Other sites

Housing crisis: C of E report suggests law change to recognise social benefit

Anglican Communion News Service - Tue, 02/03/2021 - 01:00

The report by a new C of E Housing Commission proposes a change to charity law so that Churches can use land for social as well as economic benefit.

Categories: Other sites

Archbishop of Nigeria urges Nigerians to receive Covid-19 vaccine

Anglican Communion News Service - Tue, 02/03/2021 - 00:38

Archbishop Henry Ndukuba says Nigerians must ensure they receive Covid-19 vaccine when general vaccination starts in the country.

Categories: Other sites

Archbishop Makgoba asks to make vaccine available in South Africa

Anglican Communion News Service - Tue, 02/03/2021 - 00:07

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, has asked the Biden administration to make the Moderna vaccine available in South Africa.

Categories: Other sites

Science-faith partnership is vital for tackling climate change

Anglican Communion News Service - Mon, 01/03/2021 - 23:18

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tells faith leaders “now is the time for action” on climate change ahead of COP26 conference.

Categories: Other sites

Gay Christians, ACNA and GAFCON

Fulcrum - Mon, 01/03/2021 - 21:00

Quarrels about words?

In my years involved in dialogue and debate relating to sexuality, some of the most depressing moments have been when those who broadly share my views concerning biblical and church teaching speak and act in ways that I find really unhelpful, even damaging, and impossible to support.  Reading the Pastoral Statement on Sexuality and Identity issued in January by the College of Bishops of the American Church of North America (ACNA) was one such moment.  I thought of writing something at the time but decided against it.  There was, after all, much good material within the letter and the problems in its negative treatment of the terminology of “gay Christian” and even “same-sex attracted Christian” were well highlighted by Mark Yarhouse in his response and the pained reactions many faithful Christians who, in ACNA’s required terminology, “experience same-sex attraction”.  As David Bennett, author of The War of Loves, wrote on Facebook

I’m personally deeply grieved with the ACNA’s statement on human sexuality. Yet again conservatives and progressives make it harder and harder for a safe place to exist in the Church for LGBTQI+/SSA Christians to work out our conscience on a deeply important part of our lives before Christ through scripture, reason (of which experience is a vital part) and tradition. We aren’t even permitted the terms gay or SSA and yet they use them entirely throughout! I probably will reserve my comments for now but lamenting the continued incompetence of the Church in loving us. Thankful its Lord isn’t anywhere the same.

The events of the last week have, however, highlighted just how serious the situation now is and made me realise that my initial silence was wrong.  I was greatly encouraged to see a letter organised by Pieter Valk (like David Bennett, a celibate same-sex attracted man committed to traditional teaching on sexuality) who is exploring ordination in ACNA and signed by him and some ACNA clergy and one bishop.  This letter appeared on a new website - https://deargayanglicans.com/ although as you will discover if you follow that link, the letter did not stay there very long.  It was only there for a very short time due to the actions of ACNA leaders as stated there.  It is, however, thankfully able to be read elsewhere on the internet including at Anglican Ink.

If this strong-arm episcopal censorship were not sufficient evidence that the problems with the original statement were signs of more fundamental problems in ACNA’s response to faithful, orthodox gay Christians there followed the doubling down on this reaction with the publication of a letter from ACNA Presiding Bishop Foley Beach.  A letter he felt it necessary to write and send to his diocesan clergy the following day at 1.15 in the morning seeking to explain why action had to be taken against the letter.  That explanation only revealed that the matter was much worse by highlighting the international problem.  This has now become even more obvious with the statement from Nigeria that I discovered online as I finished writing this reflection on the ACNA disagreements.  The early morning letter within ACNA, however, already signalled that there are underlying and deeper issues which need to be addressed urgently by the wider orthodox Anglican world, especially in GAFCON, whose Primates’ Council is chaired by Foley Beach:

I have had to deal with two provinces already (actually now three as of a few minutes ago) — and this is just the first day. In many of our partner provinces, the practice of homosexuality is against the law, and to make matters more difficult, they usually don’t understand the nuances of the word “gay” or “homosexual attraction” — they just hear the practice of same-sex immorality.

As that sentence makes clear, the heart of this disagreement could be viewed as exactly what Paul warns Timothy about –

“They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words” (1 Tim 6.4)

“Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen” (2 Tim 2.14)

It is, though, important to realise the root cause of this whole problem within ACNA.  It has arisen because the statement from the ACNA bishops was widely understood to have taken a dogmatic stance in such a quarrel about words.  This particular quarrel has developed, and at times got quite heated, within parts of the conservative Christian world in the U.S in recent years.  The debates about the use of “gay Christian” have particularly been raised in response to the work of Revoice whose mission is “to support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”.

 

The ACNA Bishops’ Statement

Underlying the debates about words have been important questions about how we understand our personal identity in relation to Christian faith and sexuality and what we need to learn from followers of Jesus whose experience of their sexuality is different from the majority heterosexual experience.  Here – unsurprisingly given it was the fruit of extensive discussion and reflection over a year (as explained here) – the pastoral statement sets out quite helpfully some of the important theological questions and debates.  The problem is that the bishops then felt it was their duty to go further and to seek to use their episcopal authority to take sides in the “quarrelling about words” rather than limit themselves to highlighting the doctrinal truths that need to be preserved and the errors that need to be avoided.  They therefore write:

We believe it is important to lovingly give counsel about the use and misuse of labels, designations, and language regarding same-sex desire…We…believe it is our responsibility to provide direction and speak clearly as the Church navigates these crucial and important matters. We point out three problems we see biblically and historically with using such designations as “gay Christian,” and, for that matter, “same-sex attracted believer.”

