Monday, May 2, 2016

Praying for the Promise

Context. Context. Context. The exegete's cheer (learned at Dallas Theological Seminary).

Jeremiah 29:11 is part of a letter written to a people in exile to keep them from being discouraged by their circumstances and deceived by false prophets (vv. 4-9). 

And they are given (1) a promise of restoration and (2) a path to attain it.

10 “For the Lord says, ‘Only when the seventy years of Babylonian rule are over will I again take up consideration for you. Then I will fulfill my gracious promise to you and restore you to your homeland. 11 For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. 12 When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. 13 When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, 14 I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord. ‘Then I will reverse your plight and will regather you from all the nations and all the places where I have exiled you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will bring you back to the place from which I exiled you.’

The scope of ultimate restoration is expanded by the resurrection of Jesus. But the path to the promise remains the same. 

"'When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord" (NET Bible).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Parochial" is not a Bad Word

"All Christianity must contain a local element. Whatever our Rule, our relations with others, or with a director; we are, by virtue of being Christians, essentially parishioners. If you cannot have an 'isolated' Christian, nor can there be one who is not a member of, in the widest theological sense, a 'parish,' because that is the working unit of Christian sacramental life. 'Parochialism' is a question, not merely of organization or administration, but of theology."

-Martin Thornton, Christian Proficiency, p. 56 (italics his)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Rule of Life & Parochial Missiology

I can't turn the alliteration off today.

Patient, persistent prayer in place is the practice of God's people in pursuit of God's mission.


First, we've been taught to. "And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).

Second, God's mission has a form, the Church.  And the Church trains her children for mission.


By rule (or plan).

"A rule of life maintains the basic orientation of our lives as Christians. As Christians we need to fit secular work into our rule rather than the other way around, which is what we often do. Our work comes first, and then we try to work a small religious component ('when and where we can afford it!') into a basically secular existence. Having a rule does not mean that a greater part of our time is taken up with performing religious duties. Rather the rhythm that a good rule establishes helps us maintain our spiritual focus" (Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life, 190-191).

"The Rule of the Anglican Church can be summarized as consisting of (1) the Office, which is the corporate worship of the Body of Christ to the Father, or, as Richard Meux Benson puts it, 'The prayer of Jesus to His Father through His Body'. And this is a twofold office 'daily throughout the year'. (2) The Mass is the loving embrace of Christ in joy, attained by the synthesis of his complete succor offered and his absolute demand accepted. And it is stipulated on some seventy-five days of the year (the Red Letter days) when a special collect, epistle, and gospel are supplied. (3) Private prayer concerns the sanctification of the individual soul by the indwelling spirit, to the glory of God" (Martin Thornton, Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation, 205-206).

Now some of that language may be a bit opaque. So here it is said simply in the new ACNA Catechism, To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism.

255. How can you cultivate a fruitful life of prayer?

         I can cultivate a fruitful prayer life by following the ancient three-fold rule: weekly

         Communion, Daily Offices, and private devotions. This rule teaches me when to pray, how
         to pray, and for what to pray, so that I may grow to love and glorify God more fully.

I can cultivate . . .  Cultivation takes patience and persistence.

A fruitful life of prayer is neither an accident nor automatic. It is the result of purpose and plan, which are the outworking of a larger scheme of Vision-Intention-Means (V-I-M).

Prayer following the first followers of Jesus leads us into a sound and stable rule. This rule is connected to the hours of prayer for Temple worship. 

"Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules." (Psalm 119:164)

"Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1).

Stanley Hauerwas speaks in a recent interview (H/T David Fitch at Reclaiming the Mission) of the importance of daily morning prayer, repetition, and not reinventing the wheel.

"I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired. For example, I’m a big advocate of Morning Prayer. I love Morning Prayer. We do the same thing every morning. We don’t have to make it up. We know we’re going to say these prayers. We know we’re going to join in reading of the psalm. We’re going to have these Scripture readings. I mean, there’s much to be said for Christianity as repetition and I think evangelicalism doesn’t have enough repetition in a way that will form Christians to survive in a world that constantly tempts us to always think we have to do something new." 

