Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Liberal push (continued) and theological worldviews

Finally, my dialogue on the crisis in the Episcopal Church (see previous posts)concluded with this observation that those on both sides of the current issues hold divergent and irreconcilable theological worldviews:

Regarding my characterization of the polarities of radical, feminist and liberation theologies vis a vis historic evangelical and catholic theologies: The central thrust of my argument is that (1) the lesbigay agenda has gone hand in hand with efforts at reimaging God because both proceed from a theological basis that is in stark contrast to historic catholic and evangelical theologies; and that (2)we are finding it impossible to achieve reconciliation or accommodation because our difference is not merely about sexual behavior but because we have different theological worldviews. Feminist and liberation theologies represent one polarity that is in contrast to historic catholic and evangelical theologies, but that is not the only polarity that exists.

When I speak of historic catholic and evangelical theologies, I am speaking of the central stream of Christian though that comes to us through patristic and conciliar efforts at determining Christian doctrine and that continues to be maintained in that stream of theology that is generally regarded as orthodox. Its theological method could be said to be represented by the canon of St. Vincent of Lerins who defined true catholicity as that which has been believed "ubique, semper, et ab omnibus—everywhere, from antiquity, and by all."

The Councils of the early Church arrived at true catholicity by applying this methodology. The Reformers (and their Evangelical successors) were essentially applying this same Vincentian methodology (whether they acknowledged it or not) in stripping away the accretions of medieval Roman dogma to get back to the "faith once delivered to the saints." This is why I have often said that the Reformers (including our Anglican forebears) were not rejecting true catholicity, they were trying to recover it. That is why, even today, there is no disagreement between orthodox Catholic and Evangelical theologians as to the central tenets of Christianity or Christian moral teaching.

While I cited feminist and liberation theologies as one polarity that stands in contrast to this historic, orthodox stream, it would be accurate to say that there is an array of contemporary theologies that do so. Paul Tillich, whom you cite, is regarded by many scholars as being dependent on a philosophical idealism that implied Pantheism and an impersonal deity. He also maintained that myth or symbol is humankind's only way of grasping cognitively the meaning and structure of reality—God, the "Ground of Being." Many who have followed Tillich have applied all of this very subjectively in "re-personalizing" or "re-imaging" God according to their own perceived needs. Others, like Bp. Spong, have gone in a different direction, rejecting personal Theism altogether.)

When you mention that "feminist theologians rejoice in a broad range of images... as the Psalmists, themselves, did similar rejoicing—with many of the same images," the problem is that some of the images are selected "out of context," and used to construct images of God that are markedly different (sometimes to an idolatrous extent) from the picture of God that one gets from the canon of Scripture as a whole.

Finally, let me answer the question that is central to what you are saying: "Can people whose theological understanding comes from a combination of recent Biblical scholarship and the experience of those previously excluded from the church's life co-exist with people who adhere to ancient theologies formed and articulated by old men?" Your question implies that "ancient theologies" are necessarily wrong and that all recent biblical scholarship lines up on your side.

Recent biblical scholarship includes N.T. Wright, Luke Timothy Johnson, Richard Hays, Edith Humphrey, Christopher Seitz, Marianne Meye Thompson, and Raymond Brown; not just Marcus Borg and the other members of the Jesus Seminar. Recent theological scholarship includes Alistair McGrath, John Webster, Tom Oden, and Colin Gunton; not just Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rosemary Ruether and Carter Heyward.

(Incidentally, Gunton's 1992 Oxford Bampton lectures, published as The One, The Three And The Many: God, Creation And The Culture Of Modernity, deals quite powerfully with the root causes of our theological divide to which I am referring.) There is lively and active scholarship going on in evangelical and Catholic circles (as documented in Tom Oden's Rebirth of Orthodoxy, HarperCollins, 2003), so it simply won't do to pretend that all modern scholarship supports the theological and moral revisions we are witnessing.

When you put the question the way you do—that the historic Christian faith is "ancient theologies formed and articulated by old men," it helps to demonstrate quite clearly that what is going on in the Episcopal Church today is the outright rejection of Christian orthodoxy—and that, I fear, is the chief aspect of the irreconcilable differences we are facing.

No comments: