Monday, February 26, 2007

Responses to the Communique

With everyone and their aunt responding to the Primate's Communique, it is hard for a busy parish priest to keep up with the welter of words, and until this morning I haven't even tried. However, I spent some time on this, my day off, scanning the various offerings that are being dished up here. Occasionally I have stumbled over a helpful nugget, but most of the time there is little that inspires (on either right or left).

As was to be expected, there are few people who seem to be hearing what the Communique says, or have perhaps even read it with care. Instead they have rushed into asserting the rightness of their own position over against the wrongness of those they consider their adversaries. There are several thoughts that I have been having as I have attempted to plough my way through this tangle of non-communication, and I tentatively share these.

The first is the observation that for many Anglicanism seems to have ceased being a historic Christian tradition rooted and grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it was understood by the Church of England, and then developing outward, eventually spreading around the world. It is almost as if the notion of "Anglican" has become to many a convenient hold-all into which can be poured whatever you want to pour.

So for some it seems that Anglicanism, which has always been a generous approach to the faith, is now so generous that there are no boundaries to its inclusion of all and sundry -- even that which will destroy it. As we look back at the Elizabethan settlement and then at the manner in which the church and communion have handled differences in the past, while we have always leaned over backwards not to exclude, there have inevitably been limits to our openness because of clear theological, biblical, creedal, and ecclesiastical mandates.

Our problem is that North American Anglicanism has, at least in the past several generations, become profoundly non-biblical and untheological, with the result that we measure what is going on more in anthropological and socio-political terms than using Scripture within the context of the church's on going tradition - and place within Catholic Christianity.

This means that the language being used in so many of these statements tends to be the language of human and civil rights and not the language in which the faith is cast. The picture that is then painted by bishops and others is that God is the God of such rights, and what the Communion's leaders are doing is trampling on those rights, and therefore flying in the face of God's will and purpose.

Human and civil rights are obviously extremely important and as churches we have struggled with their implications for a long time. However, what Scripture teaches about the nature of humanity made in God's image and about ethics and morality are also extremely important, and those of us in the mainstream of Anglicanism are saying that these cannot be over-riden.

This is not to suggest we don't reach out in love to all people, but it does mean we must with the utmost seriousness bear in mind what Scripture and tradition teach about the pattern of life of those in leadership in the church. Christian leadership is not a right -- it is a fearful responsibility and a heavy privilege. The pastoral challenge is how to be welcoming of all while recognizing that all offices of the church cannot be open to all as if the church were a golf club putting in place a new president or captain.

Then many of the responses seem to weigh heavily on the canonical and procedural way of doing things in the Episcopal Church -- and certainly this needs to be taken into account. But this seems to me to be a "business as usual" mentality in the midst of a vast crisis that the Episcopal Church has triggered by going it alone rather than working with the wider Communion.

What is clear is that the ones who call upon those of us who are a minority within the Episcopal Church to knuckle under and be team players, are not prepared to listen to the Communion when it says in a pastoral but clear way that they should do something similar for the good of the wider Anglican family. There is a mutuality to communion, and that is hard to find in many of these statements.

Some on the left are making comments which, in effect, say that they really don't want to be part of the Anglican Communion any longer. That is fair enough, as they break away from the wider church then they should not prevent those of us who are Anglicans wanting to continue to remain. One writes, "If the Anglican Communion must separate over this fundamental issue of human rights, then so be it. To everything there is a season. Perhaps this is the season for the growth of the gospel in truth and in love in ways that we could never have imagined" (Steven Charleston of EDS).

In the midst of all this are plenty of "victim" statements. For example, a group calling themselves InclusiveChurch state, "As the debate becomes more disconnected from the reality of everyday life of those we serve, it is increasingly clear that TEC is becoming a scapegoat." Now obviously I sit in a different place and this debate is not disconnected from the reality of my life and ministry, but when a province has, in effect, given the finger to the rest of the Communion and then the Communion acts upon it that action is hardly scapegoating. Rather, it is the majority trying to find some way to maintain a measure of order and biblical discipline.

This raises just one more element of many of these statements, and that is the loose or loaded use of language. This is the way it has been all along, and does little to help along a process that might somewhere or other have reconciliation and the Cross in it.

