Friday, September 30, 2005

I live in wacky land

Speaking of Anglicans, I was walking to College this morning when I passed Dr Williams in front of the University Sports Grounds. He wasn't dressed like this, mind you.


Why Anglicanism? Part VI
Who's in Charge?

Corresponding to this, I became convinced that if Jesus is going to transform our lives, we must be willing to change. If I am to change for him, I must accept his correction. I can’t insist that this only come through Bible reading and private prayer, but also through living in community – remember that bit about living together as the Body of Christ? It means I must join myself to a group of people and not abandon them just because it gets hard or I don’t like how their presence challenges me to grow. The community must have authority in my life. I don’t mean the institution of the local church necessarily, but rather the people who love me, whom I love, whom I pray and study and live and eat with. Love translates to obedience, and if I don’t let them mediate Jesus to me, I serve only the Jesus of my own understanding, which is ultimately to serve myself alone.

Other essays on Authority:
"...and Occasionally Prophecy": Thoughts on Authority
Authority Issues

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Well, I'm here!

I’m having a touch of the insomnia, so that means a blog entry. My flight and journey in were thankfully uneventful; unfortunately I didn’t sleep much, so the jet lag has been a bit difficult. Happily there was a group of Christian Union students helping out international students at the bus station, so I had help getting my person and my bags out of the way before one of Regent’s grad students came to retrieve me. I arrived at College around 11:30 in the morning local time. I’ve registered with the library, picked up keys, and gotten my university internet set up.

It feels odd to be so excited but so tired and to have such ordinary things to do.

I’m getting settled into the house on Stanley Road. I initially moved into a third floor room, but since the furniture was lacking (anybody know why I don’t have a bed?), I’ve moved downstairs to the first floor. I do think I like that better, and will particularly once the internet point is made active (!). The house is across the street from a mosque. I find that very surreal, but at the moment I have no observations beyond that. I’m certain I’ll keep you posted…

This is all a bit mundane, I’m afraid, but getting settled into a new place usually is. It’s interesting to realize how stressed I can get over it before I even notice. I went to bed at about 11 and was up again by 2:30; it’s pretty gross.

It was sunny and warm when I arrived, but cool and wet by five in the evening. Home sweet home. It surprises me what a happy and invigorating thing this weather feels like at the moment. There’s hardly anyone around college just yet, so I had a light dinner in a cafĂ© before attending the evening prayer office at St. Giles down the street. I love it.

I may purchase a bike soon; my options are to do that, walk, or pay for bus fare twice a day. I’ll walk to the two miles from home to college for a bit and see how long I can stand it, as I don’t want to pay for bus fare or brave the streets on a bike. I’m not coordinated and balanced enough to feel good about that option at all.

Alright, gonna say Compline and go back to bed.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Turning Points

It's not as hard as I thought it would be, this matter of leaving. By the grace of God, I think I did my preliminary mourning about a week ago, and at present my feelings are of joy and gratitude more than sorrow.

My friends gave me a great party yesterday, attended by most of my very favorite people. It pains me to leave, but it's important that I'm not just leaving. I'm being blessed and sent out to pursue my vocation, and to be with new and old friends in the UK.

We ate together. We talked. We lamented Sunday blue laws. Our love for one another, and all of our hopes and fears were taken up in the Eucharist. His life continued to flow into us as we broke the bread and drank the wine. All I could think of was the love that was there. "This is real," I thought to myself as I sipped from the chalice. "I believe in this."

I believe in who we are together.

As all of those people laid hands to pray over me, to bless me and ask for God's provision, I could only be grateful. I am grateful that I belong. I am part of something bigger than me. I'm part of them. I go to this new place to be welcomed by new people. But I'm still part of these people here.

I will miss my friends. They will miss me. But that's not at all bad.

Update: Details from Alan's party be here. And that is me with Bishop Sock.

Comprehensive and Reformed

Why Anglicanism? Part V
Regarding the Reformation

It was the radical liberal wing of the Protestant Reformation that drifted away from the Church Fathers, insisting on sola scriptura. The vision of a Reformed Catholic faith is that the Scripture and the ancient creeds are essential, but that many other things are not. If one draws the lines of "orthodoxy" too tightly, one quickly finds oneself placed outside that box.