Their first objection is the “lack of definition and common understanding” of such designations and so “confusion, misunderstanding, and misperception have resulted”.  Their second is that in Scripture and Christian tradition “we do not find the people of God defining themselves or forming relationships and communities according to sexual desire and attractions”.  Thirdly, there is the concern “with adding more adjectives to describe different sorts of Christians”.  This concern with adjectives seems to be a particular concern as the Presiding Bishop’s letter highlights – “our discouraging the use of any pronoun [sic] before Christian, specifically “Gay Christian”.”  Another clear concern in the statement is that such language will become widely accepted among younger Christians and the next generation:

We are concerned that…modifying our Christian identity with personal orientations and attractions has the potential for leading youth in the wrong directions at a time when above all we need the clarity of definition in Christ alone. We are attentive to the potential trajectory of this language…As bishops, we have a responsibility to serve both the church of today and the generations to come.

Although not prominent in the original statement, Foley Beach’s letter and subsequent developments makes clear that another major concern is also reaction from conservative provinces elsewhere in the world, to which we will return later.

The statement is thus clear in its assessment:

To insist on the adjective “gay,” with all of its cultural attachments, is problematic to the point that we cannot affirm its usage in relation to the word “Christian”…The theological and pastoral misgivings we share with regard to the terms “gay Christian” and “same-sex attraction” are significant…We recommend this statement to be used as a guide for those in teaching or counseling ministries.

Recognising that “we all need language to help us describe and confess “the devices and desires of our own hearts” as our Book of Common Prayer states” and “that our youth and adults need language to share about their experience” the bishops write –

We commend the usage of “Christians who experience same-sex attraction.”…We request that Provincial publications, teaching events, and seminars employ the recommended language and the biblical arguments that support this recommendation.

 

Evaluating the ACNA Statement

Although the focus here is on formal church usage, the strength of the language used cannot but have an impact on those “Christians who experience same-sex attraction”, all of whom have to wrestle with how to understand and speak about their experience of sexuality in ways that “Christians who experience opposite-sex attraction” do not.  The message that comes across is that the church objects to them describing themselves as “gay Christians”.  This then gives fuel to those (whether traditional Christians or non-Christians who identify as LGBT) who argue “you cannot be gay and a Christian”.  It is also likely to lead to an increase in the sense of shame and being second-class (or worse) simply because of the pattern of one’s attractions.  It looks horribly like an attempt to effectively silence the voices of anyone who experiences same-sex attraction who wishes to speak in their own way about their own experience and own understanding of who they are in Christ and who wishes to try to help those without that experience to understand them better.  Instead of learning the importance of “no talking about us, without us”, the church appears to be saying “no talking about yourselves, and certainly no talking with us, without using our approved language for yourselves”.

The concern about “adjectives to describe different sorts of Christians” appears particularly peculiar.  Such qualifiers are everywhere, not least because every Christian has many other identifying characteristics with which they may describe themselves and which may well be conjoined with describing themselves as a Christian (or even as a church).  They are used to differentiate oneself from other fellow Christians – Anglican, charismatic, evangelical, traditional, orthodox.  They are used to describe important features of a person’s life whether they are or are not a Christian – single, married, divorced – and can be particularly important when that feature marks someone out as part of a minority which has experience of prejudice, misunderstanding and mistreatment from the majority (black, disabled, Jewish).  They are used for social identities and communities of which we are part and which as such always carry the risk of becoming, as the bishops note, “a kind of idolatry”.  Here one might think of national designations – American, English.  Sometimes the linguistic structure is reversed, and we use such words as a noun which is qualified by the term Christian – Christian medic or lawyer or banker or businessman.  In the past this is how describing sexuality was often handled by conservatives – one of the first books addressing the subject from an evangelical publisher had the subtitle “Letters of a Christian Homosexual”.  Arguably this form of language is even more problematic giving primacy to the identity captured in the noun with “Christian” simply a qualifier of that identity.  Are all these self-descriptors similarly to be eschewed and replaced with cumbersome phrases so we speak of ourselves as Christians who experience being married, being black, being American, being a teacher?  Or is this only required with those descriptors that relate to the experience of sexual minorities?

Those who prefer or at least accept the language of “gay Christian” or “same-sex attracted Christian” have presented various reasons why they do so while holding traditional teaching (as, to be fair, the bishops’ statement describes).  It can be understood as being more truthful about the significance, weight and constancy of what is being described in relation to the person’s life experience than what is implied by the language of “who experiences”.  Relatedly, it can point to how this reality suffuses a person’s life and relationships and should not be reduced simply to their experiences of sexual arousal.  For many it particularly has an important missiological rationale, showing a Christian presence among, and solidarity with, those who have often been treated unjustly and providing openings for Christian witness and evangelism both among those who identify as gay or lesbian and within wider society.  Even those who share the concerns of ACNA bishops, such as Sam Allberry, will talk about exceptions to the rule and acknowledge “there are times when I felt I needed to use the language of being gay in order to have the conversation”.  In contrast, the ACNA-approved terminology of “experience same-sex attraction” will be either meaningless or possibly offensive among most non-Christians, especially those who identify as gay or lesbian.  Finally, there is the simple complexity of the language.  Archbishop Foley Beach complained of the letter that “Replacing “gay Christian” with “gay Anglican” is pretty much in your face” but were Pieter Valk and the other signatories really expected to write “Dear Anglicans who experience same-sex attraction”?  Would everything (apart from readability) by resolved simply by applying search and replace to “gay Anglicans” throughout the letter?

 

ACNA and Global Anglicanism

As the ACNA statement makes clear, there are real challenges and dangers in simple and uncritical acceptance of “gay Christian” language.  Those need to be taken seriously but are they really so serious as to be sufficient to require bishops to police the terminology so officiously?  And are the bishops not concerned about the challenges and dangers in such an approach?  It will undoubtedly further alienate many gay and lesbian people from ACNA churches and perhaps others which uphold traditional teaching.  It gives them the impression that there is no real willingness to continue listening to them and seeking to understand their experience better.  It also risks undermining the already challenging biblical ethic by adding to it further unnecessary extra-biblical strictures.  This in turn is likely to make the revisionist position more attractive not just to many of those who experience same-sex attraction but to the many other Christians who currently accept the teaching of Scripture and traditional teaching of the church as authoritative but recognise how hard that is for those who are gay.

Archbishop Foley’s letter highlights that even more serious now than the internal ACNA debate is the need to address these matters within the wider GAFCON leadership which it is clear was a driving force in the clampdown on the letter.  Rather than following that course of action on the grounds that in other contexts “the practice of homosexuality is against the law” and “they usually don’t understand the nuances of the word “gay” or “homosexual attraction” — they just hear the practice of same-sex immorality” there should have been a recognition that these reactions within GAFCON are serious problems.  The calling of ACNA is not to appeal to these as reasons for silencing the voices of those whom the ACNA bishops’ statement says, “we seek to respect those within our ACNA family who may disagree with our conclusions and yet remain true to the biblical witness regarding Christian marriage”.  The calling of ACNA is to help conservatives in the wider Communion and especially within GAFCON to understand the complexities of human sexuality and that those of us who uphold traditional teaching have much to learn if we “want to communicate our love for the many within the Church who live with same-sex attraction”.  It is noteworthy and commendable that the one ACNA bishop who originally signed the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter – New Testament scholar Grant Le Marquand – served as a bishop in the Horn of Africa for seven years and so clearly knowledge of the African context and concern for good relations with its churches does not entail being silent. [Another ACNA bishop, Todd Hunter, had earlier written an important letter of pastoral guidance to his diocese which showed awareness of the problems with the College’s statement and speaks of “celibate, gay Christians”].

The recent response from the new Primate of Nigeria shows the pressure Archbishop Foley has been subjected to and it also reveals beyond a shadow of doubt just how seriously unbiblical a response to same-sex attracted people is found within the senior GAFCON leadership.  It attacks even the ACNA Bishops’ Pastoral Statement as “toleration of same-sex persons within their fold….tantamount to a subtle capitulation to recognise and promote same-sex relations among its members”.  It describes the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter in response as “a clarion call to recruit Gays into ACNA member parishes.  The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA.  This is likened to a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised”. Foley Beach’s rapid removal of that letter from the web is “palliative, weak and unwilling to discipline” and “has not cured the diseases that has set in already”.

The word ‘homophobic’ is often misused to label traditional understandings and I normally therefore avoid it but it is, sadly, the only possible word that can be used in the face of such unacceptable language.  The statement from Nigeria is clearly totally incompatible with two of the clauses of Lambeth I.10 which GAFCON claims to uphold and publishes on its website. This resolution

recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God's transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;

While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

Those who hold traditional understandings need to challenge and not kowtow to such views and patterns of speech wherever they are found.  In the words of Bishop Greg Brewer, a Communion Partner bishop within TEC, “This is an unmitigated tragedy that will bear no good fruit. It has already caused harm to the Side B Anglicans it targets. But the implications of this letter are far bigger than that. The letter expresses a hatred that is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

 

Conclusion – The Real Challenge

I vividly recall talking in 2002 to a senior Nigerian bishop at the Wycliffe Conference on The Future of Anglicanism as we travelled together on a bus to the session at St Aldate’s on homosexuality.  Planning that session had opened my eyes to how different the American conservative world was from that in the UK.  While there were Christians in the US who would offer an “ex-gay Christian” narrative (that identity and language was not as problematic as “gay Christian”), the idea of a single, celibate gay Christian narrative was it seemed practically unheard of for many of them.  Martin Hallett’s testimony was therefore a revelation to many of those attending not just from the Global South.  The Nigerian bishop explained to me how he had come to realise that there were good, born again, Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christians who experienced same-sex attraction and who believed and lived within the church’s teaching.  He described how simply saying this back home made him unacceptable and viewed as a liberal revisionist by many of his fellow bishops.

It is a sad reality that nearly 20 years later, despite all the work of Global South and GAFCON around sexuality, and all their connections with Western conservatives, the Nigerian understanding appears unchanged and such a view is now being expressed in response to even the ACNA Pastoral Statement.  At GAFCON in 2018 there were sessions on sexuality but it was noteworthy and disappointing that they were overwhelmingly run by and attended by white Westerners with little or no engagement from other provinces present.  Thankfully things have changed within North America with Revoice, the testimony of people like Wes Hill, the work of Mark Yarhouse and Preston Sprinkle (and his Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender), and the Life on Side B podcast and Spiritual Friendship blog all giving prominence to voices that before were silenced.