In the midst of all this some are eloquently counseling patience and care, which is most valuable - and vital. A first step, perhaps, in humility.

What the Communique does reflect is Archbishop Williams' concern that all parties should keep talking, for it is when the talking stops that the most destructive kind of fighting begins. In all its components it also reflects the fact that the willingness of a large part of the Communion to allow the Episcopal Church to continue forestalling the majority is now wearing thin.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radical Ecclesiastical Reconfiguration

Between the procession of Ash Wednesday services today I have found myself looking today at some of the things I wrote in Brave New Church (Morehouse Publishing: 2001) a few years ago about what was then the coming "radical ecclesiastical reconfiguration." I have looked at these as I have read with more care and then started to study the documents coming out of Dar-es-Salaam. While I never expected the players to take the field in the way they have, in various things we have said we seem to have foreseen some of the bits of what might happen.

The past few years those of us who are historic Anglicans in North America have been grieving over the passing of the old denomination in which so many of us were shaped and reared. However inadequate your parent might have been, it is always difficult to see them decline, deteriorate, and ultimately die. We have been watching those structures from the past with their accompanying rules and regulations begin to shuffle off, while a raucous new wave of structures are noisily (and sometimes rancorously) are testing the waters.

The tentative structural steps outlined in the Communique from the Primates concerning a Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar in the United States, appears to me to be the Communion now catching up with and attempting to give some order to the changed realities that are all around us.

Of course, we are hearing howls from those who are still living in what Leonard Sweet called a state of "persistent make-believe" over the old structures. They are saying things like "This document is demanding the biggest change in the polity of the Episcopal Church by people who have absolutely no authority to even ask." ( This is an interesting statement from a writer who cries foul to changing structures, but who consents to changing of fundamental doctrine -- but has absolutely no authority to do so!

It is hard to see what the long term outcomes of the Communique's proposals are likely to be, and I am certainly not eager to make brash predictions, but this does appear to be the first formal step down a road that will ultimately result in something rather different emerging, gathering strength and authority, and enabling Gospel ministry in this century.

The Primates are attempting to honor the received approach to being church while at the same time taking into account the effect of the anomalies which have surfaced with increasing intensity since August 2003. A dozen years or so ago when we were thinking about future structures we had in mind a network of networks -- now that possibility of that is beginning to emerge.

What I find so fascinating is that the so-called "progressives" are so retrogressive about and hostile to all this. One would have thought that those with an eager desire to recast Christian doctrine and behavior in a more contemporary mode would readily embrace a recasting of the old-fashioned way in which the church manages itself, but quite to the contrary. The only thing any one can say about this is that perhaps there is some other reason for their penchant for the tired and worn-out...

I love the words of Loren Mead written in the 1990s, and Loren is hardly a theological conservative. "Both the church and the world are always in flux, but usually we bring to that constant change a stable and unchanging paradigm, a mind-set that sometimes last for centuries. Sooner or later, however, the thousands of minute shifts and changes bring such pressure to bear that the stable mind-set cracks, shifts, or falls apart. That has happened to us" (Once and Future Church, 1991).


Monday, February 19, 2007

Canterbury and Rome

As I sat down to my breakfast at Gatwick Airport this morning I was greeted by the headline in the London Times that said, Churches back plan to unite under Pope. What followed was an article by Ruth Gledhill, doyenne of religion journalists who recently managed to get her hands on a leaked document that will be published later in the year. The document suggests that the wheels are already being greased as to how Anglicans might reunite with Roman Catholics under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome.

By the time I got to Atlanta Airport some eleven hours later, the place where I am now sitting, there had been some correction and clarification of the Gledhill article, stating that this is part of the 35-year-long conversations that have been taking place between the two ecclesial bodies, but there is no doubt that Ruth Gledhill's timing is elegant.

Clearly the crisis within Anglicanism that was triggered by the inappropriate consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 has contributed in many ways to a greater willingness on the part of Anglicans to reassess what the relationship between Rome and Canterbury might look like. In a rather cheeky manner Ms. Gledhill thinks there might be ways "to seek reunion with the Church of England's own mother church."

