Friday, January 18, 2013

A proposal: build "cultural Anglicanism"

Well, we had still more discussion about "Episcopal Church decline" on yet another blog post by a liberal Episcopal priest.  Here's somebody else who apparently believes the reason for  the Episcopal Church's collapse is that there's something wrong with basic Christian theology.   His recommendation:  apparently some of the really old stuff - "the pre-Jesus theological forms" - has got to go,  in order to attract people who are "hungry for spirituality."

This is now about the six hundredth time I've heard some theological-liberal dude say this, though.  The old theology is dead; long live the new theology!  It's now a firmly-established pattern, in fact, from which nothing at all ever comes;  we still have no clue what the New Theology actually is.  (Think Spong for the preeminent instance of this phenomenon.)

The flaw here is that in systems like theology, each assumption depends upon a prior one.  You can't just "drop stuff out" without making a hash of the whole thing; you have to work through the process, step by (perhaps difficult) step.  It requires some serious theological chops to go through that process - and these are not theological arguments at all.   It's delusional to believe that religions are do-it-yourself, ad hoc affairs - and that anybody  could somehow "attract people who are hungry for spirituality" on the fly, if they really tried hard enough.   If there's one thing that's absolutely clear at this point it's that the Episcopal Church has a serious - well, fatal - deficit of good theologians.

Am I wrong about this?   If so, who is there?  This is a real question; please tell me in the comments.  Rowan Williams, of course, is one of the best ever; is there anybody even a tenth as good in TEC?  I mean, even I, a completely non-theologically-trained layperson can clearly see the difference between what he's got going on and what others do.   It's clear, too, that the Episcopal seminaries have failed in spectacular fashion; how could they not have produced even one notable theologian over the past 40 years?

I mean, while the U.S. Catholic Church is contracting, too, it still has 80 million members - and uses the very same rite Episcopalians do, and of course has an extensive Catechism and teaching office that's been in development for a couple thousand years.   It seems to work well enough for all those Catholics (who, BTW, don't actually agree with their priests and bishops on any number of hot-button current issues).

It's struck me since then that the current "leadership" (I really didn't want to use those scare quotes - but is there any other way of putting it?) in the Episcopal Church seems perfectly, calmly willing to send the vehicle hurtling off the cliff, as long as they can continue to hold to this idea they've been floating for the past - what? - 40 years?:   "The theology is the problem - let's fix it!"   (AKA:  "Theology?  Who needs it?")   And here's something else that struck me:  that even if not that, it seems perfectly willing - in tremendously unimaginative and defeatist fashion - to contract forever.

TEC seems bound and determined to remain a tiny sect made up of people who are just too smart to believe any of that "traditional Christianity" nonsense.   The saddest thing is that as far as I can tell much of the current membership is not like this; they do hold - again, as far as I can tell, and maybe qualified by "more or less" - to the traditional faith.   So do at least some of the new crop of clergy.  If only the current Powers-That-Be would release their deathgrip the church could at last maybe go someplace positive.

In fact, I think TEC could actually aim a lot higher than simply "managing decline";  it could shoot not only for growth, but it could actually become a force in the American religious landscape.   Cultural Anglicanism is, I think, a real  possibility as a rival to "cultural Catholicism."  I mean: it's the same faith, so there's absolutely no reason why not; in fact,  I have an ex-Catholic friend who calls Anglicanism "Catholicism done right."  They have "cultural Anglicanism," or something like it, in England; why not here? 

Here's what I think the church should do:  focus on building a "cultural Anglicanism" - the "plain and simple," no frills Christian faith.  Start a campaign to promote Anglicanism in the U.S..  Many people don't actually know what "The Episcopal Church" is; and in the case of those who do:  maybe it's time to abandon the name itself, with its associations of wealth and privilege.  But let people know what's going on - i.e., "advertise" - especially if you do nice, lively liturgy at your place.   Along with that: simply teach the basic Christian faith; stop forever trying to "re-invent" it.   Take time, instead, to learn more about it yourself.  Read Rowan Williams; read James Alison.  [EDIT:  Listen to J.S. Bach - who signed every composition with Soli Dei Gloria - "to God Alone be Glory!"] Be able to explain why Christian faith is both gentle and  revolutionary; be able to point out exactly how it can help people.  Talk about these things, in depth, instead of going on and on about "Occupying" everything.   Anybody can "Occupy," after all - but nobody else can do faith.  Promote Anglicanism's healthful dual emphasis on mass and office; Anglicanism offers the Sacraments - and daily prayer as a quotidian way to stay balanced and in touch with what really matters, too.  (In fact, it's often the Daily Office that attracts and helps people - even atheists! - outside the church.)  Don't think of it as specifically "Catholic" in opposition to "Protestant."  It's just Christian, without any special pleading.   Aim high; don't sit back and accept decline as inevitable.

The only way to do that is to learn and teach the faith; give it away to other people so they can have the benefit of it too.


Scott said...

This relatively new blog gives me hope...

There is such a thing as Anglican theology, and I look forward to getting to know it a lot better. I may consider starting a parish study group about it, too.

Good post, and I, too, think we need to hear more from the theologians in our Church. And of course keep tuned to what +Rowan will now have time to produce in the way of teaching and writing.

bls said...

Thanks very much for the link, Scott. Good to hear about hope! I'll definitely check it out....

aredstatemystic said...

Oh my dear sweet baby Jesus, YES.


(Speaking of, have you noticed on YouTube that on videos of classical performances, like, say, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, there's always an argument going on in the comments about the existence of God. Maybe one day we'll rediscover doing Evangelism by beauty. Also, once you finish TBK, you should read _Demons_.)

bls said...

Actually, RSM: I keep seeing comments on those YouTube threads that begin: "I'm an atheist, but Bach could almost make me believe in God...."


bls said...

(Will check out Demons; never heard of it before!)

Lee said...

So you're not even going to link to the offending blog post that kicked this off? ;)

bls said...

No. People would have to read through all the prior posts to get what was going on; it's not worth it to anybody.

I'll could easily find you another example, though, if you like, though....