Fan mail

EE

Dear Dr Knight:

Last night a group of us (the others are Protestant pastors and I am an Orthodox priest) here in Des Moines, Iowa, decided to read your book – The Eschatological Economy – as a group. It fits with some other things we have been reading, and they are as interested as I am in what you have to say about Metropolitan John (Zizioulas). Indeed, his Being as Communion may be our next book. I am eager to read your forthcoming work on his theology.

Are you an Anglican?

If we become perplexed at some point in our reading of your book, I may email you for a clarification!

In the peace of Christ,
+Lev

* * * *

Dear Father Lev and friends

I am honoured that you have picked The Eschatological Economy for your reading group. Now I really do wish it was a better book.

I wrote it as I was looking around for a systematic theology that could help us diagnose our present church situation, and to explore what Metropolitan John Zizioulas meant by ‘eschatological ontology’, and to get clearer in my own mind how Christ died and lives for us – so three different motives.

Much theology is written in a panic about our present situation. Theologians seem to be waiting for permission from someone before they say anything too Christian – so they don’t seem to be our teachers any more. I think we should give them this permission by praying for them, and writing to them to encourage them to teach us to be disciples. If they do so, the panic will subside and we can start to lay the Christian proposal before the world with a bit more patience and reason.

The life of the Church must be sourced from the whole Christian theological and historical experience, because only the whole deposit of faith makes us the distinct – holy – community of witness, able to communicate this faith and so to be of some use to the world. So The Eschatological Economy reads like a set of demands, made to any theologian who is prepared to receive them, to pass on the whole deposit of faith. I have learned how to make more demands, or pray more prayers, since I wrote it.

I am an Anglican – a ‘catholic evangelical’, I think – with various friends trying to tug me in more Catholic or Orthodox directions. My theology is Reformed and Barthian, but I have learned from TF Torrance and Robert Jenson that we can grow out of the worst of our Western problems if we go back to the Fathers. This is what I have tried to do by making Irenaeus’ account of the formation of man the main narrative, and making all the Augustinian fall-and-sin issues subordinate to this. Then comes the Protestant part of my agenda, which is to set out a good account of the atonement by properly relating ideas of representation, substitution and sacrifice, and to make a decision about penal substitution, and that is what is going on in chapters 3 & 4.

Of course I would like to hear your reactions to The Eschatological Economy, but there are probably other people who would like to know what you make of it too, so I would be especially grateful if you would also copy your questions and reactions into the comment box on the book’s Amazon page, or the DK blog. Then I will not be the only one to be grateful to you.

Best wishes
Douglas Knight

Reno grades theology graduate schools

At the top of my list is Duke. Richard Hays and Ellen Davis are leading a strong cohort of biblical scholars toward the recovery of a theological voice in biblical interpretation. Add to that the creative mind of Stanley Hauerwas, the rigorous mind of Reinhard Huetter, the learned mind of Geoffrey Wainwright, and the outspoken voice of David Steinmetz, as well as some excellent younger faculty (Amy Laura Hall, Warren Smith, Steve Chapman, and others), and you have a program firing on all cylinders. Three cheers for the Dean, Gregory Jones. He has done wonders in bucking the trends toward the banality and post-Christian distraction that afflict other mainline institutions. It isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as we have now in the United States.

In the No. 2 spot, I put Notre Dame’s Department of Theology. It’s not firing on all cylinders. The biblical scholars pretty much follow the tired old distinction between “what it meant for themâ€? and “what it means for us.â€? This guarantees their marginal relevance to the study of theology. Most of the systematic theologians are still living in the 1970s and 1980s. But this is a huge department with some great people. Notre Dame is the best place to study the Church Fathers (Brian Daley, John Cavadini, Robin Darling Young). Gary Anderson and Cyril O’Regan are first-rate Christian intellectuals capable of inspiring a wide range of doctoral students toward genuine vocations in theology rather than careers of expertise. Jean Porter and Jennifer Herdt have creative things to say in moral theology. It’s a strong program, and it is getting better every year.

* * * *

Ephraim Radner’s extraordinary book The End of the Church is the most creative, erudite, and important book of historical theology since Henri de Lubac’s Surnaturel. David Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite is a bold (and to my mind brilliantly successful) theological campaign that carries the fight for truth into the deepest reaches of our sad, failing, postmodern academic culture.

These two remarkable theological minds are not just in less-than-ideal places for an aspiring, adventuresome graduate student interested in serious theology in the service of the Church, as is the case with Marshall. Radner and Hart are totally inaccessible. Radner is a parish priest in an Episcopal church in Pueblo, Colorado. Hart has a temporary, one-year appointment at Providence College. For all intents and purposes, both have been excluded from academia. It is a sign of the times. The United States, a wealthy country with vibrant churches, has only two graduate programs in theology that get even a relatively strong thumbs up.

