Thursday, 8 November 2007


This is a developed reflection on a reply I have given on Fulcrum (if they show it) to Steve Griffin's response to the earlier entry in this blog.

Fulcrum is an Open Evangelical forum, and Steve Griffin is one of these there who is questioning some fundamentals about Anglicanism from his Protestant point of view. It produces some overlaps with my position, which I come at from the liberal perspective that I have worked at across different institutions. His own explanation shows that he is moving from an Anglican to a more Presbyterian position, and maybe less conservative in his evangelical theology as he gets pre-Constantinian.

He is saying that my Anglican position is one of perspectivism in principle (I assume meaning that it is not doctrinal or communal in principle). I took a while to think about this, and then basically agreed with him. I am making an individual response to the institution and what it does.

I say that I am trying to do, as a liberal, is ask how well and these institutions do, and if what they do works. In other words, as individuals we choose between institutions and, of course, they form us. Very sociological, of course.

One aspect of this is me leaving the Unitarians. The Unitarian movement is now such a muddle. One reason I gave it up was because too often congregationalism contradict a position of individual choice in belief and expression, by maintaining one faith expression as dominant and legitimate. That was made worse by the Object, and then some suggesting it be an invocation in worship, producing a postliberal institution somewhat less resourced than other institutions.

Then I have a position that even if I was in agreement with that postliberal outcome (but what a waste of an institution that could be otherwise), it would not meet my own theology/ anthropology of eucharistic practice and identifying with what it means in terms of continuity, releasing the past into the present, and exchange.

(I've actually not discussed the concept of releasing the past into the present as clearly as that headlining, and perhaps I ought to give this additional thought. I have a view about Christianity as continuous with its diverse origins, but this is further about memorial and releasing into the present - it relates to real presence and real absence.)

Eucharistic practice is divisive within the Unitarians, and I proved that locally when I took such a service, and I regretfully consider that other communing methods are inadequate compared with eating and drinking, and thus avoiding theologies of the consuming and changing body. The flower communion is a poor substitute, in my view: a practice that has spread with an absence of its potential theology, as indeed theology becomes increasingly difficult in a breadth rather than depth movement.

Steve Griffin is moving his foundations as regards ministry, and I am not rigid about ministry. Thus I have a difficulty regarding the Independent Sacramental Movement. I don't care about the size of groups, but I do worry about magical, superstitutious and supernatural views about apostolic succession, although I can justify this on recognition reasons. I'm probably a bit stronger than just recognition, that there is again something in the person and the body (a fusion of body into body into body into body) in the means of eucharistic distribution. Such views are still consistent even with lay presidency, though needs recognition by the second body.

(Body of Christ into body of Church into body of President into body of Christ sign)

Then there is the matter of theology and communion, and specifically rowan Williams and Andrew Goddard being "open" in appreciation about it. Anyone reading this blog or the website will know that I actually like aspects of Rowan Williams's theology. It is narrative theology, and story. It is why he likes Philip Pullman. Where I criticise is that the nuanced detail back and forth starts to look like something more orthodox than sustainable via the bigger overview. It is not doctrine as grounded in the once divine hit into realist history, though he may regard history as story too. Added to this is Williams's view on Catholic inheritance and structures as a means of conducting theology. This is surely Roman Catholic in implication (without the all important added on bits). The Independent Sacramental Movement shows how this Catholic stance (without Roman added on bits) can involve change whilst obeying the methodology in Catholicism. Thus I agree with Steve Griffin about Andrew Goddard's over appreciation of Rowan Williams. In the end the Open Evangelical position (of Andrew Goddard) is just a notch somewhere else on the same post and consistent with the Conservative Evangelical organising a fellowship based on doctrine. The Catholic position is different: a version of baptised people organised into an ecclesia - a form of ministry.

I am a liberal through and through, and trying to work through how this relates to such an institution as the Anglican. Thus there are points of agreement with evangelicals and with Catholics. My needle points slightly to the Catholic side, but the Reformed in me is another reason for parking in the Anglican Church.

However, in these pluralistic and postmodern times, an institution that stretches too far is likely to get reorganised into specialisms. It is new reformation with added knobs on. Anglicanism is full of increasingly unsustainable incompatibilities, and is at breaking point across flatly contradictory attitudes. The danger for it is that as it removes the first set of incompatibilities, and likely splits into two, at least the more doctrinal and activist (for the split) side will divide again - and then again. Fulcrum cannot get away with this by accepting a shaving off of an edge or two to keep the rest, because that becomes a compromise with those who have pushed for a split and once the first shaving has gone, then comes a demand for a repeat performance. Eventually the unacceptable shaved off become the once accepted shaved off.

(There is almost a mathematical approach to this: that the strength of view for removal increases as each shave goes off: the affected and the lost edges being the least in favour of splitting and schisming.)

In contrast, my argument for a Communion has been to stop either Protestant or Catholic centralisation (doctrine or communion) and to scrap the Covenant. In other words, keep these preferences and specialities close to home, and associate only loosely beyond them, or leave it to national churches to decide with whom to associate or not. You don't solve a problem by adding to the cause: over over identification between incompatibilities due to increased centralisation - that just leads to a bigger explosion in order to release the incompatibilities screwed in to each other.

Incidentally, whilst I might favour a free thinking liturgical movement in the James Martineau sense (plus eucharistic continuity), it really is too much to accuse The Episcopal Church (TEC) of effectively doing the same, or perhaps implying that it is committed to an ideological Unitarianism it simply does not express or what most Episcopalians believe. This is the latest silly writing from Conservative Evangelicals. The placing of words unitarian and universalist close by is of course a deliberate tease, as in Unitarian Univeralist Association (UUA) - and then the differences between the UUA and TEC in theologies or as communities are considerable.

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