Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I never intentionally “go dark” in the blogsphere. When this site is dormant for several days, it’s invariably because real life has intervened. Like most bloggers, I do have a real life, and blogging is not it. The responsibilities (and joys) of parish and family life have consumed my spare time and energy for about the last ten days.

But even while quiet, I continue to at least read the headlines in Anglican cyberspace and reflect on my place in all of it. At the risk of indulging in narcissism, this includes pondering my own perception of how others perceive me in the Anglican blog world. It’s no secret that I number myself—and am numbered by others—on the conservative side of the spectrum. But for the most part, I sense that I’m also perceived as an irenic conservative—one who can talk to those who hold other viewpoints without getting all in a twist.

Many other conservatives, I have come to realize, appreciate me for standing in that very place. Of course, there are some on my own side of the Great Chasm who think I’m a little squishy on some issues, and that I’m vulnerable to selling out to the enemy, or—worse still—being co-opted by them. And there are some across the canyon from me who think my amiable demeanor is just a smokescreen, and that there’s really no difference between me and the whole misogynistic and homophobic lot whom they love to hate.

But then there are a few Worthy Opponents (yes, I’m shamelessly lifting that label from Stand Firm) who consider me and others like me still deserving of being engaged in good faith. So when one of them writes something that absolutely makes sense, warming the depths of my orthodox soul, and doing so at some potential risk to their reputation among their own teammates, that persons deserves some kudos, both for courage and for the substance of the remarks themselves.

Over on the infamous HoB/D listserv, there has been an illuminating chain of threads over sacramental theology and practice. (In the back of my mind, I’m simmering an extended essay in response to some of the issues raised there.) During the last couple of days, the subject of biblical interpretation came up with respect to baptismal practice and baptismal liturgy. A couple of commenters got into a small spat over when certain New Testament texts may have been written and when and by whom, with the implication that the answer to those questions is critical to resolving the baptismal issues.

Then, charging over the hill like the cavalry, Sarah Dylan Breuer came to the rescue with these entirely apposite remarks (which I quote with her permission):

I am able to say, as a certified scholar of historical Jesus studies and as an Anglican, that canon is canon. This is one of the reasons that 'red letter' editions of bibles that render the reported words of Jesus in a different color font set my teeth on edge. Why should Jesus' actions (e.g., his death on a Roman cross) be less worthy of highlighting than his words? Why should Paul's interpretation of Jesus' message and what it means for Christian communities be less authoritative or more authoritative (and I've encountered people who have come from both sides of that spectrum -- from supposed "historical Jesus" enthusiasts who completely ignore that Paul's letters are the earliest canonical witnesses we've got to Christian teaching and praxis to historical enthusiasts who suggest that the gospels are less authoritative because they were written later than Paul's letters)?

So yeah, I'm a progressive, with as many cards as one needs to say "I'm a progressive" and as many bruises as it usually takes to say so as well, and I'm a certified biblical scholar besides (Ph.D. dissertation -- from the History department at U.C.L.A. -- will be filed this year, so help me God). And I'm happy to say as a historian that theology and Christian praxis ought not be left to historians. The entire canon of scripture has been judged by the church catholic to be an authoritative source for Christian teaching, and as much as I might be tempted to say that the church ought to await breathlessly the next set of papers from my colleagues and I about historical Jesus or Pauline studies, I have to say that relying on historians to determine what within the canon of scripture should be authoritative for Christians is not a good use of time and energy. The basis for determining any 'canon within the canon' or any other fundamental principle for the Church's biblical interpretation is theological more than historical.

I could not have said it better myself. Dylan squarely hits the nail on the head on the question of how the notion of scriptural authority is misunderstood and misused nowadays, particularly by those with “reappraiser” proclivities. She also hints at the dark secret of how Liberals and Evangelicals meet and shake hands on the back side of the barn, both with their own (somewhat different) sub-orthodox “red letter” Bibles.

Dylan isn’t lying when she says she’s a card-carrying Progressive. Her life is implicated with that cause. It’s not a cause I can support. But she and any of her colleagues who are similarly inclined are Progressives I can talk to, because we can at least begin with a common vocabulary that is authentically grounded in traditional Christianity. We may not end up in the same place, but we can at least begin together, and that strikes me as something worth doing.

1 comment:

William said...

Thank you for this, Fr. Dan. As someone from what you call the port side of the ship, I can tell you I can handle most of the hurly-burly back and forth between my fellow Christians on the starboard side -- and even learn something in the process! -- but it grieves me to the depths of my soul when I'm told "my ilk" doesn't take Scripture seriously.

To my dear reasserter brothers and sisters I simply ask, show me where I'm reading it wrong and I'll thank you for correcting my error, but, please, don't bear false witness against those of us who have spent (in many cases) a lifetime engaging seriously with Scripture and come to some different conclusions than you.