Generous Orthodoxy  




Sunday, August 24, 2008

Searching for the apostolic faith

Most Episcopalians, especially clergy, will testify that they are repeatedly being asked--whether at interdenominational gatherings or at cocktail parties--"What's going to happen to the Episcopal Church?" or "What's going to happen to the Anglican Communion?" These questions are not helpful. It's like asking who's going to win the Presidential election. Who knows?

What would be helpful would be questions about the issues involved. This would give us liberal- evangelical, postliberal, apostolic (or whatever we call ourselves) Christians a chance to weigh in on something other than homosexuality, schisms, acronymns, and the African bishops.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, actually steered in this direction a couple of weeks ago when he said, "We [need] a bit more of a structure...to give guidance on what would and would not be a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a local church. While at the moment the focus...is sexual ethics, it could just as well be pressure for a new baptismal formula or the abandonment of formal reference to the Nicene Creed...it could be the regular incorporation into liturgy of non-scriptural or even non-Christian material." Exactly. This is what's at stake. In parishes, seminaries, weddings, funerals, and diocesan events all over the country, these "regular incorporations" have been common for decades. It is ironic that the 1979 Prayer Book, so much vilified by traditionalists 30 years ago, looks positively conservative today. One wag said that we now need a Society for the Preservation of the 1979 Prayer Book (instead of the 1928).

A friend in the PCA lamented to me recently that his right-wing denomination was becoming more and more defined by cultural conservatism, less and less by Scriptural fidelity. So the problem exists at both ends of the spectrum, with the mainlines defined by political correctness and the conservative evangelicals by anti-abortion and the American flag (so to speak). The Wall Street Journal reported last week that, contrary to the wishful thinking of many, Rick Warren was nowhere near moving left; Warren himself says that the evangelical left is minuscule in numbers, a fact to which I can attest.

We desperately need an infusion of genuine Reformed theology, the sort that has never really taken root in America (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented when he was in New York in 1938 )--truly radical, subversive theology that calls all our cultural commitments into question, and especially our religious ones. Dare we speak the name of Karl Barth?