When the neighborhood Anglican Church starts another Baptist Bible study.
Photos from Pixabay.com
When the neighborhood Anglican Church starts another Baptist Bible study.
Photos from Pixabay.com
Stop the madness!
“The Church of England is set to signal to members that speaking openly about their faith could do more harm than good when it comes to spreading Christianity,” writes John Bingham in The Telegraph of London.
That makes me think the long-standing work of Evangelism Explosion has been more like an evangelism implosion.
Here’s why, in highlights from Bingham’s article:
“The study, called ‘Talking Jesus’, was commissioned jointly by the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and ‘Hope’ an umbrella body which brings local churches together in different areas, in an attempt to arrest the decline in attendances….
“Non-believers were asked if a practising Christian had ever spoken to them about their faith. Of those who said yes, only 19 per cent said it made them want to know more compared with 59 per cent who said the opposite.
“While 23 per cent said it made them feel ‘more positive towards Jesus Christ’, 30 per cent said it left them feeling more negative.”
As church attendance declines in the United Kingdom and the United States, Islam is rapidly catching up with Christianity in terms of numbers, and likely will surpass it globally within the next century. Why? Because, according to the Pew Research Center, Muslims are more likely to have more children—more likely than Christians and much more likely than the average of all non-Muslims.
I can’t imagine Christians out-reproducing Muslims, whether statistically or practically speaking. For Christianity, the war of numbers appears to be lost. For that matter, the war of argument appears to be lost, too. I can’t imagine Christians meaningfully winning debates with the New Atheist folks, either, because like any supernatural religion, Christianity depends upon revelation and tradition as its primary modes of authority, and those two modes can be difficult to challenge with evidence and reason. Impasse. Deadlock. (A few subtle and nuanced thinkers believe they have found their way around it, only to be vilified from all sides.)
Oddly enough, if the so-called New Atheists want to win the world, they might want to stop debating and start procreating. I didn’t say start boinking—my guess is they’re already quite adept. They might need to stop using one of the (very good) things their intellectual forerunners fought to have in Western society: birth control. After all, people tend to stick with the religion in which they were born, sayeth Richard Dawkins. And apparently, more people are being born into Islam.
And, New Atheists, you can’t just shoot for one or two kids. Pew says the average Muslim woman will have 3.1 children. Luckily, those three children will become good people, and only the 0.1 has a chance of becoming a terrorist or joining ISIS. I’m sure that’s similar to the possibility of a kid born into an American Christian family becoming an abortion-clinic bomber. In either case, there are scary outliers wearing popular labels.
Think about it: 3.1 children per Muslim woman. The Christian women aren’t going to beat that birth rate. They’ve been fully appropriated into middle-class American/Western dreams, which get complicated and difficult to achieve with three or more kiddos—with just one kiddo, for that matter.
So, New Atheists, you gotta beat that birth rate.
Procreating is ideological warfare.
If evangelism—whether the religious or the atheistic sort—isn’t likely to change people, then I guess what wins the world is the point of view most commonly held among the biggest families.
A certain religious prohibition against birth control was never strictly moralistic or patriarchal, you sillies; it was global strategy.
Once again, we revert to ancient concerns: How can my tribe survive and thrive?
Click here to access a larger view of the following graphic from the Religion News Service, based on figures from the Pew 2007 Religious Landscape Survey.
A few thoughts spurred by the above graphic:
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:
“Further, if the [literary] work is indeed a stable object, about which careful readers can make objective statements, then why hasn’t there been an emerging consensus in criticism? Instead, the history of criticism seems to be one of diversity and change, as successive critics provide innovatively different readings of the same work. Even in the sciences, the idea of an objective point of view has been increasingly questioned. Facts, as Thomas Kuhn has argued, emerge because of a certain system of belief, or paradigm….in the wake of Einstein’s theory of relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Gödel’s mathematics, and much else, it seems clear that the perceiver plays an active role in the making of any meaning and that literary works in particular have a subjective status.” — Steven Lynn, in a chapter on reader-response criticism, in his book Texts and Contexts
Lynn’s quotation stands to reason, regardless of the genre in question.
This is not to drop myself, or to attempt to drop anyone else, into the false dilemma that says either we accept everything as relative or we hold to absolute truth. I’m merely agreeing with the premise that “the perceiver plays an active role in the making of any meaning.”
In ways that are more or less accurate to the situation in which a text was written, readers, especially readers of the Bible, apply their interpretations of Scriptural passages to their lives.
To make more sense of this, let’s flip the issue around and look at it from a different angle.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, a major research university has an original letter written by Saint Paul of New Testament fame. They have the very manuscript over which Paul’s hand once moved. All scholars and clergy, internationally, are permitted to view it (as much as travel funds allow). The scholars have the best possible understanding of the ancient cultural and social milieu in which the letter was written. They understand the language. They understand the themes, which they cross-reference with other letters written by Paul. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, all conditions are set for a perfectly accurate interpretation of the God-inspired letter. The social, cultural, literary, historical, and theological contexts are all understood to the point that a broad consensus — on the letter’s meaning and function within its audience — has been established.
What impact does this perfect interpretative situation have on a man in Marion County, South Carolina, who awakens to read his King James Version of the Bible and applies a passage to his life — while removed more than 2,000 years and a language from its presumed source?
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.
Steve Huntley, in the Chicago Sun-Times:
During this season of joyous religious celebrations and especially the holiday cheer enjoyed with family and friends during Christmas time, we should not forget that in too many corners of the world Christianity is under siege with Christians abused, brutalized and murdered.
Ghastly crimes like the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian Christian school girls by the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram, the beheadings of Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and the flight from riot and murder by Coptic Christians from Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood reign make headlines….
ICC’s Persecution.org website and organizations and individuals such as Open Doors and the Gatestone Institute’s Raymond Ibrahim do the good work of trying to keep the plight of Christians in the public eye. Their reports, easily accessible on the Internet, make for disturbing reading.
Ibrahim wrote of a Christian convert from Islam in Uganda who established a Christian school. Hassan Muwanguzi was beaten by Muslims, hauled into court on trumped-up charges of “defiling” a Muslim girl, saw his home burned by arson, was sickened by poison, and survived an attack by four Muslims that left his 12-year-old daughter dead.
In a crime that “has shaken Pakistan’s Christian community to the core,” ICC reports, a mob accused a Christian couple of burning pages of the Koran, beat them and burned them alive in a brick kiln. The woman was pregnant; the mob left the couple’s four children orphans.
Open Doors reports that a Christian convert in Egypt faces a five-year prison sentence and that an Anglican church in Nigeria shut down after 11 members were killed in attacks by al-Shabaab terrorists. Open Doors says that in India, Christian pupils and teachers won’t have a Christmas holiday because the government declared Dec. 25 “Good Governance Day” with a student essay competition that day. Furthermore, a Hindu nationalist group says the day should be devoted to “re-converting” 4,000 Christians to the Hindu faith.