Obviously a couple of thousand word article summarizing a 42-page document at a time of high drama in Anglicanism is not enough to be going on, so we will need to wait until we have more data before we can make a clearer assessment, but it seems that there are up sides and down sides to all of this.

The up side is that in an increasingly hostile world Christian unity needs to be more than something we just chatter about. Our fragmentation in a postmodern age is itself a slur on the Gospel, and we need to start taking that reality more seriously. I can certainly see ways in which I might be able to acknowledge the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, but having said that there is a significant doctrinal gulf between what Rome affirms and where classic Anglican Christianity stands.

Now, I suppose that if I had to choose between Benedict XVI and Dr. Schori, Benedict wins hands down. At least the Pope affirms the fundamental doctrines of historic Christianity, in light of her early month os statements as Presiding Bishop, Schori doesn't even seem to know them - and seems perfectly happy to harass those who do.

Having said that, like most evangelical Anglicans there is much about the Roman obedience that I find hard to digest and the list can grow so long that it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. Rome's theology of the eucharist is highly suspect, for example, and calls into question the once-for-all efficacy of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. Together with this goes a theology of the priesthood that to me would be untenable.

Then there is Rome's theology of authority which raises tradition to an inappropriate level and, I believe, diminishes the place of Scripture as containing all things necessary to salvation. From this over-emphasis upon tradition comes all sorts of no-nos as far as an Anglican is concerned such as Marian devotion and the accretions that have gathered around Mary like, for example, the Immaculate Conception. Add a retinue of saints and the like and all sorts of alarm bells begin to go off.

As uncomfortable as I am with the Episcopal Church's loose and often almost illiterate use of Scripture, and a desire to go beyond it, I am no more happy with Rome's sense of Scripture, which seems to allow for all sorts of add-ons.

I suspect that some of my anxieties are that Anglican distinctives might well get swallowed up in the vastness of the Roman Church, the numerical majority ultimately swamping the minority. But I suppose it could be possible that Anglicanism could act like a healthy virus that starts to positively influence Roman values, beginning a process of re-forming and re-making it. While Roman Christianity could enrich Anglicanism, Anglicanism would certainly challenge Romans, asking some very difficult questions about belief and theology that Rome may not want to address.

At the heart of these concerns is th authority of the Papacy. It is here that the Roman Church most compromises the authority of Scripture and I, for one, have to reject the notion of magesterium that is so focused in that office. The Bishop of Rome might be the "senior bishop" of the Western church, but to me he can never be allowed to be more than that. If I am asked to concede more, then I must politely decline.

Personally, I would much prefer conversations of this kind with the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow than with Rome, although there is certainly a lot of Orthodoxy that makes me an outsider. However, given the mess Anglicanism is in as a result of The Episcopal Church's unfaithfulness, the issue of relationships between ecclesial bodies becomes relevant in a new way.

Continued division and bad blood are counterproductive to the Gospel in today's world, but we cannot afford to sacrifice doctrinal clarity for unity. Somehow or other Christians must learn to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other as we face today's challenges.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Moving 3,900 miles East

From: Birmingham, England

It is Sunday morning and I am just coming out of what has been a tunnel of total exhaustion. Four heavy weeks of ministry followed by a transatlantic flight, followed by a long an grueling selection process, followed by a several hour drive through the Friday evening rush hour traffic across the middle of England, and yesterday I was dead meat for much of the day -- wondering what on earth I had done and what on earth God had in mind for us.

All this is prefatory to say that on Friday evening I was offered the position of Development Director at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and accepted. Ridley is the evangelical Anglican theological college that is situated there, and is expanding in a variety of ways to become a major center in the life of the Church of England -- and beyond ( I suspect that given these crisis of Anglicanism in North America, it is well positioned to play a role on the western side of the Atlantic as well.

There are some huge challenges ahead because although Job One is to raise five million pounds in the next several years for desperately needed accommodations and teaching facilities, there is strategic planning to do, pastoring to undertake, and we are having significant conversations that relate to the area of stewardship -- something that concerns the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that he has been eager to see me at Ridley.

