Monday, November 21, 2005

More on Deconstructionism & the Church

I find it ironic that within a 24-hour period over the weekend I should receive a wonderfully affirming email from the leader of another Anglican body in the USA thanking me for the part I played in the past in bringing faithful Anglicans of various jurisdictions together, and that I should then be accused of being a fellow traveler with Frank Griswold on the Toward2015 Listserv.

Also during this period there has been much pain as my former parish in Upstate New York was dissolved by a revisionist bishop and convention because of their orthodoxy. I stand in solidarity with All Saints', Rochester, certainly not their bishop or the ideology that has done this to them.

So, let me say that as far as I can see Bishop Griswold and I have very little in common except that we are married men who happen to be priests of the same denomination. Also, our daughters were in the same class at Princeton University a number of years ago!

What some of the things said have proved to me is that it is always dangerous to dash out a response to someone; perhaps I made that error in throwing something about grace onto the computer the other day in a rush -- and ill-prepared writing tends to lead to misunderstanding. Let me try, therefore, and clarify what I was attempting to do in the piece "The Coming Demise of Deconstructionism." Either that will help explain, or it will get me into such deep water that I will drown!

For several years now it has been one of my contentions that if we are to grasp the opportunities God is giving us in these difficult times, we must have a clear theology and a precise ideological and philosophical foundation from which we work. What I see on the orthodox side is what might be called the theology and ideology of rebuff as it counters the ramshackle mindsets of postmodernism, which are in the process of slithering over the unreflective and unthinking world and churches in which we live. Just rejecting them angrily and in a mnner that is polarizing is not going to solve the problems facing us.

It is a deconstructionist ideology with its impulse toward subjectivism and relativism that has disrupted the life of the church within the context of a larger society that is unreflectively tumbling in that direction. Deconstructionism is by its nature, I believe, destructive, and thus the extraordinary damage that is being done. However, I am asserting that by responding to deconstructionism in kind the orthodox are, in effect, doing the deconstructionists' job for them.

Scripture is a rich interweave, and what God calls us to is to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. This means that we must listen carefully to all that Scripture is saying, and seek to interpret as honestly and plainly as possible all of that rich interweave of doctrines and ideas that we find in the sacred pages. The tendency of most folks is to concentrate just on one or two that happen to affirm our own mindset and attitude, and thus the balance of Scripture's message is lost.

For example, grace is about the generosity of God toward us, but as Paul points out there is no freedom to sin so that grace may abound. Yes, we are called to be a holy people, but then there is the doctrine of the faithful remnant within the transgressing people of God. How does that fit with the circumstances that the orthodox now find themselves in, in the Episcopal Church? I could go on, but I think I have made my point with these couple of illustrations. If we are to be biblical people we must be fully biblical, we cannot afford to pick and choose -- and then we must work to see how the richness of the message speaks to the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves. That requires hard, hard work.

One of the baffling challenges is how to be fully biblical within the context of these strange and modern animals called denominations, and within denominations that are part of a culture that is driving itself through deconstructionism down a road that takes it out of the Judeo-Christian worldview altogether. This, I think, is the huge challenge in which we are engaged, and woe betide us if we do not engage in it -- and the theology of rebuff does not allow us to do so.

One of the problems of this position I hold is that for reasons that sometimes puzzle me, trying to be wholly biblical is seen by others as compromise. I am not prepared to play the polarization game, despite the fact that I have wounds and scars from other wounds as a result of this dark time that has descended on the church and culture. But neither am I prepared to do the deconstructionists' job for them, and nor am I prepared to compromise the whole counsel of God as understood within the context of our Anglican and catholic tradition.

I believe something beautiful from God can emerge from all of this if we are prepared prayerfully to find a truly biblical way forward. That will not be easy, and it will take time, but God always justifies himself. One of the best lessons I had of this was the years I spent working with those who had endured the communist captivity of the church in Russia.

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