January 5, 2013

New Article: What is Anglican Theology?

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 10:06 pm

After a lengthy absence — Busy semester! Lots of grading! — I’ve posted a new article entitled “What is Anglican Theology?” Because of its length, I have posted it as a “page” rather than a blog post.

It can be found here. Enjoy!

April 15, 2012

Icons of Christ: A Sermon Preached at the Ordination of David Booman to the Priesthood

Filed under: Anglicanism,Sermons — William Witt @ 2:59 am

Isa. 6:1-8
Psalm 119:33-40
Phil. 4:4-9
John 10:1-16

Sheperd IconDavid,

I want to thank you for asking me to preach at your ordination. I am a layperson, which means that I am a sheep, not a shepherd. It is a great honor for a sheep to address someone who is on the verge of becoming a shepherd. Perhaps when you’ve been a sheep as long as I have, and you’ve had the dubious privilege of observing more shepherds than I can count, you may be able to give some advice to a shepherd who is about to be turned loose on the flock. Of course, not all metaphors hold up completely. I’ve also been a lay person long enough to know how lay people too often treat their priests. A lot of these sheep have teeth. So be forewarned, you’re also a shepherd who is being turned loose in the midst of wolves, some of whom are dressed up just like sheep.

There is another image besides Shepherd that the church applies to those in ordained ministry. You will be ordained this morning to be a priest. What is a priest? If we look to the epistle to the Hebrews, we read: “[W]e have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” (Heb. 8:1) What is a shepherd? In our gospel reading this morning, we read “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) So my first observation is that there is only one. Jesus is the One High Priest, and Jesus is the the One Shepherd.

The Reformation and Catholic traditions divide at this point. The Reformation tradition says that, because Jesus Christ is the one High Priest, the ordained are not priests. The Catholic tradition says that because there is the one High Priest, the ordained are those who share in Christ’s priesthood. I am going to engage in some typical Anglican fudge here by quoting the Anglican Divine George Herbert. In The Country Parson, Herbert writes: “A Pastor is the Deputy of Christ for the reducing of Man to the Obedience of God.” Herbert goes on to say that, after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, “Christ being not to continue on earth, but after he had fulfilled the work of Reconciliation, to be received up into heaven, he constituted Deputies in his place, and these are Priests.” Herbert says that the priest does that which Christ did, by Christ’s authority, as his “vice-regent.” Most important, however, the priest also does it “after [Christ’s] manner.”

February 7, 2012

I get mail . . .

I received the following today, which succinctly summarizes questions I have been asked numerous times in recent years:

Dear Sir,
Just curious about how you can be a part of ACNA which endorses and embraces innovations to doctrine and discipline that seem to make the Assumption and IC rather more forgivable- i.e. ordination of women, theology of the 1979 BCP, etc. Thanks for your website.
Sincerely,  Fr. __________

My response follows:

Fr. __________,

Your question is too short to answer without knowing what specific objections you have in mind, and on what basis you object.

I am enough of an Anglican to follow Richard Hooker in his distinction between matters of doctrine and morals (which are unchangeable) and matters of church practice and polity (which, under certain circumstances can be).

So the 1979 BCP is a matter of church practice and polity, a fallible human document, as was the 1549 BCP, the 1552 BCP, the 1559 BCP, the 1662 BCP, the American 1928 BCP,  the Roman Catholic Tridentine rite and the Novus Ordo. Cranmer’s Prayer Book captured well the Reformed Catholic theology of the English Reformation, but, as a document of its time, it shared many of the problematic assumptions of late Medieval spirituality and theology that were common then. The 1979 BCP, whatever its weaknesses, was largely a product of the liturgical renewal movement of the mid-twentieth century, which, as a movement of its time, also shared in many of the problematic assumptions of the mid-twentieth century. Nonetheless, the liturgical renewal movement also got a lot of things right, and the 1979 BCP, while not infallible, was, in some definite ways, an improvement on Cranmer.