There are obviously more details to get sorted out than I can shake a stick at, but right now I am enjoying a couple of days with our daughter Olivia, son-in-law Joe, and our granddaughter, Hannah, in Birmingham, before catching a morning flight back to the USA tomorrow from Gatwick so I can celebrate Shrove Tuesday and then the solemnity of Ash Wednesday with my congregation. There is that sense of anticipation about what lies ahead, as well as the beginnings of grieving as we prepare to say goodbye to our home and so many friends in Tennessee where we have now lived for nearly 22 years, with 31 in total in the United States.

However, there is a real sense that God's hand has been upon us. As I look back over decisions we have made during the last couple of years I am now able to see how they have all fitted together into the remarkable pattern that God weaves in our lives. I have that sense that the Lord Jesus is calling Rosemary and myself back not only for the benefit of ourselves and our kith and kin, but also because we have a part that we can play at this crucial moment in preparing the next generation of leaders for the challenges of ministry in Great Britain in coming days -- and the challenges here are truly enormous.

We would value your continuing prayers, and as we eventually get ourselves settled in the Cambridge area you can be assured that there will be a warm welcome for you -- about half the congregation at the Church of the Resurrection, where I am interim rector, have promised that at some point they will appear on our doorstep.

My promise is this -- you have certainly not seen the last of me in North America. I leave a daughter on those shores so regular visits will be part of our life, plus the fact that we want to see Ridley playing a part on the reshaping of the American church in years ahead. I am actually now the third American citizen who is part of the "permanent" Ridley community, and there are several American students.

Some will, no doubt, identify this as me leaving the Episcopal Church. Nothing could be further from the truth. I will remain a priest in good standing of the Diocese of Tennessee, and am doing what I have done before, and that is transfer my ministry from one province of the Anglican Communion to another.

Meanwhile, the Daily Devotions will keep on coming, will keep on trucking, and the Kew Continuum will still be found at

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I have an XM Radio in my car, which means that I regularly listen to the BBC World Service. A few weeks ago a large part of a business program was given to the horrible mess that the Ford Motor Company finds itself in having swallowed a $13 billion loss in 2006.

It was a piece that was well done and extremely fair, but what fascinated me was the reactions of the workers interviewed as they came off shift at one of the Ford plants in the Detroit area. Several of the folks talked to were bombastic about Americans who bought foreign vehicles, either directly or indirectly questioning their patriotism. Several were very worried about their jobs, while others obviously shrugged and said words to the effect that there wasn't much they could do about it.

It was the response of one particular man that caught my attention. He was measured and thoughtful and said something like, "Of course I'm worried. It seems to me that we have a huge problem here, and Ford is not going to pick up again until it starts producing the sort of cars with the kind of quality and fuel efficiency that attracts purchasers."

If I hadn't had my hands on the wheel I would have applauded him -- it was a perfect answer. This individual was the most loyal of all these Ford-ites because he was prepared to address the problem head on, and say that as much as he loved the company it didn't deserve to dig itself out of the mess until it does what it was founded for: to make cars that folks are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on.

During the last several years I have heard all sorts of calls to loyalty to the Episcopal Church, especially among those who affirm a "progressive" agenda. These, I think, are the sort of folks who are like the Ford workers who asserted that Americans ought to buy cars produced by American manufacturers. This is not loyalty, this is papering over the cracks and pretending that there is nothing wrong. The most extraordinary thing about our whole sorry state of affairs is that this is an agenda of denial.

It comes in all sorts of flavors.

Dr. Schori's favorite flavor is that there is only a small disgruntled minority that are functioning in this way. Well, hundreds of congregations have voted with their feet, including several of the church's largest, but still the disinformation campaign continues that those who stand with worldwide Anglicanism and no longer the Episcopal Church are a bad-tempered handful.

In our diocese where we have changed the canons so that individual congregations can designate whether or not their funds find their way to the Episcopal Church Center, there is great discomfort among some, who feel this is dropping the ball on our obligation. Now it doesn't seem particularly loyal to me to fund those who have not only consented to that which flies in the face of Scripture and historic Anglicanism, but rejoice in it; so why reward those who have done damage with more money with which to do even more damage?

A third approach is to bad-mouth those of us who are mainstream and biblical Anglicans, and label us as schismatics. This division of the church was caused by those of us who have taken the denomination down the homophile road. The schismatics were the ones who set that ball in motion in August 2003 and then followed up with an inadequate response to Windsor in June 2006.

