engagement with our world as in the phrase "a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly." My substitution of "intellectual honesty" for "intellectual flexibility" was not meant to signal a different concept but to gloss "intellectual flexibility" as an ability to engage honestly with all the evidence, taking up "tenacious pursuit of the truth" from the essay in question.

There is no hidden agenda behind my use of "celebrate". I could have written "A church which does not administer Christian Baptism and the Eucharist is a sect."

To "uphold the Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith" is not saying anything different from what Hooker said. My words do not imply a "Neo-Puritan" reading of Scripture in a "flat literal sense as a repository of eternal commands".

Footnote: This characterisation of "Neo-Puritans" stems from Mike Russell, see http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/001181.html
cf. http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/001307.html

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 6:00pm BST

Merseymike wrote: "Why do you expect different treatment from liberals than you are prepared to offer to liberals, Dave?"

Dear Merseymike, because liberals are wrong. The Church is supposed to be *just* for Christians- those wanting to follow Christ - not *just* for religious liberals (whether or not they are Christian).

Posted by: Dave on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 7:40pm BST

Robert Christian: I used the phrase "dispense with" as equivalent to any of these:

1. Manage without, forgo,
2. Get rid of, do away with
3. Exempt one from a law, promise, or obligation,

abbreviated from http://www.answers.com/topic/dispense-with

Maybe there are other uses of the verb which are unknown to me.

So to rephrase: where cultural sensitivity and intellectual honesty are done away with church becomes sect. (And just to make myself perfectly clear: "church" = good, "sect" = bad.)

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 8:31pm BST

Robert Christian: I did not imply that anyone would want to abandon all three strands at once. In fact, that was rather my point (cf. my first contribution) but I won't labour this now.

What does the affirmation of the Scriptures as "the rule and ultimate standard of faith" have to do with a flat, ignorant, stupid, literalistic reading of the Scriptures?

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 8:41pm BST

Dave wrote: because liberals are wrong.

Ah. That settles it, of course. Alternatively, it demonstrates the hollowness of an argument which ends up depending on a 'cos I say so' statement.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Wednesday, 12 July 2006 at 10:49pm BST

I'm afraid that it will be difficult for me to take anything Dave has to say in the future very seriously. That saddens me because I value hearing from those with whom I disagree yet offer something meaningful to the conversation. I hope that his last post was just some kind of frustrated outburst and that he can return to dialogue mode.

Posted by: Brant Wiley on Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 4:05am BST

literalistic reading of the Scriptures

if only it were literalistic, then engagement at a meaningful level with those who approach the Bible from the infallibilist perspective would be much easier.

Scholars are literalists — when it says (for example) that the sun stood still, they assume that's what the text says: compare and contrast the explanations in conservative evangelical commentaries which advance hypotheses which actually contradict the text but appear to make it historically accurate to a superficial reader.

The recently disinterred naturalistic explanation of the plagues of Egypt is another good example of the price paid in the desperate search for historicity — by presenting the plagues as a concatenation of natural events, the historical authenticity of the Exodus account appears to be upheld, but the cause and effect element of Pharaoh's refusal to listen leading to greater and greater punishment is lost. So, paradoxically, those who would most likely defend to the death the supernatural in the Bible wind up undermining it by reducing Yahweh to little more than a prime mover. Bizarre, but true.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 8:43am BST

Mynsterpreost -- have you read any scholarly commentary on Joshua recently, evangelical or otherwise? I rather doubt it, as you seem to think that it is obvious to everyone but poor, prejudiced evangelicals what precisely the verse refers to.

I happen to be interested in this verse because of my work on Habakkuk (see 3.11) but I don't want to take the thread off topic.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 10:28am BST

I borrow from my wife's library, who does a spot of OT lecturing.

The point I'm trying to make isn't in any way original — I first found it in Barr's 'Fundamentalism' back in the 80's. It seems to me probable that the Joshua 10 material is linked with Canaanite mythology, and that to start scurrying around for naturalistic explanations actually obscures the text and takes the eye off the ball.

This is my objection to the charge that those who are not conservative evangelicals do not take the Bible seriously — I contend that we do, and that scholarship, be it liberal, catholic or evangelical, is usually rigorous in its exegetical method.

The infallibilist school tends not to have a consistent hermeneutic, so far as I can tell, other than one which effectively insulates the Bible from any process of criticism by falsification (I know Popper's old hat, but he still has his uses).

The Habakkuk text looks interesting — not a prophet I've ever studied, but I do find fascinating the re-use of metaphors from the (presumably) Canaanite context in Yahwism, partly because if the OT 'legitimises' the borrowing of language, metaphor and symbolism from outside it raises interesting questions about our own borrowings. But I digress....

Apologies if it came across as dismissive or arrogant: I tend to have a rather laconic style.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 2:44pm BST

"It seems to me probable that the Joshua 10 material is linked with Canaanite mythology" reads much better and rather differently from "when it says ... that the sun stood still, [scholars] assume that's what the text says"...

I would take issue with the assumption that my earlier contribution presents a specifically conservative evangelical view, whether or not "conservative evangelicalism" in your mind equals Barr's depiction of "fundamentalism".

I am also slightly bemused about your concept of an "infallibilist school" with an identifiable, albeit inconsistent, hermeneutic.

No ill feelings, though.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 12:32am BST

Maybe I should elaborate on this last point because Robert Christian seemed to think that he could not agree with "A church which does not uphold the Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith is a sect" because "like the Roman Church" he doesn’t recognize the two creation stories as factual/historical events and because he did not observe the laws in the book of Leviticus.

