A Communique from the GAFCON Primates to Members and Supporters

gafconprimates2017.jpg“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” ~ Isaiah 2:3

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As your Primates, we met in Lagos, Nigeria from 24th -28th April 2017 to pray and work for the continued renewal of the Anglican Communion. We give thanks for the extraordinary hospitality of the Diocesan Bishop of Lagos, the Archbishop of Lagos, and the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

We began our time together each day with prayer and the study of God’s Word. Aware that we are approaching the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we gave thanks for the faithful witness of those leaders who challenged the Church to recover the authority of the Scriptures. They were men and women who were willing to take costly action, and sealed that testimony with their own blood.

Jerusalem 2018 Global Anglican Future Conference

Gafcon is a global family made up of 9 provinces and 5 branches representing the majority of the world’s Anglicans. Jerusalem 2018 will be the 10th anniversary of the founding of our movement. We are looking forward to acting as an instrument of unity in gathering our people together so that they can share the same joy in the Gospel that we experience when we are together.

Our theme will be “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations” and we are anticipating having over 1,700 delegates join in worship, teaching and pilgrimage. In the next few months, each province or branch will be issuing invitations among their membership. Please pray for the planning team as they attend to the many details of this event.

If One Part of the Body Suffers, Every Part Suffers With It

Our meeting has also been an opportunity to share with one another our burdens and the suffering of our people. In particular, we discussed the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, and the challenges faced by the church in that province. This conflict has displaced millions, many of whom have found a temporary home in northern Uganda. The Anglican church there is caring for these refugees as best it can, but the region’s resources are currently overwhelmed. We commissioned the Primates of Uganda and Kenya to visit the South Sudan to explore ways we can work with other ecumenical partners to offer mediation that might bring about an end to this conflict.

Many in our African provinces are confronted by the dual threats of insurgent Islamism and drought. The targeting of Christians and churches in northern Nigeria has been in the news, and the daily dangers there and elsewhere continue to be real. Combined with drought conditions, there is the potential for widespread famine in our Sub-Saharan provinces.

In our Global North provinces the challenges are different. With the increasing influence of materialism, secularism, and the loss of moral foundations, our people in these provinces face dangers that are subtle, but spiritually dangerous.

Please keep each of these concerns in your prayers, and consider what God might be calling you to do in response. Our provinces have borders, but our Church does not, and the sharing of material and spiritual resources has never been more needed.

A Missionary Bishop

During our meeting, we considered how best to respond to the voice of faithful Anglicans in some parts of the Global North who are in need of biblically faithful episcopal leadership. Of immediate concern is the reality that on 8th June 2017 the Scottish Episcopal Church is likely to formalize their rejection of Jesus’ teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, faithful Anglicans in Scotland will need appropriate pastoral care. In addition, within England there are churches that have, for reasons of conscience, been planted outside of the Church of England by the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE). These churches are growing, and are in need of episcopal leadership. Therefore, we have decided to consecrate a missionary bishop who will be tasked with providing episcopal leadership for those who are outside the structures of any Anglican province, especially in Europe.

A Word of Encouragement to Faithful Anglicans within European Provinces

We wish to reassure all faithful Anglicans in European provinces that they also have our prayers and our support. We are aware that some Christians within these provinces who are contending for the faith may at first perceive the news of a missionary bishop as a threat to their hopes for reform from within.

We believe that the complexity of the current situation in Europe does not admit of a single solution. Faithful Christians may be called to different courses of action. We bless those whose context and conscience have led them to remain and contend for the faith within the current structures. If you are successful, you will not need a missionary bishop; if you are not successful, an alternative is at hand. The only true failure would be to waste time through inaction.

We also pray for those who are not yet clear about what faithfulness requires. May God give you the wisdom and courage of the Reformers to stand firm wherever the Lord calls you to stand.

Bishops Training Institute (BTI)

The launch of the Bishops Training Institute has been successful, drawing bishops from around the world for training and teaching in the unique role of leading a diocese. The Institute is based in Kenya, and led by the Rt Rev. Samson Mwaluda, assisted by the Rev. Paul Sampson. The next course will take place in May this year, and BTI 3 in November.

