Friday 14 July 2006

Ray S. Anderson on emergent theology

Rhett Smith features an excellent guest-post by our friend Professor Ray Anderson of Fuller Seminary (who also posted here recently), in relation to Anderson’s forthcoming book, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches. This will definitely be a book to look out for!


Binx said...

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his own age.

G.K. Chesterton

Anonymous said...

"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."

Karl Barth

Binx said...

Barth's statement has an element of wisdom, but it simply does not bear on Chesterton's point. The issue is not whether God works in the midst of error, sin, and schism, we all admit He does (as did Chesterton). If all of Protestantism if founded on principles which are deeply flawed (which is why Chesterton converted) then the necessary connection between truth and freedom leads to Chesterton's quote. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom, not slavery.

"This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom -- that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect."

- G.K. Chesterton

Anonymous said...

Barth would be the last theologian to disagree with Chesterton on "orthodoxy" as such. The basic disagreement is ecclesiological: Barth, as a Reformed theologian, regarded the church as a witness to salvation; he was too suspicious of ecclestastical self-glorification - the "nostrification of God" - to regard it as a mediator of salvation. He would certainly have been critical of Chesterton's Roman reading of church history. (By the way, I am a great admirer of Chesterton!)

Barth's theology is double-edged on the relation between church and culture. It is not just that God may - does - disclose himself extra ecclesiam, that there is no place for Christian "blindness to the possibility that culture may be revelatory, that it can be filled with promise", that it may contain signs and parables of the kingdom (cf. Barth's later theology of culture's "little lights") - though, of course, the criterion of whether or not it does so is solus Chrisus: The [Christian] community has, in fact, always heard words from that world in which it recognizes with joy its own message."

On the other hand, Barth insisted - again as a Reformed theologian - that the church itself can become apostate. Not inexorably, irretrievably apostate - that is the truth behind a doctrine of ecclesial indefectibility (not papal infallibility!) - but apostate nevertheless. Hence those kairos times of status confessionis when the God of the church raises up fiery prophets, from Amos to Bonhoeffer, to recall the church to the truth of the gospel, so that it does not contradict but corresponds to its Lord.

In short, Barth tried to steer a course between the Scylla of secularisation and the Charybdis od sacralisation. I am not so sure that Chesterton is the sounder helmsman.

Binx said...

Am I to believe that Barth (and I am a great admirer of Barth!) has a greater grasp of the Truth than the combined and common witness of the great minds of the Catholic Church?

Barth's views on ecclesiology, which attempt to justify the existence of non-Catholic communions, are in diametrical opposition to the whole history of the Church prior to the 16th century.

Why should one be moved to accept his opinions on such a critical issue when he differs from so great a cloud of witnesses? Barth is THE Protestant theologian, but even he is not a match for the brilliance of Origen, Augustine, or Aquinas. And each of these, with one voice (and in submission to the Authority of the Church to bear witness to the Truth), and including the great martyrs of history, the Saints, and the Doctors of the Church, even Chesterton, all stand in solidarity and agreement over and against Barth on the nature of the Church.

How can it not be folly to reject such a wealth of wisdom in favor of a view that is novel (which if it fails then so crumbles the justification to remain outside the Catholic Church) and nowhere appears in the history of Christianity until such a short time ago?

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