‘Hayesworldview’ over at his blog Apologia and the Occident recently posted about ‘The Great Realignment‘. The inspiration was Metropolitan Jonah (OCA) and his address to the Anglican Communion in North America. The post brings up the ever-widening, yawning gulf that exists in today’s Christianity, and that gulf is not Catholic-Protestant or evangelical/charismatic-mainline. It is a chasm that cuts through across these divides, between what once was called ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’.
Of course, even if you read Hayes’ table of the different ecclesial bodies, it is inevitable that there are strong, traditional, biblically-faithful congregations in the more ‘progressive’ denominations such as ELCA (and ELCIC) and TEC (and ACC) and the United Church of Canada, even, despite the fact that more and more of the upper hierarchy and governing bodies are relativising or denying biblical, gospel, creedal realities — and not just the usual moral/ethical issues that are brought up in these contexts, but, as I have blogged before, compromises on the divinity of Christ, the Virginal conception, the Resurrection of Christ, miracles, demons, angels, sometimes even the ‘theistic’ conception of God himself.
What has become difficult for me these days is that people don’t always fit clearly into these camps. Perhaps someone compromises on one or more ethical issues but affirms all of the doctrines of the Nicene Creed. Perhaps someone denies Penal Substitutionary Atonement (probably because they haven’t read this fine article from First Things), but seems otherwise orthodox. Perhaps someone questions biblical authority in various ways but still believes most biblical theology. Perhaps someone denies the divinity of Christ but still affirms his messiahship and resurrection. There are probably endless combinations.
Maybe it’s just cognitive dissonance.
Maybe such folks are still symptomatic of the wider concern that ‘progressive’ Christianity presents: I, myself, the lone reader with my enlightened twenty-first century perspective and historical-philological-logical tools am the final arbiter of truth. And thus a pick-and-choose orthodoxy arises?
But this sort of pick-and-choose orthodoxy is common to all of us, to some extent. My friend pastors an independent, evangelical church in Nicosia, Cyprus. He has congregants who self-identify as both Orthodox or Roman Catholic and Protestant. One of the elders goes to Mass on Saturday nights, and then the Protestant church on Sunday mornings.
I, myself, am something of an eclectic orthodox Christian. Some days, I fully affirm a Thomist view of the Trinity. But I also find Palamas’ concept of the essence and energies of God compelling — a Byzantine concept far divorced from Thomism. I agree with Luther on the Eucharist — not consubstantiation but an affirmation that it is the Body and Blood of our Lord. Full stop. I waffle on Predestination and Just War, but other than those last three I usually agree with the remaining 36 Articles of Religion. I am known to kiss icons and light candles, but would never require it of anyone. I like a little incense, but not every Sunday. I’ll call Mary Theotokos but not ask her to intercede for me.
And so forth.
In fact, sometimes, when I think about this divide, I wonder if the only real difference is whether someone sat down and read C S Lewis et al. while developing his’er personal theology or J S Spong, et al. That is to say: My answers may differ, but is my methodology ultimately that different from my ‘progressive’ friends?
This why we should all, progressive and conservative alike, flee to the Fathers. We need something to root us beyond our own, personal whims and tastes. I want to believe orthodoxy because it is true, not because it suits me. May that be the case evermore and evermore.