Branch Updates

We received updates from our established branches in Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. We also received encouraging reports about new Gafcon branches emerging in other parts of the Anglican world. We give thanks for the continued growth of this movement, and the opportunity we have to share in fellowship with those who are preaching the Gospel around the world both in season and out of season.

The Global South

We give thanks for the fellowship that we had last October with the Anglican Global South at the 6th Global South Anglican Conference in Cairo, Egypt. We affirm our desire to continue to work in close partnership, walking together in the truth of the Gospel.

Conclusion

We are grateful for the leadership of our Chairman, the Most Rev. Dr Nicholas Okoh. As we look towards Jerusalem 2018, we ask for your continued prayers and support. Specifically, we ask that you would pray for the continued renewal of the Anglican Communion, and the spread of this reform movement. In all these things may Christ be glorified and his name proclaimed faithfully to the nations.

“The strange composite voice of many million singing souls”

Thomas S. Kidd at The Gospel Coalition has an interesting article about the dangers of marrying religious movements with politics or, more specifically, politicians. Kidd’s case study is the infamous Scopes “Monkey” Trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. That trial became the downfall of William Jennings Bryan, the Nebraska politician known as “the Great Commoner” who had made losing presidential elections an art form long before Adlai Stevenson and Hillary Clinton. The image of Bryan that endures nearly a century after his death is that of a bombastic, self-righteous, and intellectually shallow “fundamentalist” crusading against such “progressive” ideas as evolution and scientific inquiry. This Bryan of popular folklore was largely the creation of journalist H.L. Mencken, who covered the Scopes Trial in which Bryan led the prosecution against a Tennessee biology teacher charged with (and ultimately convicted of) violating a state statute against the teaching of evolution in the classroom. The 1960 film based on the trial, Inherit the Wind, portrayed Bryan (through a character named Matthew Harrison Brady) almost precisely as he had been described in Mencken’s less than objective reporting.

The real William Jennings Bryan, however, could not be so easily pigeonholed as a backward-thinking rube. More than any other political figure of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, he paved the way for the shift in the Democratic party away from laissez-faire capitalism to economic populism and the big government liberalism ultimately enshrined in FDR’s New Deal. In other words, the man so vilified by present-day liberals for his unswerving commitment to religious “fundamentalism” was himself a liberal, and a passionate one at that.

That is not to say, of course, that Bryan’s religious faith was a mere sidelight. On the contrary, it was the fuel that ignited his passion for the causes he championed. In the epilogue of his 2006 biography, A Godly Hero, Michael Kazin summarizes Bryan’s legacy.

The rhetoric of shared responsibility sounds rather hollow today, except when it is tethered to a war of self-defense against terrorists. Yet a century ago, those who spoke about collective sin and collective redemption occupied the mainstream. They took their place in a long narrative of reform that included the abolitionists, early temperance agitators (who battled poverty as much as saloons), the Knights of Labor, and the Populist insurgency — all led by men and women whose faith motivated their activism. From William Lloyd Garrison to Sojourner Truth to Frances Willard and Edward Bellamy, nineteenth-century progressives never advanced without a moral awakening entangled with notions about what the Lord would have them do.

To inspire another such upheaval was Bryan’s fondest desire. His record was impressive, particularly for someone who held no office during most of his career. Starting with the campaign of 1896, the Democrats ceased being the more conservative of the two major parties — with the fateful exception of their support for Jim Crow. Bryan was the leading proponent of three constitutional amendments — for the income tax, the popular election of senators, and prohibition. He also did much to place on the national agenda a variety of other significant reforms: insured bank deposits, government-owned railroads, publicly financed campaigns, and a reliable method for preventing war. None of these became law during his lifetime — he had better luck with statewide curbs on the teaching of Darwinism. But it was certainly not for lack of promotion or resolve. “With the exception of the men have occupied the White House,” wrote William Gibbs McAdoo in 1931, “Bryan . . . had more to do with the shaping of the public policies of the last forty years than any other American citizen.”

