Divine Pedagogy in the “Common Awards” Programme

I’ve spent the last three years thinking, learning and writing about divine pedagogy in theological education: how and what it is that God teaches us as we are taught about God. So I was encouraged to find that those responsible for restructuring theological education for Anglican ministry in the UK — the designers of the Common Awards programme — have placed God’s teaching at the centre of their own vision:

As such learning communities — be they local churches or institutions — gather in the presence of the divine Teacher, there will be an acknowledgement that while there are indeed teachers and learners, ultimately all are learners in the kingdom of God. (Preface to the Common Awards, p.3)

The End of Ecumenism (Again)

David Congdon has just written this piece following up on this one from Halden Doerge & Ry Siggelkow which I commented on here. Congdon sounds the same Christological note as Doerge & Siggelkow, but now extends their commentary to the suggestion that the Spirit’s work in enacting this unity in Christ entails cultural translation and difference. This leads him to say the following (my emphases):

What is the practical payoff of this dense theological reflection? There are many aspects that could be developed, such as the claims that “mission makes the church” and that the gospel is intrinsically translatable. I want to focus on the nature of Christian unity. If it is indeed the case that our unity in Christ is inseparable from our being bound up in a pneumatic event of cultural translation, then this has rather dramatic implications for what it means to be part of the body of Christ. We are not dealing with a stable, static body whose limbs are all clearly identifiable as part of a single historical organism. We are instead dealing with a diasporic body whose limbs and parts are scattered and broken in every corner of the earth. It is the very confusion of Babel that is sanctified by the Spirit, because the infinitely translatable Christ is present and active in the midst of this confusion as the one who binds all the scattered remains together in his singular person—but not in a way that could be made phenomenally observable or dogmatically objectifiable. The post-pentecostal Christ cannot be definitively located; he cannot be tied down to any particular church or creed. His future cannot be directly identified with the future of any worldly institution or historical entity.

I’m afraid that all I can say to this is: Nein!

The End of Ecumenism

Halden Doerge and Ry Siggelkow have a post up called The End of Ecumenism. It’s quite an interesting and provocative little piece, detailing three approaches to Christian disunity: (i) the approach which thinks dialogue at “official” levels and the production of doctrinal documents is the solution; (ii) the approach which focuses on local congregations and sharing between denominational bodies; and (iii) their own, an approach which recognizes that in Christ we are all actually one, and so any attempt at “ecumenism as negotiation” is disobedience. The solution is to refuse to recognize false boundaries (i.e., those not really there in Christ) and to welcome our brothers and sisters in love. I have to disagree: it seems the breaking of the wall between Jew and Gentiles–which Doerge and Siggelkow have as a theological backdrop–did not happen simply by ignoring the boundary or proclaiming it null and void in Christ; rather, they both worked toward doctrinal agreement (Acts 15) and learned to share life together in local, common life. They did this, of course, because they saw their disunity as really null and void in Christ. Nevertheless, it is a helpful little piece to get one thinking.

St. Thomas and Pentecostal Teaching

In the middle of discussing why the Holy Spirit shows up in these visible forms–the dove at Jesus’ baptism, the tongues of fire at Pentecost–Aquinas makes an interesting comment on the role of the Pentecost phenomena:

“To the Apostles, the mission [of the Spirit at Pentecost] took the form of a mighty wind, as a sign of their power as ministers of the sacraments; so the words, ‘Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them;’ it also took the form of tongues as of fire in evidence of their teaching office; thus, ‘They began to speak with diverse tongues.’” (Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q43, A7, ad. 6)

The first explanation is interesting enough: the mighty wind is a sign of the offering of forgiveness, forgiveness is like a great wind pushing back on the sin of the world through the Church. But the second I find more interesting: the tongues of fire signify the teaching office–the “officium doctrinae”–of the apostles.

This is of course a stretch, but what if part of the force of the rise of Pentecostalism is the Spirit’s giving of a new teaching in the Church? Do Pentecostals have any share in the apostolic teaching office by virtue of their unique share in the Spirit of Pentecost? Is the typical Pentecostal anti-intellectualism a denial of the fullness of that which the Spirit wishes to give to the Church through the revival? As a reading of St. Thomas this is not possible, but it still gives me cause for hope, for prayer.

