Thursday, July 06, 2006

Anthropology, Not Theology

I'm still reading blogs and articles on the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and the continuing "sorting out" that the Anglican communion is doing in light of recent actions and inactions of the American church. I'm doing this in part because I want to, and in part because I need to... I'm teaching the course on Episcopal Ethos again this fall and need to be very clear in my thoughts on the present crisis. Not always easy in the midst of a very busy season of life, and lately it seems like all seasons are busy!

Anyway, be all that as it may, I just read one of the shortest and most helpful summations of the problem of the theological crisis in the church. This is from the blog of Fleming Rutledge, Episcopal priest and well-known author. She writes:

"Never has it been more obvious that the ruling theology of ECUSA is not theology at all, but anthropology. We are going to build the reign of God. We are going to develop relationships. We are waging reconciliation. We are admiring the creation (which apparently is not fallen or in need of redemption). There is no room here for God to do anything."

Note: she emphasizes the word "we" in italics at the beginning of each sentence, to drive the point home. For some reason I can't get html tags to work in this post, or I would have copied it exactly.

Of course by that last comment she doesn't mean, I don't think, that God cannot work where ever he so chooses to work (even in places where it may seem impossible to us!). What I hear her say is that the leadership of the church is not really leaving much of a place for God to do anything, nor do they see much of a need for God to do anything, either because they think everything's all right or because they're handling things just fine on their own, thanks. Perhaps not surprising that contemporary cisis of theology in the anglican tradition was born from the ashes of deism.

Reminds me of that wonderful poem by Sir Thomas Browne:

"If thou coulds't empty all thy self of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, "This is not dead,"
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou are all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes He says, "This is enow
Unto itself -- 'twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for me."


Importantly, Rutledge also adds "The traditionalists/orthodox/evangelicals -- or whatever we are -- are in grave danger of falling into the same modes of labeling, sneering, dismissing, demonizing and so forth as the theological liberals, if indeed we have not already done so in a manner fatal to our committments."

On that last, I have to say several things: I'm grateful for the admonition which I think we need to heed; I'm prayerful that it will not be so (please Lord, don't let it be so); and I'm wondering what she's seen or heard that makes her sound so grave toward the end of the statement. Much of what I have read from orthodox anglican evangelicals in recent weeks has been humble, sound and charitable -- though I've been trying to stay with blogs and articles of people I know and trust at least by reputation.

I just pray that we will not be "replete with very thou." Stuffed with self is the the way I often think of it, and in this time of painful and necessary change in the communion, I pray that we won't be. May we leave room for God to do what He needs to do -- indeed that we will realize that only God can do what needs to be done, through us, around us, even in spite of us -- to bring about his glorious kingdom purposes in the church and in the world.

No comments: