Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rowan Williams In Hindsight

Fr. Dale Matson

            I was initially troubled by Archbishop Rowan Williams when he stated that while he did not agree, he would honor the mind of the Anglican Communion on Lambeth Resolution 1.10. It concerned me then because I did not believe a leader in particular (or any normal person) should act contrary to his own moral compass. I do not believe that he ever intended to honor the mind of the Communion, but to change it on this matter. It appears to me now that there are much deeper issues in addition to this.
Here is a statement excerpted from his enthronement speech. “Once we recognize God's great secret, that we are all made to be God's sons and daughters, we can't avoid the call to see one another differently. No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We can't assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don't count in the world's terms.” There is an initial appealing inclusivity to this comment but just what does Dr. Williams mean by “…we were all made to be God’s sons and daughters.”? I believe there is a universalism embedded in this statement that denies the reality of the tares in the Kingdom of God. To Rowan Williams, there is only wheat. While his theology has been referred to as radical orthodoxy (Karl Plank - Davidson College), it is only orthodox in the broad church sense of the phrase.
            Another statement in his speech is either naïve or intentionally superficial for a man of his intellectual depth. “Does there come a point where we can't recognize the same Jesus, the same secret? The Anglican Church is often accused of having no way of answering this. But I don't believe it; we read the same Bible and practice the same sacraments and say the same creeds.” This is rather a behavioral understanding of what constitutes unity and shared ethos. Yes, we use the same prayer book but does he agree with this statement? "Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord"
-1662 Book of Common Prayer.
            I believe that Rowan Williams believes in Hell, Heaven, Salvation, and even the uniqueness of Jesus Christ but I also believe he has substituted a contemporary humanist understanding of what these concepts mean as his theology is revealed. How about this careful omission from his funeral sermon, following terrorist attacks in England, in July of 2005?  “Jesus tells us not to fear those who can destroy the body but those who can destroy body and soul [in Hell] and part of the sickness of spirit we feel when confronted with terrorism is that we face people whose souls are damaged, almost destroyed.”  
What about the uniqueness of Christ? “What the New Testament does not say is, 'unless you hold the following propositions to be true there is no life for you'. What it does say is, 'without a vital relationship with Jesus Christ who is the word of God made flesh, you will not become what you were made to be. You will not live into the fullness of your human destiny.' And it's this claim — not so much about unique truth in a form of words but about unique relationship with Jesus — which I want to explore a little with you.” The Finality of Christ in a Pluralist World, p. 2)
            Rowan Williams sounds like a mixture of Abraham Maslow in becoming all that one can be and Karl Rahner’s concept of the anonymous Christian. “And if we emphasize the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit in this, rather than human effort alone, we may well understand that what we see of people's relationship to Jesus and the Father isn't necessarily all that's going on. There is a truth about human beings. God has revealed it in Jesus Christ and revealed himself in that action. That's what we know. And how those who don't encounter that mystery explicitly and directly, are related to Jesus and the Father, we can't know and we'd better not pretend that we do. (p. 4)
            I am concerned that Rowan’s underlying inclusivism, humanist, and Universalist ideas have been driving an agenda that insists on everyone having seat, voice and vote. Does he want to keep people at the table for the sake of unity or to change minds? It is the latter. It has led to a confusion that is vastly worse than ignorance. It has increased the division within the Anglican Communion and further distanced the Anglican Communion from both the Roman and Orthodox Churches. Lord have mercy on us all.   


The Underground Pewster said...

Does the AoC want all of us to be united in universalism? Perhaps.

Is the AoC's apparent lack of decisiveness a symptom of his own universalism? Perhaps.

Is the tail wagging the dog? Perhaps.

Have we all been infected by the AoC's desires? No! Thanks be to God!

Dale Matson said...

"Does the AoC want all of us to be united in universalism?" I think he believes that the end point for humanity is this earth and that we should make the best of it. Even his discussion of the resurrection is so fuzzy as to make me wonder what he truly believes about it."Even in the Gospels, one thing is never described. There is a central silence…about the event of resurrection. Even Matthew, with his elaborate mythological scenery, leaves us with the strange impression that the stone is rolled away from a tomb that is already empty…It is an event which is not describable, because it is precisely there that there occurs the transfiguring expansion of Jesus’ humanity which is the heart of resurrection encounters. It is an event on the frontier of any possible language because it is the moment in which our speech is both left behind and opened to new possibilities. It is as indescribable as the process of imaginative fusion which produces any metaphor; and the evangelists withdrew as well they might. Jesus’ life is historical, describable; the encounters with Jesus risen are historical and (after a fashion) describable, with whatever ambiguities and unclarities. But there is a sense in which the raising of Jesus, the hinge between the two histories, the act that brings the latter out of the former: it is not an event, with a before and after, occupying a determinate bit of time between Friday and Sunday…however early we run to the tomb, God has been there ahead of us…he decisively evades our grasp, our definition and our projection.” He continually reminds me of the John Lennon song "Imagine".
I believe that liberals see humans as basically good and systems under which they often live, as oppressive. Their idea of the kingdom of god is a just system that allows humans to develop to their full potential. John Calvin proposed that humans were totally depraved and destined to Hell. I lean in the direction of Calvin.