The pressing question now is whether the ACNA leadership will recognise where the most serious departure from Christian faithfulness among those who hold traditional views on sexuality is to be found.  It is not among those who wrote the “Dear Gay Anglicans letter” and who use or are open to using the language of “gay Christian” or “same-sex attracted Christian” of themselves or of brothers and sisters in Christ.  Such quarrels about words fall into the sphere where, in the words of the Jerusalem Declaration, we can and should “acknowledge freedom in secondary matters”.  The most serious departure from Christian faithfulness among those who hold traditional views on sexuality – and the most serious threat to the witness of all in the West who hold such views - is that of those who wrote and who support the response of the Nigerian church to what has transpired in ACNA and who pressured Foley Beach to act as he did in response to the “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter.

Supporters of The Jerusalem Declaration pledge “to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us”.  The Pastoral Statement from ACNA’s College of Bishops and the reactions to it show that such work urgently seeking together the mind of Christ is now needed both within Western contexts and even more so globally among all those who “acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family”.

The post Gay Christians, ACNA and GAFCON first appeared on Fulcrum Anglican.

Categories: Other sites

Job’s Silent Friends

Fulcrum - Fri, 26/02/2021 - 21:00

If you've ever heard a sermon on the book of Job, it's likely that the preacher will have criticised the protagonist's friends.

In the opening chapters, Job’s life is decimated. His children die, all of his property (and therefore security) is taken away and he is afflicted with physical illness.

His friends arrive and almost immediately attempt to explain away his suffering. They seem insensitive and suspicious of the one that they are supposedly there to support. It makes for painful reading.

But before all of the incidences in which Job's friends get it profoundly wrong, for a brief moment, they get it right.

The narrator tells us (Job 2:11):

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognise him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. 13 They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

What lessons can we learn from Job's friends and their silent presence in the midst of his grief, and how might this shape our Lenten journey?

I have found it difficult to know exactly how to approach Lent this year. For many of us, the last year has felt like living in a perpetual wilderness - a Lenten experience where worldly comforts and joys have been taken away from us by the events of the pandemic.

We are painfully aware, after watching the global death toll climb to incomprehensible levels, that we are 'but dust'.

My instinct is to say 'let's just take it easy!' and pretend that Lent isn't happening, but on reflection that doesn't seem quite right.

I do think we should be more gentle with ourselves than is usual for this season, weary as we are. But perhaps, rather than just letting it pass us by, Lent might aid us in some of the processing that we need to do in light of the vast changes in all of our lives in the last year.

We do not need to do this alone, but rather in community. Perhaps we could be like Job's friends and sit silently alongside each other, bearing witness to our own pain and that of our neighbour.

 

-

It has become clear to me over the last year, while hearing stories of other people's losses and experiencing my own, that there are good and bad silences.

A bad silence usually emerges from awkwardness. It comes after you've disclosed something really difficult and the person you're speaking to doesn't know how to respond. Those kinds of silences are excruciating.

Most of us can call to mind a conversation where we were less pastoral than we hoped to be or were paralysed by our own awkwardness. There is, of course, grace for us in the moments when we fail. I often wonder whether Job's friends were just trying their best. But nevertheless, an ill-timed awkward silence can be painful for the person sharing their experience.

There are, however, also good kinds of silence. These usually come after a few initial kind words in response to the difficult story being told. Commiserations are offered and questions about the bereavement are asked - allowing the story teller to feel heard.

Then, instead of collapsing into platitudes or tidying away the difficulty - nothing.

Silence.

A silence at this moment is companionable and kind. It simply holds the sadness and difficulty in the communal space so that the story teller is not alone in their grief.

This is the kind of silence that Job's friends held at the beginning of the book. Although the narrator does not tell us that anything is said before the silence descends, this is not the awkward silence that we all fear when we share something difficult.

This is a companionable silence.

This kind of silence is built into the mourning rituals of many groups of people around the world. One of the most striking is the practise of sitting shiva observed by many Jewish people.

In a sermon on the sacrifice of the Red Heifer in Numbers 19, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says this:

We no longer have the Red Heifer and its seven-day purification ritual, but we do have the shiva, the seven days of mourning during which we are comforted by others and thus reconnected with life. Our grief is gradually dissolved by the contact with friends and family, as the ashes of the Heifer were dissolved in the “living water.” We emerge, still bereaved, but in some measure cleansed, purified, able again to face life.[1]

Silence is key to the shiva. Rather than feeling a pressure to constantly fill the space with talking, visitors are encouraged to speak only when sharing a memory of the dead, and otherwise to keep silence with the mourners.

Customs like this, and scenes such as that at the beginning of Job remind us of the way in which there is often nothing to say in the face of tragedy. Words become useless and platitudes are salt in the wounds of those who are in pain.

At moments like this, the best that we have to offer is presence.

 

-

This is a particular challenge to us at the moment, when lockdown restrictions are still in place meaning that gathering with those outside of our households is not possible.

When something difficult happens to someone we care about, our natural instinct is to want to be with them. Even when we can't do anything to help, we know the importance of physical presence. Someone to hold your hand while your loved one is in surgery. Someone to sit with you while you weep. Someone to lay a gentle hand on your shoulder in prayer.

To not be able to be with those we love when disaster strikes is painful precisely because it goes against all of our instincts which are longing to be present. It simply feels wrong.

