Saturday, 23 August 2008

Theological Position

My theological position seems to be a small issue at Fulcrum. It derives from me thinking I could, from a position of agreement with his biology, give Richard Dawkins a run for his money when it comes to him straying into religion. However, the run for the money he'd get clearly would not satisfy open evangelicals. It wouldn't suit traditionalists either. It probably wouldn't even suit some called liberals either.

In the context of the present Anglican situation I've been calling for more of a theology of innovation. If all the emphasis is on one Church not offending another Church on the basis of, say, that Advent Letter of 2007 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, then the whole weight of active theology is on slowing down and slowing down until there is nothing of any innovation anywhere that isn't centrally approved. The genius of post-colonial Anglicanism has been to be responsive to local culture as well as present its central core messages. The present attempt to centralise - which ought to be resisted - would overturn what it means to be particularly Anglican.

I am more than grateful to have been in receipt of some books recently, and there is clearly available a theology of innovation - if not called that, but it could be so developed. It is linked to diversity. Twenty years back in Clarke, P. A. B. and Linzey, A. (eds.) (1988), Theology, The University and The Modern World, London: LCAP, Andrew Linzey wrote a chapter himself called, simply, 'On Theology', 29-66. In this he used his own considerable understanding of Karl Barth (he did his Ph.D on him) to move on to a theology that would focus more on Spirit (Barth might have done such himself). From a position more orthodox than I can produce, the result is a rounded trinitarian belief that demands diversity of expression, a critical approach and a responsiveness to matters arising. This is the theology of inspiration and achievement, and creativity: doing something new. Andrew Linzey writes there, after a passage from Paulos Mar Gregorius on the God as dynamic and the universe as dynamic:

This it should be emphasised is not 'theological liberalism'... the emphasis is not upon what we cannot know but rather what God cannot be if he is to be what we traditionally claim him to be. Some fundamental open-mindedness is essential not because we cannot know what God is really like but rather because without this prerequisite of open-mindedness we cannot know God at all. We have to be open because God has and is opening himself up to us. (1988, 49)

The Church itself needs to mirror the very unity in diversity that God the Trinity expresses, he states (1988, 49). In later writings (also received!) the same position goes on to reject centralisation towards a communion (Linzey, A. (2005), Has Anglicanism a Future: A Reponse to the Windsor Report, London: LGCM) and to express diversity and indeed a sort of listening, responsive innovation: Linzey, A., 'In Defense of Diversity' in Linzey, A., Kirker R. (eds.) (2005), Gays and the Future of Anglicanism: Responses to the Windsor Report, Winchester: O Books, 160-198.

My argument has been a little more sociological than that, but amounts to the same thing: that the Churches being the points of unity are more responsive, flexible and quite capable of applying the core message to local situations in place and time.

I am fascinated by that definition of religious liberalism:

'theological liberalism'... the emphasis is not upon what we cannot know

That is right too. This is more my position, where I will emphasise what I cannot know, and then write about what I do know as best I can. It is why I have become interested in some of the wider ideas of Ernst Troeltsch in that he too looked at what cannot be known as theology was seen as an academic subject along with history and sociology and philosophy. Since the loss of optimism the modern theologians - Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Bultmann, the Niebuhrs - have given a special space for theology separate from other academic subjects. A special, revelatory space went along with one-way Christ narrative, Christianity in the secular, ultimate questions for Christian answers, demythologising not quite everything and either own-life responsiveness to the narrative or social and economic pragmatism.

This is where I differ (just) from Andrew Linzey, as in the 1988 chapter as above:

Certainly I would want to say that the affirmation of Christ as ousia with God the Father is not only intellectually defensible but true. For all kinds of reasons I think that those who attack this doctrine are mistaken. But even here I cannot persuade myself that the conception of the unity between Christ and the Father expressed in the Chalcedonian definition by way of the term 'ousia' is the only or best conceivable way of understanding that unity. (1988, 63)

I don't attack it; I don't understand it. Of course I understand what it is saying, but I don't have a space for its operation other than in the realm of myth.

