Monday, 23 June 2008

Ironies of the Contemporary Church Part 4

Another irony of the contemporary church is the way in which a traditional faith is rejected by both right and left wings of the church. My theologically liberal friends know that I am anything but liberal. We have different theological methods, very different in fact, but end up in the same place on some of the big issues. I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation, as well as in the efficacy of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection, and that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. I also support the full participation of women in the life of society and the church, and support the full integration of non-celibate homosexuals in the life of the church, which includes the office of bishop. My theological reliance on the traditional faith makes it harder to connect to the liberals, but because of my support of women and homosexuals I am suspect in the eyes of the right wing of the church too.

The problem for the reactionaries is that they think that all those who come up with different answers to the ‘great’ moral questions like homosexuality and sex outside of formal marriage are liberals. In comparison to some of them I suppose even someone as traditional as I am would seem liberal! This reminds me of an article in a Sydney evangelical newsletter about one of the bishop election synods we had here in Adelaide a few years back. The author, a Sydney evangelical here in Adelaide, was explaining to the folks back ‘home’ why the evangelicals in Adelaide vote with the Catholic conservatives at Synod. He said the reason was because the conservative catholics believe in the traditional doctrines of God and Christ, the bodily resurrection, the efficacy of Christ’s death on the cross and the authority of Scripture. But hang on, I believe in all those things, but I’m not one of the catholic conservatives. Ignoring the strange and pragmatic understanding of truth here (the reason he was justifying that temporary alliance was because good evangelicals of the Sydney brand know that Catholicism is popery), it is important to realize that similar traditional theological methods can (and often do) come up with different answers. I suspect the reactionary wing of the church likes to class everyone who disagrees with them as ‘liberals’ because it is so much easier to dismiss your interlocutor if you believe their methodology is flawed. Reactionaries say things like “Liberals (read those who don’t agree with them) don’t believe in the Bible/bodily resurrection/etc.” But the real world of the church is unlike the picture promulgated by either left or right wings of the church.

The problem for the liberals is that thy do theology in reaction to the reactionaries, allowing them to set the agenda. The reactionary misuse of the tradition is no reason to reject it. It is in fact, a better reason to use it properly.

Most people are suspicious of the extremes, and rightly so. The problem is that those of us somewhere more in the middle don’t seem to be able to present an attractive alternative to the extremes. Perhaps being in the middle somewhere is like that, or perhaps we live in a society tending toward extremes. But I also suspect that those of us in the middle have to start to work harder at presenting the believable middle in a dynamic way and make plain the craziness of the extremes. The natural home for most people is that kind of dynamic middle.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Warren,
    As usual, well put and thoughtful. As the participants in the Gafcon conference become more and more shrill in their denunciation of everyone else, and the Forward in Faith people retreat into their corner, I find myself deploring labels entirely. I would rather be seen as a follower of Christ, a Christian, than anything else. As an Anglican Christian I subscribe to the historic creeds, the salvific incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ and the Bible as the Word of God in human words. I would regard myself as an orthodox middle of the roader. But I am not therefore a fence sitter. The middle of the road is not a comfortable place to be, especially in Sydney at 5pm just after the Gafcon conference!
    With best wishes from the Anglican churches in the Diocese of Sydney,
    Gwilym Henry-Edwards