Scripture, Per Request, and Revelation, Per Theology Pub

Thanks to my old friend BJ Whittaker for submitting a question that kicked off our conversation at Theology Pub last night, and for submitting a question that I'll also address (somewhat cursorily) here.

We'll go in reverse order:

"Hey, Tim. Just a few questions that I'd like your perspective on. You mention here that the Anglican views on "Salvation" and the "Word of God" are fairly loose or open. Could you do a blog (or maybe you have) on the Anglimergent perspective? Also, how is Scripture used and understood for Anglimergents? Does it have any practical value for today? Or is it simply a part of the distant history of the Church? Thanks in advance for some thoughts. Take care! B.J."

Ok - First off, I'm not sure that anyone can speak for Anglimergents as a whole in any sort of helpful way. I'll do so anyway. If you want to get a more balanced perspective, you might want to head over to a post I put up Anglimergent awhile back here, and scroll through the commentary. There was a lot of good discussion there from a variety of perspectives. In the context of a wider conversation about what it means to be 'Anglimergent', I said

1) First off, we're liturgical/sacramental in orientation, and we affirm the three legged stool of Scripture, tradition and reason. By liturgical/sacramental, I don't just mean that we like structure and wine (who doesn't?), but that we affirm the underlying importance of the physical. That is, to use Alister McGrath's term, we believe in the 'Enchantment' of the world, that God is present around us, in what we do and how we act, and in the physical Eucharist that we eat on Sundays. By 'affirm the three legged stool', I mean that in some form or another, we believe that those are the proper and primary sources for the developing Anglimergent belief and practice--wherever that might take us.

2) In the same vein, we're Nicene Creed-centric rather than Bible or "gospel"-centric. Some of the evangelical wings of the emerging church conversation tend to find their doctrinal unity in Scripture, while we find it in our common affirmation of the creed. (And our common dis-affirmation of the band Creed).

This, I think, means that we're just plain old Anglican in our approach to Scripture (I tend to think of 'Anglimergence' as the people who are emerging into/within Anglicanism, rather than something particularly new.) It functions as the foundational document for our faith, and it's the body of text that we wrestle with every (Sun)day when we try to talk about, and worship, God through our common liturgy. As Anglicans, that means a whole variety of things in terms of interpretation - in our wrestling with Scripture we range from total unthinking fundamentalists to total God-denying liberals, which I think is what a Communion worth it's salt should look like. In Anglicanism, it always means that you wrestle consciously also with reason and tradition as lenses to interpret Scripture through. I think that's what most Christians do, but we're just explicit about it. I don't think there's anyone who would say Scripture has no practical value for today, but we would define that practical value in quite different ways.

I'd add to my previous statement on the Creed to say that we tend to see the Creed as a distillation of the core essential Christian message of Scripture and tradition. (Some quite prominent folks on Anglimergent disagreed w/me heartily on point 2), but I still hold to it.) I'd also say that Anglicanism allows for a lot of latitude in interpretation of the creed - from fundamentalism to strong liberalism.

For full disclosure on my personal views, I think of Scripture as a quite human record of quite human experiences of God - it's the founding document of my religious life, source of enlightenment and truth and all that, but also an ancient document full of ideas and stories that I'll freely admit I can't believe literally (and some ideas and stories that I can...). The practical value of it is that it provides a religious framework for me to operate within - its the set of stories, ideas and experiences that I wrestle with - the spiritual stream I swim in, so to speak, and the primary written place I find God. Ditto the Creed in lots of ways: I view it as valuable essentially as a way to distill and talk about historic experiences of God, that still work in talking about God. In neither case do I believe fully in the literal truthfulness of the documents. They are part of our distant history, but they are also a quite helpful part of our distant history that are still alive today in a variety of ways.

BJ's other question was the one we discussed last night at Theology Pub in a group that was even better than the Anglican Communion in its reflection of a variety of perspectives - from gay jewpiscopalian heretics to transitioning Lutheran Abbesses to fresh Midwestern transplants from conservative Christian college, from priests and ministers on up through non-church members. A really great group, I thought, and a really interesting question:

What role, if any, can divine revelation play in this discussion of theology and religion? Is it at all possible for God's self-disclosure to enter into this conversation? I'm curious to know if, in this discussion, we humans are left on our own to figure this business out or if God can break into the situation.

