Friday, 26 February 2010

Request for help: John Webster on irony

Not much posting over the past few days: we've been moving house this week, and (to be honest) I've also felt a little dismal after my recent post on libraries. I liked that post very much, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to write a better post – and that gives me the blues.

Anyway, today I need to appeal to my learned readers for some help. In my article on blogging (which is about to be printed in Cultural Encounters), I quote John Webster's remark that irony is "a sickness of the spirit". I was away from my books when I wrote the paper, so I just quoted this from memory, and I also provided a reference from memory (I felt sure it was from his "Theological Theology" essay in Confessing God). So I was checking the proofs yesterday, and I realised that this reference was incorrect. Now I'm starting to doubt whether Webster ever said such a thing. Did I dream it? Was it perhaps something I heard in a conference paper by Webster? Does anyone know of a place where he describes irony as a "sickness of the spirit"? If so, please help me out!

For your interest, here's the paragraph in which this (mis)quotation occurs – I'm discussing the playfulness of online theology:

One catches a glimpse here of what Karl Barth called the jollity of theology. When we speak truth, it should make a “joyful and pleasant sound”; “the theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.” Of course, there is also a troubling side to such playfulness: one see this wherever a serious question or critique is brushed off with a friendly witticism, instead of being seriously engaged; or where our talk about God becomes marked by an ironic distance. John Webster is rather too severe when he describes irony as “a sickness of the spirit”, but he is surely right to see that ironic detachment is by no means identical with joy, and that an ironic stance may be hard to reconcile with the intense subjective involvement which theology demands.

Monday, 22 February 2010

This week with Rowan Williams

Lots of good stuff from Rowan Williams over the past week or two. He gave a very fine public lecture on the Philokalia at St Vladimir's Seminary (well worth listening to the whole thing). He has a video message to mark the beginning of Lent. He writes in The Guardian about the abyss of individualism. And in the new issue of Reviews in Religion and Theology 17:2 (2010), he has a rip-roaring good review of Luigi Gioia's important new book, The Theological Epistemology of Augustine's De Trinitate (Oxford UP 2009). The review begins:

"Too many theologians writing about Augustine in recent decades have fallen under the malign spell of Olivier Du Roy's substantial monograph of 1966 on faith and intelligence in Augustine's Trinitarian thought – an essay which argued in detail for an almost unqualified Platonism and individualism in Augustine generally, and an isolation of his Trinitarian theology from the economy of salvation. Du Roy's book, along with a somewhat misread passage in de Régnon's studies in the history of Trinitarian theology, produced a curious 'received wisdom' about Augustine as the source of all the theological ills of Western Christendom or even Western society; he appears to have been responsible for everything but the common cold."
Incidentally, the same issue of RRT includes Thomas Cattoi's incisive review of Giorgio Agamben's latest, Il Regno e la Gloria:
"Yet, it is true that, in this volume at least, Agamben offers few, if any, suggestions as to how the subject could break out of the spell of glory. Angels and bureaucrats conspire to make oppression ordinary, and even aesthetically pleasing; any capacity of resistance to the kingdom is shattered, as glory reasserts its transcendent and immutable character. Those readers who persevere to the end of the volume must wait for the next installment to receive their reward."
For more on Agamben's book, you can't go past Adam's invaluable synopses.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Don't make fun of grad students, they just made a terrible life choice

Anna posted this video – and I just couldn't resist re-posting it.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Job opportunity: online religion editor

Now here's a fantastic job opportunity for someone out there. The world's finest public broadcaster – Australia's ABC – is creating a new online religion portal, and they're looking for someone to run the project. The job is to lead discussion about the role of religion in society. This involves collating online content, seeking contributions from the community, and writing "highly readable and topical analysis at short notice".