R. R. Reno at First Things

Reno’s is an apocalyptically short list. But, even taking into account the relative sizes of the US and UK, the UK list would be shorter still. Since Reno is asking about theology faculties as a team, with a team ethos, it is a very good question whether we could come up with a list for the UK at all. So I will be trying to bring to your attention whatever good work I can find in the UK, and, more of a challenge, in London.

And on a related subject see Jason Byassee’s Going Catholic: Six journeys to Rome (the six include Reinhard Hütter, Bruce Marshall, Russell Reno and our very own Douglas Farrow).

The checklist as gracious act

It is a rule of this blog that stating the blooming obvious is a valuable public service. It is a very useful thing to put the basics in writing. And this is just what Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) has been doing. It has just published a set of outlines of what Christians – and Christian leaders, clergy and bishops – can expect, what help they can ask for, and what is expected of them.

It is much easier to point out what is missing if we have a written account of what we can expect in the first place. Then we can ask whether the proper expectations of Christians, set out in these public documents, are being met.

Let us use the non-Christian language of rights and talk like consumers for a moment. It is the right of Christians to be taught. Those who are not being taught are being short-changed – robbed, even. If Christians have their ‘rights’ written down, perhaps displayed prominently at the back of church, they can complain to the management when too much of the listed service is not made available. If they do not get satisfaction there they can ask to have their case referred to some Church ombudsman, or bishop.

We have inspection of every public institution and monitoring of public satisfaction of every other aspect of life. Our schools and universities are inspected and their reports published on the internet. How about the same in the Church of England? Then with our simple TEAC check-list we can ask: Is catechesis taking place ?

Are all being:

‘taught key Bible stories: Creation, the Patriarchs, Moses and the Law, key players in Israel’s story; the life and teachings of Jesus; key incidents from Acts, and other New Testament writings’

YES or NO?

Are all

‘encouraged and helped to explore further basic Christian doctrines at an appropriate level (eg. Apostles’ Creed, Commandments and Lord’s Prayer)’

YES or NO?

Are all

‘helped by consistent preaching, teaching and reflection to interpret the Scriptures with relevance, and to listen for the word with faithfulness and a thirst for learning’

YES or NO?

All right, that is enough worldliness now. The point is that documents such as these produced by ‘Theological Education for the Anglican Communion’ provide a very handy charter or covenant. The next step is to make these documents well known in churches, and hope that they are welcomed as an aid to honest talk, and so as good for us all. Can we have such documents introduced in bishop’s letters, read from every pulpit, and displayed at the back of every church please?

Pelikan – Continuity and Creativity 2

It is into that ongoing life and history that we were baptized, and into its preservation, transmission, and communication that you, as priests of the Church, are to be sent. Your priestly ministry will be the daily re-enactment of the story of salvation, the daily
repossession of the heritage. It will become a truly creative re-enactment and repossession not by cutting itself off from dogma and liturgy and discipline, but by having the courage to assert what the faith means as well as what it has meant. Those of us who have had the privilege of growing up in immigrant communities know the problems, but also the gratifications, of being bilingual: sometimes it is language A that best expresses what we want to say, and at other times it is language B, but one of our tasks was always to foster communication between those who, unlike ourselves, were so unfortunate as to be able to speak only one language. The priesthood of the Church is, in a sense, called to be bilingual, speaking the language of the tradition and maintaining continuity with it, but then creatively bridging the gap of communication with those who speak only “modernese.” This is a risky enterprise. It is much easier to live in the past or, on the other hand to capitulate to modernity and, as the saying goes, to “let bygones be bygones.”

It is to neither of these that we have been called, but to discipleship and to faithfulness and to continuity with the faithful
disciples of the Church in all ages. Grounded in that continuity and making that tradition our own, we are set free to speak and to work as those who, through the Incarnation, have been privileged to share in the very nature of God the Creator and in His freedom.

The charter of this continuity and of this creativity is the summons and the promise of Our Lord Himself: If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31.32).

Jaroslav Pelikan Continuity and Creativity

Non-theological non-political ethics

wadham

Your correspondent is just back just back from the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics annual conference in Oxford. This is usually a sleepy English affair, but this year the SSCE held a joint conference with the Europe-wide Societas Ethica on ‘Political Ethics and International Order’.

But, oh dear, what happened to Christian ethics, Christian theological ethics? I heard studies on international affairs, and calls for more studies of international affairs.

But what we want is surely not more studies in the sense of more information, for there is already a vast mud-slide of scholarship from the international relations departments of universities. We want to learn how to judge all this scholarship of international political relations, don’t we? We want to learn our own (Christian) tradition well enough to be able to comment intelligently – theologically – on all this information, so we can offer more than a crock of platitudes on international political affairs.

