Saturday 10 May 2008

Pluralist - A New Label

There is a new code word going around Open Evangelical essaying at the moment: pluralist. Not me, but a position it identifies as existing in the Anglican Communion.

In a binary method of separation, Philip Turner contrasts confessional with pluralist. Confessional is about agreement about the fundamentals of Christian faith and life out of which communion grows. Common worship leads to communion for pluralists who are, otherwise, diverse in belief and morality.

Both stances have had an input into the St Andrew's Draft Covenant. The pluralist input is around why the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is not sufficient, and infringements of autonomy of Churches. The Windsor Report qualifies the pluralist position by stressing interdependence and the needs of the global fellowship first and that disputes should be processed through mutual subjection in a conciliar setting.

Pluralists, Philip Turner says, would rather have tolerance of difference, charity, and mutual hospitality. The problem with the pluralist stance is that it can go outside boundaries of acceptable Christian belief - the confessional people expecting restraint when it comes to innovation.

Another problem is that Anglicanism has lost its sharing of prayer books and catechisms. Thus the pluralist position cannot operate (Philip Turner does not say that evangelicals have been rather involved themselves in this departure from the norm: liberals have been quite conserving regarding liturgy - such 'hiding behind liturgy' is something some evangelicals would like to root out).

He tells how Michael Poon wants:

the bishops of the communion, before discussing what to do about severe conflict, to agree on a framework of faith and come to a common mind on how this framework is to be expressed at a parish level in catechisms, prayer books, and theological education.

And this should be done before there is Covenant based discipline: otherwise what is the faith about? For the pluralist, however, this inflicting of detail would be over-interference and micro-managing beyond - again - what already exists in terms of promises, rules, resources and licensing.

The pluralist position is one that looks to theological education as it actually is, which follows the critical approaches of the university. This genie cannot be put back in the bottle. If the historic Jesus does not follow doctrinal rules, the rules have to bend; if biblical criticism is uncomfortable for doctrine, it is doctrine that has to have the lighter touch. If it comes to it that Paul is not the be all and end all of early Christian formation, then Pauline views cannot have overwhelming force, whether written down in scripture or not. If the metaphors for God are altering, then why should one have priority over another?

For a pluralist, the Covenant is just wrong-headed centralisation. It is not the only "Catholic" model available, and on the Protestant side belief is now variable because theology stretches across from the Thomist and neo-Calvinist right through to conservative and liberal forms of postmodernism. The Covenant is nothing but a set of theological headlines and, more importantly, an attempt to shift power.

Churches like The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Scottish Episcopalians, the Church in Wales, New Zealand and Polynesia, Brazil, Hong Kong, much of Australia, are simply not going to accept a restrictive Covenant. Large chunks of Churches that might accept a Covenant would resist it. Many others cannot or would not legally sign up to a Covenant - including the Church of England.

The pluralist position is the existing position for these Churches - and they will not be throwing it away. Look at this view how the Scottish Episcopal Church arrived at its present condition and my analysis - it will not allow this achievement to be threatened. That liturgies are now diverse only adds to the actuality of pluralism.

This is not about TEC alone or even about it and Canada. It is about a whole number of Churches that will maintain autonomy.

Those who want a centralised communion had better form it for themselves. If Canterbury designs it, then the pluralists will be on the outside of this, but if Canterbury cannot (the final vote splits the Communion, and the policy fails to be implemented) then the GAFCON crew may well produce it (including first) and Canterbury will be the diverse and decentralised grouping.

The problem is a Fulcrum and ACI problem, for they are stuck in the middle, not a centre that coheres, but a centre that is the point of a split.

No doubt institutional forces will continue to press for a Covenant; plus any idea that there is a "liberal" Archbishop (as at the time of his selection) has been shot through by now. His is a view that if the bones did not disappear into a resurrected transformed body, historically, then he would give up doing what a priest does. All his narrative approach to theology that once indicated a detailed postmodernism, where once a virgin birth did not matter, is now subservient to his conservatism. Plus there was the Catholic formation, with an eye to Rome. He refers to minorities, but then asks that people especially pray for the Lambeth Conference. In other words, he puts the bureaucracy first. He keeps pressing for this thing, but eventually too many will reject it unless somehow what looks ignorable gets acceptance and then isn't, or what looks compulsive is accepted because it is seen as ignorable.

A pluralist does not put the bureaucracy first. A pluralist puts the search for faith first, to be pursued in the institutional setting, drawing on the traditions and resources (both plural) of the faith. Nor, for some pluralists, are those resources the limit or use or exclusive to the faith. Of course there is theological difference, because Christianity is varied and people are different.

I did once write a Covenant as an exercise consistent with present formularies - but a Covenant is unnecessary as it will not produce what the proponents want. So it becomes just more words. Anglicans know what Anglicanism is by going to it and doing what it does.

1 comment:

Doorman-Priest said...

Stealth Radicalism. I like the sound of that!!!