It is probably fortunate that he was never elected president. As Bryan demonstrated while secretary of state, he relished confrontations over principle and abhorred compromise. If he had captured the White House, that trait would have made it difficult for him to rally an enduring majority in what would have been a nation rent by angry divisions of class, region, and party.

But neither was he a classic demagogue, burning to seize power and vengeful toward anyone who opposed him. Unlike Tom Watson, Huey Long, George Wallace, and others of their ilk, Bryan never appealed to the violent or authoritarian impulses of his fellow citizens. He was satisfied to feed a grassroots hunger for changes in the American social order, which he believed would have profound moral implications. Bryan’s oratory infused the idea of a welfare state with passionate intensity. If the Golden Rule was too simple a prescription, it was certainly superior to impersonal bureaucracy or strong-man rule.

Whatever he achieved depended on the power and durability of his voice and the romantic tenor of his words. Every other progressive giant — TR, Woodrow Wilson, Robert La Follette, Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington, and the radical Eugene Debs — was a gifted orator. But each had to worry about operating an institution — whether a local one such as Hull House or Tuskegee Institute, a state, or the entire federal government. But Bryan could devote decades to honing the art of preaching both for God and for the welfare of the common white American.

That rhetoric and the new style of politics it helped to create may be his most enduring legacy. “Um, um, um. Look at all those folks — you’d think William Jennings Bryan was speakin’,'” jokes a character in To Kill a Mockingbird as her Alabama town fills up for a dramatic trial. After the stirring contest of 1896, most presidential candidates learned to engage in an aggressively affable, go-to-the-people campaign to demonstrate that theirs was a cause of and for the common people. For over half a century, every subsequent Democratic nominee, with the exception of the hapless Alton Parker and John W. Davis, played the happy populist warrior — cracking jokes, beaming for the cameras, flaying the corporate rich before audiences of the insecure. Even after its party’s candidates stopped bashing “economic royalists,” Democrats tried their best to appear friendly, optimistic, and visionary. John Scopes, of all people, regretted that Bryan hadn’t survived into the age of television, when “he could have projected his personality to millions” and had a good chance of being elected president. For Americans with a sense of history, Bryan remains a paragon of eloquence for “a lazy-tonged people.” And unlike contemporary candidates for high office, he wrote every word that he spoke, except when he was quoting someone else.

The triumph of the ever-accessible, always loquacious political style helps reassure ordinary citizens as well as to mobilize partisan crowds. As the federal government grew in size and complexity, Americans hankered for leaders who could make the enterprise of governing seem more personal and comprehensible. The electorate struck an implicit bargain with the political class: “If we can no longer understand or control much of what you do, at least give us men and women at the top who can comfort us and, on occasion, provide a thrill.” This was as true for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as it was for Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.

Yet Bryan was a great Christian liberal, and to neglect the content of his prophecies sells both his career and American political history short. Vachel Lindsay wrote in 1915:

When Bryan speaks, the sky is ours,
The wheat, the forests, and the flowers,
And who is here to say us nay?
Fled are the ancient tyrant powers.
When Bryan speaks, then, I rejoice.
His is the strange composite voice
Of many million singing souls
Who make world-brotherhood their choice.

Critics from Mencken onward failed to appreciate what drew millions of Americans to Bryan and that our own era of nonstop satire and twenty-four-hour commerce manifestly lacks: the yearning for a society run by and for ordinary  people who lead virtuous lives. As everyone who heard him could attest, Bryan made significant public issues sound urgent, dramatic, and clear, and he encouraged citizens to challenge the motives and interests of the most powerful people in the land. That is a quality absent among our recent leaders, for all their promises to leave no man, woman, or child behind. Bryan’s sincerity, warmth, and passion for a better world won the hearts of people who cared for no other public figure in his day. We should take their reasons seriously before we decide to mistrust them.

[Adapted from Locusts and Wild Honey, 4/12/12]

Two bitter fruits from the same poisonous tree?

The emergence of theological liberalism in the nineteenth century had a devastating effect on the American pulpit. Preachers like Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) and Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) were at the forefront of the transition from strict doctrinal precision to broad doctrinal license. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) was a twentieth century man, building his reputation through adept use of the mass media of book publishing and radio (the weekly “National Vespers” on the NBC network). However, he was every bit a product of the nineteenth century liberalism in which he was immersed.