I am a loyal Anglican, and am trying to be loyal within an Episcopal Church that has in pride and error taken a very wrong turn and is now trying to whitewash its actions by projecting the blame on those of us who are, dare I use the word, its victims! Loyalty is telling it as it is, like that Ford worker. So here is my act of loyalty.

The Episcopal Church has messed up really, really badly and is basking in error rather than the truth. This is not going to win people to Jesus Christ, so the church is not going to grow -- and will continue to shrink, with consequent attending problems. We are not going to learn the lessons these circumstances should be teaching us if we refuse to face up to facts. I spent an hour today with the widow of a man who died of an aggressive form of cancer a couple of months ago because the doctor misdiagnosed the symptoms he was suffering.

I'm sorry, saying that all in the church is fine and dandy is misdiagnosis. The tragedy is that denial is now the name of the Episcopal game, and the reality is that these "loyalists" will wake up and realize the extent of their error when it is too late. I have no desire to see ECUSA go down in flames, and I have no particular desire to be forced out by those who are preaching "another gospel." However, the strategy that is being pursued can only end in tears.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Above All Earthly Pow'rs -- A Book Review

Above All Earthly Pow'rs - Christ in A Postmodern World by David F. Wells (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006)

A Review

Of late I have been feeling a lot of sympathy for old Augustine as he sat in Hippo watching the world that he knew disintegrating around him as the seven centuries of Roman power collapsed. When it came, Rome's end happened relatively quickly, ushering in several centuries of confusion and uncertainty before Europe started to climb out of the hole, dust itself off, and start moving in a somewhat different (and far less developed) direction.

I have this nasty kind of feeling that we are living through the lead up to a similar kind of collapse as Western culture trivializes or entertains itself to death, with swathes of the Christian tradition following rapid suit. Reading David Wells's Above All Earthly Pow'rs during the last couple of weeks has merely intensified such thoughts.

The Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and a mentoree of John Stott, completes his four book series on the way in which the faith encounters the emerging culture with this remarkable tour de force. In it he undertakes a remarkably clear analysis of postmodernism, and then how the classical formulation of the faith addresses Jesus Christ into today's environment.

There are few really trying to grapple with such topics, and there are fewer still whose grasp of both faith and Zeitgeist is deep and extensive enough that the end product is of use to both pastoral and preaching facets of ministry.

I have been reading Wells during the build up to the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania, replete with posturing, politicking, and prediction, but there has been little theological analysis and reflection on the decisions and actions that have brought us to this present pass. I think that Wells's book does a sterling job in crafting a picture of the environment that has spawned this crisis, and what the faithful response might look like in this setting.

What makes David Wells' latest work so fascinating is that he is not exactly addressing either the Episcopal Church or the other mainline denominations, but rather is talking to those who self-select as evangelicals. Fifteen years ago Wells wrote movingly of the way in which biblical faith in America had been, over several centuries, turned from something meaty and substantial into little more than a thin veneer. In this book he goes beyond that to show how postmodernity's infiltration of the churches has cracked the veneer -- indeed, many of those who present what they assert is a biblical faith are toying with little more than a pale shadow, a parody of the real thing.

In effect, Wells is saying that in a slightly different way the evangelicals have set off down exactly the same road as the minimizers of earlier generations, the so-called "liberals" who have got the mainline denominations into such serious trouble. If the father of the liberals was Schleiermacher, the parents of this evangelical slide are marketing and seeker sensitivity.

Wells is far from opposed to proclaiming the faith in such a manner that the unreached are reached and lives are transformed as they enter a grace-filled relationship with Jesus Christ. What he asserts, however, is that in their efforts to make Christ accessible there has been a flushing of the baby with the bathwater for they are "operating off methodologies for succeeding in which that success requires little or no theology" (p. 265).

The seeker sensitive approach panders to the consumer mentality with the intention of gathering numbers, but the accumulating evidence suggests that fewer truly life-transforming conversions taking place, with self-surrendering disciples being made. Professor Wells is horrified by evangelical willingness to look for "success" by using the methodologies and business models like those of the folks at Disney. The result is that we are dishing out pablum, when all the time we are ignoring a robust, meaty, biblical faith, strong and serious enough to encounter the ennui and afflictions of the postmodern world.

