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Editor's Notes

Ellen K. Wondra

The theological meaning of “personhood” is a matter of perennial interest, and necessarily so. From its beginning, the Christian faith has professed human personhood to be in the image and likeness of God; but precisely what this signifies has changed with time and context, and continues to change today. Similarly, how we embody and express the three “moments” of personhood as created, fallen, and redeemed has been expressed in rich and complex ways over the centuries, each one more and less appropriate to its context as well as to the Christian faith. What it means to be a person is inextricably connected with what it means to stand in the presence of God, to come together as God’s people, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we are dealing with the mixed legacy of the European Enlightenment, or with the irreducible pluralities of cultures and beliefs, or with the nature of Christ’s saving work, or with the responsibilities that pertain to our being moral agents--in every instance, the nature or character of the person is involved. This is one of the themes that runs through this issue of the Anglican Theological Review.

This issue begins with fundamental notions of personhood and communion in the address given by Terry Brown at a theological hui (gathering) in Auckland in August 2005. Those of us formed in and through the cultures of Western Europe and the North Atlantic are accustomed to considering “individual” and “person” as virtual synonyms. Our understandings of freedom, of sin and grace, and of church struggle to account for how individuals ought to be related to others in groups, institutions, and societies, whether sacred or secular. By contrast, those formed in the cultures of Melanesia and Oceania begin from quite a different foundation: “person” means “related with” at its base; it is only as related to others that persons are at all. What may seem to be familiar questions and concerns take on a very different shape when the presumption is that relationships are the very stuff of life, and individuals are differentiated within those necessary connections. As Anglicans try to “live into communion,” Bishop Brown asks, how do these quite different understandings of the person interact? How do we offer agape and share koinonia across such lines of difference, within one communion of churches? The significance today of such questions is lost on none of us.

An area of personhood under much consideration at present is the significance of virtue and “the virtues.” In the various practices and interactions of their lives, persons and communities develop habits and dispositions. And they may, over time, change them. All this affects what kind of person each of us may be or wish to be, and in what kind of community we may or wish to belong. In the West, humility has been a highly valued virtue--in theory at least. One might well wonder how highly valued it has been in practice. But what is involved in this virtue? Surely, reliance on God rather than self is a major component. Such reliance entails, among other things, depending on knowing “the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12), which in turn entails listening for God’s message in others. Humility understood as the disposition to listen and to learn is not self-abnegation but openness to being changed by others. Thus, humility is not the opposite of self-glorification or pride. Rather, it is tempered at the same forge as the ancient virtue of great-souledness, the disposition of working toward goods difficult of achievement. Noted economist Deirdre McCloskey considers the interplay of humility and great-souledness in economic theory, particularly in the willingness of some economists actually to listen to what actual persons are doing. This stance is in some contrast with those who force ordinary activities into theoretical models, especially those that cast overweening self-interest--greed--as a grounding “good” of economic life. Such mis-taking of the human is ultimately contemptuous and disdainful. But beyond that, it is idolatrous in its reliance on the supposed rationality of human systems and behaviors. Pride, says McCloskey, may be a virtue of modern secular life; various contemporary theories say this is so. But it is great-souledness coupled with humility that steers us away from whatever abyss of negation any of us, or our communities, may face.

David Neelands’s article goes to the heart of how we might understand human personhood as it benefits from Christ’s saving work. In soteriology, two juridical metaphors are significant: the notion from criminal law that human beings are guilty of a crime that warrants punishment; and the view from civil law that human beings have incurred a debt of honor to God that requires satisfaction. How we stand before God as sinners and how Christ relieves us of the burden of sin differ significantly depending on which of these possibilities predominates. Anselm’s classic Cur Deus Homo can be read in both ways, but the view that sin is a crime has been in the foreground in Western Christianity. Yet when Anselm’s notion of debt rather than crime comes into focus, sin is understood to create a debt or obligation that can be remedied through satisfaction rather than punishment. Christ is the satisfaction of that debt; we cannot save ourselves. But God’s sending of Christ to take on our debt does not suggest that God sent the Son specifically to suffer. We then have no excuse for “relishing . . . the brutal treatment of Jesus” or casting our brutality toward each other as in some way warranted by the cross of Christ. Human brutality is starkly a perversion and violation of personhood, not a misuse of the measure of righteousness granted by God in our creation. And it is not God who sees punishment as the road to salvation.