As a practitioner and proponent of the Church's Rule in its Anglican form, I'll agree with Dr. Hauerwas. I love Morning Prayer. And Evening Prayer. And Mass. 

I hope connect rule to place to mission in subsequent posts.

It may take some time, though. I'm trying to connect mission to place and rule in my parish.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Women's Ordination: An Attempt at Agreeable Disagreement

Please allow me a few opening clarifications.

First: I do not support the ordination of women to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopate. 

Second: I am only speaking for myself. I am also speaking as myself. I am not an academician. I am not an expert. I am not infallible. I am simply a husband, father, and parish priest.

Third: I once supported the ordination of women to the priesthood. I figured it was just the way things were, which was certainly the case in my ordaining diocese. As I got closer to my own priesting I discovered more of the opposite view. I began to study that point of view. I found it compelling alongside other, interconnected arguments that led me to embrace Anglo-Catholic practice and theology.

I am prompted to write having read a blog post brought to my attention by a tweet. The blog post is titled: We can agree to disagree on women's ordination.

I expressed my initial appreciation for the post in a retweet. Now I'll briefly interact in a blog post.

The writer's first major point is a great place to start.

1. Objection to women's ordination is not equivalent to sexism.

I genuinely appreciate this point and I hope there is wide agreement with it.

Her second point is admirable, yet slightly problematic.

2. We must offer hospitality to those with whom we disagree.

She goes on to say: "Those who want to retain unity in the church—especially us ordained women and female church leaders—must ensure that we preserve room for those who disagree with us or who aren't certain about this issue."

Several quick observations:

First, "female church leaders" and "ordained women" aren't the same thing. I say this not to be pedantic, but for a simple clarification. It is quite possible to be a female church leader, or a male church leader, and not be in ordained ministry. This agreeable disagreement isn't about leadership, in general. It is about the sacrament of holy orders.

Second, and this (I believe) is a factual observation, ordained women (i.e. females in holy orders) cause further division in an already divided church. There are substantial, insurmountable barriers added to Anglican conversations with our senior ecumenical partners (the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches) that are a result of the innovative practice of women in holy orders.

Third, I find that her conclusion mirrors that of the Episcopal Church (which I recently left). To me, the "we need to preserve room" perspective says, "This is our room. We are going ahead with this and are convinced that we're in the right. You can disagree with us, but you should not oppose us or stop us." This is relationally dangerous language.

Her final point is largely inarguable: Our mutual goal is serving Christ and his bride.

But her conclusion from this appears to reiterate the "it's only a matter of time" approach, though in softer language.

Here's the final paragraph:

"However, it is harmful when denominations that ordain women demand that clergy fall in line on this issue or find a new church. As long as there are those in my communion who pure-heartedly believe Scripture precludes women from ordination, I want to allow room for them and to serve the church alongside of them. I hope they will do the same for those of us for women's ordination. Our mutual love for the church compels us to seek to grow together into him who is our head, even if our growth is painful, messy, halting, and incomplete."

The first sentence is irenic, which is always appreciated.

The second sentence is well said, but I find it confusing. How is it practically possible to "serve alongside" someone in the ministerial priesthood if you each hold mutually contradictory views about what that ministerial priesthood is? I don't think that's possible in theory. Neither have I found it healthy in practice. It may not even be possible. In my former diocese, when my views on the issue became more widely known my relational matrix with my peers was substantially altered.

The third sentence, to be agreeably blunt, is something I cannot do. I cannot and should not "do the same" for those practicing women's ordination. The practice in and of itself redefines the catholic ministerial priesthood out of existence within Anglicanism. 

I think it is still possible to be a catholic priest as an Anglican. I could be wrong here. Anglican orders may be null and void. And if that's the case, then my argument doesn't matter. I don't think that's the case.

What, then, does "mutual love for the church" and "growth together into him who is our head" look like if neither side is willing to risk a wholesale change of mind and practice on the issue?