The scriptures themselves are essentials, and other things seen as non-essentials. As I heard Jim Packer say once, If scripture prescribes something, it is required, if it proscribes something, it is never permissible, but anything else that is an aid to mission and devotion to Jesus and does not violate the teaching of scripture is acceptable. The Bible stands over the Church, but the entire catholic church, the body of believers in all times and all places, is the interpretive community. One may not “interpret” the demands of the apostolic faith all on one’s own.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Incarnational Ecclesiology

Why Anglicanism? Part IV
We are the Body of Christ

It was an Anglican theologian, John A.T. Robinson, who challenged me to take seriously Paul’s organic language of the Church, and this idea that we are baptized into Christ together. One does not have a relationship with God in a vaccuum, but is offered relationship with God on the context of entry to his Church. Communion, among other things, is about communing with each other, not just Christ. It is not possible to separate one's treatment of Jesus from one's treatment of one's brothers and sisters in the Church, as well as the world at large. We honor and praise Jesus, or not, in whether and how we share our lives together.

Further, the good news that God has enthroned Jesus as King of the world can only be meaningfully conveyed through the experience of lives lived under his Lordship. Our communities are little outposts of the Reign of God in a world that is still struggling under the Principalities and Powers That Be. If Jesus is not to transform you and I in our dealings with one another, how senseless must it be to speak of his redemption of the world at large? Therefore, other Christians are part of my life, and I don’t get to cut out their perspectives for any reason. Disagree and dispute, certainly, but disregard, disrespect and impugn motives, no.

That is essentially what my confirmation in the Church of England signified to me: my committment to live in the context of the church catholic. To be certain I followed through, I promptly joined friends in a Pentecostal cell group, based in a congregation that was grounded in a worldview and philosophy of ministry that I happened to disagree. But I could "do the Jesus thing with them," and that was important. I've written before about that kind of struggle.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Being Missional Christians

Why Anglicanism? Part III
On Adapting the Faith in Anglicanism

A primary conviction of the English Reformation (as well as the BCP) is that worship and scripture reading should be in the native language of the people. Being missional (or incarnational, as some of my friends prefer) is to take responsibility for helping each culture frame its worship of and obedience to Christ in its own native language or cultural forms. Meaningful expressions of adoration and service in one time and place might not be appropriate or all that meaningful in another. Each province of the Anglican Communion has its own prayer book, a body of liturgies adapted to their specific needs but subject to the Reformed Catholic perspective of the original BCP and the tenets of the English Reformation, the 39 Articles of Religion.

(I should note that the Episcopal Church of the United States of America does not consider itself beholden to the 39 Articles of Religion. I believe that some Anglican provinces do subscribe to the Articles.)

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Liturgy as Intentional Transformation

Why Anglicanism? Part II
Cooperating with God in our Prayer and Praise

It should be noted that every church has a liturgy. The word means “work of the people,” and if you have a group of people with any kind of shape or form to their worship, they have a “liturgy.” If something happens, and God is involved in some context, it was a liturgy. One of my favorite liturgies is washing dishes: I pray for people when I do it. One can discuss how “structured” or “freeform” or of what variety a public liturgy (worship service) can be, but not whether or not worship is itself “liturgical.” [Update: This proves my point very well.]

The liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer are mostly scripture readings that we say to ourselves so that our praying (and ultimately our thinking) will be conformed to a scriptural pattern. “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” In our prayers and praises to God, we fill our minds and our lips with the Scriptures and the faith that has been passed down over centuries, because this is one avenue of God’s transformation, forming us into the likeness of Christ. I don’t see this as a limiting issue, but one of freedom. We are taught to pray rightly so that we will be free to do so. Most of my own personal and public prayers are extemporaneous, but some I learn from scripture and the ancient teachers of the Church.

I also was discipled in an environment where appropriate worship meant mustering good feelings toward God. Having a supportive liturgy teaches me that praising God is about praising God, not feeling nice about him. You can’t always feel nice about him, and I need to know that sometimes.