Clearly, it is not possible to address personhood theologically without thinking about sin, redemption, and sanctification. The role of pride and humility in establishing personhood provides the starting point for Joy McDougall’s discussion of the particular problem that the doctrine of sin has posed for white feminist theology. In twentieth-century North Atlantic Protestant theology (and certainly elsewhere) pride is seen as the besetting human sin. Its corrective, humility as self-abnegation, is however enjoined particularly on the weak, further trapping them on the “underside” of any economy, symbolic or material. Neither the simple reversal of pride-as-virtue and humility-as-sin, nor an abandonment of the very notion of sin can give an adequate account of the experience either of the rupture of person-making relationships, or of God’s ability to transcend and so heal such ruptures. McDougall sees postbiblical feminist Daphne Hampson as attempting both reversal and abandonment. Women cannot attain full humanity, Hampson argues, as long as they are trapped in the dependency endemic to patriarchy, including patriarchal Christianity, that requires humans to submit to the overarching will of a patriarchal deity. But, McDougall argues, loss of the transcendent is not necessary to women’s selfhood. Kathryn Tanner argues that the very transcendence of God puts the human and the divine in a noncompetitive relationship. This insight opens up the possibility that sin is fundamentally a refusal of personhood constructed precisely in relationship, most primarily relationship with God. Such refusal of the self-giving of God and others constitutes bondage, blockage, and blindness, all expressed in social practices as well as personal proclivities. McDougall proposes building on Tanner’s framework a different kind of “sin-talk” that shows the significance of white feminist insight for contemporary Christian theology.

Metaphors of blockage and blindness have been all too apt for the way Western Christians have approached the interpretation of Scripture. Grant LeMarquand reminds us that scholars in the “Global South” (or “Two-Thirds World”) exhibit the grace of speaking differently. In a review of recent biblical scholarship from Africa, he reminds us that it simply is not possible to speak of “the African interpretation of Scripture.” Interpretations of Scripture by African Christians are as varied as the many cultures and languages of Africa. The monographs and articles that LeMarquand discusses provide a glimpse of this variety. (Sadly, much work on the Bible in Africa is not available to scholars in the United States.) The work discussed here exhibits two characteristics that distinguish it from much of North Atlantic biblical scholarship. First, biblical interpretation is explicitly and firmly grounded in the scholar’s belief in God and commitment to the Christian faith. “Faith and exegesis go hand in hand.” Second, African scholars and scholarly associations are primarily engaged in considering how Scripture addresses their particular contexts. The critical study with which most of us are familiar may be a beginning point, but the scholar’s work is not done until the Bible is applied to the African situation. To put it another way, “Biblical scholars in Africa are also theologians who are concerned about the life of the church.” LeMarquand gives some compelling examples of how methods of inculturation play out. He concludes by noting the growing interest in African biblical scholarship in the Western world, manifest in the publication of some recent books by Western presses. Here is an opportunity to learn from Christians whose voices have not often or easily been heard in our familiar environs.

Rounding out the articles in this issue, “Gleanings” looks at some recently recommended resources for interfaith conversation. Michael Wyatt takes as his framework Rowan Williams’s insistence that there is no neutral public arena in which to discuss religion, that religions genuinely differ in understanding the universe, and that nevertheless interreligious conversation is possible. The purpose of interfaith conversation thus is neither conversion nor diffidence nor the allaying of Western fears. Such conversation is, rather, an opportunity both to appreciate and learn from our partners, and also to refine our own understanding of our own faith. From the annotated bibliography of The Manual on Interfaith Dialogue (prepared by Sonia Omulepu and produced by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations), Wyatt selects books that focus on interreligious conversation. Two provide a “backdrop” for actual conversations; two look at Jewish-Christian relations; and two are proceedings of important conferences. The final three texts provide guidelines and reflections by Christians with long and deep experience in interreligious conversation, not only in the liberal West but across the globe. All these resources help us see that the realities of global life present us with a rich, challenging, and at time troubling array of modes and possibilities of personhood. Taken as a whole, this issue of the Anglican Theological Review suggests that this array is a reflection of God’s abundance rather than of human disruption.

There are many joys that come with editing the Anglican Theological Review. Chief among these is reading everything that is submitted to the journal. Contributions range widely over the large field of theology. And every submission brings food for thought--much more thought than I, at least, can bring to bear. (But what’s a heaven for?) Beyond the inherent pleasures, it is also a great honor and privilege to be entrusted with the oversight of this journal. The ATR will continue to build on the work of previous editors, particularly Charles Hefling, who took up the challenges posed by the illness and death of Jim Griffiss, and went on from there to bring into print a great number of interesting, provocative, and significant articles and addresses. He has also contributed a different vision of how this particular journal ought best be edited, one focusing more clearly on how the ATR might serve today’s church and academy, and one in which more advisors and assistants are actively involved. For these things we all owe Charles a great deal of gratitude. Those of us who work to produce the journal are also boundlessly grateful for the orderly procedures and practices that he developed with Jackie Winter and the journal staff and Board. Thank you, Charles, for a job well--and nobly--done. And we look forward to your further contributions in these pages as a theologian and scholar.

 
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