Tuesday 20 June 2006

Will Rowan Williams succeed?

Elizabeth from Irreverent sends this query to the readers of Faith and Theology:

“I’m a female priest who has experience both in the evangelical and mainstream American Church. I’ve been asked to write an article on the aftermath of our General Convention—whatever that turns out to be! My question for you wise men and women is: do you think Rowan Williams can hold the Anglican Communion together? What will he do if the Episcopal Church defies the recommendations of the Windsor Report? And what will happen then...?”

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think the Anglican Communion will hold together, but I do not think it will be the result of Dr. Williams' efforts. (I agree with Kim that Williams is an excellent theologian, but he has been anemic at best as ABC. And I am bugged that it took his office 20 hours to release a three paragraph statement of congratulations for the new PB, which statement still made a veiled reference to problems this will cause in the Communion.)

Anyhow, I don't think the conservatives have the constitution to make a clean break. In many places, it will mean giving up their buildings and endowments, and they're not going to do that, IMO. (Liberal bishops are to blame for this, too—it is against Christian charity and love to hold property over someone else's head like that, no matter what US law says.) The Global South, for all its noise about orthodoxy and imperialism and so forth, is not willing to give up the money it gets from TEC either, IMO.

I think the noise, anger, alternative oversight arrangements, and slow leaking of some conservatives to the Charismatic Episcopal Church, Nigeria, and other arrangements is going to be the order of the day for a long time.

I personally would like to see the leaking and the anger stop and everyone stay together in the same church. But I'm not optimistic about that happening.

Anonymous said...

In an article in the Guardian, 25 March 2006, The Revd. Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, insists that "Liberal Anglicans should not sacrifice their beliefs in order to hold on to church unity at all costs. . . making an idol of unity." She reminds conservatives that they do not have a monopoly on theological conscientiousness and moral integrity, and admonishes liberals to keep their nerve in the face of threats and intimidation. "'Going along to ger along' is not the gospel," Professor Adams writes. "Nor can we consistently believe that it shows charity to those who are dug in against us, because our considered opinion is that they are imprisoned by illogic and taboos." Indeed, it might be argued that for both conservatives and liberals we are quickly moving to a status confessionis.

Having been through this agony over sexuality in my own United Reformed Church (UK) - stalemate -I am sympathetic with McCord Adams' view.

As for Rowan, I am on record as hugely respecting his motives and irenicism; but the man's a bishop-teacher, for heaven's sake! - indeed he is one of the finest theologians in the whole history of Anglicanism - and a bishop-teacher shouldn't just be negotiating, he shoud be - teaching!

Guy Davies said...

I think the Anglican Communion will probably hold together. I don't sense that Evangelical Anglicans have any desire to leave the denomination. Some accept the inergrationist model set out at the 1967 Keele Conference. Others are "in it to win it", hoping for an Evangelical Reformation in the C of E.

Rowan Williams will use all his skills as a wily eccesiastical politician to keep the communion together.

David W. Congdon said...

Ben, the question your blog needs to raise and which this post is starting to get at is the following: How long will denominations continue to exist in their present form? Will we, as Prof. Bruce McCormack told me, see the end of denominations (except those tied to ethnic or national groups, such as the Lutheran church in Europe) in our lifetime or the lifetime of our children?

Anonymous said...

How long will denominations continue to exist in their present form?

That is a REALLY interesting question. I should probably blog about it, because it'd take me a few paragraphs. My own opinion in short is that there'll be a lot of consolidation and a lot of denoms just plain dying, but they're still going to be around for a long, long time. I don't see the Southern Baptists or the Methodists just disintegrating into nothing, nor do I see them taking over the rest of Protestantism.

Anonymous said...

Good question, D.W. Presumably your "ethnic or national groups" include the Orthodox Churches? But not, of course, Rome? So we're talking "Protestants"?