My other writings on worship and prayer:
On Worship
On Prayer
On The Liturgy of the Hours

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sacramental Theology

If you're just joining us, I'm recounting the reasons I found Anglicanism attractive.

Why Anglicanism? Part I

Regarding the Lord's Supper, Baptism, Confession, and What it Means to be Saved

I believe that Jesus is present to us in our celebration of Holy Communion. I believe that as he said when he instituted the meal, "This is my body, this is my blood." Cannibalistic? Yes. Mystical? Without a doubt. I don't believe that the reception of this meal could do any other than bring transforming power into the lives of those who recieve it.

If you wish to call it "symbol," I'll warn you very frankly: nothing is a “mere symbol.” Nothing is more powerful, nothing more real than symbol. A symbol is a physical sign of an abstraction, but both the physicality and the idea itself are very real.

When he celebrated the Passover, that great meal of God’s liberation, Jesus blessed it, saying “this is my body, this is my blood.” If nothing else, on a gut level, I believe him to be present in our celebration in a way that cannot be quantified or explained. I enter into union with him, and he with me – like a renewal of covenant, we both make our promises to each other again.

(see also On the Eucharistic Life)

In the same way, I was bothered by the Pauline phrase, “baptized into Christ.” I never cared for the Campbellite version of “baptismal regeneration,” (which is what most in these parts are familiar with) but I’m not really interested in Enlightenment-era salvation, either. Salvation is not my activity. It is God's. So is baptism something God does? Is it an action of the Church? Is it my own action? I am of the persuasion that baptism is something the Church does for God, acting out his redemption and making a tangible offering of grace to the convert.

Christians enter into God’s salvation of the world. It is not a shiny trinket that we possess so long as we believe the right things about Jesus in the right way. Further, I believe that something meaningful and real happens when I confess my sins to a brother and he exercises his priesthood by pronouncing God's absolution. In private confession, not only am I known and loved as a sinner, but also restored to God in the most concrete fashion. Dietrich Bonhoffer’s short work, Life Together, (as well as deep, caring friendships in the Body of Christ!) helped me with this idea.
Our brother breaks the cycle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light (116).
And I’m referring, mind you, to the priesthood of the baptized. This would make me very naughty in many Anglican circles. Like, outside of the Diocese of Sydney. Shh, don't tell anyone.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Building Bridges

While in college I worked to discern a call between teaching high school history and ordained ministry. What made the latter particularly complicated was that I was every bit a Christian and retained many principles of Baptist Christians. I just didn’t immediately find a way forward without being attacked by strident fundamentalists as they enjoyed ascendancy, and didn’t feel like I belonged with the angry moderates. I felt more and more disconnected from the controversies, as I simply couldn’t see their importance. I loved history, and thought it very important to be linked in real ways with the ancient Christian churches. A simple primitivism (as exemplified in the modern era by the Campbell-Stone “Restoration” movement) couldn’t cut it, and a doctrine of sola scriptura didn’t seem to solve a whole lot. The Bible needed to be received on its own terms, not as something that I (or anyone else) wanted it to be. No more “just me, the Holy Spirit and the King James Bible” hermeneutics. I wanted to belong to something bigger than my own opinions – or anyone else’s.

When I came to school, I met some charismatically-renewed Methodists from Asbury Seminary. This taught me a lot about what the Holy Spirit really does in the lives of believers, and what the activity of the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 really looks like: nothing like what one will see in television. This is nothing flashy, but rather healing and empowering. I am a self-identified charismatic Christian and can even tell the story of what I consider to be one of the first major “in-fillings” that I received, though I’m not a die-hard “praise and worship” fan, nor have I received the gift of tongues, nor had the opportunity to interpret. As one of my venerable professors says, “Feel free to take me further on this…”

Because of my roommates (who sympathized with my disillusionment), I started attending a small, non-denominational fellowship called the Gathering Place Mission. They met in a concrete block building in a trailer park on the rougher side of town. I know, a Southern Gospel song waiting to happen. Their worship wasn’t smooth, their sermons unsophisticated, and their doctrine often just mixed up. But they knew how to love me and one another, and that caused me to drop a lot of my pretensions about what’s proper and right. Don’t worry, I kept some of my favorites.