Truth not technique is the resource God has given us as we weave our way through today's landscape in which the self, whatever that is, has become the be all and the end all. Wells demonstrates how the richness of truth actually addresses the shallowness of our world.

The brilliant core of the book are several chapters in which Wells expounds a meaty Christology and how it addresses how the children of postmodernity, radical individualism and relativity, who have swept aside the substance of what remained of Christian and Enlightenment cultures. Relativism and radical individualism are now in the process of reshaping almost every facet of the Western person's life within the context of a bored culture, but the answer to their corrosiveness is immediately available in our biblical heritage.

As you read you have the impression of a skilled physician carefully explaining what he is doing to his patient as he goes forward with the right treatment of a nasty ailment. What he is trying to tell us is that BandAids, whether liberal or conservative, will not do the trick. His exposition of both God's grace and Christ's atoning work is among the best that I have seen in a very long time. These doctrines are strong medicine, especially when compared with the shallowness of seeker sensitivity and the vacuousness of those that veer off down the progressive, liberal, radical, or whatever you want to call it road.

I came away from this with a renewed sense of awe and wonder at what God has achieved on our behalf through the work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross, and a deepened commitment never ever to settle for anything less. In this determination I sometimes feel in my own denomination that if I am not a lone voice, then I am part of a tiny minority. All around me I can see the heart-breaking damage that has been done when we settle for little, this leading inexorably toward the destructiveness of error that now prevails.

As I have watched, I have had this growing sense over recent years that the conservative churches, in a different way, are making all the same mistakes made in our tradition several generations ago, and that ultimately unless they alter their modus operandi they are going to finish up with similar kinds of unfaithful and erroneous outcomes. This is bad news indeed.

Which brings me back to Tanzania, and the gathering of the Primates. Part of their task will be to continue pointing out to the North American churches the error of their believing and their doing, and that actions have profound consequences. Action of some kind will in all likelihood be taken, but we are a long way yet from the body ceasing to writhe.

The very emptiness of those on the left illustrates Professor Wells's case for him. All he needs to do is to point out to his evangelical constituency the pitiful creature that the Episcopal Church is and to say to them, "Now do you really want to be like that?" At the same time, however, he needs to look at the Global South churches, as well as conservatives, evangelicals, catholics who remain in ECUSA or who have recently split from the denomination and say to them, "Never, ever, ever forget these great truths -- you do so at your own peril."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Thoughts on Anglican Covenant & Katherine Grieb

I didn't have time carefully to read the Episcopal News Service's piece on the Anglican Covenant Design Group meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, until last Monday -- after we had consecrated a new bishop and had undertaken our diocesan convention. I was reassured by the comments of Ephraim Radner, who is probably one of the finest two or three theologians in North American Anglicanism today, but it was the reported words from Prof. Katherine Grieb of Virginia Theological Seminary which I had to mull over. (

As one might expect given the bias of the ENS, Grieb was quoted extensively and in the midst of her comments she talked about the varying approaches to Scripture that were gathered around the table in the Bahamas.

"One tradition... understands faithfulness to the text as being a non-complicated reproduction of what was said in the past without embroidery, without modification, taking those great, ancient -- some might even say eternal truths -- and applying them in out life today, no matter how difficult that is. It intends to preserve ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.'" The other tradition "understands the Bible in closer continuity with Judaism that sees the Torah as a living, breathing word, like a tree that has new leaves."

I don't have a razor-sharp mind so when someone makes a statement like that I need to spend a few days trying to get under the skin of what is actually being said. That I have done over the last week, and as I have done so my discomfort with her analysis has increased, for it seems what she is parodying the approach to Scripture which she seems to disdain, while giving more exaggerated credence to the one she holds.

Obviously selected quotes by a journalist must always be suspect for they reflect the editorial bias of the publication and the reporter, but if we have in this quote the essence of what Professor Grieb said, then it seems she does not want to understand what is a catholic and historic approach to handling the Scriptures.

Her analysis is that orthodox people are wooden and unbending in the manner that they handle Scripture, rather than handling Scripture as the living Word of God. Behind her representation is the perceived notion that revelation is wielded inflexibly as we attempt to impose Scripture in an unyielding way upon today's world, however difficult such a task might be.