But what, I wonder, would the end of Protestant denominationalism actually look like? A few alliance-grouped-churches - e.g. the present Evangelical Alliance and a new Liberal Alliance? (But where would that leave the likes of us who might want to cry, "A plague on both your houses!"). Or will ever-fissiparous Protestantism just divide and divide and divide . . .? And vanish?

Perhaps Kierkegaard was right when he said something like God will finish altogether with the church in Europe - to prove the truth of Christianity!

Anonymous said...

You've given me a lot to think about.

Are all of you Aussies, or do some of you actually live in America? If not, could we import you? I know that sounds imperialistic, but that's how we are over here.

It is truly heartening to find that there is good theological reflection, without animus, going on in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

Seriously- This whole question of the end of denominations, or denominationalism, is fascinating. I'm an Episcopal priest who attends a Lutheran Church which is made up mostly of ex-Roman Catholics. Cardinals, (Presiding Bishops) and other clergy may be dithering in conclaves, but a lot of laypeople are voting with their feet.

Is that true in Australia, too? I get the impression its what's happening in the UK, when people do attend church at all.

Anonymous said...

Hey D.W,

I forgot to ask you - speaking of Bruce McCormack - when is the professor's next book due out? I know he's edited a collection of essays on justification, due out in the autumn, but I'm talking about a proper tome. It's over ten years now since the breath-taking Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology (1995). A friend of mine who met him at Oxford a few years ago thought that he was at work on something to do with theology and postmodernity - but who isn't?! What gives?

Looney said...

Being an outsider to this question, I probably shouldn't comment too much. I work with many young people in an independent church and try hard to communicate the idea of a church that transcends denomination with Christ as the head. Much of this consists of helping them to identify what is or is not within the mainstream of proclaiming Christ as Lord.

The comments from Ms. Schori are the kind of examples I use to warn the sheep to stay away from the church of Esau (ref. Hebrews 12:16).

Anonymous said...

Isn't it possible that, instead of the death of the Anglican Communion, what's happening is that Anglicans are being compelled to define what the word "communion" means when it is applied to such a hugely diverse global body? I'm not sure I believe this myself, but it's an interesting idea.

guanilo said...

D.W. asks an excellent question. In my conception, the Anglican Communion (I don't know what it means to claim such a thing never existed) is very similar in many ways to the Orthodox churches: we consist of national churches in communion with a head that is primus inter pares and symbol of unity but not a pontiff. Due respect, Looney, but the importance of such a communion - call it 'denomination' if we must, but I think the term applies only loosely with the Anglican churches - but if Christ is to be the head of the church, this surely entails a visibility to the dimension of the unity and catholicity of the church as body of Christ: a communion, in short.

Will we survive? It would be a tragedy if we split or died over an issue that isn't even creedal. I actually agree that ++Williams is a great theologian, not such a great Archbishop, but he's in an insuperably difficult position.

But it seems to me that if we are in fact the church, it would be a failure of faith to say that we will die. Is our life not the Spirit of God making present the resurrected Christ?

Anonymous said...

Hi Gaunilo,

Thanks for your - as ever - thoughtful comments. Particularly thought-provoking is your suggestion that "it would be a failure of faith to say that we will die." I wonder . . .

Do you know the verse from Tennyson's "In Memoriam"?

Our little systems have their day; / They have their day and cease to be: / They are but broken lights of Thee, / And Thou, O Lord, art more than they.

Might we not think of our "denominations" as "our little systems"?

And churches certainly do "cease to be". Some cease with a bang (more or less) - e.g. under persecution, sometimes imperial, sometimes ecclesial, usually both. (The history of the Donatist Church makes interesting reading -both because it was the dominant church in Africa throughout almost the entire fourth century, and also because it differed from the Caecilianists - the "Catholics" - on the single issue of baptismal policy.) Others go with a nostalgiac whimper - which looks to be the contemporary model of eventual cessation. Sometimes they even choose to cease to be, in obedience to a higher, ecumenical calling. I am thinking of united/uniting churches. Indeed we in the United Reformed Church, UK - a union of former Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Churches of Christ - are disappointed, penitent even, that we continue to be.