Basically, it's like being a blogger – except for the $90,000 salary.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Nate Kerr: praying with the victims in Haiti

Over in The Other Journal, Nate Kerr offers a poignant theological reflection on the Haiti disaster: "With Sighs Too Deep for Words: On Praying with the Victims in Haiti". He writes:

What I am suggesting is that if we are going to go on speaking of God, as distinguished from merely speaking about God, in the wake of the events of January 12, we shall have to relearn the language of prayer. We shall have to learn a peculiarly wordless kind of language, a language that speaks to God by way of an outgoing action that is open to and waits vulnerably upon the free coming of God. To relearn such a language, we shall have to be humble enough to forget for just this moment at least that we are homo sapiens, to admit that we as human beings were created to be vulnerable and open before God, to admit “that you and I are homo precarius.” And that will require that our lives be given over to those who are in the most precarious and vulnerable position of all.
Be sure to head over and read the whole thing.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Twelve theses on libraries and librarians

Anna and Evan have posted on libraries; and someone else has posted stunning pictures of the world's most beautiful libraries. All of which prompted me to draw up the following theses:

1. The library is the most solid and enduring item in the whole apparatus of intellectual life. In time our academic fads and fashions, our schools of thought and indeed entire disciplines, will pass soundlessly into the abyss of history. But the library endures – in fact it grows only stronger, driving its roots down ever deeper while the wreckage of history piles up around it. The library’s sheer material presence testifies to its ontological priority in intellectual life: ideas are fickle and intangible, they occupy no fixed location, but the library fills space and time with an imposing materiality. It is the mind’s anchor holding fast beneath the storms and currents of time.

2. When you think of librarians, you may imagine those bespectacled mild-mannered characters with their index cards and carbon paper and obsolete black-and-green computer screens. Librarians often contrive for themselves this Luddite image. But they are in truth the most progressive and visionary figures in the whole university: like bloodhounds, always hot on the trail of the future. Their demure appearance is a cunning disguise which allows them to perpetrate their radicalism all the more effectively. It is a camouflage net thrown over an armoured vehicle.

3. Just look at the Google Books project, engineered by Google but executed by an army of visionary librarians. These people could be running the world if they wanted to – and if they did not have to be home by 7 to feed the cat.

4. At the same time, there is nobody more conservative than a librarian. Their enthusiasm for constant change and reinvention springs from an even deeper commitment to what has been received from the hand of the past. The library is an angel whose wings are spread out in fierce and loving protection of the past, while its face stares deep into the eerie light of the future.

5. In all the world there is nothing more dangerous than a library. Within any library are the seeds for the overthrow of the world. What bloody revolution cannot be traced back finally to a library? Or to some book that lay waiting through silent centuries for the day when it would be unsheathed? The rule of silence – upheld in all libraries since time immemorial – is a ruse. It is the silence of a tiger crouching in the reeds.

6. More than any other institution – certainly more than the state or the judiciary – the library proves that meticulous structure and organisation are not obstacles to revolution but its embodiment, the muscles and sinews by which history stretches its limbs.

7. The library is also the safest and friendliest place on earth. More than that: the library is the institutionalisation of intellectual friendship. Which of us, admiring a shelf laden with the thoughts of dead authors, has never felt that these books love one another, even as they love to dispute and declaim? When I was a boy, I played hide-and-seek with my brothers among the stacks, while my mother slaved over her PhD. If history is a tangle of weeds and briers, the library is that commodious garden in which children play and every flower blooms.

8. Library catalogues have their instrumental necessity, but they should be consulted only as rough signposts. Your real goal is to cultivate the art of getting lost in libraries, just as you might deliberately lose yourself in the backstreets of a foreign city. “Like a true maze, the library [leads] the reader to his goal by leading him astray” (Giorgio Agamben).

9. Nowhere is architecture more important than in libraries. The physical space is to books as oak is to wine: no mere storage facility, but a medium that interacts, by a powerful alchemy, with what it contains.

