Category Archives: Scripture

Anglicanism, Episcopalians, and gay rights

Food for thought, from an 8-year-old book entitled Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism:

In their conflicting positions on homosexuality, both sides view their positions on this issue as part of their religious identities and faith commitments. Although conservatives sometimes describe the liberal position as an adoption of secular humanist values from the surrounding culture, proponents of both the conservative and the liberal positions ground their arguments in understandings of God, scripture, and the church….

Liberal Christians generally do not take a literalist view of Scripture and offer less condemning readings of the biblical passages that conservatives take as denouncing homosexuality. One example comes from the book What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, by Roman Catholic priest David Helminiak. Helminiak writes: “Somehow God must be behind the fact that some people are homosexual. Then why should God’s word in the Bible condemn homosexuality? . . . There must be another answer. The mistake must be in how the Bible is being read.”

Helminiak’s statement hints at a second liberal argument, based on humanistic ideas about the naturalness and goodness of human nature. This argument holds that since some people experience themselves as homosexual, and since presumably God made them that way, then expressing their sexual orientation cannot be inherently wrong. Such views also rest on an incarnational theology that sees Jesus Christ’s taking on human form as validating humanity in a fundamental way. Human nature is seen not as negative and inimical to faith and purity, but as God’s gift, sanctified by Christ’s sharing in it. An element of liberation theology is present here as well, in the conviction voiced by many liberal Episcopalians that the gospel’s central message concerns freedom from oppression. [emphasis added]

— Miranda K. Hassett, in Anglican Communion in Crisis : How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism, Princeton University Press, 2007

In both of the above-boldfaced cases, notice how sovereignty, that key term for Reformation theology, is implied in the liberal Christian perspective.

How Tradition defended Scripture & defeated Gnosticism in early Christianity

Continuing a critique of the phrase “Biblical Anglicans” and some possible assumptions behind it:

Throughout his five-volume series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale historian of Christianity, returned to the formative role of church tradition.

(Granted, as I said before, histories, like texts, are matters of interpretation. But some interpretations are better informed and more authoritative than others.)

In the fifth volume, Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700), Pelikan writes (with direct quotations referring to sources listed in the margins of the book; the sources are omitted here for clarity):

Because it was the period in which historical theology came into its own, especially among Protestants but also among Roman Catholics and (particularly toward the end of the period) among Eastern Orthodox scholars, the nineteenth century confronted the idea of consensus of Christian tradition, and specifically patristic tradition, in a new way. It did seem remarkable that the apologists of the first three centuries in their defenses of the Christian message against pagans and Jews had “totally ignored the living tradition in their theory and criticism of revelation,” which they sometimes seemed to reduce to rational notions of God, creation, and immortality. A growing interest in the historical significance of Gnosticism for the emergence of orthodox Catholic doctrine led to the judgment that since Catholics and Gnostics alike had appealed to the authority of Scripture, the authority of tradition as “a principle standing above Scripture” became a way for Catholic orthodoxy to defeat Gnostic heresy. Irenaeus deserved recognition for being the first who “penetrated to the full value of the Catholic principle of tradition and developed its probative force.” Having supported the authenticity of the books of the New Testament from the tradition of the universal church, he had, moreover, helped to preserve the very Scripture that Protestants now sought to dissociate from tradition; and he had proved his thesis concerning the unity of apostolicity of the Catholic Church and its tradition by reference to the church of Rome, whose authority Protestants denied; Eastern theologians had to make a special point of explaining his statements about Roman primacy.

The boldfaced segments above were added by me.

Please also see:

Richard Hooker versus the Puritan position—more about the Anglican view of Scripture, Reason & Tradition

“Biblical Anglicans” as “one-third Anglicans”

Anglicanism and “Biblical Anglicans” as “one-third Anglicans”

Anglicanism, Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker in the context of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition

 

Garrison Keillor’s apt, amusing analogy

I saw Garrison Keillor perform earlier tonight in Myrtle Beach. One of his stories — I can’t remember if it was from his own life or fictitious — was about growing up in a strict religious community. He said members of the community were supposed to just read the letters of Saint Paul and then, somehow, he guessed maybe through force of imagination, figure out what they were supposed to do and how they were supposed to be. Keillor said it was like going to see Swan Lake and expecting to become a ballerina.