The ACNA does not, however, regard the 1979 BCP as without problems. I am a consultant to the Liturgical Taskforce of the ACNA, and the Committee is now working on what will be a long term project of producing a new Prayer Book. The Committee has already produced a new Ordinal, which corrects what we regard as some of the defects of the 1979 Ordinal, and it is now being used exclusively for ordinations in the ACNA. The Committee’s current task is to produce a new baptismal rite, which will, in time, replace the 1979 rite. However, this is going to be a lengthy and piecemeal process. Until the new Prayer Book is produced, congregations are free to use any of the traditional Prayer Books (including the 1979), recognizing that none of them are infallible, but something is better than nothing, and it is impossible to produce a new Prayer Book out of thin air. Neither will the ACNA’s new Prayer Book be without fault.

January 31, 2011

Evangelical or Catholic? A Bibliography

Filed under: Anglicanism,Ecumenism — William Witt @ 6:49 am

I want to thank all those who read my post on “Evangelical or Catholic?” In a month, this has received over 1,100 hits, more than any single blog post I have written. I am usually happy if what I write gets 100 reads. Clearly there is sympathy (or at least interest) in getting beyond the old polemics between Evangelicals and Catholics. At the same time, many of the public comments I have received have been negative, both from Protestants and from Catholics (and some Orthodox), who seem quite happy to keep the old polemics alive. Oh, well. This is discouraging, but I am more heartened by the numbers than discouraged by the occasional sniping.

Anyway, I promised at the end of that post to include a bibliography and here it is. These are books that I have found helpful. Some of them are old, and they influenced me in my own path from free church Evangelical to Anglican.  Some are quite new. All are good.

Readers will notice that the ecclesial identities of the authors cover a lot of ground, including not only Anglicans, but also Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and even the odd Baptist. That is as it should be. Denominational loyalty has never been the primary concern in my own theological studies. Nor should it be, if the choice between Evangelical and Catholic is a false one.

Abraham William, et al. Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

William Abraham is a Methodist theologian whose “canonical theism” project is about moving away from the modern focus on epistemological criteria to a focus on the primacy of ontology, and particularly on the historic doctrines and practices of the undivided church, which he and his group refer to as canons: not only Scripture, but also creeds, doctrine, episcopacy, saints, councils, icons. Canonical theism is thus about embracing this “canonical heritage” of the church. (more…)

January 12, 2011

The Anglican Reformers Were Not Zwinglians! Addendum

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 11:26 pm

Although I did not make the connection at the time, I later realized that the “former Anglo-Catholic” advocating the Zwinglian reading of the Anglican Reformers is Gary W. Jenkins, author of John Jewel And The English National Church: The Dilemmas Of An Erastian Reformer (Ashgate Publishing, 2006). The blurb at Amazon describes the book as follows:

Gary Jenkins argues that, far from serving as the constructor of a positive Anglican identity, Jewel’s real contribution pertains to the genesis of its divided and schizophrenic nature. . . .[H]e paints a picture not of a theologian and humanist, but an orator and rhetorician, who persistently breached the rules of logic and the canons of Renaissance humanism in an effort to claim polemical victory over his traditionalist opponents such as Thomas Harding. By taking such an iconoclastic approach to Jewel, this work . . . demonstrates how he used his Patristic sources, often uncritically and faultily, as foils against his theological interlocutors, and without the least intention of creating a coherent theological system.

An Amazon reader offers a quote from the text:

When using Erastianism as a prism, Jewel’s lack of theologically precise doctrinal formulations becomes not some complex via media between Rome and Geneva, but a means whereby a political necessity was wedded to an ecclesiastical virtue. Jewel’s works do not present a body of theological literature abundant with insight, but instead give a pedestrian reading of scriptural texts, a prosaic use of the early church, and a banal approach to its theological topics. Jewel’s use of sources is often disingenuous, his logic faulty and his theology in several areas flawed. What Jewel really gives the student of the Reformation is an iconoclast in a prelate’s vestments.

I read this book right after it was published. Needless to say, it is a prime example of what I have called “enclave theology.” Jenkins’ reading is not theological, but political, and, to say the least, polemical. Throughout, he assumes Jewel’s insincerity. Jewel’s theology is portrayed as simply the mask behind which lies an Erastian agenda.

