Comments: New Orleans: reports from the scene

In the midst of this current 'crisis', with its accusations of apostacy and proclamations of orthodoxy, I can't help but be reminded of some words by Ken Leech in 'Subversive Orthodoxy':

"I want to suggest that there are two ways of looking at orthodoxy, and here I want to draw on some Rowan Williams.

The first view sees orthodoxy as a closed system, determined, watertight, a package, a comprehensive ideology, total, complete. We are programmed by it, captured by it, imprisoned within it. It stifles thought and distorts perception. Within its confines no real conversation is possible, and self-scrutiny is banished. It's closest political analogue is the fascist state. And this is no figment: we recognise it, we know it well.

The second way to see orthodoxy is as a tradition of shared speech, shared symbols, a living community of revelation and discourse, a tradition which makes critical engagement possible. Indeed it is only an orthodoxy of this kind which makes critical engagement possible. Tradition is not static but dynamic, not stifling but liberating. Orthodoxy is a tool, not an end. It looks beyond the conceptual climate of the present to its source events and documents, and there is a constant dialogue, a critical encounter, and dialectical relationship, between the received tradition and contemporary insights, experiences, and struggles. It is out of such encounters that significant changes and renewals occur."

"...[W]hat is often mistaken for orthodoxy today is in fact what orthodox thinkers of the past saw as heresy: the desire to have everything cut and dried, clear and precise, the desire to remove contradictions and ambiguities, the mistaking of the part for the whole. Some would say that the holding together of apparent contradictions and ambiguities is of the very nature of the orthodox project...[O]rthodoxy is an attempt to hold together unresolved and apparently contradictory truths: transcendence and immanence, divine and human natures, impassibility and passion, and so on. Heresy resolved these contradictions by coming down on one side or the other. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, held contrary truths in tension, defined parameters, and so made further debates, clarifications, expansions, revisions, and dialogue possible."

Posted by MJ at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 11:16am BST

What a very helpful and illuminating post from MJ toay. I will want to digest it and let it inform my thinking & doing,dv...

Posted by L Roberts at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 12:25pm BST

MJ - It is a very fine post. But holding something in tension implies that there is something in the middle, between two poles. While I completely agree, the question remains who, how and where the two poles are set. By tradition? Who declares what the tradition is? I think reasserters feel that TEC has lost this tension, because it has moved the poles too close to together - and there lies the heresy.

Posted by C.B. at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 1:04pm BST

"...[W]hat is often mistaken for orthodoxy today is in fact what orthodox thinkers of the past saw as heresy"

But those who use the word of themselves are the ones who decide that everything else is heretical. So, it doesn't matter that for nearly 2000 years there has been a thing called "Orthodoxy". All that matters is that someone can use the word of themselves now to describe what they believe. Many of these "orthodox", for instance, would have great difficulty with the veneration of icons. They have 500 year old grudges against Rome, so anything that looks Roman is cast out. Thus, they don't want priests, they want lay presidency, they insist on Scripture having all authority, they don't have much use for saints, much less ask for their prayers, and they adhere to the bizarre idea that there is a checklist of things that are "necessary for salvation" and that these things are to be found solely in Scripture. This last might go back 500 years in Anglicanism, but, like all the other things I have quoted, has never been considered "orthodox". So why do they use the word? Because it allows them some form of selfrighteousness over those they disagree with, fear, and, in many instances, hate, which has always been the prime reason for using that word. Ken Leech is trying to reclaim the word from those who use it falsely to describe their own ideas.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 1:32pm BST

"think reasserters feel that TEC has lost this tension, because it has moved the poles too close to together - and there lies the heresy."

Interesting point, one that bears much thought.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 4:17pm BST

Can I commend to everyone's careful and prayerful perusal this comment by the Bishop of Buckingham. There's a lot of much-needed common sense and insight here.

And Bruce Robison's article on Covenant is well worth attention:

Posted by cryptogram at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 6:09pm BST

Great posting MJ

"...reasserters feel that TEC has lost this tension, because it has moved the poles too close to together - and there lies the heresy..."

It's funny, but I thought the problem was that they thought things were being stretched too far, that the standards were becoming too lenient, that grace was being made too accessible to too many souls at too many levels.

I can remember one exchange where one poster expressed a concern that things were becoming too complicated. My reply at the time is that our theology is actually less complicated because it advocates covering everyone and everything; meting out justice and compassion fairly and consistently.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 21 September 2007 at 11:07pm BST

Cheryl -If there are no standards there can be no tension. If things are stretched too far things snap and there is no tension either. Hence the importance of where the poles are placed.

Posted by C.B. at Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 12:29am BST

Hi C.B.

Evolution involves both quantitative changes (e.g. a bird's beak and tongue getting longer to best reach the pollen in a flower) and qualitative changes (e.g. the transformation of a dinosaur into a flying bird with feathers).

Nature is mostly steady-state systems. A rainforest has an inbuilt tolerance to cope with a typical amount of rain in a typical pattern. That ecosystem might become fragile if the rain was to become more erratic, or collapse if the variations go too far for too long.

But does that mean life would end? There might be a mass extinction, but unless something absolutely cataclysmic happens (e.g. the earth's atmosphere is ripped away); some kind of new ecosystem will evolve. Some of the species from the previous system might survive, or others move in. However, the new ecosystem will be fundamentally different from the previous system and would probably die should the rainfall patterns of the previous rainforest return.

Stephen Jay Gould would call this punctuated equilibrium.

Similarly with theology, there can be tolerance and variance within a theology, but there are times of radical transformation. For example: Moses, Exodus and the Ten Commandments under Mt Sinai. Jesus accepting the gentiles' prayers and opening Judaism to non-Jews leading to Christianity. Mohammad's recognizing the futility of reform and seeking to make a new thing is another.

Ezekiel 34 is one of the most erudite passages where God tells the shepherds that if they fail to look after the flocks that God will directly intervene to restore grace, peace and justice. Ezekiel 33 explains that God metes out justice fairly, and that favoritism or elitism are perceived as distortions by corrupt and selfish priests. Ezekiel 31 is a warning that no tree is above being disciplined or brought down, and that God can take the tiniest twig from the most extreme branch and take it off to create a new thing; even using a woman e.g. Jeremiah 31:22.

Our standards are on the foundations that underpin all God's Words and Laws. We advocate doing unto others as we would have done unto ourselves, consistently meting out justice, giving thanks for our blessings and offering hospitality so that God's covenant of everlasting peace can be made manifest (Isaiah 54:13-15). When we say the Lord's Prayer, we actually desire that God's Will be done on EARTH as it is done in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 22 September 2007 at 10:41pm BST
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