Anglicanism, Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker in the context of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition

Histories, like texts, are matters of interpretation, and some interpretations are more credible and authoritative than others.

For this post, I’ll rely on the interpretation of William C. Placher, who at the time of writing the below excerpts was professor of philosophy and religion at Wabash College.

Here’s Placher on Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed to Archbishop of Canterbury (leader of the Church of England) in 1532:

His interests lay less in systematic theology than in church history, especially the history of liturgy, and in writing the Book of Common Prayer he produced the foundation of much English religion and one of the glories of English prose.

In Cranmer we should see a big piece of what makes Anglicanism distinct: historical liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer, at least according to Placher, in his book A History of Christian Theology (The Westminster Press, 1983).

Now, Placher on Hooker:

In the late 1500s Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity set out a “middle way” between the extremes of Catholicism and Calvinism, a thoughtful and moderate theology that rejected the authority of popes for that of Scripture alone but drew heavily on Christian writers of the first several centuries in interpreting the faith. Such scholarly attention to the early church has been characteristic of English theology ever since, and the theological compromises developed by Hooker and other produced a degree of peace. Some questions of liturgy and church organization, however, could not be compromised — one either had bishops or did not, knelt to pray or remained standing, and so on — and these issues therefore became the center of English theological debate.

In such controversies the Puritan party desired to purify the church — purify it of theological vagueness, moral laxity, elaborate liturgy, and bishops. The English Puritans often claimed to follow Calvin, but Calvin had acknowledged the legitimacy of a number of different forms of church organization and liturgical style.

Placher suggests the Puritans were not seeking the “middle way” of Cranmer and Hooker. He also suggests that the Puritans, as self-proclaimed followers of John Calvin, were not really on the same page as Calvin.

At the same time, as Placher sees it, Hooker was not interested in either “extremes” of Catholicism or Calvinism, suggesting neither the Church of England nor Anglicanism are properly Calvinist or Puritan in essence (nor are they Roman Catholic).

As in his assessment of Cranmer, Placher also identifies in Hooker a concern with early church traditions that pre-date the canonization of the Bible as the Puritan knew it.

For more context related to Anglicanism, Scripture, Reason, and Tradition, please also see:

Anglicanism and ‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’

‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’

Must-read: Stanley Fish on Terry Eagleton’s book, ‘Reason, Faith, and Revolution’

‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’

Updated at 11:20 p.m. [Jan. 9] with a link to a video clip at the end.
Updated at 1 p.m. Jan. 27 with an excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.

Anglicans often have been defined and identified by their braid of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition.

Of course, the use of “Biblical Anglicans” or “Biblical Anglicanism” in the current global environment says less about historical understanding and more about contemporary political rhetoric.

However, the use of “Biblical Anglicans” still raises the question: why not assert all of the whole, instead of one-third? Why not say, “Historical Anglicanism: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition”?

I’m afraid the emphasis on one-third of the whole stems from an underlying belief that Reason and Tradition caused all things that, accurately or inaccurately, are now tagged “un-biblical.”

Let’s clarify a couple of things. “Reason” here doesn’t even mean “narcissistic, arrogant humanism,” as a Biblical Anglican might fear. Religion professor Richard T. Nolan says, in the context of Anglicanism, reason

is misunderstood when understood as theoretical reasoning. Reason was understood in a classical sense, drawing from Plato and Aristotle, as a participatory knowledge. To know something was to experience it, to share or participate in something. Hence, scripture and reason inform each other. Again, there is a mutual, inward hold that scripture makes upon us and we upon it. As such, reason may be best understood as a practical wisdom. It is in this sense that scripture, tradition, and reason inform each other.

But that does not conflate Scripture, Reason, and Tradition as three versions of the same thing. The Biblical Anglicans, or One-Third Anglicans, seem comfortable with Tradition and Reason as handy proofs for the authority of Scripture, rather than being forms of authority themselves. That approach would not be historically accurate. Consider two cases in point.