What I found most frustrating about the book was precisely Jenkins’ lack of interest in the actual content of Jewel’s theology. If one assumes that someone like Jewel is simply insincere, there is no reason to take his theology seriously, or to read it carefully. I have read both Cranmer and Jewel at length, including their tedious and voluminous debates with Gardiner and Harding. The rhetoric of the debates is typical of the time, on both sides. But what is clear as one reads them is that Cranmer and Jewel were both sincere, and believed sincerely that their eucharistic theology was in line with patristic eucharistic theology in a way that transubstantiation was not.

How do Jewel and Cranmer differ from Zwingli? (more…)

January 10, 2011

The Anglican Reformers Were Not Zwinglians!

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 7:27 am

chalice Although I am certain it is a mere coincidence, at Titus19, Kendall Harmon has linked to a blog post by a former Calvinist and former Anglo-Catholic, now (apparently) Roman Catholic, who advocates exactly the kind of old school “clear break” version of Reformation histoiography I had mentioned in my recent post in which I argued that Anglicans did not have to make a choice between being Evangelical or Catholic.

The author makes the usual kinds of arguments one sometimes finds among Catholic converts: that the Anglican Reformation was entirely a Protestant (and basically Calvinist) movement, and a clear break from Medieval Catholicism, that John Jewel was simply an Erastian. The author strangely interprets Jewel to hold the position that there was no Catholic church in the first six centuries after Christ. More to the point, according to the author, for Jewel, “Catholic” simply means “Protestant.” To the contrary, Jewel had argued not only that there was such a Catholic church, but that the late Medieval Church had in many ways departed from it. In his Apology, Jewel identified catholicity with the same marks identified in the 2nd Century over against Gnosticism: Canon of Scripture, Rule of Faith, episcopacy in continuity with the apostolic church, and worship in Word and Sacrament. And Jewel noted correctly that the Church of England had retained all of these.

The author also claims (incorrectly) that the Anglican Reformers were Zwinglian in their eucharistic theology. Once in awhile, one comes across these attempts to interpret the Anglican Reformers as Zwinglian in their eucharistic theology, whether by those of catholic leanings (who are attempting to do demolition work) or by low-church Evangelicals, hoping to score points against Rome. (more…)

December 29, 2010

Evangelical or Catholic?

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 5:36 am

ihsRecently, I was asked the following in an email.

I have been trying to get to the bottom of which “version” of Anglicanism is more accurate to history: the more reformed one or the Anglo-Catholic one. McGrath and Colin Buchanan make Tractarianism out to be wildly innovative and revisionist and the Anglo-Catholics aver that these reformed types pass over many continuities of the English church with its pre-Reformation heritage.  Could you 1) commend some strategies and tip me off to some dangers in pursuit of this question, lest I be too easily sucked into either party’s credo and 2) recommend a course of reading for me which would help me to adjudicate the question of which “wing” of Anglicanism Anglican history best supports?

My response:

Dear XXXX,

Thank you for writing and Merry Christmas. I apologize that it has taken so long to get back to you.  I began an initial response, but it soon became clear that it was becoming much too lengthy for an email.  I have been intending to do a series of posts on my blog about Anglicanism, and I hope this initial response will become  the beginning of a more lengthy series.

Perhaps the best way for me to answer would be to tell you a bit about myself.  I was raised a Southern Baptist, in a denomination that was biblicist in a way that church history simply did not matter.  I grew up in a church where it was just assumed that we could jump straight from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans to the late 20th century United States without any stopping points along the way.  To the extent we thought about church history at all, we believed that Baptists had recovered the true gospel that could be found plainly in the Bible; Roman Catholics had messed up Christianity by adding a lot of ritual, works-righteousness, pagan superstition, and an unbiblical hierarchy; the Protestant Reformers had recovered part of the gospel, but had not gone far enough.  They had kept such unbiblical practices as infant baptism, sacraments, and written prayers.  I remember once hearing it explained to me when I was young that the Roman Catholic Church was the “whore of Babylon,” but the Protestant denominations were nothing more than the “daughters of the whore.”  Unlike Roman Catholics, and even other Protestants, we did not mess around with human traditions, whether those of Rome or those of the Protestant Reformation.  We went straight to the source, the Bible.  Although we were Baptists, we simply called ourselves “Christians,” and we tended to think that we were the only ones. (more…)