We went back and forth a lot, but interestingly, I think we came to some commonalities last night as much as disagreements, which is a cool thing to see in a group as diverse as ours. I'm going to use some traditional theological language to talk about that, although some of us were speaking in different ways last night: The sense I came away with is that we saw a basic distinction between 'general revelation' and 'special revelation'.

'General revelation' refers to those ways in which we experience 'God' (quotes used b/c not everyone would use that language) in mundane daily life on a regular basis. Most of the religious life is a process of trying to discern what is being said in that revelation - which doesn't really seem like revelation at all if you don't think of it in religious terms. The question came out about how 'revelation' is any different from 'figuring something out', and in fact it's not clear that there is a distinction, or needs to be. God is everywhere, so to speak, even/especially in the mundane. Another interesting suggestion made by our returning friend John (that Brit bloke) was that revelation happens in the living of it - as we make our decisions, sometimes the revelation happens in that God does something good with them - even when they were ignorant or wrong, or just plain normal. All things work together for the good...

BJ asked if God could break into our situation, and in this part of the conversation my sense was that folks were in agreement - from a Christian perspective, God is always in the situation. Our job is to figure out where God is speaking. To get at what I think BJ was asking in a little more depth...

The rub came w/'special revelation' - those really important, Scripture-worthy kinds of ideas and experiences that not everyone can agree on - but it wasn't a particularly hard rub interestingly enough (we had quite a polite group last night). A big question was 'who gets to decide what's special revelation and what isn't?' We talked about the role of community in that, but also noted that communities are constantly deciding different things. Special revelation to a Mormon, for instance, isn't special revelation to a Muslim. (Lots of religious folks wouldn't even make a distinction between special and general - unitarians, for instance, or your average spiritual-not-religious man on the street.) And even when communities do decide that something has been a special revelation from God, when you record it or write it down it is thrown back into the community for interpretation - which is always going to be somewhat fluid (I think). There was a bit of a tension around the question of boundaries of revelation within communities - within a sphere of biblical Christianity, for instance, there are certain things that are always going to be indispensable. Or are there? (I'll put this in parenthesis b/c I didn't voice it clearly last night, but the thing I kept coming back to is the approach to faith called Critical realism: it assumes that there is an absolute truth about God (i.e., boundaries of what is actually true and right and good), but as humans we always have to remember that our ideas about what is true and right and good are forever doomed to be at least partially wrong or incomplete.) We also had an interesting conversation around the role of the prophet - that person who truly does 'get it' before the rest of the community. Sometimes the community is resistant and kills the prophet before their message can stick. Sometimes the prophet's message catches hold and plants seeds that grow (Jesus anyone? MLK, Galileo, Gandhi, Darwin...) It almost always seems to be true that the community at some point kills (literally or metaphorically) the prophet if they won't shut up, and if too many people are starting to agree with them.

Hope this helps, and t-pub folks, did I accurately reflect our conversation last night?

In August we're going to be starting a really interesting three part series on some tough topics. Can't wait to talk about sex in public with friends over drinks and burgers!


Thanks for the quick response, Tim--nearly cat-like reflex quickness. Lots to chew on there, and since I process things slowly, I don't have much to say yet. But, as I always, I appreciate the thoughtful reflections. It would be interesting to sit in on Theology Pub, but probably not likely since I'm half a world away. Thanks again!
KJ said…
Well said, Tim. I would love to see your thoughts posted on the diocesan website as a resource for others.

Though not the tradition of my youth, I immediately came to appreciate a spiritual home that did not stifle voices by requiring unanimity of thinking. While I might not agree with everything others believe, I learn so much when others are free to be authentic. Discussions regarding matters of faith become a feast as we struggle together with getting a glimpse of the Divine. When unanimity is the goal, having more than one in the discussion would seem redundant, and the the feast reduced to hardtack and water.
RC said…
Hey Tim - Things have been crazy with summer school but I hope to make the next Theo Pub. I really enjoyed the one other time I was able to make it. - Roy
tim said…
Hope to see you tomorrow Roy!