Monday, January 31, 2005

A Sea Change in Tennessee

Dear Friends,

For the first time in 36 years of ordained ministry I can say that I
have discovered what it feels like to come away from a convention doing
something other than licking my wounds or saying something like "It
could have been worse!" The challenge now is to work out the
implications of what has happened.

Last year at our diocesan convention in Tennessee, in the wake of the
unfaithfulness of General Convention 2003 the orthodox began to flex
their muscles. A "silent majority" that had been allowing diocesan life
to drift along for years woke up and realized that actions had been
taken in their name deeply offended them. What was on the block this
year was whether that was a flash in the pan or something of more
lasting significance. On this bleak January Monday morning as I sit at
my desk and look out of the window across a grey winter landscape I
think I can say that something lasting was taking place.

At our convention this weekend it was clear that the Diocese of
Tennessee was moving toward a more overtly orthodox stance. This is
obviously going to create all sorts of challenges and difficulties on
the ground in the months ahead, but what we discovered during these last
few days was the importance of being organized, of being prayerful, and
of not losing focus on the real task of the church -- which is to
proclaim Christ with grace and integrity.

We first became aware of the sea change that was now taking place when
orthodox candidates won every position being elected -- and
convincingly. We have a 100% orthodox General Convention deputation,
for example, as is the Standing Committee. The same is almost true for
the Bishop and Council, as well as the board that manages our diocesan
endowment. There was a tough battle over the budget, but among other
things, in the end the national church asking was reduced to $46,000 --
less than 20% of what they would have liked. In addition, a resolution
went through the convention modifying the canons and moving us toward
the designation of funds that would allow congregations to give to
something other than the National Church.

That resolution was the tipping point. I had been one of its framers
and it was presented to the convention by the Bishop and Council. It
had been my expectation that what we were doing was putting this on the
agenda for the future -- but we did more than that. Those opposed to
this resolution called for a vote by orders. For the first time in my
memory in Tennessee on a contentious issue, the orthodox side of the
equation won in the clergy order -- 33-32! The laity, of course, passed
it overwhelmingly.

Soon after that came a resolution affirming the Windsor Report, as well
as endorsing the minority statement from the House of Bishops, and that
passed with a huge margin in the lay order, but this time 38-28 in the
clergy order, something very significant. The tool that "progressive"
clergy have consistently used in this diocese to be the tail that wags
the dog has been calling for votes by orders, and now even this is not
something that they can depend upon.

In the midst of all this our bishop, as he invariably does, provided
magisterial leadership. His episcopal address was a masterpiece of
theological clarity, while challenging us to keep our eyes on the ball
of mission, the transformational power of the Gospel, and reaching men
and women with the good news of the Savior. At the end of the year we
will be electing his successor, and we pray with all our might and mane
that our next bishop will walk in Bertram Herlong's footsteps.

So what does all this mean? Firstly, it means that the Diocese of
Tennessee has said as clearly as is humanly possible that we are
Anglicans and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder not with the revisionist
agenda that has held sway for so long in ECUSA, but with our brothers
and sisters in Christ around the globe. We stand by historic Christian
orthodoxy, not for the fashionable heterodoxy that has for so long swept
all before it. I have a feeling that this might be more than just the
worm turning.

Seondly, it means that Tennessee is probably more divided now than it
was before the convention began, and we have some very miserable
"liberals" who are so discomforted that they could become obstreperous.
When such radical change takes place it always takes time for the new
landscape to be recognized, and for us all to disocver how to live
within the contours of that landscape. That is the task before us in
the months ahead.

Thirdly, it means that those of us who are orthodox are going to have to
learn how to act with magninimity and great grace and kindness. I have
to say that with a lifelong ministry experience of usually being on the
"wrong side" of convention-related battles, I have seldom experienced
magninimity, grace, and kindness from those who were in those cases "the
victors." This should not be so with faithful and biblical people. A
key element of orthodoxy is orthopraxy, and if we do not behave with the
grace and truth Jesus demands of Kingdom people then we do not deserve
to maintain the momentum that has been developed.

Fourthly, if we are to provide a firm and orthodox witness, we have to
live as Jesus commanded. This issue of human sexuality is not the only
place where the church has followed a culturally-conditioned path. We
need to begin asking how we should think and live if we claim to be
followers of the Lord Jesus Christ that we meet in the pages of the
Book. This is where the insights of a Ron Sider in "The Scandal of the
Evangelical Conscience" come into play -- and we have to take it seriously.

