Tuesday 7 July 2009

Spare Seats Up at the Back

Forward in Faith and separatist Anglican Church of North America Bishop Keith Ackerman had this to say at the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans on July 6th, according to the Ruth Gledhill/ The Times Articles of Faith blog entry for that day:

This is not a coalition of Affirming Catholics who are neither affirming nor catholic, nor Liberal Evangelicals who seem to be uncertain about just how certain is the gospel of Christ.

So they seem to know who makes up the opposition, as well as the bedfellows, as has become increasingly clear over the last week or so (and more of which, below).

They also think they are being persecuted by society, which has a more accepting view of gay relationships than theirs, and which increasingly understands that truth is multiple and complex in nature (where society brings together difference). Bishop Gregory Venables sees the point:

To believe in one truth which excludes others is to be intolerant, bigoted and dangerous.

To that he might add 'sectarian' too. Exclusion seems to be the name of the game for the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, particularly of the sheer rivalry and growing division between most of them as Conservative Evangelicals and supposed Open Evangelicals. It is something that Conservative Evangelicals can stand alongside extreme Anglican Catholics but increasingly cannot stomach these other Evangelicals, just as these represented Anglican Catholics dismiss Affirming Catholics.

They all like, of course, to parade some private correspondence from The Queen as if it indicates approval (it might indicate a lack of research among officials to have given this group any warm words at all: after all, Religious Trotskyites will turn any warm officialese into glowing tributes towards their own anti-institutional agenda).

Peter Jensen argued against civic religion taking all the best moral bits of Christianity and leaving its dogmas to the past. This Archbishop of Sydney said there would be "an ideological battle" (I thought they had lost it already; it's a bit late now).

I thought the idea of religion was to go and worship, to take your doubts and affirmations along and engage with both, and to relate not just with the people in the club but those of the wider community. Isn't the idea not to have a war, but to serve in a broadest fellowship of peace?

Yes, the "genius" of the liberal approach is to compromise, and it is softly softly, and it does engage in a language form that other people can understand. He said:

There is much to admire in the liberal temper, but it is assuredly no basis from which to evangelize the nation and build up the churches. For that, you need a deep confidence in the gospel and a determination to follow the teaching of scripture come what may.

In fact, it is confidence that allows things to move more slowly, more carefully and in a more welcoming manner. And the confidence comes with a handling of what is the complexity in the faith itself. Peter Jensen in his presentation knows this:

Those who regard it as a human witness to God, drawn together as a sort of library, will find contradiction and tension throughout. It is no accident that the two areas in which we can see especial liberal efforts to help in the 'enlightenment' of the global south and the conservative Anglicans of the West, are in theological education and hermeneutics.

Yes, it is a complex book, the Bible, and cannot be wished into a unity that it does not possess.

When it comes to the complex nature of Churches, and the maintenance of unity, then the FCA is very ambiguous.

There are moment in which the unity of the authentic church is best maintained by separation and distance. Truth must precede order; the fellowship of God’s people is more important that the institutions which serve that fellowship....

Our actual strategy may differ in each case. There may be a call to actually sever relations and move outside an institution; the aim of FCA is to help us stay within, but to do so with integrity. If we choose the latter option, we must do so in such a way at to make it clear that the practices which dishonour the gospel of Christ are not ours. We must organize, unite in fellowship, and act.

There is the issue of why now in the British Isles, to which Wallace Benn, a lowly non-diocesan bishop in the hierarchy, had this to say about some colleagues:

Sadly in the western world…the British Isles and Ireland are moving away and where bishops do that, there is particular unhappiness in some dioceses and it causes real problems and real heartaches for people and for churches.

And it is all by their say so, within that Fellowship, deciding for itself what is and what is not requiring them to stay or go, and in a sense already refuting systems of authority that they otherwise should follow for as long as they wish to be Anglican.

Meanwhile this inter-Evangelical warring goes on, this time with Julian Mann trying to do what Charles Raven achieved - get a reaction. His 5 July entry into Cranmer's Curate claims that whereas:

...conservative and charismatic evangelicals have been pursuing an effective inside strategy since the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Nottingham in 1977.

Open Evangelicals have been different:

But by and large they have not pursued the inside strategy of seeking promotion within the institution. It is the open evangelicals who have ascended the pole of ecclesiastical preferment.

Thus is their promotion up the purple pole reaction to the FCA:

Therefore, it is hardly surprising to find open evangelicals feeling loyalty to the institution that has promoted them and expressing that loyalty by attacking the FCA, which appears to be a threat to its good order.

This is another one of his stupid arguments. It is an attempt to damn a group with motives of promotion and preferment as to why then they cannot support a separatist body. You set up a straw man argument of motivation and then say it is "hardly surprising". I don't have much in the way of agreement with Open Evangelicals on anything of substance, but I don't regard them as a bunch of careerists that skews their outlook.

The FCA, says Julian Mann, is for churches on the ground to resist liberalism and "revisionist decadence". That's good Religious Trotskyite speak - imagine that from a Trot proper. Presumably though that resistance must be where liberalism has taken some hold, so it would follow that this strategy is quite divisive on the ground too.


Tony Hunt said...

They really are out to beat up other evangelicals. They piss and moan about hermeneutics, thinking it a tool of the "liberals" when in fact it is the great evangelical scholar Anthony Thiselton who has done the most outstanding work on this subject of late for the church.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Not sure I'd agree with that but clearly others than liberal types are doing biblical scholarship. I'm a Dennis Nineham man myself.

Tony Hunt said...

Certainly Nineham has done some work. But comparing his work to the hermeneutical ventures of "Two Horizons, New Horizons, + The Hermeneutics of Doctrine" is rather like apples and oranges it seems to me.

Nineham hasn't written any substantial philosophical works on biblical hermeneutics that I am aware of. Perhaps his "NT Interpretation in an historical age" approaches this, but with nothing like the nuance and massive learning of Thiselton...

in my opinion of course.