More prophetically, however, isn't there a danger of your suggestion sounding more like Hananiah than Jeremiah? Is it faith - or perhaps not faithless presumption - to believe that the church itself - or at least one of the communions of the Communion - might not become a valley of dry bones? Isn't that what Kierkegaard was getting at (in my quote above)?

Of course there is Matthew 16:18, but wasn't it Hananiah himself who could "quote scripture" against the terror from Anathoth, representing the tradition of the great Isaiah himself that Jersualem will not - cannot - be taken?

Karl Barth: "We have to reckon with the hidden ways of God in which He may put into effect the power of the atonement made in Jesus Christ (John 10:16) even extra ecclesiam, i.e., other than through its ministry to the world."

Perhaps, then, today's text should be, not Matthew 16:18, but I Peter 4:17 and Matthew 3:9, for Christians of all "denominations and theological persuasions.

Anyway, thanks again for making me think.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

There is already a defacto break within the Anglican Communion, is there not? There are those who will not serve with Robinson, Griswold and others; some of the Africans, I reall. Is it not so?

On legal issues regarding properties, etc, there will be interesting time ahead in that arena. The renaming of "The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America" to "The Episcopal Church" may have something to do with getting the eggs all in one basket, if it involves reincorporation under the new name, and not just a name change. The southern California parishes that won their property ownership (contested by the diocese) in the courts recently also provide a precedent in the case of locally funded capital. It is also possible that the election of a female Presiding Bishop, and all that implies to the orthodox side, may lead the courts to greater sympathy toward retention of local capital against diocesan/national. It'll be interesting to watch, in a train-wreck kind of way, with mounting horror and eventual relief when it's all over.

But any true unity in Anglicanism is only a chimera, and has been for some time. What doctrine, what liturgy, what anything is shared by all Anglican-related churches?

That's one Eastern Orthodox guy's opinion, anyway!

David W. Congdon said...

This is one of the most interesting conversations yet. Thanks for the stimulating thoughts.

I think Kim is absolutely right: it would indeed be a presumption to think that the church as we know it is somehow destined to remain. What we need to hear again and again, I believe, is Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans:

"But revelation is from God; it cannot be compelled to flow between the banks of an empty canal. It can flow there; but it also fashions for itself a new bed in which to run its course, for it is not bound to the impress which it once had made, but is free."

Might we not say that the church today is this "empty canal"? Indeed, must we not affirm the complete freedom of God to judge the church in its present state, to fashion for Godself "a new bed" and a "new canal"? Of course, we cannot as finite creatures determine what that new canal might look like, but to hold on to our current canals is, as Barth so aptly put it, to worship the No-God of this world.

I become more and more convinced that what the church today needs to hear is the "No" of God, the Nein! to us Christians who think that we have control over the living water, who presume to think that our church is the right church or our denomination is special. Of course, I think this No needs to be heard across the board, starting with the identification of the faith with the numerous ideologies propagated by those who confuse God with the No-God, but that's another discussion for another time.

I am especially interested in someone like Miroslav Volf who viewed the Free Church movement as the way of the future, but has since become Episcopalian.

As a student at Princeton Seminary, I hear a different set of squabbles. This past year the PCUSA has been deciding whether it should keep its polity intact or just simply adopt a Congregationalist model. It seems the General Assembly is quite divided on this, since most see a split (or a few) as imminent. A number of students came together to insist on unity and not division. The group, Presbyterians for Unity, is the group opposing the move toward dissolving polity.

When I made the comment about ethnic/national churches, I was thinking specifically of the national Lutheran churches in Europe, such as in Finland. Prof. McCormack thinks these will hold out the longest in Protestantism.

The question, of course, is what would realistically replace them. From my perspective as one who calls the Pacific NW of the United States "home," I can safely say the Free Church movement — completely autonomous churches unconnected by creed, confession, or tradition — is the most likely vision of the future. It is a dire and dark vision, in my opinion. In that segment of the U.S. (Oregon, Washington), it is already a reality. Denominations are effectively dead there, from what I can tell.