Well, like any other mainline denomination (although they would not like to be called a denomination), the Roman Catholic Church is a broad church in which you find all sorts (Anglicans who think this is their distinctive should go out more). It does, however, have official positions.

"Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." (Dei Verbum, par. 11). It continues with a citation of 2 Tim. 3:16-17.

Strictly speaking, this affirms inerrancy [is without error] rather than infallibility [cannot err]. The latter is more fully elaborated upon in Providentissimus Deus, par. 20, which carries the heading "Inspiration Incompatible with Error" and includes the claim that "This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican."

And yes, to the best of my knowledge Catholics are permitted to eat shellfish and are not required (or even encouraged) to read Genesis 1-2 as a strictly factual account.

Back to Anglicanism: Some Issues in Human Sexuality, I think, discouraged us from finding internal inconsistencies in Scripture, as this would raise serious doubts about its doctrinal authority (check out 2.3.11, if you’re interested).

All this is meant to say: You don’t have to be a raving literalist fundamentalist (conservative evangelical "Neo-Puritan") to speak of Scripture as "the rule and ultimate standard of faith" or even to use the language of infallibility.

(I realise that I take the risk that for some readers this contribution only goes to show that the authors of Dei Verbum and the authors of Some Issues were not only raving literalist fundamentalists but also hopelessly confused and inconsistent.)

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 12:49am BST

I might as well repeat what I wrote in a thread below:

It's strange to see all these Calvinist readings of dear Dr Hooker and the XXXIX Articles.

Wasn't Dr Hooker defending the Via Media of the Church against the Gregorian past (and Tridentine present) of schismatic Rome, and, equally, against the extreme Neo Platonism of secarian Calvinism?

It does look like the acrobatics performed by the Pietists over the German Lutheran Books of Concord ;=)

And this goes for Calvinist readings of Dei Verbum and Some Issues as well.

(The quote from Dei Verbum says, with Dr Hooker, that all things necessary are contained in the Bible, not that all things are contained in the same, as per some translations ;=)

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 9:30am BST

PS: "is without error" seeks to affirm that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions, i.e. "does not teach error". The phrase is not meant to imply that we cannot find errors by external standards of grammar or history writing or nature description. The instrumental phrase in a fuller description is "what Scripture teaches". Obviously, this could go on for ever. I am not actually inclined to pursue it and did not mean for anyone to get hung up about a specific term.

Hooker never argued that Scripture taught one thing but that we now know better and can correct Scripture. His concern was to show that the Scriptures did not teach what the Puritans thought it taught. In fact, he suggested to the Puritan "reappraisers" that their views were quite novel – "no age ever had knowledge of it but only ours" (Book III, X, 8).

And before anyone gets confused: I do not belong to those who think that "reappraising" is always bad or "reasserting" always good or the other way round.

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 10:06am BST

Thomas — apologies, I had not meant to suggest you were in any way fundamentalist! Sorry if that was the impression created.

Your last posting identifies pretty exactly my own position - you don't have to be fundamentalist to have a high view of Scripture, except that I would ask whether the Fundamentalist view of Scripture is as high as that of the non-fundamentalist.

The current creationist goings-on are a case in point: a literalist reading of some of the biblical creation stories would find creationism unacceptable: six days the Book saith, and that's that. So when a fundamentalist embraces Creationism as an affirmation of Genesis, they're trying to make the Bible inerrant or infallible by disregarding what it actually says.

Posted by: mynsterpreost on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 10:22am BST

Göran - did I ever say that all things are contained in Scripture in the way you imply? I talked about "the Scriptures as the rule and ultimate standard of faith" as the heartlands of the holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Maybe you refer to the "affirmation of the Scriptures as the church's sole source of revelation and the only final and infallible standard"? Maybe I should have written "the church's sole source of infallible relevation" but in context it is clearly a statement against the two-source theory of revelation to which Trent committed the Roman Catholic Church and "standard" takes up "standard of faith" above. It seems to me absurd to deduce from this that I believe that all you need to know about anything is in Scripture.

Your appeal to Hooker is farcical, given the disdain for the threefold division of the law you expressed in a previous thread, see http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/archives/001514.html

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 8:26pm BST

"In a word, we plainly perceive by the difference of those three laws which the Jews received at the hand of God, the moral, ceremonial, and judicial, that if the end for which and the matter according whereunto God maketh his laws continue always one and the same, his laws also do the like; for which cause the moral law cannot be altered..." (III.10.4, original) or to put it more briefly: "the moral, in the nature of things, remains unchanged, and unchangeable; the ceremonial has ceased, the end thereof having been fulfilled: and the judicial, though the end remains, yet the original method being, by alteration of times and circumstances inadequate, may in those particulars be changed, wherein it is obviously required" (Kiefer's digest).

According to Hooker this unchanging "moral law" is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments although not restricted to the two tablets, as his discussion in III.9.2 demonstrates. (For this assumption, see also, e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae; cf.

To affirm that the ceremonial law was also given by God is crucial to Hooker's argument that even divine law can change.

Hooker asks to take notice "that we are far from presuming to think that men can better any thing which God hath done... God never ordained any thing that could be bettered. Yet many things he hath that have been changed, and that for the better. That which succeedeth as better now when change is requisite, had been worse when that which now is changed was instituted." (III.10.5)

The last sentence deserves mulling over. How many contemporary "reappraisers" would be willing to agree with Hooker, I wonder.

Apologies for the digression. I love Hooker's take on the threefold division of the law (might even come to love the threefold division itself one of these days, who knows?). And he embodies "Anglican heartlands", doesn't he?

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Friday, 14 July 2006 at 9:55pm BST
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