Christian ethics seems to me to be a great righteous clucking that occurs whenever nice people get together to be enraged because other people are not nice.

What can save Christian ethics from Pelagianism is gratitude to God, expressed in worship of God (theology as doxology) and discussion of the cost to the Christian community of saying, and in its own community life showing, what is the cost of the peace and justice we commend, nationally and internationally.

So I was hoping to learn something about the distinctive voice of the Christian community and its witness to the great geo-political circus, by pointing towards an alternative, counter-cultural, way of life. I wanted to hear a little about the cost of this witness, because this witness is not always popular, and some times and places it is even opposed. I think the best way to talk about international politics is to talk about how churches exchange information and practices across continents and cultures. By this exchange the churches, and their discourse on justice and forgiveness, sustain and support the rule of law, pioneering the way for other international institutions, legal frameworks, courts of justice and commissions of peace and reconciliation. In this way churches support any institution anywhere (not just states) which wants to provide justice and security for their citizens.

Christians can point out the social and environmental costs of fossil fuel industries in places where the state is too weak to protect its own citizens from the multinationals intent on serving my demand for cheap fuel. They can point out where a severe labour discipline imposed by some regimes on their workers in order to satisfy my demand for cheap goods. They can even drawn attention to the violence that some states mete out on those Christian leaders that become too articulate on such subjects. And they can remember those Christian leaders in their prayer and vigils. They can point out the temptations for states (and not only other people’s states) to become kleptocracies, robber-gangs (I was listening to Michael Northcott and Luke Bretherton at this point. You see, I do pay attention).

I wanted to hear how the Christian community can explain to our (Western) societies how to receive the challenge and rebuke of international legal bodies. Are we are aiding the illegal detention of suspects without trial, the import of war material into conflict zones, supporting Israel’s occupation of territory that is not its own, in defiance of UN resolutions? (I wish the Church in the UK was more in touch with the Church in the Middle East – Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel-Palestine. I have been meaning to find links from this blog to churches in Lebanon.) You see, I don’t want to hear about what other people should do, without learning the cost to ourselves of our political-ethical prescriptions, and understanding that the Christians bear these costs gladly – because they know that they are really borne by their Lord. That is how Christian politics begins.

Bonhoeffer got a regular mention, but there was no interaction with the very considerable Catholic and Papal contribution to thinking on international relations, all of it very accessible and better than any of the papers I heard at this conference.

But the company was good and Oxford, in the sunshine, is still beguiling…

Teaching Christians – TEAC takes the initiative

Anglican compass rose

Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) has just published a set of outlines of training in Christian life. Each outline lists the Christian competencies we can hope to learn and the teaching in discipleship that will promote these competencies.

The outline for the ‘laity’ distinguishes four categories of Christian:

candidates in baptismal catechesis (and Godparents or sponsors)

those recently baptized – and in post-baptismal nurture

adult Christians – for growth in faith

Anglican Christians – for renewal and mature life

Then it distinguishes five areas of the Christian life: commitment, discipleship and mission, biblical knowledge and doctrinal understanding, spiritual growth, worship. The following competencies are (mostly) from the ‘adult Christian’ column:

* All should understand that Christian commitment may be costly in terms of a person’s integrity, relationships and witness.

* All should be aware that Christian commitment may involve going against what others perceive to be the truth.

* All should know that commitment to Christ is sacrificial, life-long and lived out in daily life.

* All should be prepared for commitment of life in obedience to God’s will, and be open to accepting new revelation which may require changes in that commitment.

* All are taught key Bible stories: Creation, the Patriarchs, Moses and the Law, key players in Israel’s story; the life and teachings of Jesus; key incidents from Acts, and other New Testament writings.

* All are encouraged and helped to explore further basic Christian doctrines at an appropriate level (eg. Apostles’ Creed, Commandments and Lord’s Prayer).

* All should be encouraged and helped to develop a rule of life which includes a sustainable pattern of praying and listening to God daily; and also to learn to pray through reading the Bible.

* All seek to grow into the likeness of Christ

* All should be formed in a pattern of regular worship, self-examination and participation in the sacraments of the church.

THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION – LAITY ‘TARGET GROUP’

It seems to me the best reply to this is:

Amen. Lord, have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law.

Well done, TEAC working party, that is not a bad little start.