If the RCC can just get rid of papal infallibility and allow clergy to marry, I'm there! (And I would strongly desire the ordination of women, but I'll take what I can get.)

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

D.W., it sounds like you should look into the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pick up a copy of Timothy Ware's The Orthdox Church as an introduction.

We don't have a pope, the Patriarch of Constantinople being merely "first among equals" (and more often ignored than not!) but all patriarchs and other bishops are of the same rank. Deacons and Priests can marry (preferably before ordination), but Bishops for many centuries, while they used to marry, are now chosen from among monks.

Have a look at Ware's book. He is now Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia.

Ben Myers said...

Speaking of Bruce McCormack, his article in this week's new issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology 8:3 (2006) concludes with some related remarks (p. 251):

"The situation in which Christian theology is done in the United States today is shaped most dramatically by the slow death of the Protestant churches. I have heard it said ... that if current rates of decline in membership continue, all that will be left by mid-century will be Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and non-denominational evangelical churches.... The churches of the Reformation will have passed from the scene -- and with their demise, there will be no obvious institutional bearers of the message of the Reformation. What all of this means in practice is that it will become more and more necessary, for the sake of the future of Christianity, to establish stronger ecumenical relations with the Catholics and the Orthodox."

michael jensen said...

Strangely, I feel I kinda agree with Marilyn McCord Adams... denominational unity ought not become an idol...

guanilo said...


You raise an excellent point, and let me be quick to return the compliment. To be clear, I'm not arguing that a church cannot die or disappear - that would indeed be presumptuous. Nor am I arguing that the church cannot be brought into judgment or captivity - quite the contrary, for since the Reformation I'm rather of the opinion that this is precisely our status. (Let me say, though, that I'm slightly uncomfortable with the typological/figural extension of the Hebrew Bible narratives regarding Israel too closely to the church, in the style of Ephraim Radner; this reading, provocative and helpful as it is, tends to beg the question as to the distinction between the church and Israel, viz. precisely the status of the church as Christ's own body and life in the world. This is not, btw, to advocate supersessionism, but simply to think pentecostally).

We must of course admit the possibility that God will judge and forsake a particular form of God's church - you're exactly right to warn me against the empty faith of Hananiah. But here's my point: to pronounce a church dead or failed prematurely is the failure of faith and hope. This entails a suffering on behalf of that church, precisely as Jeremiah continued to suffer in proclamation to Jerusalem, until such time of judgment, were it to come. In other words, perhaps God will judge the Anglican communion and remove its branch from the olive tree - but until such time as that happens, our vocation is to believe and pray in hope for its healing and reconciliation. It has nothing to do with controlling 'living water,' but asking very seriously what is our alternative? So far as I know, we have no prophets proclaiming the captivity of Jerusalem, but we do have the promise of Jesus' abiding presence with his people to the end of the age.

Incidentally, I think we need to make something of a distinction regarding the Anglican Communion - it already adumbrates a transcendence of denominations as "little systems" in its communion of regional, autonomous churches. Is there a de facto break? Perhaps. But it is not yet insuperable by any means, the rhetoric of 'walking apart' notwithstanding.

Thanks for this conversation!

David W. Congdon said...

The whole movement in evangelical circles toward liturgical churches is fascinating. My philosophy prof at Wheaton College, Joshua Hochschild, got a lot of press for confirming in the Catholic Church and was subsequently fired. And many others have gone Eastern. But isn't this whole movement indicative of our Protestantism? The very idea of conversion is part of this Reformation legacy. And so is its more sinister twin: evangelical church-hopping, usually among Free Churches.

I think a Free Church & RCC future for the U.S. is very likely. But what does that say about Christianity? Which side can really claim the name? Does either have the right to be called the "body of Christ"?

Re: McCormack's future publications ... good question. He told me has about 8 different writing projects at the moment. Since he is a perfectionist, I have no idea when he will release anything. As for the sequel on Barth, your guess is as good as mine. He is silent on whether the promised second book will come out anytime. And he always talks about his proposed systematic theology, but that's a long ways off.

