Theology is seldom popular, but always vital

Published November 1, 2001

ON TUESDAY morning, Sept. 11, I was rereading Longing for God, Anglicans Talk About Revelation, Nature, Culture, and Authority which is the first book of Wrestling with God by the Primate’s Theological Commission when the telephone rang and a tearful voice told me to turn on my television set.

What confronted me, of course, was the horror of the events unfolding in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. Through the shock, terror and devastation of that day North America was plunged into the experience of human pain, suffering and uncertainty already a reality in the rest of the world. And just as suddenly, theology gained an unusual prominence.

The perpetrators of the tragedy reportedly represent an Islamic fundamentalism which precludes deviation from its understanding of truth. Coupled with an identification of western values as evil, it makes for a lethal combination. In response we have heard western politicians and some religious leaders portray the attack as the start of a war between good and evil, and we have heard that a western coalition will root out the evil, by force if necessary, so that good will prevail. I wonder if the One whom we name God/Allah is as confused as I am by the use of these terms good and evil?

[pullquote] Theology has not been popular among ordinary Christians. However it is important and over the centuries it has laid the groundwork for our perceptions and understandings of God and of how we respond through our religion. The task of theology is never done. Human ideas and conclusions are never absolute. And that is why the General Synod of 1995 asked the primate to establish “a theological commission composed of 10 Anglicans of appropriate expertise and representative of the diversity of theological opinion in the Church.”

It was a timely request as the divisions within the Anglican Communion have grown over the years since until the unity of the communion itself has been put at risk. The report was released at the recent General Synod.

Chaired by Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton, the commission’s report is a theological workbook in which articles express contrasting, and sometimes conflicting, views with a dialogue of response following. There are marginal paragraphs describing terms and persons referred to in the text and each section provides questions for reflection.

The report is a good beginning and sets an excellent example, for as Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate states in the foreword, “Above all they have listened to and wrestled with one another as friends in Christ.” One caveat – missing in this study is the contribution of a fundamentalist. Was one invited? The growth of fundamentalism worldwide demands serious consideration.

What will the 21st. century hold for Anglicans? Beyond Colonial Anglicanism takes a look at some of the options. Beginning with a review of what colonialism meant for the spread of the Church of England and development of the Anglican Communion it examines the legacy with which all churches in the communion must struggle. This collection of essays was presented at a 1998 conference on Anglicanism in a Post-Colonial World held at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

Ian T. Douglas and Kwok Pui-lan, EDS professors, drew together people who would represent the present reality of the Anglican Communion, no longer dominated by white people, British culture, and European theology.

Part I lays out the colonial inheritance. Kwok provides the challenge: “The Anglican Communion must determine whether it will be a relic of the colonial past, or a bridge to the postcolonial future.” Part II presents the world’s challenges requiring a Christian response with insights into what that response may be. Part III presents visions, which will challenge our established ways of understanding scripture, baptism, leadership, worship, and especially how we identify ourselves as Anglicans.

The most direct challenge is found in the essay by David Hamid, now director of ecumenical affairs for the Anglican Communion and formerly the Anglican Church of Canada’s mission secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean: “How do Anglicans feel about the progress being made which underlines ever more strongly the vocation of Anglicanism to disappear, and to re-emerge as part of a coming greater unity?”

Like most ethnic Anglicans my Anglicanism is strong. Is my Christianity as strong? Sometimes we forget that Christianity is the substance and Anglicanism the vehicle. A renewed identity in Christ may require some adjustments! Canon Gordon Baker writes about books for the Anglican Journal.


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