Now myth I regard as important. Myth is like art, and art is important. Meanings in our world are not simply centred around physical causality. However, I don't have a space for the objective existence of something like 'ousia' and that is not because I tend to the postmodern.

I look at the figure of Jesus and see many. I see a figure in traditions and I see one that might be historically reconstructed, with great difficulty, as a messianic Jew seeing a Kingdom coming with all speed and vitality. I see early Christians' Jesuses. What I don't see is some sort of essence that is a given, from beyond. I could just be blind; I might, in Calvinist terms, be one of those people chosen by God to be damned. Or I could just be rather sensible. I don't know, but I don't see it.

In the end the Jesus figure or figures is a reflective personality, that a kind of dialectic relationship on what is important in one's own and the community life. It is like a challenge, a reference point (among others).

When it comes to God, then we clearly have, in the arts in particular, but in all sorts of mundane and inspirational moments, signals of transcendence. When Richard Dawkins expresses wonder and amazement for the evolved world, we have a signal of transcendence. They give clues to transcendence, but only clues, and the dots of transcendence may not join up. Again, theological liberalism is about what is missing.

So it is too, that whilst one can talk about a human spirit, but does not have to objectify it into something other (I see how Hindus do this: the Atman becomes part of the Brahman) so one can talk about a Spirit at work. But, for me, this is mythological talk. There is no objectivity in it, beyond the possibility of objectivity. Clearly diversity is a means to open up, and opening up allows things to happen. Is that 'the Spirit' at work? Well, I don't know.

What liturgy does is gives a content and arts-supported pathway towards reflection. It was constructed, and maintains that construction even when translated into modern speech forms, in a mythological age. It expresses things in other terms of reference from the way people today practically think and operate. Too many people throw a religious switch and talk in one manner, very defensively sometimes, only to actually act and work in every day life in an entirely secular thought-frame. Quite simply, I am looking for more consistency than this. So much of the mythic language when objectified becomes inconsistent, and actually becomes surplus. Not only can I not understand it, I cannot see the point of it.

Thus is my theology: I thought, at this point, I'd better explain for the sake of clarity. As you get deeper into disputes that are going on, people start claiming you as their friends, so I ought to lay some cards on the table in case they need other friends.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Unity in Diversity is the myth. Unity in Christ the reality – that they may be one?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

But that ignores the function of the Holy Spirit - that's what is being said, the basis of unity in diversity (for those with an objective understanding).

Anonymous said...

Not ignored as Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit and led by the Holy Spirit.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The concept of the spirit has deep roots in Judaism, but the simple statement that Jesus was born of and led by the Holy Spirit forgets that this is a view of the Christian faith that would not be held by Jesus himself. He is not the first Christian with doctrines handed down. He is a messianic Jew, believing as the Jews did and continued to do so. The notion of Holy Spirit allows Christians to avoid what Andrew Linzey noted in Karl Barth (and it is widespread) and that is an effective binitarianism. The idea is to branch out somewhat, broaden it out, and this aspect of the Godhead in Christianity allows it. That's from the position of those who hold to the view of the having the same 'ousia'.

Scott Hankins said...

Yes. The point is that each of us must be able to say, "I am", and have some context in which to understand that outrageous claim.

Anonymous said...

I may not be on the same page as you guys. However you may be overstating things – I do not believe that Jesus was a prisoner of his culture. My view is Jesus was one who walked contrary to Jewish zeitgeist then and now. Overturning tables, against academic and intellectual hypocrisy, touching the leper, healing the sick, His task was to bring freedom and reconciliation –“My Kingdom is not of this world”. He is “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” – “sin no more”. As ever beware false Christs.

Warren said...

The genius of post-colonial Anglicanism has been to be responsive to local culture as well as present its central core messages.

