Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Presbyters Conference

October 1, 2008

The annual clergy conference of the Diocese of Atlanta was led by Ian Douglas of EDS, (http://www.eds.edu/sec.asp?cat=90&page=83) a missiologist, a leader of the design team for the Lambeth Conference and a delegate from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Consultative Council. He identified some major cultural realities that shape the context in which we minister including the end of Western hegemony, and the new Pentecost of emerging churches. He used a (very) broad brush to help us navigate that whole territory that is sometimes called post-Christendom or post-modernism. In the light of that he saw two major responses to the challenges this brave new world offers the Anglican Communion. First, he identified the instrumental response which is largely about definition and control (in both its ‘official’ and schismatic/reform manifestations). He prefers the second that is Anglicanism defined as Anglican Christians relating to ‘the other’ across all kinds of boundaries and through all kinds of networks. That is what he saw happening at Lambeth and is the foundation for his confidence as he looks to the future. Any one who has followed this blog for any length of time will recognize the congeniality of this approach with my own.

At the same time however I was reading A Royal Waste of Time by Marva Dawn, (Eeerdmans, 1999). Dr. Dawn is an Adjunct professor at Regent College in Vancouver. This is a slim book posing as a fat one, a collection of sermons, articles, previously published chapters and so on generally about worship. I’ll say more about it in another context, but for now I want to note that her theological response to the same postmodern world that Ian Douglas was addressing is very similar to his. In amongst her descriptions of a world in which we are all ‘aching’, ‘hungry’, ‘desperate’ and yearning’ for authentic experience of God what she sees is missing is a ‘meta-narrative’ that is of course provided by the Christian Story. Dr. Douglas also sees Jesus as the defining image and story for the salvation of the world.

The question becomes how the Christian Story can be a meta- or defining narrative for all people without it lending itself to supporting some kind of power structure. Are we simply to forgo our (white male dominated or Western) hegemony in favor of a new hegemony of Archbishops in the Global South and their well funded and unhappy Western allies? Are the mighty being cast down from their thrones and the humble and meek exalted by switching positions or is there some other way?

My initial response is that they are right to resist Christianity being one offering of ‘spiritual practice’ among many. But I also want to resist the idea of meta narrative or organizing story being a vehicle of power. I’m not sure it is enough to note that the story has a self-critical principle within it. I’m more inclined to think that the proper antidote is more along the lines of the readings offered by Rene Girard, James Alison et al focused on the intelligence of the victim and Jesus’ constant and redemptive grace toward all people administered through the sacraments. There also may be some possibilities in thinking more about relativity rather than relativism.

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