10. Every head librarian is (or ought to be) vested with virtually unlimited executive powers. The library is one of those institutions in which benevolent dictatorship is not only desirable but essential. The head librarian is the captain of a ship at sea: her word alone is law. The importance of these executive powers lies in the fact that the librarian is answerable only to the collection, just as the pope is answerable only to God and a ship’s captain only to the devil.

11. Since librarians are responsible to the collection, rash culling should at any cost be avoided. There is a cathedral library in Hereford, England, where rare manuscripts remain chained to the shelves. This measure was introduced in the Middle Ages to prevent theft – and it had the added virtue of securing the collection against the rash temptation of culling. Some books may appear to languish neglected in the dust; but they are like the seeds of those date palms that spring suddenly to life after lying dormant in the ground for millennia. On the other hand, when it is absolutely necessary to cull the collection, the librarian should do it swiftly and with a good conscience. “Every branch that bears no fruit my Father prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

12. I know a woman who worked as a librarian back in the 1960s, when the novels of D. H. Lawrence were still banned in Australia. The library’s Lawrence holdings were kept in a locked filing cabinet, and my friend – a young woman then – was responsible for the key. So one by one she secreted them away; during her lunch breaks you could find her smoking cigarettes and reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover beneath the shade of wattles and the hum of bees. The moral of the story: the librarian is a sly animal; and if you're nice to them, you might one day get a glimpse of those treasures that lie hid in every library, away from dust and prying eyes, secured by lock and key.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sex, love and theologians: a Valentine's Day quiz

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here’s a little theological quiz. (Some of this is re-posted from four years ago, though I've also added some new questions.)

1. Which famous hymn-writer had an affair with his neighbour after spying on her while she took a shower?

2. Which theologian, on his own wedding night, provided lodging for a refugee?

3. Which woman made a habit of heckling her famous husband during his sermons?

4. Which 19th-century theologian was, throughout most of his career, a fulltime carer for his disabled wife?

5. A medieval theologian had a passionate affair with his young student, and her pregnancy caused a great scandal. What were the names of these unfortunate lovers?

6. Which Protestant theologian spoke frankly about his multitudinous affairs with students and others?

7. Which prominent ecclesiastical figure developed a reputation as a wife-killer?

8. Which Christian activist was abandoned by her atheist lover for having their child baptised?

9. Which contemporary theologian has described his wife as "the mother of my theology"?

10. Which person, upon converting to Christianity, abandoned the mistress who had lived with him for 14 years?

11. Which Christian writer entered into a marriage of convenience with an American woman to help her gain British citizenship?

12. Which theologian said: “The religious and the sexual are closely related"?

13. Which Christian writer provided a theological defence of polygamy?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

John Milbank on the economic crisis

In December, Luke Bretherton organised a conference on the church's response to the economic recession. This is part of a wider – and much needed – initiative, to mobilise the churches in an anti-usury campaign. (Incidentally, since entire Christian denominations are driven by a commitment to usury, we can hardly become a credible witness until we get our own house in order. Whether the churches worship God or Mammon is still very much an open question.)

At the conference, John Milbank's address was entitled "The Moral Market is a Freer Market". It's a very lucid analysis of the economic crisis – especially the "crisis of abstraction" – and of the way Christian theology can shape economic thinking. Here's an excerpt:

"The point about talking about a culture of trust is not some kind of moralistic wishful thinking; the point about a culture of trust is actually that an entrepreneurial culture needs trust. Even if you believe in the free market, it turns out that the model of individualist utilitarianism that goes all the way back to Adam Smith is actually the wrong model. Itʼs the wrong model for the free market itself because if you have endless checking up on people, if you donʼt have trust, that actually inhibits initiative, risk and creativity. This is why the Italian economist Stefanos Zamagni is saying we need to return to the principles of Italian political economy, not Scottish political economy, because the Italian political economists from the 18th century onwards saw sympathy as part of contract itself, not as standing outside contract.