That's an interesting way of putting things. If you can briefly tolerate the ranting of an evangelical fundamentalist (who is Calvinist to boot) I have an observation. In the small Canadian city where I live, I would be surprised if Anglicans made up even 5% of the average Sunday morning attendance at protestant churches. I am one of the few in my church who knows anything about Anglicanism. For most, the ACC is that "strange" church they occasionally hear about on the news that wants to ordain homosexuals and whose adherents apparently don't believe the Bible. They would have blank looks on their faces if you mentioned Lambeth or GAFCON. There has been much turmoil in the ACC in recent years, but, when you step back and take the big view, it is much like watching the last bit of water in a bathtub swirl around before it goes down the drain. It is sad I suppose, but God's purposes will not be hindered by the collapse of the ACC.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I can tolerate much, indeed I believe in it.

The sense of tying in knots in the ACC will also be seen from the perspective of the Unitarians. It is the difficulty of having mutually exclusive positions within the same ecclesia.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Jesus was entirely within the ethical Judaism of the pharisees, who get an appalling press in the gospels. There were many itinerant healers at the time, simply because of the belief in ill health and death coming from sin carried by demons. The one difference Jesus may have had from others was his breadth of appeal, rather than of one particular identity. John the Baptist was narrower, Qumran even narrower (didn't get their hands dirty).

Anonymous said...

Did He not heal on the Sabbath? Did He not visit Tax Collectors?

If Jesus was entirely within the ethical Judaism of the Pharisees then why was He crucified?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Rabbis at the time were the reasonable party of Judaism, flexible and pragmatic. This is part of the Jewish memory, now, with evidence of dealing with the Romans. Luke 13 has Jesus healing the crippled woman on the sabbath. The gospels protest this is not allowed, but it is not in contravention of Jewish law as it is called pikuach nefesh, or saving life, by the prevention of long lasting suffering. Furthermore, in order to heal people of sins, you have to go to the sinful.

The gospels more than not represent breaking points with Judaism, competition with Judaism and they have to be read in this light.

They are not histories either, but theological traditions already under way, so care is needed for all of this.

My view of Jesus is a non-competitive one: in that he has ethical reversals, or course others did too, but for me it doesn't matter. The uniqueness of Jesus cannot be found in history; its claim is a doctrinal one and all attempts to make Jesus unique usually end up as doctrine first.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Why was he crucified. Well, like so many others, he was a nuisance and life was cheap. The authorities on the edge of the Roman Empire were killing all the time.

it's margaret said...

Zizek is a secular philosopher. He writes about Paul and the gospel of Jesus better than most theologians. Should try him out.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Apparently related to Bonhoeffer and Althizer in secular/ death of God theology.

My own preference is a chap called Milan Machovec. He wrote A Marxist Looks at Jesus, but the Marxism is quite secondary. He does a good reconstruction of the historical Jesus out of the gospel materials and produces an eschatological Jesus who thinks God will send very soon the cosmic Son of Man. Steuart Campbell (ex-Christian and atheist) wrote The Rise and Fall of Jesus, full of detail but very odd conclusions, but he thinks Machovec got it right.

Anonymous said...

Am I right that you consider that Jesus was a Rabbi/healer? He was crucified by Romans because he was a nuisance. Jesus died and was not resurrected. He was not the Son of God but was one that thought “God will send very soon the cosmic Son of Man”.

Is this your position? Please clarify if I have misunderstood.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes. The historical Jesus as can be best made out is a fully Jewish itinerant healer, preacher and teacher thinking that the world will soon be transformed by God and that people must be prepared for it, and increasingly sees his own role as significant in bringing this about (God helps those who prepare the ground) and that another or possibly he transformed will be that cosmic Son of Man that will accompany this huge transformation (that will shift away the Romans like they're dust, that people will be like angels and so on). Resurrection was part of the pharisee tradition, and after his death he was regarded as the first of the resurrected. Whether he was or not is beyond the reach of any historical method, but scientifically when you're dead you decompose very rapidly, and certainly if the body is dumped in a limepit to shift the remains. By the time the public got near you would not recognise one set of remains from another.

Yet this is also reconstruction because the history is so limited.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this discussion.

Philippians 1 v 9-10.

Scott Hankins said...

"It is the difficulty of having mutually exclusive positions within the same ecclesia."

That's not a problem really, if one has already accepted the idea of reconciliation. I was always more mystified by discord than unity. Does God create? Or is it some other?