Monday, 19 April 2010

Donald, Where's Your Theological Troosers?

These days one of the buzz words is "nuance", where people do the terribly English thing of understating what they mean. So with this in mind one ought to be grateful to the likes of Fulcrum for publishing to the Internet such utter crap as Chapter 2 of Doctrine Matters by this new Bishop of Peterborough Donald Allister. It contains the old one about doctrine supports the Bible and the Bible supports doctrine, as if the trinitarian doctrine was so obvious to the early Christian communities, or as if Jesus and early believers would not have bothered with the God-facing human and subordinate statements. Just look at such statements within to show how all sorts of doctrines could support the Bible and the Bible can support different doctrines, and that's even more so when we widen out the scriptures from the later formed Church's choice of biblical books.

This has been discussed many a time. But the real 'crap' in his writing is in how he attacks and dismisses academic theology. He contrasts his view of the doctrine of the Trinity:

This contrasts sharply with some modern so-called doctrine, where people decide what is important, then try to develop a doctrine of it. If the Bible has something to say, that will be taken into account; if not, Christians can still think and discuss and come up with a 'doctrine'. So today we have these modern types of doctrine covering such subjects as nuclear weapons and political liberation, animal rights and world development. Those are subjects on which Christians should develop a view. Christian involvement in such things is important, not least because it will balance some of the wilder ideas. But they are not the subjects of theology or doctrine.

What? They are "not the subjects of theology"? I'd have thought they were absolutely the working and relevant part of the subjects of theology and indeed doctrines (yes, I'll use the plural). Not much point to living a faith-life unless they are! And this paragraph continues:

The Bible must set the agenda for doctrine. Otherwise we are in the nonsense world of some modern theologians, for whom theology is empty rejecting on any event of experience in the light of their faith (often a faith in which scripture is not very important). True theology will reflect on what is going on, but always in the light of the Bible and in such a way that the Bible is in control.

I think 'rejecting' above is a Freudian slip: presumably he meant 'reflecting'. Beyond that error, it is as if those who develop peace, liberation, animal and economy theologies just ignore what is biblical and go about it all in some fanciful way. It is as if experience is not important, when it absolutely matters to how we go from life to what is important about life and then to engage with religious traditions and literary deposits.

There is so much to laugh at in his ridiculous piece of writing, as he says much the same thing several times:

Another danger is that doctrine will lose its essential linkage with scripture. This has happened in the world of academic theology to an alarming, degree, and much of the havoc wrought there has worked its way into churches. So-called doctrine with no apparent connection to the Bible creates all sorts of problems. It introduces wrong thinking and heresy. It becomes simply an academic exercise and so puts off those Christians who are less academic.

Oh dear oh dear. We must pat people on the head and say don't worry, we'll say all the right things and nice and simply for you. What "alarming degree", what "havoc"? This goes on (sorry, but it is right to point out the extent of the drivel):

There is a further danger when attitudes to doctrine and ways of doing it go wrong. This is that doctrine can easily be taken over by the world or by worldly ways of thinking. Again, this has happened in much modern theology. The activity of doing theology, making doctrine, is often not seen as explaining or systematising the Bible, but as trying to make sense of the world in the light of what we know or feel or guess about God. This means that the all-important headings used in doctrine are chosen not to explain scripture but to be relevant to theologians' ideas of what is really important. The result is that many modern theologians are really writing sociology or anthropology, politics or economics. Those are genuine academic disciplines, but they aren't the same as Christian doctrine.

Goodness! I'd hope that the world of theology does indeed engage with sociology, anthropology, politics and economics. That's the world analysed as it is, and where it happens. And another place where theology is (increasingly less) done is the university, and here is a depressing call to shrink that relationship further:

It is within the church, the believing community, that the task of developing and reshaping doctrine must be done. Part of the reason for the rampant liberalism we see today, where theologians virtually ignore the Bible or feel free to disagree with it, is that people try to do their theology outside the church. They operate within universities and colleges, creating an academic so-called theology which is of no use at all for the believer wanting to understand the Bible better.

This is a bishop who has a terrible past for narrow fundamentalism, and yet who on taking office implied a sort of 'I love you all' including the remarkable adoption himself of a liberalism as a legitimate Christian tendency among others. Here, what he shows is his crass ignorance.

Now I am no defender of 'biblical orthodoxy' or method or for a pre-determined doctrinal outcome. That's why, in the end, my experience and reasoning have moved me back from the Anglican orbit except at the outer margins. But there are those in the universities and elsewhere, in their usually non-reciprocal engagement with sociology and anthropology and politics and economics, in their development of animal and liberation theologies (etc.), who actually do give express engagement with the Bible and what is actually there and its narrative, and even with given Christian doctrines of this bishop's Church and similar. What this bishop shows, and Fulcrum for publishing such, is that this sort of evangelical polemic relies on distortion and ignorance, that is academically slight, and that, most of all, it is pathetic.

And I put this as someone who expressly does not think that Rabbi Jesus ever regarded himself as equal with God, let alone co-equal, that it is pure myth to say that he was some Godhead "made" human, that he achieved divinity either at baptism or the claimed resurrection (or points in between), and as if the early Churches had only one view as Jesus's mistaken endtime God-focus went through relatively rapid change to become an exclusive salvation faith through him as they still stood in such expectations and then gradually formed more 'sacred-traditional' views. But I would debate such with anyone of more intelligent presentation than the above (not necessarily of more intelligence - that's different), for that crass and crap presentation insults those with whom I'd have a good debate.

1 comment:

Erika Baker said...

In the end it comes down to the same old same old "liberals ignore the Bible and feel free to disagree with it".

The only real question I have is how someone who paddles in the extremely shallow end of the pool can be elevated to Bishop. I mean, do those who elevate him not realise what terminal damage he is inflicting on the CoE?
If they genuinely don't, then the church deserves all that comes to it.