Fifthly, I came away from the convention convinced that this is a lousy
and counter-productive way to do business. Put crudely, the side on
which I found myself won, but we did so at the expense of others. We
live in a postmodern world, but are saddled with a
modernist-Enlightenment way of doing things that has a definite cruelty
built into it. Everything is either/or, setting sides up against one
another, and then having no opportunity for healing and restoration. I
am this morning going to be writing to one or two who experienced defeat
on Saturday and will ask them how we can as fellow-believers find the
right way forward together.

Imbedded in the convention this year for the first time was a Concert of
Prayer, and for me it was one of the highlights of the convention. As
we were getting up yesterday morning to prepare for church I said to
Rosemary that the way forward might be to imbed the convention in a
Concert of Prayer, making worship, intercession, confession,
reconciliation, the primary reason we gather together, rather than to
chew one another apart.

We no longer live in the sort of world that created the convention
process, attitudes and sensibitilites are different, and we now need to
address that. What we know is that there is a significant minority in
the Diocese of Tennessee who hold a variety of positions that are not on
the orthodox end of the spectrum, how do we hear their voices in such a
manner that their insights, however unexpected they might be, do not get
lost -- much as the voice of the orthodox was ignored (even trashed) and
not listened to in Minneapolis in August 2003? This, I think, is a
tremendous challenge to address both in our diocese and the wider
church, and one we ignore at our own peril.

In Christ,

Richard Kew

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Generous Orthodoxy -- A Review

"A Generous Orthodoxy" by Brian D. McLaren (Zondervan, 2004) US$19.99($13.59 on

Review by Richard Kew

Brian McLaren, a church planter and pastor from Maryland, has become one of the gurus of the emerging church movement during the last few years. A former college English teacher, McLaren communicates eirenically,writes engagingly, and in a beguiling manner gives his readers plenty to chew upon. This book was a Christmas present to me from a member ofmy congregation who has become quite enamored by the whole emerging church phenomenon. I appreciated it.

In a way, the agenda that McLaren spells out in this book is not very different from that which drove David Tomlinson, a British pastor,to write the book "The Post-Evangelical" in the last 1990s. The point Tomlinson was making was that evangelical Christianity is so much achild of the Enlightenment-spawned modern culture that it shares many of that culture's shortcomings, and because of this is often blind to what it means to speak a genuine biblical orthodoxy into that culture. McLaren is saying much the same thing here, although in a much more American way.

A point he makes early on is that one of the problem with what passes for Christian orthodoxy today is that it is anything but generous. Indeed, both liberal and conservative Christianity are so wedded to undergirding presuppositions concerning understanding rationality and knowledge that they flounder in the sea of postmodernity. They have not only lost their way, but in the confusion they have also lost any sense of charity.

This book glories in making the case that the Christian of today has to be both/and rather than either/or, so it has a rather unwieldy subtitle which reads, "Why I am a missional/evangelical, post/protestant,liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical,charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist,anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfininshed Christian!"In an effort to clarify this title he says, "This generous orthodoxy does not mean a simple merging, mixing, conflating, or reconciling of...schools of thought... Rather... generous orthodoxy must take seriously the postmodern problematic.... the way forward is for evangelicals to take the lead in renewing the theological center thatcan meet the challenges of the postmodern situation in which the church now finds itself" (page 24).

However, McLaren goes on, to speak of generous orthodoxy is to a lot oxymoronic since "many if not most orthodoxies of the past have not displayed much generosity toward others outside their tribe" (Page 27). I would concur, and would further suggest that in my Episcopal Church experience we don't show much generosity to those inside our tribe either! This leads both McLaren and me to conclude that what therefore passes as orthodoxy lacks a completeness because it has been stripped of orthopraxy.

"This book sees orthopraxy as the point of orthodoxy -- again, a concept so unorthodox as to encourage a good many good readers to abandon this book right now" (page 31). The orthodoxy that many of us practice is adept at drawing lines in the sand, but this author would suggest thatwe are to eager to absolutize what ought not to be absolutized. He tells us that relativists are right in their denunciation of absolutism,and absolutists are right in their denunciation of relativism for "the answer lies beyond both absolutism and relativism" (page 38).

Here, you can see McLaren gets uncomfortable to be around. I write these words five days before our diocesan convention starts. The various parties involved in what is becoming an annual pitched battle are getting their troops lined up, their arguments sharpened, their candidates readied, and their strategies honed. We know we have to do this to defend ourselves against our detractors because the unfaithfulness of the last General Convention has guaranteed the need for this, yet at the same time I hate it for it is hardly very generous, and as far as I am concerned genuine orthodoxy gets lost in all the politic-ing.