One side of this argument is wrong. For a time, we can and we must disagree agreeably.

I believe this is the deeper question: is it possible to remain within the bonds of charity while one of side loses this debate?

Much more, and better, can and has been said on both sides of this issue.

Presently, Dr. William Witt, whom I greatly admire but disagree with on this issue is writing a fine series in support of the ordination of women. The first installment can be found at this link. If I'm wrong (and I may well be) then I certainly hope he's right.

One of my favorite articles supporting the ministerial priesthood is Man, Woman, and the Priesthood of Christ by Bishop Kallistos Ware. The link is in the title. There are plenty of other resources for those interested.

If I've been uncharitable, please forgive me. If I'm wrong, I trust that Jesus will make that clear.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Form Sufficient for Parochial Missiology: The Remnant Concept

The Remnant, far from being an amputated segment—the clique detached from the whole—is at the center of the parochial organism and of power [i.e. grace] extending beyond it. It is the very heart which recapitulates and serves the whole; the heart of the Body of Christ in microcosm, and its relation to its environment is the relation between Christ and the twelve, to their world. This palpitating heart pumps the blood of life to all the body as leaven leavens the lump or salt savours the whole.

Martin Thornton, Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation, p.23

Friday, November 8, 2013

Exchanging "What I Believe" for "Who I Trust"

"Belief by its very nature requires assent and participation, trust and commitment. When we believe we are at our most personal and intimate with another, the Other. Belief cannot be forced. If we are bullied or seduced or manipulated to believe, we do not end up believing, we end up intimidated . . . or used. And we are less, not more." (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 94)

In my teens and early twenties, "what I believed" was very important to me. Important but unknown. "What I believe" was largely haphazard opinion. Owing to youth, sloth, and inattention, I was self-limited to a Bible verse here or there, hazily remembered, floating disembodied from its context.

I still remember sitting in my youth pastor's study, in the midst of conversations with him I would see the spine of Berkoff's Systematic Theology. It was a stark, library bound copy, thick, black with gold letters. It scared me. I thought that if I read a book like that it would challenge "what I believed." I didn't know what I believed. But whatever it was, I didn't want it challenged.

What I believed was probably some truncated, soterian form of Christian Smith's moralistic therapeutic deism.

Soterian, in that I believed Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead. And, because I believed that, I knew that I knew that I knew that I would go to heaven when I died. No matter what I did or didn't do. No matter what I knew or didn't know. I was convinced that I was my own priest. I didn't need anybody between me and God. I didn't need anybody to tell me what to think or not to think. I was my own, unassailable, unlearned, but eternally saved, individual, independent authority. Oh, and one more thing. I believed with all my heart that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, Word of God. I just didn't read the thing. But, then, I didn't have to. I was going to heaven with or without Bible literacy.

In the midst of this sloppy fog, I also believed a truncated moralistic therapeutic deism. I thought that that I was supposed to "be good." That's what my Momma told me to do: be good. It's what my youth pastor told me to do. Except he took if further. He quoted Peter, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pt. 1:16). But I believed I was on my own to accomplish that project, thus deist.

But my moralistic deism wasn't therapeutic. God wasn't a therapist; he was an absentee judge. He would grade me; he wouldn't help me. I was on my own. I knew I was supposed to be good, or worse, holy. I knew couldn't be good, much less holy, even if I tried, which I rarely did. Good thing I had just a little bit of Jesus' blood to deal with (what I assumed to be) God's permanent anger towards me.

I suppose that made me a soterian moralistic nihilist. Salvation was "heaven when you die." That's all Jesus could help with. I was supposed to "be good" but I new I couldn't and I wouldn't. 

I'm very blessed I to have been where I was. I could have been much worse off. If Jesus and the Bible are at least in the mix, any number of good things can happen.

Beginning to get myself sorted out has been a long and surprisingly enjoyable process of exchanging "what I believed" for "who I trust". Now I still believe things. What I believe is important to me. I am far less reactive when questioned or challenged because I spend time reflecting on what I believe and why I believe it. And the whats and the whys are secondary and tertiary to the who. 