Some of these Charismatically-renewed Methodists suggested that I look into Anglicanism to check out its liturgy and practice, since I was searching for something more comprehensive in theology and experience. I started to do a little reading, and when I was studying in England, I attended St. Aldate’s, the epicenter of the charismatic renewal in the Church of England. I was later confirmed there by the Bishop of Oxford.

I welcome questions or comments. Next time: Why Anglicanism?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Falling Away

I experienced two “potholes” in my journey that compelled me to choose a different road than Southern Baptist Christianity. Roughly speaking, they involved the Bible and their values regarding life in the world.

As a disclaimer: I like Baptists. I have several friends whom I greatly love and respect studying at Baptist seminaries. I should remind you here that in two weeks, I will be one of them. I have great respect for the Baptist tradition, and have found a great deal of truth and liberty in it, and been blessed by the hands of those who bear it. This is not a post about Baptists, or about some people being bad or others being enlightened. This is a snapshot of two important moments in my journey, and my theological reflections on them.

I enjoyed reading the Bible very much, as well as all manner of study notes. I looked forward to doing this in an academic setting at Georgetown College, as well as the seminary environment later on. I even began to think about getting a Ph.D. in the stuff, to be as educated as I possibly could (because at the time, education = spiritual formation and maturity) before doing church ministry. A minister in my church informed me that because of the suspicion of theological education in many churches, the more (and better) degrees I got, the harder it would be to find and keep a job. This seemed bizarre to me. If course, I did and do believe him (now more than before!), but that’s still bizarre. One day, I wandered into his office to ask the meaning of this “inerrancy” thing everyone was talking about. It was time someone told me the facts of SBC life, and I’m glad he did. He explained it in about 10 minutes, and neither this term nor its definition made any sense to me at all. In all my reading of Scripture, I had never thought to see the Bible in the terms he explained to me. I told him this, only to learn that if I didn’t believe in a “perfect” Bible, I couldn’t have trustworthy information about Jesus, and therefore couldn’t have a relationship with Jesus and therefore couldn’t be saved. I left feeling quite annoyed, as I left with the same high opinion of Scripture and rigorous reading habits with which I’d come in. Only now I was “unsaved” because I didn’t understand this strange thing called “inerrancy.” The minister was (and is) a good man, but I feared his Jesus was a fickle master indeed.

The intellectual struggle necessary to affirm that set of doctrinal positions sounded suspiciously like a “works salvation,” another phrase that conjured great fears in that milieu. I’ve expounded before in this space about the error of inerrancy, so I won’t do it again. I will mention a recent argument I was discussing with friends: this would be a Jesus who is dependant upon me believing all the right things about the Bible, and all the right things about who he is (with no mixture of error) before he can actual be who he is: the savior of the world, and the redeemer of my own life.

Jesus is not so weak as my own apprehension of him. I don’t need to be right all the time. It’s a liberating thing to know when I’m wrong, and have the freedom to submit to Jesus and my friends. I still cannot believe that I have to be right all the time in order to be in a state of grace.

Other people clearly do; why else is it so hard to discuss religion with so many people?

My problem with the ethical focus is more straightforward. When I visited the big Lifeway store in Nashville with my a friend, we found all kinds of books. I of course started looking through them because theology and the bible excited me, but then I wandered into the “contemporary issues” section. I found a book on gambling, two on alcoholism, perhaps a couple of tomes on sexual abuse and one about healing prayer. You know, the places where real people lead their lives. Oh, and also 22,560,342 books on “the endtimes,” where many Christians apparently really wished they lived.

I knew that was wrong, and I just couldn’t be there. It wasn’t an atmosphere that could sustain relationship with Jesus, or the life of the Church in the world. I didn’t know what could.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Spiritual Autobiography

A few months ago, I was asked to guest lecture on Anglicanism in a professor's Christianity in the Modern World course. I unfortunately was unable to deliver it due to time contraints and the demands of the syllabus, but I did write an essay from my notes that cover a sort of "spiritual autobiography," which recounts my conversion to Christianity, my disillusionment with Baptist life, and discovery of Anglicanism.