Maximus: The physical creation is the garment of the Word

According to Maximus it was not, properly speaking, Christ who was transfigured when he was seen in glory; it was the disciples, who were momentarily enabled to see him as he truly is. “They passed over from flesh to spirit before they had put aside this fleshly life, by the change in their powers of sense that the Spirit worked in them, lifting the veils of the passions from the intellectual activity that was in them.” Again it is the passions that must be overcome before true vision can occur-though in this case “the veils of the passions” are removed momentarily by a miraculous intervention of the Spirit. Of the many layers of meaning in the vision itself, the one that concerns us here relates to the garments of Christ. Maximus finds in these a symbol “of creation itself, which a base presumption regards in a limited way as delivered to the deceiving senses alone, but which can be understood, through the wise variety of the various forms that it contains, on the analogy of a garment, to be the worthy power of the generative Word who wears it.” The physical creation is the garment of the Word, from which the Word itself shines forth to those who are able to see.

I hope it will be clear from these two passages that the Greek Fathers’ view of nature is very different from our own. We tend to think of nature as an autonomous system that can be understood largely in its own terms. It may need grace to complete or fulfill it, as Aquinas taught; nonetheless, as the very notion of “completion” shows, the starting point is nature. That is why Aquinas begins the Summa by discussing at length what can be known of God based on natural reason.

The view of Maximus is different. He does not think of nature as an autonomous system; it is more like a bush burning with divine fire, or a garment worn by God and shining with uncreated light. Another metaphor Maximus offers makes his view clearer. He says that physical things are to God as printed words are to their meanings. To study the physical world as an autonomous system would make as much sense as scrutinizing the marks on a piece of paper as if they were mere physical objects. The marks are not there to be studied in their own right, but to be read through, as it were, so as to discern the meaning behind them. If they seem to make no sense, then the solution is not to scrutinize them more and more closely; it is to learn the language in which they are written. The way one “learns the language,” however, is not by intellectual effort. It is by purifying oneself from the passions through ascetic struggle and obedience to the divine commandments.

David Bradshaw Christianity East and West: Some Philosophical Differences

Pelikan – Continuity and Creativity

For what we have received as a heritage from our Fathers, we must earn if we are really to possess it. Each generation of the Church has had to learn this lesson anew. Continuity is not the same as archaism, and over and over the Church has reacted to the challenges of heresy and unbelief by stating its historic faith and restating it, and, as Maximus Confessor says, “giving it an exegesis and working out its implications” (PG 91:260). It, in response to Christological heresy or to attacks upon the holy icons, it was appropriate for the Fathers to recite the Nicene Creed with an extended paraphrase that spoke to these false teachings, then it remains appropriate for us also to locate ourselves within the continuity of the faith of our Fathers and, in the name of that
continuity, to speak the Word of God to the world of today. For what a world intoxicated with each fleeting moment needs to sober it up is the message of the apostolic faith, but we are not simply pipes and conduits through which that message passes, but living, responsive, and, yes, creative participants in its ongoing life and history.

Jaroslav Pelikan Continuity and Creativity with thanks to Matthew Baker

Truth in its wholeness

The doctrine of the life shared in Christ is brought into relation to the doctrine of the Body of Christ. The life shared is embodied. The Church is related to Christ as his mystical complement in the one organism of the new creation.

Today men desire the integration of life upon a new basis. But the rival solutions offered cancel one another out; for none of them represents the whole which corresponds to human nature as God individualism it. More serious, however, is the fact that this situation is the counterpart of disunity amongst Christians and is closely connected with that disunity. Moreover our present dilemma is one which would seem to involve us in a vicious circle. Truth in its wholeness can be rightly apprehended only within a common order of life…the principle signifies that the broken mirror of Christendom cannot without grave distortion reflect the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

L. S. Thornton The Common Life in the Body of Christ (1941)

Witnesses

You can’t make sense of Christian ethics apart from Christian life. You can’t make sense of Christian ‘principles’ apart from the Christian community or apart from the practicalities that are the outworking of the love that holds that community together and makes it a public body that witnesses to God.

The discipline laid on Christians is not meant for other people. You may have heard the Christians talking about how to lead the Christian life, but that was meant for them to hear, not for you – unless you want to become one of them.

Christian ethics is not a sub-division of ethics: its first loyalty is to the whole Christian faith, life and people. The Christian ethic serves the unity and integrity of the Christian people. The Christian people are witnesses of God for the world. They are God’s first bystanders, to fill in all those who will become bystanders in the future on the action that they have missed. They are the community taught the skills of witness to God, and taught by God: ‘witness skills’ are not very different from ‘leadership skills’.

The Christian community is being taught the witness of God in order to lead the world out of its own self-preoccupation and to point towards the preoccupation of God with, and love of God for, the world. They are made demonstrators of the love and service of God to man. They are on display to the world, their job to be embarrassed and humiliated publicly before the world by their Lord, as an illustration of his compassionate condescension. They are something special, even unique. Of course much of the time the special thing is that they are misrepresenting God, a picture of the misery of man without God. But they are also the demonstration of the readiness of God to hear that man.