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Editor's Notes

Ellen K. Wondra

That life in the Anglican Communion these days is deeply vexed is hardly news to anyone. While division on doctrinal and moral matters looms, a different kind of splitting is also apparent. Life in the Communion these days is characterized by faithful witness to the gospel and effective pursuit of mission at the same time that many of us are also wondering about the future and unity of the Anglican Communion itself. Contemporary Christian life is fraught with ambiguity and ambivalence. For a church that has often appeared complacent, this is quite a change.

Of course any reading of history will lead one to observe that it was ever thus. (And, indeed, two of the articles in this issue testify to this fact.) Even so, contexts change, theological and ecclesial methods change, and issues emerge that have not before been considered or fully considered in the Christian tradition. As James Russell Lowell wrote, “new occasions teach new duties,” and thoughtful Christians are prompted to discover just what those new duties might be. This is not to discount perennial teachings, methods, and practices. Speaking the truth in love, practicing self-reflection and amendment of life, attending to the being and doing of others, seeking reconciliation: these are Christian duties that press on us in all times and in all places.

Each of the articles in this issue addresses how a long-standing tenet or practice of the Christian faith is cast in a new light in a changed context. In the first article, William Danaher continues the Spring issue’s discussion of reconciliation. The essay begins with a brief evaluation of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), perhaps the most widely-known of the large-scale reconciliation projects. Danaher considers the role that a theology of atonement has played in this project, looking especially at John de Gruchy’s work on reconciliation that developed under the influence of the TRC. The notion of vicarious atonement serves, on Danaher’s reading, to overturn retributive impulses in favor of restorative justice, that is, the justice of reconciliation. At the same time, approaching reconciliation through the cross raises some serious concerns, primarily about implications for those victimized by brutal systems. Danaher proposes that focusing on Christ’s resurrection, rather than on his cross, leads us to consider the shape of the new life which the risen Christ embodies. In this life judgment and mercy occur in the same moment in the vindication of victims and the invitation of offenders to be reconciled. Our encounter with this possibility of “reconciled identity” (Rowan Williams) shapes but does not complete the halting, difficult process of reconciliation. In this article Danaher offers a brief sketch of a theology still in development, and he notes some of the things such a theology will have to address.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) completed its second round of dialogues with the 2005 publication of Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. (A new round of ARCIC will begin soon.) The ATR is happy to be able to publish an article written by Frederick Borsch on a central question the ARCIC document raises and addresses: the consonance with Scripture of certain doctrinal and spiritual claims about the role in salvation of the mother of Jesus. Such consonance has been of concern to Anglicans especially in relation to the Roman Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. After a preliminary discussion of what it might mean to say that something is “in accordance with the Scriptures,” Borsch carefully surveys the Marian texts and assays how they are treated in Mary: Grace and Hope. He concludes: “That Mary should have a special place in Christian memory as mother of the Lord Jesus and one among the disciples is well consonant with Scripture. It is also reasonable and consonant that many Christians would regard her as preeminent among the holy ones called by God and as a model of Christian discipleship.” Borsch’s article is deliberately irenic and is intended to further dialogue not only on Mary but on underlying issues of the interpretation of Scripture, the relation between structures of authority and the consensus fidelium, and the path toward reconciliation among divided churches.

Of course reconciliation is needed not just among divided churches but within them. As the Windsor Process continues, it entails critical as well as appreciative evaluation of the theological, ethical, and ecclesiological frameworks both assumed and asserted in various proposals, including the Windsor Report itself. A pivotal claim in the report is that the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and the blessing of same sex-unions are not adiaphora; not, that is, matters on which faithful Christians may faithfully and reasonably disagree. In his article, Timothy Bartel challenges this claim. He notes, first, that there are two tests for legitimacy that the Windsor Report uses: the adiaphora test, and also a less evident scandal test. That is, even matters adiaphora ought not to be allowed when doing so would cause scandal or offense to “a sufficient number of other Christians” (para. 93). Bartel judges that WR’s discussion of scandal is finally inadequate in that no church can meet the “scandal test” by resorting to widely-recognized Anglican methods of theological argument. Further, the Windsor Report argues that matters are considered adiaphora when they are consonant with Scripture, tradition, and reason. It then goes on to state that “innovations” regarding homosexuality do not meet this test. However, Bartel argues, discussions about how the ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons and the blessing of same-sex unions in fact do meet this test. In other words, these matters meet the WR’s own standards for matters adiaphora. Therefore, the Anglican Communion, on the case made by the Windsor Report, ought to tolerate a diverse practice in these areas, rather than be swayed by persistently intransigent member churches and seek penalties against others.

The issue appears to shift direction with the essay by Ronald Vince on Richard Hooker’s understanding of the Eucharist. Vince gives a close reading of Book V, chapter 67 of the Laws, in which the main lines of Hooker’s eucharistic theology are laid out. After reviewing some other authors’ views on Hooker’s theology, Vince moves carefully through the whole chapter, noting that Hooker’s logic here is rhetorical rather than dialectic, appealing to knowledge that is sensual and emotional as well as reasonable and intellectual. Hooker judges the precise description of the presence of Christ in the elements to be irrelevant, because all agree that “Christ doth really and truly in us perform his promise.” Of essential interest, rather, is the presence of Christ in the believer who receives the Eucharist. Believers’ participation in Christ effects real transformation or (Hooker’s word) transmutation. Thus, the Eucharist is an action conveying grace rather than “a sign to be contemplated”; believers’ experience of the Eucharist increases their understanding of it. In the course of the chapter, Hooker constructs his argument so that it is unnecessary to take an absolutist position, as other reformers (Catholic and Protestant) have found it necessary to do. Hooker uses a variety of rhetorical strategies--pastoral and personal as well as dialectical--to evoke in his readers the multivalent understanding of the Eucharist that they have gained by participation in it and, thus, in Christ.