I will reproduce it here in several installments for your reading pleasure. Comments and questions are very welcome.

I was raised in a non-religious family, but when I was sixteen I started attending worship services with friends in a small Baptist congregation. I found their religion to be very interesting, and the things they said about Jesus to be even more so. The Christians were kind to me, and I started to trust their Jesus. I had considered their God to be an aloof, voyeuristic moralist, but that congregation presented to me a Jesus who was interested in people for good reasons: he loved them.

I converted after about six months in that fellowship, at age 16. While I was a Southern Baptist Christian, it is a matter of some importance that I never got into the conservative/liberal debates of some of the folks around me; I never heard of “inerrancy,” had no questions about ordination and gender, church government or anything of the sort. (Those, by the way, are the issues that make one conservative or liberal in that world.) Those Baptists told me that the Bible was the bedrock of the faith, and being a Christian meant reading one’s Bible and praying. This remains some of the best advice I’ve ever been given, and that’s exactly what I did, with a little bit of C.S. Lewis on the side. I was very interested in the goings on of the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of mission and evangelism, however, and really wanted to do any manner of “Christian work.” During my senior year of high school I “felt a call to preach,” and even spoke in my own congregation and a couple of others on various occasions.

At 18 started attending another church that had a youth group: I wanted to be a Christian with people my own age, which I hadn’t experienced yet. I knew “church-going” kids in high school, but one discerned very quickly that the foundation of their faith was fear: a deep and abiding terror of Jesus and the hell into which he was prepared to cast them. I didn’t understand this fixation, with its endless debates on appropriate baptism, and how “sinful” one can be and still “go to heaven” or not, and whether one could really be “100% sure” this would occur. While I did hold beliefs about judgment and perdition, I didn’t share the obsession of my religious peers. I found all that stuff pretty freaky, if I may be frank. That wasn’t the Jesus I was learning about, even while reading my KJV Nelson Study Bible, which boasted as its general editor the illustrious and reverend Dr. Jerry Falwell. I read the New Testament voraciously, and developed a good familiarity with its contents during my teen years.

When I was 18, I experienced two “watershed” events. I’ll share these tomorrow.

Next: "Falling Away"

"Some Ways of Desiring God Are Bad"

Alan's been posting some helpful gems from Saint John of the Cross lately, along with his own challenging commentary. Check it out.

On the Imperfections Into Which Beginners Fall
More on the Imperfections of Beginners
Of Imperfections With Respect to Spiritual Gluttony

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


From Ship of Fools:
Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, and Cardinal Ratzinger all arrived at the gates of Heaven on the same day. St Peter informed them that he had been instructed to go over a few matters with each individually before their admission.

He called Karl Rahner into the side chapel first. Five minutes later, Karl emerged, near tears, and said, "How wrong I was!"

Hans Kung was next. Half an hour later, he emerged, quiet and humbled, and murmured, "How wrong I was!"

Ratzinger was last. Six hours later, St Peter emerged, sobbing. "How wrong I was!"

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Apostolate to Drag Queens?

This is a paraphrase of two very similar conversations I've been privvy to over the past few weeks:

T.: I've been to one of those drag shows once. They're... something else.

J.: You're tellin' me. But they're desperate for Jesus like everybody else. I go to the shows, and have gotten to know a lot of them, and they can't hear enough.

T.: Are you serious? Drag queens want you to tell them about Jesus?

J.: These people have been told their entire lives that they're "Sodom and Gomorrah," and that God hates them and is disgusted by them. When I tell them that Jesus really does love them for who they are, right where they are, they just start sobbing. Do you know what it's like for them to go through life with all of these religious people telling them how much God hates them?

He loves people just the way they are, but too much to leave them that way.

Too true.

I'm going up to Georgetown to gather up the last of my accessible documents to apply for entry clearance - permission to enter the UK for study. A prayer would be appreciated...