November 26, 2010

How NOT to Attract Young People

Filed under: Anglicanism,The Episcopal Church,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 1:51 am

Over at StandFirm, they linked to this article from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona about “How to Get More Young People in Church.” This is the liberal TEC diocese that I found so attractive that for the six months I lived in Arizona about five years ago, I worshiped in a Lutheran church. (But, of course, I’m not a young person.) Anyway, the article prompted me to think about how one might go about not attracting young people, and it occurred to me that where I teach has figured that one out just about right.

How NOT to attract young people:

1. Build a seminary in a rundown former steel town outside Pittsburgh. This will discourage the hip and trendy.

2. Design a curriculum that is centered around biblical theology and creedal orthodoxy. This will discourage the progressive and relevant.

3. Require every faculty member and incoming seminarian to sign a doctrinal statement affirming the essentials of creedal orthodoxy.  Make sure the statement is detailed enough that it is impossible to fudge. This will discourage the open-minded.

4. Require every incoming seminarian to learn the basics of biblical Hebrew and Greek their very first semester. This will discourage those who hate hard work. (more…)

October 7, 2010

Hooker was a Calvinist . . . Right?

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 3:10 am

On a certain Neo-Calvinist, but (ostensibly) Anglican blog, someone recently posted the following:

At least one scholar to my knowledge has pointed out that Richard Hooker was more Calvinist than the Puritans

Say Whattt???!!!

My response:

To have actually read Hooker is to know otherwise. Hooker’s position could be desccribed as Reformed Catholic. With the continental Reformers, he affirmed the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture, as well as justification by faith. He also endorsed Calvin’s distinction between justification and sanctification.

However, Hooker’s understanding of law—which is central to his entire project—depends on Thomas Aquinas, not the Reformers. Hooker always speaks positively on law, and there are no parallels to the Reformers’ (especially Luther’s) negative assessment.

Hooker affirms a high doctrine of eucharistic presence, although he declines to speculate as to the “how.” Of course, Calvin himself affirmed a doctrine of presence through the Holy Spirit—which echoes the Orthodox rather than Roman position. (Neither was anything like a Zwinglian.)

Hooker’s doctrine of sanctification has parallels to the Orthodox doctrine of deification, and the Roman Catholic doctrine of infused grace. Indeed, he uses the term infusion in reference to sanctification. He interprets sanctification in terms of (ontological) union with Christ’s ascended humanity, and draws a close connection between sanctification and partaking of the body of Christ through participation in the Lord’s Supper. (more…)

February 7, 2010

Whatever It Is, I’m (Not Necessarily) Against It!

I used to be a regular participant at the two most frequented “conservative” Episcopal/Anglican blogs. I refuse to comment at one at all any more, and do no more than make the occasional comment at the other.

Why? While I consider myself an orthodox Anglican, I do not in any sense of the word consider myself a “conservative.” I reject the term “conservative” when applied to orthodox Christianity because, first, it is a meaningless term. “Conservative” only makes sense as an adjective. “Conservative” as to what? What do I think it worthwhile to “conserve”? Furthermore, “conservative” only makes sense in a spectrum from “conservative” to “moderate” to “progressive,” a spectrum in which both ends and middle constantly shift. A generation ago, I would have been considered a “moderate” in the Episcopal Church. Without having moved, the same positions I held then, are now considered “conservative” or even “fundamentalist.” Finally, “conservative” too often confuses the realms of politics and religion. To embrace any political ideology, whether it calls itself “conservative” or “progressive” is a betrayal of the gospel. If Jesus Christ is Lord, he stands in judgment on all political positions.

However, “conservative” can also mean “reactionary,” and this is more and more what the term means on the two most widely read “conservative” Episcopal/Anglican blogs. A “reactionary” is someone whose position can be summarized in the lines from Groucho Marx’s song from the movie Horsefeathers:

“I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway;
Whatever it is, I’m against it!”

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