Pentecostalism: Pragmatism and Primitivism

Over here, Davey Henreckson has an intriguing synopsis of Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below, an examination of the growth of early Pentecostalism. I haven’t read Wacker’s book myself, but his argument (as per Henreckson), that Pentecostalism gained traction as a result of two emphases (pragmatism and primitivism) strikes me as accurate. By pragmatism, I assume Wacker is referring to the great adaptability and free experimentation with church form that characterizes so much of Pentecostalism. Rather than drawing on a set liturgy or church authorial structure, Pentecostal churches vary widely in their size, location and organization. By primitivism, Wacker means the sense that in the Pentecostal movement, we are returning to the original teaching of the apostles and the life of the Church in Acts (especially Acts 2). These two emphases, combined with the oft-noticed appeal of Pentecostalism’s focus on heavenly reward, gets at much of what the movement was about in the early 20th century. Of course, in the latter half of that century the movement spread and became more diffuse in its influences and emphases, but that is another book.

Orthodox Leader Writes to Encourage Ecumenism

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Constantinople, the head of the Orthodox Churches in a manner similar to the Pope for the Catholic Church, wrote recently to encourage Orthodox dialogue with other Christian communions against a surging fanaticism that wishes to end attempts at Christian unity. His letter, read in Orthodox churches worldwide just a couple weeks ago, encouraged:

Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the “catholic” and “ecumenical” Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a “ghetto” on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

You can read the full letter here.

Von Balthasar and the Reformation

Hans Urs von Balthasar, among the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th century, unfolds in the early part of his trilogy a theology of Christian experience. Here the saints play a very interesting role as those who exemplify the Christian life which simply is the conformity to Christ’s form (von Balthasar’s first volume is entitled “Seeing the Form”). Between different saints, however, von Balthasar discerns different patterns of experiencing this path. Particularly interesting is his distinction between the experiences of the apostles Paul and John:

If we pass from Paul to John, who constitutes the second classical instance of a New Testament theology of experience, we leave a spiritual world which is impetuous and agitated almost in a violent sense and enter the calm of what “abides.” Paul’s fundamental experience is that of being snatched up by Christ’s dynamis [Greek, “power”] from one aeon and being transferred to the other. Paul overwhelms us because he has himself been overwhelmed. Damascus is a flash of lightning and remains such for the rest of the Apostle’s life. John, on the other hand, has been marked out ever since his first meeting with Jesus at the Jordan… To be sure, John too is one transported by love; but he is so profoundly at rest in this movement that, for him, it becomes the very presence of eternity… (The Glory of the Lord, vol. 1, 232-233)

In this light, it makes sense to see Paul speaking of the battle with the spiritual powers and authorities, the need for spiritual armour, the struggle with the sinful nature so central to his life (esp. Romans 7), and the bitter clashes with his opponents in the churches. From John, however, we are presented with a picture of calm repose, even at those moments in his gospel which in the others are full of agony. On the cross, Jesus’ life ends not with the dramatic cry as in Mark’s gospel (15:34), but with the composed, “It is finished” (19:30). Now, this difference should not be overplayed, but it is striking.

Striking especially in light of the historical circumstances that generated the Reformation. A certain monk, Martin Luther, of the Augustinian order—Augustine’s theology being strongly influenced by Paul—was greatly troubled over his sinfulness and lack of assurance. Luther was continuously plagued by Anfechtung, or “tempting attacks.” Only in reading the first chapter of Romans, with its teaching of justification by faith, did he find himself totally carried away, relieved, transported to a place of comfort and solace. The same sort of pattern is seen in Kierkegaard, perhaps the paradigmatic Protestant, who spoke similarly of Anfægtelse, or “spiritual trials.” (See the excellent article, “The Lightning and the Earthquake,” by Podmore.) This bloomed in Barth’s early dialectical theology of Krisis where Kierkegaard’s “infinite qualitative distance” between God and humanity is unfolded in all its purity.

This genealogy—Paul, Augustine, Luther, Kierkegaard, Barth—suggests a highly significant set of questions, again in light of von Balthasar’s earlier distinction between Pauline and Johannine types of Christian experience or spiritualities: Would the Reformation have occurred if Luther had been formed in a Johannine spirituality of eternal rest? If Luther had been, say, a Benedictine or Franciscan rather than an Augustinian monk? Would it have taken another avenue, perhaps waiting the 20 years for Calvin to begin it? Would it have ended with the Catholics and Reformers so violently opposed? Perhaps most interesting to me, and ecumenically significant: Can the history of the last 500 years between Protestants and Catholics be helpfully read as a history of spirituality? And will this reading allow us to come back to one another once again?