"In the end Adam Smith subordinates sympathy to self-interest and he says that if your butcherʼs selling you meat heʼs not doing it out of the goodness of his heart. But this is untrue. In fact people do enter into economic relationships at the local level for social reasons, for personal reasons, and Zamagni argues in a really powerful way that the more we have relatively informal contracts between people, the more itʼs based on trust, the less you need the intervention of state law on the one hand, or of inner control by firms on the other hand. So this is a different way of thinking about the free market. The market would actually be freer if it was a moral market....

One of our legacies in the West is the division between self-interest on the one hand and altruism on the other. But altruism is not a Christian term. It was invented by the atheist Auguste Comte. Charity is always reciprocal, charity is never a one-way gift, itʼs always a matter of give and take. If it has sometimes to be a one-way gift thatʼs in exceptional circumstance, because the point of charity is mutual bonding."
You can download the full transcript of Milbank's address from the Faith and Public Policy Forum.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Rebecca DeYoung: Glittering vices: a new look at the seven deadly sins

A guest-review by Don Needham (a Sydney friend who comments here as “Fat”)

As some of you may know I have been studying at UTC to become a Minister’s Wife. I have had batches of scones turn out perfect and some became rock cakes but I’m told scones can be perverse like that. Aside from that I have been privileged to sit in on some of the lectures and attend the courses as my wife studies, and I have the belief that heaven will be like that place – you have passed the weather and are into deep and meaningful conversation about God with almost everyone you meet.

I thought I would share with you some insights from Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung's new book, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (Brazos 2009).

The idea dates back at least as far as the Greek philosophers. Aristotle wrote that vices and virtues are those aspects of our character which have become second nature to us. The four cardinal virtues were mentioned in the book of Wisdom 8:7, probably written as guidance to the Jews in exile some 300 years before Christ (about the same time that the Greek idea of the four virtues was prominent).

Christian thinkers have long considered that the work of Christianity is to continually die to the bad and rise to the good, and so the virtues and vices were incorporated into Christian teaching. Augustine followed on Paul's concept of love covering all the virtues, so that the Greek ideal of “self perfection” became the work of the grace of God. The desert fathers refined the lists and came up with eight demons which beset the desert hermit: gluttony, impurity (lust), avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (later called sloth), vainglory and pride.

Eventually we come to Thomas Aquinas, who looked deeply into the list of vices and virtues almost as we have it today: seven vices (why seven? because seven was a right rounded whole and religious number). And pride, rather than being the eighth, is now placed at the root of all sin. Here is his list: vainglory, envy, sloth, avarice, wrath, lust and gluttony.

Each of these vices had an opposite virtue. By way of example, Gluttony would have as its opposite not anorexia but nurture, looking after our body by eating sensibly. In one extreme, we might fast so much that we are weakened and unable to perform our duties as part of the community. The problem is that such fasting becomes an end in itself instead of the prayer and contemplation it is supposed to engender. And of course the opposite extreme is gluttony, where we live for food and nothing else. Both these extremes are deadly in two ways: first, we can die from lack of food and we also can die from eating too much; and second, by putting our habits and the feeding of them ahead of God, we lose sight of his saving grace and we lose sight of the fact that it is he who furnishes the table.

So in addition to gluttony, we have:

Vainglory. Image is everything. We love to be the beautiful people. Don't the ads and the magazines promise all the wonders of recognition and conquest if we use this toothpaste or put that deodorant in our armpits? The right shampoo, and the opposite sex will flock to sniff the ground we walk on. Thomas Aquinas says, “It seems to belong to a natural appetite that one wish one's goodness to be known.”

As the early church fathers pointed out, it seems “even – or perhaps especially – when we have virtue and good character, we are vulnerable to vainglory, for it haunts us most when our virtue goes incognito.” And vainglory strives to be seen to be superior even if we have to fake it. Tragically, we distance ourselves from others and from God even as we win the accolades, because the masks we wear become walls. “It is difficult to escape vainglory,” says Evagrius, “for what you do to rid yourself of it becomes for you a new source of vainglory.”

