This last point suggests a further implication of the basic argument. The Anglican legacy includes a tradition of working with the grain of a culture: it begins in the unashamed attempt to devise a form for Catholic ecclesial life that is thoroughly ‘native’ to the realms governed by the Tudor dynasty. Hooker is consistently concerned to defend an ecclesiastical polity that is bound up with the laws and customs of this particular society. This can be – and often has been – an excuse for the odd cultural fundamentalism which assumes that communicating Christianity means communicating (or imposing) certain cultural habits; it is the familiar caricature of Anglicanism abroad which has produced replicas of Gothic churches in tropical climates and a musical repertoire mostly focused upon translations of Victorian hymns. But the principle with which Hooker worked is logically one that allows cultural diversity and flexibility. At least some Anglican missions took this fully on board – notably in the Pacific, when we think of the work of Selwyn and Patteson. And, to push it a little further and to link it with the reflections of Vincent Donovan in his classic, Christianity Rediscovered, this means that we should be careful of trying to control too tightly the forms that arise in response to the sharing of the Gospel.
Thus, even if a dialogue has within it a hope and prayer that it may open the door to some kind of explicit acknowledgement of Christ, it must recognize that this will not dissolve all the ‘otherness’ that a dialogue will have involved. Just as we wait to hear what Christ has to say to us in the voice of the dialogue partner who has no explicit vocabulary for speaking of the relation that already exists with this Christ, so we wait to see what particular effect, within this thought world, this set of customs, words about Christ may have. And whatever the outcome in respect of this, the readiness to hear and learn from the ‘stranger’s’ hidden relation to Christ must be always to the fore. I don’t think this is an appeal to an anonymous Christianity in the other: it is rather an appeal to the hidden Christ active in the other, the eternal Word who cannot but be acting in union with the historical Jesus.
To repeat the Christological point: although the Word is never without Jesus, and the Word’s acts in human history (and indeed in the universe) will be inseparable from the agency of Jesus as a human being, it would be a mistake to say that what we can say about the human Jesus exhausts what we can say about the Word.
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© 2013 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.
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