I trust, I believe, Jesus.

In the language of Peterson's quote above: I assent to who Jesus is. I participate in who he is. I trust who he is. I am committed to who he is.

I am not in charge of who he is. I am not directly responsible for who he is. I claim him. But I don't have to defend him. He can defend himself. I answer to him. He does not answer to me.

As one of my favorite teachers said, "Our personal relationship with Jesus is what saves us in every sense of 'saves.' And there is no personal relationship with Jesus but that of disciple to their master, teacher, and Lord. The idea that you could trust him for forgiveness of sins, but for nothing else, is a psychological absurdity, a theological crime, and nothing the Bible ever heard of. It is designed to rationalize a preexisting system that allows people to be Christians without being disciples."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parochial Missiology: a theological synthesis?

About five years after graduating from seminary (DTS Th.M., 2002) I read a course altering book: Via Media: An essay in theological synthesis by E.L. Mascall. 

The minor course change was identifying and correcting a heresy I held (I didn't know I was an monophysite! Oops!). The major adjustment consisted of clarifying the main points of Christian orthodoxy. As you can see, I needed the help.

I initially thought the book would be about Anglicanism, bearing the title Via Media. Fortunately, I was wrong. The book is about the Christian faith.

In using the term via media Mascall healthily clarifies and expands the concept.

The clarification: "A via media like other viae, is a narrow path separating broad tracts of varied country; comprehensiveness is not prima facie one of the qualities we shall expect to find in it."

That is to say the middle way, is not a moderate, broad compromise between two extremes. Neither is it a loose, boundless comprehensiveness. The middle way is more of a tightrope than an eight-lane highway.

The expansion: "The position which I wish to maintain in the present book is this: that on the cardinal points of Christian doctrine orthodoxy consists in holding together two notions which might well seem to be incompatible. I do not mean that they are incompatible in fact; the idea that Christianity involves believing contradictions seems to me to be as stultifying and immoral as the view that it involves clutching at the horns of any ostensible dilemma. a naive 'both-and' programme and a naive 'either-or' programme both provide scope for theological pyrotechnics but little for steady illumination. My point is simply (1) that the two notions may very well seem to be incompatible; (2) that if we assume that they are really incompatible we shall be tempted to opt for one of them to the exclusion of the other and so to fall into error; (3) that if we go on to enquire how they must be understood if they are not to be incompatible we shall acquire a very much more profound understanding of the question at issue than we had when we began. And I think that, as a matter of history, we can see that the Church herself entered on just such a process of deepening her theological understanding when the proliferation of heresies compelled her to examine more closely the faith which had been committed to her." (emphasis added)

That's quite an expansive expansion!

What's the rumpus?

The rumpus is that some opposites are really opposite. The law of non-contradiction is fully in force here. Yet, some opposites only appear opposite. If we too quickly assume incompatibility we might miss out on something important because it's true and true because it's important.

Mascall goes on to unpack this idea with fore core teachings of the Christian faith: Creation, Trinity, the Incarnation, and Grace (or comprehensive salvation: justification, sanctification, & glorification).

The brilliance and value of the book are found in the simple, two-word synthesis that Mascall develops for each doctrine. The words seem opposite. Their synthesis is Christian orthodoxy.

Creation: Dependent Reality

Trinity: Derived Equality

Incarnation: Unconfused Union

Grace: Deified Creaturehood

I'd say I could write a book on that. But I don't need to, and I can't. Dr. Mascall wrote the book. I'm nowhere near his league. Read his book. I'm a simple (and infrequent) blogger.

My point is that Parochial Missiology might be (let me stress, might be) a similar theological synthesis suitable for the missional conversation, offered from a perspective grounded in a sacramental view of the Church.

In upcoming posts I hope to (1) unpack and clarify the idea; (2) in so doing, criticize and improve the concept; (3) highlight important books, authors, and thinkers that inspire the idea; and (4) keep it, if refined and profitable, or scrap it if unsustainable and detrimental.