Avarice. Avarice puts goods and chattels into #1. It is also rooted in pride because we come to think we no longer need God. We can stand on our own two feet . We say “my house, my car, my T-bone steak, my dog, my widescreen TV, my…” and we forget that it all comes from God.

Wrath. De Young writes: “Being angry is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Lust. I'm thinking Tiger Woods at present, but the media are in an orgy of their own, loudly decrying his dalliances while engaged in their totally voyeuristic pursuit of “News”. Sex itself is not a sin and neither is it salvation. It’s like nitroglycerine: it can heal hearts or blow bridges up. And lust need not be consummated in sex to be lust – it shows a problem in the heart above the belt way before it’s a problem with the heat below it.

If lust has a corresponding virtue then it has to be wholeness – the joining together of two as one flesh in marriage.

Envy. “Of all the deadly sins, envy is no fun at all.” Envy and its ugly sisters, jealousy and covetousness, go further than greed. Instead of saying “I want one like that,” they say: “I want that one – I don't want you to have it.” It could be goods, or status, or a job, success, talent, skill, or even (if you remember your fairytales) something like beauty. Envy is always looking out for the competitor, looking sideways to see no one rises too far, looking upward to see that perfection is out of the question – just so as long as I'm better than you. Envy is the enemy of love.

Finally we come to Sloth. The one sin I knew least about, but if Thomas is right and vices and virtues are acquired through practice – well, it's the one I've been working on the most and I am the best at by far.

So in order to understand sloth, let’s ask: How can sloth be rooted in pride? OK, it’s one of those mornings when it has turned cool overnight. You wake up cold and you know there’s a spare blanket just over there – yet you lie freezing and awake for an hour till the alarm calls. It isn't that you’re too lazy to get the blanket. It's that you don't want to brave that shock of cold while you get the blanket – better the devil you know.

Here's another. A husband and wife have a minor tiff, so he goes to the workshop to use the power saw and she goes to the kitchen to bang pots and pans – let her stew he says; let him stew she says. Meanwhile in front of their comfy lounge their favourite programme slides by unwatched. Both too proud to say I'm sorry – wallowing in their own juices, they don't want that little pain of making amends.

This is the original meaning of sloth: not laziness, but a willful act. If you really look at it, some of the busiest people are the most slothful, because they fill their lives sawing wood without producing anything worthwhile. Their pride keeps them there.

These are the deadly sins – not because, taken to excess, they can kill you, but because they elevate other things above God. So I want to leave you with a few short questions:

  • Has it really become cool to be evil?
  • Was Gordon Gekko correct in Wall Street when he said “greed is good”?
  • Are we really as bulletproof as we believe?
  • Are you still banging those pots and pans?

The faith of Jesus Christ: the pistis christou debate

I just received my copy of the new collection of essays on the pistis christou debate. (In a nutshell, the debate centres on whether Paul's language of pistis christou refers to "faith in Christ" or "the faithfulness of Christ".) The book is edited by Michael Bird and Preston Sprinkle: The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (Paternoster / Hendrickson, 2009), 350 pp., with a foreword by James D. G. Dunn.

Contributors include Douglas Campbell, Francis Watson, David deSilva, Stanley Porter, Paul Foster, and many others. It also includes my essay on Barth's interpretation of Paul: "From Faithfulness to Faith in the Theology Karl Barth". Here's a summary of my paper, from Mike Bird's introduction:

"Benjamin Myers draws attention to Karl Barth's unique contribution to the debate through his conception of God's faithfulness as revealed in the πίστις of Jesus. He detects a pervasive Paulinism, running from Barth's Römerbrief to the Kirchliche Dogmatik, which places God's operations in the context of cosmic apocalyptic action rather than seeing them as the outcome of salvation-history. Myers shows how Barth regards faith as essentially God's faithfulness revealed in Jesus Christ, and human faith as the obedience that participates in Jesus' own obedience to the Father. Myers also regards the construal of the πίστις χριστοῦ debate as a contest between 'anthropological' and 'christological' readings to be a false dichotomy, since Barth's own model shows that the human subject need not be erased in order to make room for divine action."