But even while physical presence is not possible it might be more important than ever for us to be emotionally present to those in our communities.

 

-

I am in my fourth year of ordination training, and one of my favourite things about the pattern of life that brings is being in a formation group. Every Thursday during term time I have met with a group of seven other ordinands and a tutor, and we have prayed for one another, read the bible together, argued with each other, critiqued each other’s sermons and been present to one another through really difficult times.

This year, a lot of my very close friends left college to be ordained and I was met with a new formation group which looked very different. Although I was looking forward to getting to know them, I was also disappointed that we could only meet over Zoom and I had low expectations for what would be possible in terms of our building relationship.

After one and a half terms, I have been surprised by the way in which God has drawn us into community with each other even though we've never actually been in the same room.

This has been a reminder that so much more than we can ask, seek or imagine is possible with God.

In this time, then, perhaps it is more possible than we think to be present to those in our communities and begin to share the stories of the challenges and losses we have faced over this last year. Even over Zoom, it is possible to be present and hold spaces of holy silence which honour the grief in our midst.

For me, this honouring of grief played out when my formation group shared testimonies at the beginning of the year which left many of us in floods of tears. We were deeply moved, even as we were unable to be physically with one another.

 

-

It is well known that shortly after Job's friends get it right in the passage we began with, they get it profoundly wrong in the rest of the book. After a period of companionable and holy silence, they launch into reasoning, platitudes, rambling theological explanations for Job's suffering - as well as offensive suggestions that he must have brought it on himself.

It would have been much better if they had remained silent and prioritised listening over speaking - although that would have made for a much less interesting book of the Bible.

As our Lenten discipline this year, perhaps we can try to imitate the example of Job's friends in chapter 2 (and chapter 2 only...).

Paul tells us in Romans 12:15 to 'weep with those who weep' and the scene at the tomb of Lazarus in John 11 shows us that Jesus was not afraid of weeping. In fact, he went out of his way to be present to Mary and Martha in their grief and wept with them even in the knowledge that he would raise Lazarus from the dead.

Grief matters that much.

Let's make it a priority to seek out those opportunities for hearing the stories of others, silence and perhaps even weeping. We might reach out to those in our church communities who we would usually chat to over after service coffee, but haven't seen for a while. Ask them how this time has been, and be gentle in holding their stories of difficulty.  Look for opportunities for prayer and holy silence.

Despite the fact that all of this has to happen digitally and at a distance, the Holy Spirit can still knit our communities together more deeply and reveal to us what it means to see glimmers of the coming resurrection, even in dark and difficult times.

Christie Gilfeather

FOOTNOTES

[1] https://rabbisacks.org/chukat-5780/

The post Job’s Silent Friends first appeared on Fulcrum Anglican.

Categories: Other sites

The Regions and Tribes of Evangelical Theology: The Future

Fulcrum - Wed, 24/02/2021 - 21:00

This is a fool’s endeavour. Over the last seven articles, I have tried out a new anthropological/geographical slant for mapping out the various branches of Evangelical theology in the 21st Century. I have used the terms ‘regions’ and ‘tribes’. Like any typology, it is very reductive. Some of the theologians discussed don’t even remain fixed in one ‘region’, let alone tribe. Some are closer to Fundamentalism or Mainline Liberalism than to Evangelicalism. This why the language of ‘country’ may be helpful: one doesn’t necessarily have to like or feel at home in the country they live in. One can live in one region of that country whilst yearning to be somewhere else: a citizen of London dazzle may look with longing at the peace of the Bahamas, and vice-versa. A member of one theological tribe may appreciate the customs, taboos and social grammar of a rival tribe without ever fully crossing over. But now I have drawn a little scratchy map, I have given myself the fool’s endeavour of thinking about the future of the country of Evangelical theology.

There are multiple risks in such an approach. The first risk is to presume that the future of theology coincides with one’s own theological preferences. The second is to divide the world into easily countable and distinguishable camps. Of course, this is often a subtle apology for the superiority of one’s own camp. Such an approach is ultimately reductionistic – with the added risk of political kitsch, which is, in the words of Andrew Shanks, a persistent yearning for some simple explanation of the world, some simple hazy certainty, to be accepted by everyone: such as would tend to do away with autonomous thought, restless questioning, the pursuit of the transcendent, altogether.[1]

Another risk is to imagine the future as the present. Such an approach can be found in Francis Fukuyama’s over-ripe prediction of the ‘end of history’ with the fall of the Soviet Union. This left his dynamic understanding of history undercooked – Absolute Spirit had magically arrived in which liberal democratic capitalism was eschatological aufgehoben. Of course, the restlessness of geist put an end to Fukuyama’s triumphalism. Such an approach is ultimately static, univocal and unworldly. A final risk in predicting the future of theology is simply to give up and not make predictions, to stare sceptically at the future as an equivocal unknown. This is to say the course of human history is so unpredictable that the zags of the future never correspond to the zigs of prediction. But though history has unexpected events that rupture the previous order, these live alongside the norm of evolutionary growth and decay. Such an approach is therefore ultimately fatalistic.

To defer to Thomas Aquinas and Francis Turretin, the best approach therefore is always analogy – the future will be both like and unlike the past and present. Though the future will contain unexpected eventful ruptures which will of course skew any easy prediction, one can make hazy predictions based on what has been. Whereas classical philosophy would postulate the cause based upon the effect, this is to postulate the effect based upon the cause. Therefore, to guess the future, one needs to understand the repetition and rupture of the past.

 

On Repetition and Rupture

Whilst writing this series of articles, I have been repeatedly struck by the way post-war Evangelical theology has tended to follow the pattern of the post-Reformation era. For instance, if Classical Conservative Evangelicalism has tended to incline towards a pre-confessional Calvinism, Classical Postconservatism has inclined to repeat the steps made in late 16th Century and early 17th Century Arminianism. N.T. Wright’s revising of the doctrine of justification is remarkably similar to Simon Episcopius’ Disputationes Theologicae Tripartitae (1646) or George Bull’s Harmonia Apostolica (1675). Stanley Grenz’s social trinitarianism echoes the theology of Remonstrant theologians Etienne de Courcelles’ Opera Theologica (1675) and Jean Leclerc’s Epistolae Theologicae (1679). Wayne Grudem’s quasi-Arian subordinationism repeats nearly verbatim Episcopius and Courcelles. Roger Olson’s critique of divine simplicity treads ground already crossed centuries previously by Konrad Voerstius’ Tractatus Theologicus de Deo (1610). The kind of theology presented by Confessional Evangelical Catholicism therefore seems to consciously tread the same ground as the Reformed scholastics of the 17th Century – the Turretins, Polanuses and Maastrichts.

What then of the Ecumenical Evangelical Catholics? Are they not repeating the same moves as the 17th Century Laudians of the Church of England? Is not their sacramental emphasis above and beyond preaching an echo of Lancelot Andrewes? Does not their Patristic scholarship remind one of George Bull and William Beveridge? Is not their call for liturgical theology following after John Cosin? Is not the Platonism of Boersma a re-presentation of the Cambridge Platonists?

Further afield, what of the Revisionists? There is an uncanny resemblance between the post-Barthianism of Thomas Smail and the theology of the English hypothetical universalists such as John Davenant or Richard Sibbes, or even Amyraldianism. The theology of election laid out by Evangelical Calvinism is often remarkably similar to the thinking of Jacob Arminius himself! And what of the Pentecostal revisionists? Is not their theology sometimes bordering on the kind of religion-of-the-heart revisionism which the Lutheran Pietists and Anglo-American revivalists developed throughout the 18th Century? This was the kind of theology which began to ‘read’ the Scriptures from the experience of regeneration and renewal, much like Pentecostal theology reads the Scriptures from the experience of baptism in the Spirit. Sometimes when reading such theology, there is a startling resemblance to the writings of Wilhelmus à Brakel.

If this is the case, then is the future doomed to repeat the past? If so, we would expect the following:

  • Classical Conservativism would increasingly isolate itself, like those of the Dutch Afscheiding of the 19th Century or American Fundamentalists of the 20th.
  • Classical Postconservatism would follow the sad decline of Remonstradt theology into liberal Unitarianism, Arianism, and eventually, Deism
  • Confessional Evangelical Catholicism would be whittled away by the demands of an increasingly secularised world (as Turretin Senior’s Geneva was overwhelmed by Turretin Junior’s)
  • Confessional Ecumenical Evangelicalism would drift to Anglo-Catholicism, Rome or Constantinople
  • Revisionist Barthian and Pentecostal Evangelicals would split between conservatives and liberals, akin to the splits of Protestantism in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Such a future would look bleak indeed, allowing the riches of the current Evangelical country to be plundered by liberalism and fundamentalism. The 19th and 20th Century saw the schism of American Evangelicalism because of the rise of the abolitionist movement and evolutionary theory. We can see some of the signs of this schism already in America due to the increasingly uncritical allegiance of many Evangelicals to the Republican Party. Across the world, Evangelicalism is having to deal with the new issues of gender and sexuality, which could cause a further split.

However, history is not merely the story of the decline of Protestant Orthodoxy. It is also the story of unexpected rupture. The Pietism of August Hermann Francke and Phillip Spener spilled over into the revivalism of Wesley and Edwards in the 18th Century, causing a rich renewal of Orthodox Calvinism and Arminianism that lasted deep into the 19th Century. The Neocalvinism of Abraham Kuyper steered a fresh and fertile middle ground between the Modernist and Fundamentalist wings of the Dutch Reformed Church. The strange and unexpected burst of Pentecostalism out of Azusa Street has utterly transformed the religious landscape of the world and turned secularist expectations on their head. The post-war Neo-Evangelical movement of Carl F.H. Henry, Billy Graham and John Stott took the struggling and ignored Evangelical movement and lifted it into the heart of religious and political life in the Western world.

From a more negative view, the rupture of Tractarianism meant that the sunny postmillennial Evangelicalism of the early 19th Century was not to be realised. Rather than the Church of England being Evangelical by the beginning of the 20th Century (as was expected by many in the 1830s), it was increasingly dominated by ritualism and post-Protestantism. The rupture of Darwinism divided the Evangelical denominations of the United States until the point of schism in the 20th Century. The supernova of options in the post-war era decimated Dutch Neocalvinism. The rupture of the Moral Majority in American politics meant that the broad Neo-Evangelical movement of the post-war period was sucked into the Neo-Fundamentalism of Jerry Falwell. Such ruptures are impossible to predict – though inevitable with historical hindsight!

 

Where were we twenty years ago?