Looney said...

This discussion has mostly been on macro factors, but I think that there are also some trends at the micro level that affect what is happening.

Highest is the notion of accountability. This is a trend across American society from corporations to churches. People are asking questions and demanding an account of the stewardship of leaders. This cultural trend seems to me to be on the one hand quite good, and on the other hand in direct conflict with the orthodox organizational structures.

The other trend - at least in my church - is that education + prosperity + free time leads to a lot of lay people studying in seminary. My medium sized church (~300 members) has a dozen or more people taking seminary classes at the moment and at least a dozen more with degrees from various places. This means that independent churches are much more confidant in what they are doing, although still wanting to join together in associations. Again, the old orthodox structures look anachronistic from this mindset.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

David: Doesn't the Orthodox church slowly lose its ethnic members as they assimilate to U.S.?
Actually no. The Orthodox Church manages to hold onto a large number of youth precisely because of the strong ethnic and family influence in the various national churches (Greeks, Arabs, Serbians, Russians, Bulgarians, etc), in addition to the large, tight, social network that the Church provides worldwide, but especially in the US.

And as for converts to Orthodoxy in the U.S., it seems it mostly attracts highly-educated, disaffected evangelicals who, it seems, romanticize life there. Is there really wide enough appeal here?
Not so. That's a part of it, but that's just what you get in a country where most people are Protestant evangelicals with education! The appeal lies in the ancient Faith and the stability of Tradition. Many people come from many backgrounds. I was Catholic. I know atheists who've converted. We're educated, but there are uneducated folks drawn too. And there's the emphasis on the good of a family, which provides its own growth factor. It is the case that entire Protestant churches have converted wholesale, as a group, and that's probably the largest source for the inflow, but that's just because that's what the majority of the urban areas are full of, and that's where most of the churches are situated.

Ben Myers said...

Regarding McCormack: next year he's giving the Scottish Journal of Theology Lectures (on the topic of kenotic Reformed christology), so presumably these lectures will be published by Cambridge UP.

Wallacewriter said...

If Catholicism continues to be a vastly influential part of American culture, and that makes sense to me, then I'd want to ask: what "brand" of Catholicism? Will there be a strong neo-orthodox movement? What is the effect of the sex abuse scandals? Whether Pope Benedict is happy with it or not, American Catholics seem to share a lot of the liberal views of European Catholics, the only difference being that we actually attend church!

Would anybody care to voice an opinion on what the heck TEC accomplished yesterday? Is this the normal Episcopal waffle or did we slather whipped cream on it this time?

Cheers, Elizabeth

David W. Congdon said...

The new issue of IJST starts with McCormack's article on a Reformed kenoticism, which serves as an introduction to what he will lecture on in Scotland. Actually, this entire issue is very interesting, maybe their best yet. If you are aware of the McCormack-Molnar debate, in this issue we have Molnar's response to Kevin Hector's first article on the debate that came out in July of 2005.

David W. Congdon said...

Thanks, offcenter, for bringing up the TEC statement. Check out this quote from Bishop Robert Duncan: "We have reached a moment where it is very difficult, indeed, I think we have reached an impossible moment, in holding it together." Wow, that's honesty. And also, I think, realistic.

National Public Radio had a segment on the resolution that was passed to uphold the Windsor report. You can listen to it here.

Offcenter said...

If Catholicism continues to be a vastly influential part of American culture, and that makes sense to me, then I'd want to ask: what "brand" of Catholicism? Will there be a strong neo-orthodox movement? What is the effect of the sex abuse scandals? Whether Pope Benedict is happy with it or not, American Catholics seem to share a lot of the liberal views of European Catholics, the only difference being that we actually attend church!

Would anybody care to voice an opinion on what the heck TEC accomplished yesterday? Is this the normal Episcopal waffle or did we slather whipped cream on it this time?

Cheers, Elizabeth

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