‘It’s a tragedy for the Church’ – Archbishop Venables

Posted by Kendall Harmon

What is your response to the recent votes here in Canada, what do you think of these decisions?

It’s very, very, sad that it should come to this, it’s a tragedy for the church, for the church in Canada and for the church throughout the world – but it shows how serious the division is. This has never happened before. It has happened significantly with very large groups in the United States in recent years and recently with a whole diocese moving – and now it’s happening in Canada. It shows how serious this division is and how strong the convictions are which are pulling the church apart.

In your view is this solely about the Canadian churches stand on homosexuality? Does it go beyond that?

No. This is about two versions of Christianity which are in a strong state of difference. You’ve got the original biblical Christianity which the church, the Christian church throughout the world has held to over the past two thousand years and then you’ve got this new liberal post-modern Christianity which has evolved especially in the western world over the last 100 years or so. It’s like two ships that have gradually pulled apart and can longer really sail together and the trouble is it’s pulling the church apart as it does that.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church of CanadaCono Sur [formerly Southern Cone]

20 Comments
Posted February 29, 2008 at 12:42 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. libraryjim wrote:

In your view is this solely about the Canadian churches stand on homosexuality? Does it go beyond that?

No. This is about two versions of Christianity which are in a strong state of difference. You’ve got the original biblical Christianity which the church, the Christian church throughout the world has held to over the past two thousand years and then you’ve got this new liberal post-modern Christianity which has evolved especially in the western world over the last 100 years or so. It’s like two ships that have gradually pulled apart and can longer really sail together and the trouble is it’s pulling the church apart as it does that.

He gets it exactly right.  And stated it very clearly, as well.  But I bet he will be ignored and the PR will continue to state “It’s all about Gay Rights”.

February 29, 3:19 pm | [comment link]
2. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

Both ‘versions’ of Christianity have great intellectuals with good theories. It is a natural tendency to depreciate the opposing camp in order to defend one’s own camp. I am as guilty of this as others. It’s also natural to think one’s own belief system is ‘absolutely’ correct.  But we do need to make a ‘critical’ choice and realize that not every one will agree with our choice. This is why continued communication between parties is necessary: so that we don’t get so confident in what we believe that we are not open to criticism, which could lead us to different conclusions.

February 29, 3:37 pm | [comment link]
3. Harry Edmon wrote:

Virgil - do you see anything in Venables comments that are “depreciating”?

February 29, 4:08 pm | [comment link]
4. AnglicanFirst wrote:

Virgil - “Intellectual” is a word that refers to a particular type of ‘human reasoning.’

‘Revisionist intellectualism’ seems merely to be an attempt of the human mind to go beyond what God has revealed and what Jesus taught in order to ‘break free’ of the constraints of “the Faith once given.”

If you study Scripture, you will find examples of humans trying to out think God and to develop rationales for approving of behavior that God has proscribed.  You will also find many examples of the results of their attempts to place human reasoning before the Word of God.

Those who follow “the Faith once given” are Christians and those who radically and without the discenment given by the Holy Spirit attack “the Faith once given” are ‘something else.’

Maybe they are Universalist-Unitarians?

February 29, 4:26 pm | [comment link]
5. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

Depreciating—Presenting the other side’s position in a simplistic form in order to critique the strawman created by this process.

An example: The use of the term postmodern as if there is a unity in a very complex set of very different theories. It tends to apply the same brush to all. The critical realist approach (a postmodern approach in that it recognizes the limits of human rationality and the relativism of our knowledge) includes such diverse figures as Alister McGrath and Arthur Peacocke.

Appreciating—The use of the term “original biblical Christianity” which has different definitions depending on whether you’re Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. If I’m an Orthodox Christian, I see “original biblical Christianity” as expressed in holy tradition which includes scripture (the deposit of apostolic tradition) and the fathers (the deposit of patristic tradition). If I’m a Protestant Christian, I might hold that “original biblical Christianity” in defined in a structure assuming sola scriptura.

The problem here is that his dichotomy is too simple and assumes that “original biblical Christianity” is a polar opposite of “postmodern Christianity”. This is just not the case.

There is room for conversation if both sides quit painting their opponents in such simplistic ways.

February 29, 4:45 pm | [comment link]
6. Undergroundpewster wrote:

I admit that I am not well acquainted with Archbishop Venables as we pew people are not supposed to be listening to the dreaded foreign Bishops. He sounded much more reasonable in this brief interview than our Presiding Bishop has in the interviews with her that I have read.