Such large-scale historical landscaping means that it is nearly impossible to plot a detailed map. Perhaps a smaller scale local road map may be of more help? If we look at some literature from the late 90s and early 2000s, we can see the massive strides Evangelicalism has taken in the past two decades. For instance, in his chapter in the book The Futures of Evangelicalism, Alister McGrath notes the need for Evangelicalism to take up the academic batten. For McGrath, the movement has been hamstrung from embracing a potentially rich academia by its pragmatism and fundamentalist legacy.[2] This is echoed in by John Stackhouse in his essay in Evangelical Futures:

Whilst evangelicals around the world rejoice as millions of people convert to their form of Christianity, there are few theologians of stature who have converted to evangelical theology from some other tradition and now work within it. And even if I have overlooked a notable convert or two, to look for converts is to miss the larger point. Evangelicals can and do explore Ruether, Hartshorne, or Zizioulas, or Gutiérrez in order to enrich their evangelicalism. But which liberals, neo-orthodox, Roman Catholics or what-have-you take the evangelical tradition seriously as a theological resource even to enrich their own perspectives?[3]

Such a pessimistic take on Evangelical theology is quickly fading. One just need mention John Webster, Oliver O’Donovan, Richard Bauckham, Richard B. Hays, Kevin Vanhoozer, James K.A. Smith, Peter Leithart, Hans Boersma, Katherine Sonderegger, Miroslav Volf, Anthony Thiselton, N.T. Wright, J. Richard Middleton, J. Kameron Carter, Fleming Rutledge, Oliver Crisp, Richard Muller, Michael Horton, Amos Yong, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen for potent examples of Evangelical theologians who are revered and respected in the wider theological academy. O’Donovan competes with the best of Postliberal ethics. Vanhoozer locks swords in an equal fight with Postliberal and Roman Catholic approaches to Scripture. Liturgical theologians scour James K.A. Smith for insights for their own thinking. Wright is debated about in the best Biblical departments in the world. I could go on. In two decades, Evangelicalism has transformed the theological landscape. However, it should also be noted that all the theologians listed here are those who have travelled away from Classical Conservatism. This is not to say that Classical Conservative Evangelicalism isn’t producing excellent theology; rather it is to say that it has remained enclosed within the Evangelical world.

In his introduction to Evangelical Futures, Stackhouse noted the following:

It is obvious, however, that these essays are not all that diverse. They reflect the fact that the contributors do not vary much in age (all between forty and fifty-five years old, with Jim Packer the venerable exception), in training (all educated in some combination of the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States – Stan Grenz is the exception, having studied with Wolfhart Panneberg in Munich), and in race (all white). All of us, furthermore, are male. For this unhappy narrowness of field we can only plead in defense that the state of evangelical theology today is itself dominated by such demographics.[4]

It had been noted by one early commentator on these articles (somewhat pre-emptively) that it was dominated by white males. As the Stackhouse comment indicates, we can only plead ‘Guilty!’ The comment was made about Classical Conservative and Postconservative theology. But as can be seen throughout these articles, as new tribes emerge, so does the diversity grow. Women, black, or Asian theologians begin to dominate as Evangelical theology globalises. The occasional female name in Postconservative and Confessional Evangelicalism (Elaine Storkey, Larycia Hawkins, Katherine Sonderegger) soon becomes a plethora of racial and gender diversity in Barthian and Pentecostal revisionism (Nimi Wariboko, Melissa Archer, Daniela Augusta, Simon Chan, Amos Yong, Ogbu Kalu etc). In the same way that Evangelical theology over the last twenty years has become more respected in the theological academy, it has also become more diverse.

This is a diversity which can only expand. African American theology has been dominated by Black Liberation Theology – a rich resource, yes – but this has inevitably meant that the treasures of orthodox African American Evangelical theology has been overlooked. This is now being overturned. The work of Esau McCaulley has brought to attention the long history of Evangelical African-American hermeneutics.[5] Anthony Bradley has shown the remarkable convergence of African American experience and Reformed theology.[6] Thabiti M. Anyabwili has delivered a passionate critique of Black Liberation Theology and a call to reclaim the orthodox past of African American theology.[7]

In the area of Evangelical feminist theology, theologians such as Aimee Byrd,[8] Nicola Hoggard Creegan[9] and Christine Pohl[10] join the ranks of more established voices such as Elaine Storkey,[11]  of Beulah Wood,[12] Margaret Bendroth,[13] Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen,[14] to demonstrate the emerging fecundity of thinking through Evangelical theology from a feminist perspective. Like with the work of Anyabili and McCaulley, such feminist theologians demonstrate that such a perspective need not lead into liberalism (contra the crude accusations of Wayne Grudem[15]), but instead offer a fresh perspective into Scripture that is much needed in an occasionally stale theological world. Indeed, as Creegan argues, even ecofeminism – often seen as the archetypal liberalism of liberation theologies – has much fruit to bear in Evangelical theology.

It is difficult to locate such theologies in my tribal typology. In some ways they could be seen as ‘Postconservative’ – but hardly ‘Classical Postconservative’. Such theologies have little reliance on the Neo-Evangelicalism of the post-war era other than historical legacy. As such they could be called ‘Postclassical Evangelicals’. They would join such established theologians as biblical scholar Richard Bauckham, a figure who in many ways has defied categorisation for several decades. Clearly in the orthodox Protestant tradition, yet also in many ways a revisionist who has been influenced by Moltmann, Bauckham could be seen as the latest figurehead of ‘Liberal Evangelicalism’, a movement that emerged in the 1920s Church of England. Bauckham has defended such conservative positions as an early high Christology in Christianity and the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, yet does so through startlingly modern historical critical techniques.