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Theology fail: Benny Hinn on the Trinity

OK, I think this one speaks for itself. Popular faith healer Benny Hinn explains the Trinity: "There's nine of 'em." Just when you thought the doctrine of the Trinity couldn't get any more complicated...



Fail submitted by Andy Nagel

Friday, 5 February 2010

Theological education: what is it for?

A while back, I was asked to write a few paragraphs on theological education for some church magazine. So I wrote the following:

Last semester I taught a class on the doctrine of the Trinity: a notoriously difficult and challenging topic! Later in the year, I heard one of the students from that class leading prayer in our morning chapel service. I was really struck by his prayer: it was a kind of meditation on the things we’d been discussing all semester in class. It was an outpouring of thanksgiving to the God who is made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

For me, this summed up the whole purpose of theological education: not simply to make students cleverer, but to help them learn better ways to speak to God in prayer, and to one another in witness.

Who is this God who comes to us and meets us in Jesus Christ? That is the basic theological question. Answering this question requires broad knowledge, sharp thinking, scholarly discipline, and a good dose of intellectual creativity. But it also demands much more than that: if we’re really to grapple with the significance of God’s self-witness in Christ, we’ll also need to respond to that witness.

In this way, scholarly discipline becomes a form of discipleship; theology becomes an exercise in prayer. When we think – really think – of all that God has done for us in Christ, our talk about God gives way to thanksgiving, while thanksgiving likewise issues in a joyful witness to others about God’s grace and goodness.

For me, this is why theological education is so exciting and so promising – and why it’s an urgent priority for the church today. What the church really needs is not cleverer or more relevant or more professional ministers, but women and men who know how to pray and how to bear witness. Nothing could be simpler; nothing more demanding. For true prayer and witness spring only from a life that has been formed in the way of discipleship – the way of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

You're my pride and joy et cetera

Monday, 1 February 2010

The lowest common denomination: a lament

by Scott Stephens (Scott is a pastor and theological educator in the Uniting Church in Australia, one of the country’s largest mainline denominations. In this piece, Scott discusses the Church’s founding confessional document, the Basis of Union. A shorter version of this piece was published in the denominational magazine, Journey.)

Over thirty years ago, the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) embarked on what could have been a remarkable journey, but it deviated from its original course with devastating consequences. It is now a shell of its former self, like so much Liberal Protestantism throughout the West, having gone whoring after the strange gods of impotent theology, liturgical gimmickry, inert bureaucracy and social respectability.

The past decade in particular has seen the UCA relinquish any prophetic vocation it might once have had — along with a considerable portion of its ecclesial and evangelistic vitality — and instead assume the inoffensive role of the religious division of a non-government provider of community and health services.

And so, in an extraordinary apostasy from its original calling, the UCA has decided to represent the ‘middle way’, the path of least resistance, a facile alternative to fundamentalism, evangelicalism and pentecostalism. In short, it has become the lowest common denomination. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine that, if God sees fit to grant it another thirty years, all that will be left of the Uniting Church itself is the logo on hospitals and Blue Care letterhead — and that for purely historical reasons.