First, Benjamin Amundgaard says,

Another understanding of the interplay between Scripture, reason, and tradition came in the early 1830s from the Oxford Movement. Led by John Keble, John Henry Newman, Hurrell Froude, and Edward Pusey, the movement sought to restore the place of tradition in the life of the Church. The Oxford men believed that it was wrong to suggest that all doctrines and practices must come directly from Scripture, but that such could be warranted if they were indirectly evidenced in Scripture and clearly practiced in the early Church (i.e., tradition).

Amundgaard goes on to quote a tract on infant baptism, written by the Oxford Movement leaders:

Where is this enjoined in Scripture? No where. Why do we observe it? Because the primitive Church observed it, and because the Apostles in Scripture appear to have sanctioned it, though this is not altogether certain from Scripture.

Notice that clause: Because the primitive Church observed it…

To round out the point, Amundgaard quotes another Oxford Movement tract:

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Episcopacy is in fact not at all mentioned in Scripture: even then it would be our duty to receive it. Why? because the first Christians received it. If we wish to get at the truth, no matter how we get at it, if we get at it. If it be a fact, that the earliest Christian communities were universally episcopal, it is a reason for our maintaining Episcopacy; and in proportion to our conviction, is it incumbent on us to maintain it.

Keep that last quotation in mind.

Now, the second case in point.

Early in his acclaimed book A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, Professor David L. Holmes devotes a section to the Book of Common Prayer. In the below revealing excerpts, Holmes is referring to the second edition (1552) of the Book of Common Prayer, which was Thomas Cranmer’s revision of his original work, and a tweaked 1559 edition released by Queen Elizabeth.

As it did during Edward’s time, the Elizabethan Prayer Book had opponents who felt it did not move far enough…. The Puritan party, which desired biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church, viewed the Prayer Book as a half-way house to true reform and objected that it retained practices that were unscriptural.

Furthermore, as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church said of Puritans,

They demanded express Scriptural warrant for all the details of public worship, believing that all other forms were popish, superstitious, idolatrous, and anti-Christian.

I’m not trying to rebut the Puritan party in its entirety, but notice the reasoning and reasonableness in the above Oxford Movement tract excerpts versus the unattainable and unrealistic goals of the Puritan party, at least as far as Holmes describes them.

The goals were “unattainable and unrealistic” because Christian liturgical worship, and its antecedents in Jewish liturgical worship, both were established prior to the final canonization of the Christian Bible.

In his book Whose Bible Is It? A Short History of the Scriptures, the late Yale University historian Jaroslav Pelikan explains how and when the Christian Bible was (more or less, as we’ll see) finalized as a specific collection of books.

The writings of Eusebius and of his contemporary, Athanasius of Alexandria, make it evident that agreement on the disputed books was approaching by the middle of the fourth century and that the canon of the New Testament which now appears in the Christian Bible was gaining general, if not quite universal, acceptance. That canon appears for the first time in a letter of Athanasius issued in 367 CE.

After that letter other traditions held their own for a time. Thus the scholars and theologians of Antioch in general accepted only three Catholic Epistles — James, 1 Peter, and 1 John — while one of its most illustrious representatives, Theodore of Mopsuestia, rejected the whole of this section of the canon. The West followed the lead of Athanasius. In 382 a synod was held at Rome under Pope Damasus, at which the influence of Jerome secured the adoption of a list of books answering to that of Athanasius. This was ratified by Pope Gelasius at the end of the fifth century. The same list was confirmed independently for the province of Africa at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 and 419 under the leadership of Augustine of Hippo. The second canon of the Second Trullian Council of 692…may be taken to have formally closed the process of the formation of the New Testament for East and West. This stands in sharp contrast to the status of the Old Testament canon within the church, which was not acted upon by an “ecumenical” church council until the Council of Trent in 1546 and then in a way that has gone on being disputed because of the status of the Apocrypha.

(Notice the finalization of the canon actually “has gone on being disputed” due to differences in opinion regarding the Apocrypha. Christianity, writ large, agrees on the majority of Scripture but not upon the canon.)

So: Reason and Tradition were instrumental in deciding what books would be part of the New Testament. Reason and Tradition made certain books part the package we call The Bible. (Again, that’s “reason” as defined above.)