Perhaps this is conclusive evidence that the work of the Gospel cannot be undertaken by a church which still possesses an ecclesial structure that is so much a product of the Enlightenment and modernity, that the only way we can think of making decisions is by casting endless votes that are mutually exclusive of one another, and demonize "the other side. "McLaren is attempting to make the point throughout this book that the Jesus we serve is bigger than our tiny perceptions of his nature and identity, and that he reaches far beyond our petty distinctives and polarities. Chapters bear titles like "The Seven Jesuses I Have Known "and "Would Jesus be a Christian?" -- the sort of headings to tempt you further into the text, but also to get you to sit back and ask some substantial questions that you might not have wanted to consider before.

McLaren tells us that he is not by nature a fighter or firebrand. I get the impression he would probably get more pleasure sitting quietly for a few hours with a piece of world-class literature, than engaging in the rawkous, unreflective, antagonistic, and extroverted free-for-all that so much church life is today. Yet while this is ingrained in his personality, there is also good reason for this approach, and that is that he critiques today's consumer-driven church (liberal, conservative, or otherwise) as being in business for its own mutual self-interest rather than being about creating an authentic community of disciples of Jesus Christ that is there for the good of the world.

He is clearly a great fan of Lesslie Newbigin, who pointed out quite succinctly that the greatest heresy in monotheism results from taking the first half of God's call to Abraham that he will bless us and make a great nation of us, and separating it from the second part of the call,which is to be a blessing to all nations. "Any form of Christianity that takes the first part of God's call to Abraham more seriously than the second is not missional... neither is it generous or truly orthodox"(Page 110). You might find it helpful to stop and chew on that one for a few minutes!In the later chapters of the Book Brian McLaren is getting across to his reader that things that might appear mutually exclusive are not necessarily so, and for the audience of this review, his chapter "Why I am an (Ana)baptist/Anglican" is worth reading.

McLaren finds the radical churches of the Reformation very enticing, as, I confess, do I. "Anabaptists saw the same scholastic dryness in late Medieval Catholicism that other Protestants saw. But while some other Protestants, in a kind of lateral conversion, replaced Catholic scholasticism with a new Protestant scholasticism of their own,Anabaptists steered a more radical route, seeing the whole scholastic approach itself as the problem. Anabaptists wanted a forward conversion into a different approach to Christian faith entirely: faith as a way of life in community" (page 205).

Wilbert Schenk, the leading Mennonite missiologist has been writing and speaking in this way for many years, suggesting that the old line and the conservative churches have a lot to learn from the Anabaptist rejection of the Christendom status quo,in favor of being a voice on the fringes that lives and proclaims in uncomfortable ways the Word of the Lord. The Anabaptists were prepared to be marginalized in the old modern world, and we will all need to be prepared to be marginalized in the postmodern world. "Rather than lamenting that 'Christendom' is over, Anabaptists have always felt, 'Good riddance!'(page 206), and we too should be willing to consider joining them in this expostulation.

But then McLaren goes on to applaud the strengths of Anglicanism, about as far as you can get from the Anabaptists among the churches of the Reformation. McLaren spent a number of very happy years in an Episcopal congregation a generation or so ago, and there is much about the Anglican way that he appreciates. The classic Protestant formulary, he notes, is a reductionist tendency to set one thing against another, butthat need not be the case -- learn from the Anglicans.

While they may not be doing it very well at the moment, Anglicans seek to live with tensions: Scripture always in dialogue with tradition, believing within the context of beautiful worship undertaken as a community around a table, and he approvingly quotes Thomas McConnell. "Perhaps the most important thing about Hooker is that he wrote no Summaand composed no Institutes, for what he did was to outline method. What is distinctly Anglican is then not a theology but a theological method"(Page 212). The problems we have right now is that the theologicalmethod has, by many of us, been abandoned and ignored.

This is the sort of stuff that is coming out of the Emerging Church tradition, and we need to chew on it wisely and well for I hazard it is a lot closer to what the future is going to look like than the pitched battles of these dying days of the present incarnation of American Anglicanism. I thoroughly agree with our colleague, Phil Harrold, from Weinbrenner Seminary in Findley, Ohio. Phil works with young emerging church pastors and keeps telling us how ravished they are by the genius of Anglicanism, but how revolted they are by the primary representative of Anglicanism in the USA (and who can blame them).

Phil believes that however the churches reconfigure themselves, those young leaders belong somewhere in our future. I agree with him. Let's find ways to make friends of them, discover their secrets, share our treasures with them, become colleagues and blood brothers and sisters. Let's pick their brains, and let us offer to them some of the lessons we have accumulated in an act of filial generosity. The outcome of such actions might lead to the miracle we need -- and could trigger a genuine generous orthodoxy among us.

Oh, and read Brian McLaren's book....