February 29, 4:59 pm | [comment link]
7. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

#6…Although, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for our PB, I admit she doesn’t alway portrait the most coherent and consistent of positions.

February 29, 5:08 pm | [comment link]
8. Sue Martinez wrote:

Virgil, in #2 you said,

Both ‘versions’ of Christianity have great intellectuals with good theories.


Would you give some details, particularly those who have shaped the last 100 years of growing apart?  Who, in your opinion, are some “great intellectuals” and what are some of the “good theories” for each side?

February 29, 5:36 pm | [comment link]
9. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

#8…They would include the following (although not exhaustive). Also, some of these will be a bit older than 100 years, since they’re still in vogue in come circles.

J. I. Packer, Dwight Moody, Soren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Feuerbach, George Whitefield, Karl Barth, B. B. Warfield, Cyrus I. Scofield, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, Alister McGrath, Gresham Machen, John Maquarrie, Arthur Peacocke, Philip Clayton, Charles Hartshorne, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, John Meyendorff, Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Derek Stanesby.

Again, these are not close to exhaustive and they don’t represent the great productions of the fathers (Basil, Gregory of Nisa, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, etc.).

The theories represented include: Neo-Orthodoxy, Critical Rationalism, Critical Realism, Scottish Common-sense Realism, Existentialism, Thomas Kuhn’s sociological approach, Neo-Byzantine, and many, many, more.

February 29, 6:07 pm | [comment link]
10. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

#8…Although I wouldn’t consider all of them of equal value (No, I’m not a relativist), they were great intellects and produced great intellectual works.

February 29, 6:11 pm | [comment link]
11. Sidney wrote:

You’ve got the original biblical Christianity which the church, the Christian church throughout the world has held to over the past two thousand years.

I am going to continue consistently to call baloney on this.  The church catholic has modifed its understanding of scripture lots over the years, including ways which are *essential*.  How long has it been - just 150+ years, since the Roman Catholic Church asserted that bank account interest collection was a sin?  Everybody used to believe that, because frankly that’s plainly what scripture says.  We just pretend that is says otherwise now because that’s what we want to believe in our modern lives.

#2, I would says in response that the greatest minds are those which are great at rationalizing away problems - and at coming up with reasons why texts do not say what they plainly do say - and persuading the masses that these rationalizations are correct. 

Human beings read scripture and see what they want to see.

February 29, 6:31 pm | [comment link]
12. Larry Morse wrote:

It is not ALL about the homosexual agenda, but that is largely the case. It is not simply that the homosexual issue is the presenting symptom, but that it is in fact the vital proximate cause of the present war. And this is precisely as it should be, because it is in dealing with homosexuals and their agenda that TEC and Canada make most clear that Scripture means nothing to them save as it might provides a sanction for them to do what they intend to do in any case. To be sure, LJ, there are other causes, but nothing like this one because all the disorders of the late 20th C liberalism are contained herein.
  In one sense, the issue is simple and straightforward.If TEC’s vision controls Anglicanism, Christianity in any meaningful sense is dead for Anglicans, and because our wars have spilled over into the other churches, Christianity is as much on the line there as here. There can be no Christianity without permanent roots in scripture; there can be no Christianity when the source of final authority rests on the sand of contemporary fashion. LM

February 29, 6:53 pm | [comment link]
13. Sue Martinez wrote:

Virgil, thank you.

February 29, 7:07 pm | [comment link]
14. Sarah1 wrote:

RE: “The use of the term “original biblical Christianity” which has different definitions depending on whether you’re Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.”

Right—but it was possible for all of them to actually believe a common gospel.  The other side simply doesn’t hold the same gospel.  Note that I did not say that the other side is wrong.  I merely pointed out that the other side holds directly opposing viewpoints from the former.  We don’t hold enough in common to have any form of unity.  I hold something in common with traditional 1) Pentecostals, 2) Baptists, 3) Roman Catholics, 4) and most other denominations.

I hold pretty much nothing in common save our humanity with the progressives of those denominations and others.

Two gospels.  Two competing and opposing foundational worldviews.  One organization.

RE: “This is why continued communication between parties is necessary.”

Not really.  We sufficiently understand each other—and reject each other’s beliefs—that we don’t need much communication at all.  We really really do understand what the other side believes [and I think they do us].

And we reject those beliefs as false and sick [as they do ours].

March 1, 12:53 am | [comment link]
15. William Witt wrote:

Virgil,

You unnececesarily complicate what is actually a quite straightforward issue.