But wait — an agreed-upon, basic package of Scriptural books did not mean Bibles were immediately published and distributed to local Christian bookstores and downloaded onto Kindles.

So Christian life, worship, and expression (arts, architecture, and rituals in particular), along with a provisional New Testament, were vital elements within various communities of believers before the Bible could be called the Bible. Traditions, practices, and rituals were foundational to architecture and worship spaces. As a small example, see the remnants of a Christian basilica I photographed in Ostia Antica, ancient harbor city of Rome, this past October.

The Puritan party would have had us believe, and the Biblical Anglican neo-Puritans of today would have us believe, that there must be “biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church.” But that’s to cut off — and degrade — the Christianity that existed prior to canonization, the very Christianity that provided the seedbed in which decisions about the canon were made.

Furthermore, even if we could establish “biblical warrant,” even that isn’t completely precise and certain, according to some Calvinist scholars.

I want to go back to the idea of reason again. The Truth is not the rubber ball that bounces between the believer’s head and the Bible. Reason, as described by Nolan, is a matter of practical and well-practiced wisdom. Reason, in this sense, is also a matter of one’s surrounding cultural and social climates, which inform one’s interpretation of the available translation.

This is where practice and experience and community come into play. As an analogy, reading blueprints is not the same as building a house. Reading blueprints won’t tell you how to build a house, either, just give you the basic structure and measurements. Sure, you need blueprints. But that’s not all, not if you want a place to dwell.

Update: See this brief video clip of Camille Paglia’s interaction with an audience member, regarding the Reformers, the Puritans, and their view of the arts and the Bible.

Here’s what three Reformed / Calvinist scholars say about the variety of views within Christianity

If anything gives me a bit of hope for evangelicals and Calvinists and self-identified Reformed folks, it’s this kind of honest, clear-headed assessment from three leading scholars:

…Most of our theories of the world — philosophical, commonsensical, or even scientific — are underdetermined by the evidence that supports them. They are consistent with the facts, but the facts are not so compelling that their competitors can be shown to be logically inconsistent with the facts. When two such theories are in competition, no appeal to evidence, therefore, could determine the winner.

Biblical interpretations and theological statements are underdetermined by the biblical data. Scripture is a mix of history, myth, poetry, moral instruction, praise, hyperbole, prophecy, and so forth. Sorting through this array of genres requires some sort of hermeneutical [interpretive] method. The inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture are of themselves incapable of delivering God’s truth. Without a hermeneutical method, the inerrant or infallible biblical data cannot communicate truth claims…..

Underdetermination may account for the apparent intractability of theological disputes…. Theologians on both sides of these disputes believe their doctrines to be the only adequate explanation of the biblical data. However, if their competitors also adequately account for all of the biblical data, no appeal to the evidence could resolve the dispute.

Those are excerpts from the entry entitled “Underdetermination” in 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology (Westminster John Knox, 2004) by Kelly James Clark and James K.A. Smith of Calvin College (at least at the time of the book’s release) and Richard Lints of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (ditto).

Reading this assessment from top-notch scholars helped me exhale. Of course, I imagine Clark, Smith, and Lints have strongly held points of view, and I don’t think they’re saying all systematic interpretations are equal. Then again, they seem to be saying the available data does not lend itself strictly to one point of view.

I’m especially appreciative of the authors’ definition of “Underdetermination” and, as I’ve noted previously, “Aesthetics.”

How Purity Culture Kept Me Silent About My Sexual Abuse as a Child: Dinah’s Story

Another Bible-based disaster.

Homeschoolers Anonymous

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Dinah” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse.

I’m going to be honest—growing up in the Christian homeschooling world is hard.

People in the community that I grew up in were picture perfect families, with all their perfect children all in a perfect row, making perfect grades, milling their own wheat and making their own bread.  They were highly esteemed Christians who (of course) have a home church and serve their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These people sound like they’d be lovely to be around, however, that was not the vibe I got at all. There is a heavy feeling that comes with being around those families—judgment:

You don’t mill your own wheat? Shame on you! Don’t you know store bought bread has chemicals? You don’t pastor your own church? Shame on you! Don’t you know…

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