One could replicate such fascinating new emerging routes for Evangelical theology globally: Korean Presbysterian HapDong theology, Mexican Reformed theology, charismatic Anglican theology in Singapoore, Reformed Anglican theology in Hong Kong, as well as the endless list of international Pentecostals discussed in article 7 (Revisionist Pentecostal Evangelicals). As such theologies draw on their European Confessional roots whilst mixing with the own contexts, who knows the ways in which it will develop? Anglo-American Evangelicalism has yet to catch up. Here in the Northern and Western hemispheres, we would do well to read the second edition of Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology[16] to get an insight into the workings of Global Evangelicalism.

 

A Postclassical Future

Out of this comes a more modest prediction: that as the Evangelical country globalises, it diversifies and fractures. Some will leave the Evangelical country altogether. They will journey into mainline liberalism, Anglo- or Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, or even atheism. Others will regress from the advances of post-war Neo-Evangelicalism and develop into Neo-Fundamentalists (a glance at the sad decline of Eric Metaxas gives weight to this speculation). This will be increasingly the risk for Classical Conservatives.

Others in post-Trump America may heed Michael Agapito’s summons to ‘Revangelicalism’,[17] a label which has the potential to develop into a Neoclassical Evangelicalism – that is, a deliberate resourcement of the Evangelical movement in the 21st Century by returning to the ideals of Carl F.H. Henry, Billy Graham and John Stott. Alternatively, others may feel that the Classical Era of Evangelical theology is ancient history; that Henry, Graham and Stott are distant figures who offer little to the globalised and diversified Evangelicalism of the third decade of the 21st Century (and beyond). Much Catholic and Revisionist theology has already begun that journey and can call itself ‘Postclassical’. Yet tying the following generation to a title to which they have little emotional or intellectual connection to seems like yet another typological approach of a white Western author who wishes to tidy up the complicated matrix of global Evangelicalism into a tidy schema. As such, let the post-postclassical generation name themselves!

Another prediction: that despite the overripe eulogies fr the decline of Protestant theology from such thinkers as John Milbank,[18] the country of Evangelical theology has a growing vitality that will continue to blossom throughout the 21st Century. It’s just that its first language will probably not be English. In much the same way that theological vitality has shifted from Europe to America, we may find ourselves looking up to Singapore, Lagos and Rio de Janeiro by 2099. It may be the case that there is currently a seminary or university in Uganda or Mexico overlooked by us haughty Westerners where a new revolution in Evangelical theology is stirring. After all, the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch could have never imagined that the most formidable theologian of the 5th Century would emerge in Hippo. The professors of Paris, Oxford and Bologna in 1516 would have been bewildered had they been told that the greatest theological comet of the 16th Century would come from Wittenberg.

And so, alongside my predictions for the continued diversification and fracturing of the Evangelical country, and the growing theological dynamism of the Global South, I have a final prediction: that the 21st Century will produce a theological surprise that none of us were expecting. For we worship a God of surprises who always has a few more tricks up his sleeve. In the immortal words of John Robinson, preaching to the fearful yet hopeful pilgrims upon the Mayflower before their great trek across the Atlantic, ‘I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.’ Amen.

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Shanks, Andrew, Hegel’s Political Theology, p.123

[2] Alister E. McGrath, ‘Theology and the Futures of Evangelicalism’, in The Futures of Evangelicalism: Issues and Prospects, ed. Craig Bartholomew, Robin Parry and Andrew West (Leicester: IVP, 2003)

[3] John G. Stackhouse Jr, ‘Evangelical Theology Should Be Evangelical’, in Evangelical Futures: A Conversation on Theological Method (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 2000), p.40

[4] Stackhouse, ‘Preface’, in Evangelical Futures, p.10

[5] Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP Academic, 2020)

[6] Anthony B. Bradley, Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and Black Experience in America (Crossway Books, 2010)

[7] Thabiti M. Anyabwili, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 2007)

[8] Aimee Byrd, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020)

[9] Nicola Hoggard Creegan, Creation and Hope: Reflections on Ecological Anticipation and Action from Aoteaoa New Zealand (Pickwick Publications, 2018)

[10] Christine Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2012)

[11] Elaine Storkey, What’s Right with Feminism? (London: SPCK, 1989), and Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women (London: SPCK, 2015)

[12] Beulah Wood, The People Paul Admired: The House Church Leaders of the New Testament (Wipf and Stock: 2014)

[13] Margaret Bendroth, Fundamentalism and Gender: 1875 to the Present (Yale: Yale University Press, 1996)

[14] Mary Stewart Van Leeuwan, Gender and Grace: Love, Work and Parenting in a Changing World (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP, 1990)

[15] Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? (Crossway, 2006)

[16] Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, Second Edition: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020)

[17] Michael Agapito, ‘A Report from Across the Pond: The State of Evangelicalism Amid the 2020 Election’ https://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/a-report-from-across-the-pond-the-state-of-evangelicalism-amid-the-2020-election/

[18] John Milbank, ‘The New Divide: Romantic Versus Classical Orthodoxy’ Modern Theology, 26.1, 2010

The post The Regions and Tribes of Evangelical Theology: The Future first appeared on Fulcrum Anglican.

Categories: Other sites

Pages