In the current theological crisis, the fundamental theological division has to do with the doctrine of the atonement. Specifically, is the person and work of Jesus Christ constitutive of a salvation that can be found nowhere else, and, accordingly, are the Scriptures as the authoritative witness to that salvation constitutive for our understanding of that salvation, or, conversely, are the person and work of Jesus Christ illustrative of a salvation that can be found elsewhere (or perhaps everywhere) as well, and the Scriptures accordingly illustrative of such a generally available salvation, and thus correctable in the light of it?

The figures on your list neatly break down into two groups depending on where they stand on this issue:

Constituvist
J. I. Packer, Dwight Moody, Soren Kierkegaard, George Whitefield, Karl Barth, B. B. Warfield, Cyrus I. Scofield, Alister McGrath, Gresham Machen, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, John Meyendorff, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo

Illustravist
Ludwig Feuerbach, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, John Maquarrie, Charles Hartshorne, Edward Schillebeeckx

I have omitted the names of those with whose work I am not familiar: Arthur Peacocke, Philip Clayton, Derek Stanesby

In terms of epistemology—which seems to be the focus of your own categorization—constituvist epistemology is necessarily realist, in that its view of salvation is inherently oriented toward an event that takes place outside the self.  In terms of ontology, the extra me precedes the pro me. The figures on the list once again break down rather neatly as to whether they are realists (whether common sense/naive realists or critical realists) or whether they are post-Cartesian (embracing the epistemological turn to the self following Descartes and Kant).  Here, again, the former list is realist; the latter Cartesian.  (The process thinkers might seem to be an exception insofar as Whitehead’s epistemology is a form of realism; yet their soteriology is still Cartesian.  Salvation is not about an atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that happened in space and time outside of me, but about my appropriation of a present interpretation of that event as something that has psychological or sociological significance for me now, but did not actually happen in space and time.)  Tillich and Bultmann represent well the Cartesian position.  Tillich insisted that whether Jesus of Nazareth actually existed as a human being was completely irrelevant to Christian faith.  Bultmann rejected talk of a constitutive atonement or bodily resurrection, or concerns about an earthly Jesus who lived in Palestine beyond the Church’s affirmation of the preached kerygma as “objectivist.”  The minimal necessity for Bultmann’s illustravist faith was that Jesus actually lived, and actually was crucified.  Why even this minimal contact with history was necessary is not evident.

A third way of looking at the division could be in terms of the resurrection of Jesus Christ:  Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ an event in space and time that happened once-for-all to Jesus, or is it an event that happens now and repeatedly to individuals, the church, etc.  A similar question could be asked about the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ with a similar answer.  Again, the list divides fairly neatly with the constitivists answering the question one way, and the illustrativists answering it another. The clue, of course, is found when illustrativists use words like “incarnation” or “resurrection” as abstractions; incarnation or resurrection is something that “happens”; they are not something that happened. The Presiding Bishop’s Christmas sermon of a year ago (2006)  is a prime example.

Certainly there have been both constitivists and illustativists who were “great intellects” and “produced great intellectual works”—a completely irrelevant observation.  On the question at hand, constitutivist Christianity really is (in your words, the “polar oppositive”) of illustrativist Christianity.  As long as the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle still hold, the two positions cannot be reconciled.  Either the atoning life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is constitutive of a salvation that can be found nowhere else, or it is not.

The constituvist position is the position of the Scriptures, the Creeds, and historic Christianity.  It has been embraced historically by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans.  It is found in the historic confessions: Trent, the 39 Articles, the Westminster Confession, the Lutheran Confessions. Figures as diverse as Thomas Aquinas, Richard Hooker, John Bunyan, Dwight Moody, and Kallistos Ware have all embraced it.

The illustrativist view is a departure from the position of the Scriptures, the Creeds, and historic Christianity.  It is as much a departure from the plain teaching of Scripture and the historic faith as was Gnosticism.  There simply is no room for both views in the same church.  The only room for conversation between the two sides can only be in terms of attempted conversion, since there simply is no possible mediating position between the two views.

And, of course, it is not at all simplistic to refer to relativism or post-modernism in sweeping terms.  Sydney illustrates the point well: “Human beings read scripture and see what they want to see.”  This is Cartesianism, undiluted, straight with no chaser.