But perhaps most troubling is that the fledgling church was warned against this very apostasy by Davis McCaughey, inaugural President of the Uniting Church. In his incendiary address to the 1979 Assembly of the UCA, McCaughey expressed his fear that the Church would be hijacked by bureaucrats and pedants, and that its clergy would be reduced to careerists and panderers:

“We no longer seem to expect our ministers to spend hours (literally hours) every week, thinking, reading, praying: so that when the hungry sheep look up they may be fed.... And I am not wholly convinced that our Constitution, Regulations and Procedures are sufficiently and rigorously controlled by [our eschatological hope]. I am not persuaded that they are not in danger ... of becoming ends in themselves.”
He warned just as passionately against the tendency he perceived to adopt a form of incestuous Church patriotism, which would obscure and ultimately destroy the Church’s vocation to carry on the mission of Christ:
“At all events the cry for a sense of identity in the Uniting Church cannot be answered by the offer of a new kind of Church patriotism. In an important sense, we in the Uniting Church in Australia have no identity, no distinctive marks — other than belonging with the people of God brought into being by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on their way to the consummation of all things in him.… We have embarked on a course in which we ask men and women to forget who they are, and chiefly to remember whose they are.”
Throughout his address, McCaughey pleaded for a return to the Basis of Union as a source of correction and renewal of the already deteriorating Church — a renewal, he emphasized, that must begin with the congregations themselves. Hence, for McCaughey, any suggestion that the Basis is merely an aspirational document or some transitional text that brought the uniting churches together (a ‘vanishing mediator’, as Max Weber would have put it) must be rejected out of hand.

The Basis is a liturgical document, shaped by the logic of Christian worship (“the rhythm of the gospel,” as McCaughey called it ); as such, it lends itself fully as much to communal prayer as it does to confession. Just notice the prominence and deliberate usage of prayer-language and doxology in the Basis.

In the opening paragraph, the uniting churches “pray that this act [of union] may be to the glory of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Having thus placed their past divisions under the sign of the strong name of the Trinity, they engage in a kind of corporate repentance for the disobedience of times past by pledging their “sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church” and vowing “to remain open to constant reform under his Word.”

Following the proclamation of the gospel (paragraphs 2-8) and affirmation of the Faith of the Church (paragraph 9), the Basis “prays that she may be ready when occasion demands to confess her Lord in fresh words and deeds” (paragraph 11).

In paragraph 15, after describing the ordering of the church so shaped by the gospel, those already existing agencies within the uniting churches are invited to place themselves under the gracious judgment of God’s Word, and thereby “consider afresh their common commitment to the Church’s mission and demonstration of her unity.” The paragraph concludes with the prayer “that God will enable them to order their lives for these purposes.”

Finally, paragraph 18 gathers everything together into a concluding supplication: “She prays God that, through the gift of the Spirit, he will constantly correct that which is erroneous in her life, will bring her into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use her worship, witness and service to his eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.”

This liturgical approach highlights those defining prayers which have been given to the Church, but which have been scorned and neglected to its peril: the prayer for continual repentance (that God “will constantly correct that which is erroneous in her life”) and for strident witness (that the Church would be ready “to confess her Lord in fresh words and deeds”).

At present, having traded its sacred birthright for a slop of quasi-pagan sentimentality and soft-left political correctness, the Uniting Church in Australia seems to have made up its mind to follow the rest of the Liberal Protestant herd in its head-long rush into oblivion. And yet, as I write this, I can’t help up think that there is another explanation for the UCA’s almost assured disappearance. What if God is killing the Uniting Church? Here is what Stanley Hauerwas told the congregation of Broadway United Methodist Church in South Bend, Indiana, in 1993:
“The plain truth is that Broadway survives as part of a larger church that is dying. Mainstream Protestantism in America is dying. Actually I prefer to put the matter in more positive terms: God is killing Protestantism and perhaps Christianity in America and we deserve it.”
Is God is killing the Uniting Church? Perhaps. Either way, its only alternatives are to continue indulging in the gratuitous “Church patriotism” that has blinded it to its plight thus far, and go on erecting stop-gap measures to stave off the inevitable; or it can embrace the fact that the Basis of Union has already placed the Church under the judgment of the Word of God with joyful repentance.

For is this not the hope that the prophets extended to those ‘pilgrim people’ in exile: repent, and return, for who knows what God may yet do?

New book

Archive

Contact

Although I'm not always able to reply to all emails, please feel free to contact me.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.

TOPO