Vince’s article demonstrates once again some of the ways that Hooker’s irenic approach--really a matter of carefully chosen rhetorical strategies--redirects discussion away from seemingly irresolvable conflict and toward what all already affirm. Since what is universally affirmed is at the heart of the matter, the elaborate descriptions of precisely how grace is conveyed in the elements of the sacrament are unnecessary for communion of participation in Christ and in the church.

In his article on the importance of patience in Irenaeus’s view of salvation, Jeff Vogel notes that humanity’s sinfulness is rooted less in ends and more in means. That is, humanity grasps at what can only be received. This haste and impatience form a disposition quite incompatible with receiving “the growth God intends to give them.” This view of sin is part of Irenaeus’s overall account of salvation in which recapitulation plays a major, thematizing role. That is, at creation human beings are too weak to bear deification, that full communion with God that God would give them. They have to “grow up into the stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) in order to receive what God offers. And this growing up entails receptivity under the discipline of time; that is, we must learn patience. In fully submitting himself to time, Christ was subject to waiting upon God, up to and through the crucifixion, which “confirmed his willingness to wait on the Father in an irrevocable way, his refusal to grasp and take life for himself.” Thus the human tendency and disposition toward impatience are counteracted; a restored and transformed way of being human has come into the world. Vogel stresses that human perfection does not come immediately upon incorporation into Christ in baptism. Rather, the potential for growth into communion with God is present again, and it is time for humanity to engage the process of maturing, through the power of the Holy Spirit. As Vogel says, “In the person of Jesus Christ one finds the means by which the capacity to grow towards God has been restored to humanity, the model of how to receive this growth, and the end result of the process of growing.” Even with salvation having been wrought by Christ, faithful existence is characterized by waiting upon God while being continually formed in the Spirit.

In an address delivered in Texas and in Nova Scotia in 2006, George Sumner examines the sometimes vague notions of mission currently abroad in the church. Working from an account of the growth of Pentecostal churches in Latin America, Sumner identifies two stages of mission. First comes incorporation into and understanding of the Christian faith, which takes place within confined communities of some intensity. There, through “dense encryptment,” formation occurs that compels members of the community outward into witness and evangelization. Through these, new, often small, confined communities are formed and the process begins again. Sumner maintains that this whole process occurs most readily where cultures are fragmented and under stress, where there are cracks and fissures in which these new communities can exist for a time largely unnoticed. Sumner then applies his theory to the work of the Church Missionary Society among Bugandans and to the subsequent unexpected emergence of the East African Revival, which continues today. Here Sumner finds an authentic instance of inculturation, wherein European Anglicanism had been appropriated within a particular African culture so that what has emerged is genuinely both Anglican and East African. Sumner maintains that such genuine inculturation takes place only within a staunch framework of credal faith. Without this, what emerges might better be called syncretistic. In conclusion, Sumner considers what is needed for “dense encryptment” and hence for effective and faithful mission.

Finally, in Gleanings Gawain de Leeuw looks at a topic that is crucial to theological reflection, but baffling to many of us: economics. As the article notes, “Economic exchanges are an intrinsic, practical part of church life from paying the plumber to offering praise and thanksgiving.” The work of economists enhances our understanding of how exchanges work, and perhaps particularly how incentives affect exchanges. Clearly, not all exchanges involve money. They involve also persons’ sense of themselves, of their time, and of the good, and they involve desire--all subjects of considerable importance to Christians. De Leeuw surveys aspects of contemporary economics that are intertwined with the church’s mission: development economics, consumption and freedom, economic strategies in poor communities, notions of markets as stable and rational, and so on. And he looks at some religious thinkers who use economic theory to shed light on how Christian ethical and theological commitments might play out on a large scale. As churches consider their responsibilities in relation to the Millennium Development Goals, the need for economic development in their own communities, and their own future, it is vital that economics be demystified. This issue’s Gleanings considers work that moves in that direction.

I am pleased to announce that Sofia M. Starnes is the ATR's new Poetry Editor. A highly regarded poet, she has published in numerous journals, and is a recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Poet Laureate Billy Collins selected her chap-book, The Soul's Landscape (January 2002), as one of two co-winners of the 2001 Aldrich Poetry Competition. A Commerce of Moments, her full-length poetry book, won Editor's Prize in 2001 Transcontinental Poetry Award competition (Pavement Saw Press, August 2003), and was named Honor Book in the 2004 Virginia Literary Awards Competition. She is also an exprienced editor of poetry and literature. (See her website, http://sofiamstarnes.com/index.html.) Sofia's first poetry selections will appear in the Fall 2007 issue.

This issue of the Anglican Theological Review is being sent to a “next generation” of readers: recent seminary graduates. Many of the Anglican/Episcopal seminaries in Canada and the USA give subscriptions to the ATR to graduating seniors. It is our hope that these gifts will encourage those making the important transition into new stages of ministry to continue their reading and reflection, and their engagement with a tradition that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and responsive to the world for which Christ died and rose again.

Ellen K. Wondra
Editor in Chief

 
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