March 1, 9:34 am | [comment link]
16. Cathy_Lou wrote:

Wow, Dr. Witt, thanks for taking the time to define the issues.  Coming at it from a different direction, your distinctions reminded me of Terry Mattingly’s Tmatt Trio, the 3 questions he says are “doctrinal questions that loom in the background and help define the various camps.”

  (1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

  (2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

  (3) Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

March 1, 10:18 am | [comment link]
17. robroy wrote:

Daw-gone. I was just about to hit the submit button when I saw that Dr. Witt had said everything that I was going to in my note. tongue laugh

March 1, 10:20 am | [comment link]
18. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

William,
If I were to define the epistemological categories in a simplified (far too simplified) way, it would be thus: 1) modern—foundationalist (that there are authoritative starting points or sources, such as reason, the senses, scripture, the Pope, tradition, etc.). Some of those under this category would be Dwight Moody, George Whitefield, Cyrus I. Scofield, Gresham Machen, Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, and John Meyendorff.

2) fideists—there is a dogmatic starting point necessary in some foundation. These would include: Karl Barth, Soren Kierkegaard, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, John Macquarrie, Hans Kung, etc.

3) postmodern—non-foundationalist (that there are no authoritative starting points or sources, such as reason, the senses, scripture, the Pope, tradition, etc.), but not fideist. Some of the names under this category would include: Alister McGrath, Arthur Peacocke, Derek Stanesby (my method), etc.
Virgil

March 1, 11:50 am | [comment link]
19. Monksgate wrote:

Sidney, #11,
Your statement on Christianity’s (or, more specifically, Catholic Christianity’s) position on bank account interest collection isn’t the slam-dunk argument you’d like it to be. 
Even among well-trained intellectuals and academics, unfortunately, much glib nonsense is touted as historically and theologically accurate by throwing around such terms as “the Roman Catholic Church asserted . . .,”  “the Church taught that . . .,” “the Church changed its position on . . .,” etc.  Who asserted it?  When?  In what context?  Has the teaching in question been agreed upon by a “catena” of theologians?  Has it been taught everywhere, always, by everyone?  (St. Vincent of Lerins).  Was it articulated by an ecumenical council?  If it was in a papal pronouncement, what kind of papal pronouncement?  Have there been variations and nuances across time that indicate the issue is still undergoing development (see Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).
Apparently, your notion of what the Catholic Church can claim in the way of teaching authority is confused with ultramontanism – which was effectively trounced at the first Vatican Council.  There are those who would like a steady stream of neat, tidy, black-and-white theological pronouncements from Rome – whether to slavishly pore over them in the morning Times (pace W.G. Ward) or to have something neat and tidy to dismiss.  But it simply doesn’t work that way and never has.  (Recall that an “assertion” by action on the part of the first pope concerning gentiles was publicly refuted by Paul.)  It’s always been messy.  But out of the messiness, there are some very steady constants—on which Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants happen to agree.

March 1, 11:55 am | [comment link]
20. William Witt wrote:

Virgil,

I find the distinctions between foundationalism, fideism, and postmodernism to be singularly unhelpful in the current debate.  The key epistemological distinction (as I said above) is between realism and the Cartesian turn to the self.  Post-modernism is simply Cartesianism that has lost its faith in rationalisty and gone to seed.  It is Kant for groups.

1) Foundationalists can be all over the road on these questions: Descartes, Locke, and Kant were all foundationalists.  Descartes was a rationalist; Kant an empiricist; Kant a transcendental idealist. Both Schleiermacher and B. B. Warfield were arguably foundationalist. Both radical feminists and fundamentalist evidentialists can be foundationalist.  Radical Calvinist followers of Van Til are rabidly anti-foundationalist. 

2) Kierkegaard might be a fideist.  Barth is decidedly not insofar as he believes that revelation has an inherent intelligibility to which faith responds.  Tillich’s method of correlation hardly seems fideist to me. 

3)  I find it very strange to claim Alister McGrath as a post-modernist.  His latest book The Science of God is clearly aligned with the kind of critical realism one finds in T. F. Torrance.  I cannot imagine a post-modernist talking about faith seeking understanding or the doctrine of creation providing an objective criteria against subjectivity. Indeed, McGrath is highly critical of post-modernism in this text—which he characterizes as “anti-realist” and “social constructionist.”

But again, the crucial epistemological question has to do with realism.  Warfield, Barth, and McGrath are all realists. Some realists have been foundationalist; some not.  None are post-modern, since in its usual definition, post-modernist is anti-realist.

March 1, 10:38 pm | [comment link]
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