A Generous Orthodoxy
Dear Rick, Kirk, Peter,
An interesting discussion here, and the line opened up by Kirk is a most intriguing one, and not, I suspect, just to us.
Like, I guess, many here, I grew up in a household which whilst not very religious, was of the opinion that what was necessary for salvation was contained in the 'Good Book' and that if I read it and did what it said I should not go far wrong; looking back from this vantage point I know now there was more wisdom in that simplicity than in many 'clever' things said to me since!
One of the things which drew me towards Anglicanism in my teenage years was a growing realisation that however right this view was, it also had huge limitations. The fact that the early Church had no 'Bible' as such, and that the canon came out of the life and consensus of the Church pushed me towards wondering how my feeble candle could illuminate what it had taken a Church to produce? Would I not, I thought, be better relying on the wisdom of the Church alongside my own reading, modifying the latter where it conflicted with the consensus?
That took me along a very well-trodden Newman-like road in relation to the Fathers, and since, unlike Newman, it did not draw me to Rome, I could rest sufficiently content, it seemed, with the 'Branch' theory of Anglicanism. Some hope! Along the way there were those who claimed to be able to read in the Bible support for almost anything they wanted; but this always seemed to involve reading particular texts out of a broader context, and interpreting them in a particular way. It was often very clever - but I often wondered whether it was right?
I found what Rick had to say about argumentative methods very true and horribly familiar. I remember once being quite overwhelmed by a very forceful female vicar who had at her fingertips more quotations than you could count to support the line she favoured about the ordination of women; but when I asked her where the idea came from, she was very honest in admitting that for her it was part of a wider agenda of female empowerment, and a little disconcerting in saying that as I generally supported such causes, she was surprised to see me taking such a reactionary line!
My own protestations that it was not 'reactionary' but simply 'orthodox' clearly lay outside her range of references, which were essentially the secular ones of 'progressive = good' and 'conservative = bad'. I could see that in a sense there was a 'group think' phenomenon in operation. It set me to wondering about the extent to which even something like an 'Orthodox mindset' might also be a 'group think', but decided, given the extent of Patristic writings, that the group was very large and persistent, and might even match up with Newman's 'what has been believed at all times and everywhere'.
The question 'by whose authority do you teach this?' seemed then, and seems now, the most relevant one. The Roman Catholics have a very form answer to this as it relates to divining the Word of God; for the Orthodox there is no single earthly authority - which somehow still seems to me more genuinely attuned to the idea of a Patristic consensus - which is why I raised that as a theme.
The temptation offered by the idea of a 'Generous Orthodoxy' lies perhaps in a syncretic 'anything goes' direction. One of the attractions for some of contemporary Anglicanism is that if offends few coming to it from outside. It makes few, if any demands, and forces few, if any, to search their souls. Is that really a generous reaction to a fallen world though?
I envy Kirk's gift for brevity - so will pause here!
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)