Katherine Grieb seems to be thinking of Scripture like laws that find their way into the statute book and might be highly relevant in one era, and yet in another they become dead letter because they longer work as society has moved on. For example, there were laws in the past about gentleman and their swords, or regulations about dumping human waste into the streets of a medieval city before modern sewerage was put in place. Folks, she suggests, who hold this view of Scripture are inclined to impose what is no longer relevant upon the contemporary environment in which they find themselves.

In contrast to this, the more enlightened approach to handling Scripture has a fluidity to it, it is rooted and grounded in the past, and parallels the manner in which Judaism approaches the Torah. It is, she says, a "living, breathing word, like a tree that has new leaves."

Implicit in her comparison is that the intelligent way of handling Scripture is the latter, and the immature approach is the former. Also in the way in which she presented herself in what she said to the press, she seems concerned that the eventual Anglican Covenant will not be shaped as she wants it to be (but that is another story).

One of the easiest ways of dismissing an opponent or someone with whom you disagree is to parody them, and all of us are guilty of that. I confess that the approach to authority held by those on the ideological and theological left puzzles me immensely because I cannot see how their positions are tenable in light of the substance of the Gospel, but I have to accept that few of them are really that cynical, so their position reflects their intellectual integrity.

By casting everyone who looks authoritatively to the Old and New Testaments as God's word written in the same rather unreflective mold, Dr. Grieb is playing the sort of game that so many of us in the Episcopal Church have battled against for a long time now, in an effort to makes the likes of me appear to be leftovers from a past that is thankfully now behind us. I sometimes wish I had a dollar for every occasion on which it has been asserted that I have fundamentalist blood flowing in my veins (often from people whose theological education is far less substantial than my own!).

As a biblical Christian I believe, like Dr. Grieb, that Scripture is a living and breathing entity. It is God speaking to us, and asking us to use our intelligence to apply its values and principles to every facet of our lives. Scripture is not to be woodenly dumped down on people, and often its substance requires significant wrestling if we are to understand how it applies to the circumstances in which we live today.

The point, obviously, that Dr. Grieb does not like, I would suggest, is the actual values that are there enshrined within the text. Thus, if we can find some way to manage what it says so that we ameliorate what makes us uncomfortable, then we are going to be able to feel so much more at home.

However, as I read what Dr. Grieb is saying I am wondering whether her approach to the text and doctrine is actually that she wants to re-interpret what the words and phrases are actually saying. The relativism of our culture so often wants us to find our own meanings in the words that we happen to be using, even if that means turning those words upon their heads.

As I understand the mainstream approach of Judaism to Torah, it is to expound the text in such a manner that clarity is given to the ancient and eternal truths that are imbedded within it. Such exposition does not have as its goal the modification of those truths, but allowing such truths to speak with force and vigor into today's world and the lives we now live.

While I recognize that there are alternative streams within Judaism, I hope that Dr. Grieb is not implying that the Jewish faith is willing to subsume the Torah to the values of the prevailing culture. She certainly seems to be coming close to suggesting such a thing.

I have during the last few months made the whole period following the return from the Exile one for study. One of the points that shouts loudest to me from this era of the People of God is that they were wrestling against being swallowed up by the surrounding culture and its values. For Haggai and Zechariah, for example, building the Temple of the Lord of Hosts was of pre-eminent importance because that was as much as anything a tangible act of obedience to the living God. For Ezra and Nehemiah the challenge came from detractors like Sanballat and company, who wanted to join them and then bring in their own syncretistic notion.

Talmudic Judaism developed within the context of those struggles in order to maintain the distinctives of the People of God, and their witness as a covenant community in a difficult kind of world. It is my belief that if we in the Anglican tradition in North America are looking for a period that best parallels our own, then that post-exilic era is the best, for it required the asserting of the truthfulness of God and strong discipline in order to remain faithful.

Faithfulness in the society that has emerged calls forth a different set of emphases than in the past, but those emphases are all to be found there within the pages of the Bible. Our task is to recognize that it is the living, breathing Word of God, and to take both its challenges and its chiding seriously.