Paul Scott Wilson, in A Concise History of Preaching, describes how Fosdick came to develop “a new, alternative method of preaching.”

fosdick_he_2In journal articles in the 1920’s, 1930’s 1950’s, and in his autobiography, Fosdick discussed his “project method” of homiletics. It was in contrast to topical preaching, which he felt was a “Sir Oracle” lecture on a theme, and expository preaching, in which preachers “assumed that folk come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.” He outlined the contemporary expository preaching of which he was critical: “First, elucidation of a Scriptural text, its historical occasion, its logical meaning in the context, its setting in the theology and ethic of the ancient writer; second, application to the auditors of the truth involved; third, exhortation to decide about the truth and act on it.”

After floundering for his first years as a preacher, he devised a homiletic based in pastoral counseling that made preaching an adventure for him. Every sermon was to start with the “real problems of people” and was to “meet their difficulties, answer their questions, confirm their noblest faiths and interpret their experiences in sympathetic, wise and understanding co-operation.” He looked for the way even larger issues of the day, national and international, affected the lives of ordinary people. He wanted sermons to be conversational, “a co-operative dialogue in which the congregation’s objections, questions, doubts and confirmations are fairly stated and dealt with.” The preacher’s business is “to persuade people to repent . . . to produce Christian faith [and] to send people out from their worship on Sunday with victory in their possession.” To this end, “A preacher’s task is to create in his congregation the thing he is talking about.” A sermon on joy is to explore wrong ideas about it, false attempts at it, problems in getting it, and then move to create it.

Whereas lectures had “a subject to be elucidated,” preaching had an “object to be achieved.” Determining this “object” or problem to be solved was the first step in preparation. This was followed by “free association of ideas,” perhaps for several hours, followed in turn by exploration of literature, cases from counseling, the Bible, and personal experience. His structure, commonly three points, for which one must listen carefully to discern, often emerged in the writing of his sermons. Someone said his “sermons begin by describing a human need, next illustrate that need from literature, from contemporary events and personal experiences, and then turn to the Bible for those principles which could meet that need.” His critics caricatured his preaching as “undogmatic Christianity” and “problem-solving.”

Fosdick was also criticized, rightly according to Wilson, “for taking his message to the biblical text and for using the text to illustrate his predetermined point.” He was not the first, and certainly not the last, preacher to commit this error. His methodology, the mistakes inherent in it, and the paucity of its doctrinal and theological underpinnings represented the coming of age of the liberalism birthed in the preaching of Bushnell and Beecher and brought to its tragic conclusion in the incoherent psychobabble of Spong and Schori. Less obvious, at least on first glance, is the sowing of the seeds of the equally innocuous false gospel of “positive thinking” first popularized by Norman Vincent Peale, advanced through mass media by Robert Schuller, and now embodied in all its garish glory by the insufferable Joel Osteen.

Except for students of homiletics and church history, Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermons and writings are largely forgotten. To the person in the pew, he is best remembered for the stirring hymn “God of Grace and God of Glory.” In recalling the era in which he was at the height of his influence, however, we can see two bitter fruits produced from the same poisonous tree of the liberalism which shaped his methodology and his ministry.

Neuhaus: Never weary, never rest

In one of his final public appearances, at the July 2008 convention of the National Right to Life Committee, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus delivered what his First Things colleague Robert George quite correctly calls “the greatest pro-life speech ever given.” It is inspiring, uplifting, at times even tear-inducing. Most of all, it is a clarion call to see the journey through to its destination, with the assured hope that the culture of life will, in the end, overcome the culture of death.

Once again this year, the National Right to Life convention is partly a reunion of veterans from battles past and partly a youth rally of those recruited for the battles to come. And that is just what it should be. The pro-life movement that began in the twentieth century laid the foundation for the pro-life movement of the twenty-first century. We have been at this a long time, and we are just getting started. All that has been and all that will be is prelude to, and anticipation of, an indomitable hope. All that has been and all that will be is premised upon the promise of Our Lord’s return in glory when, as we read in the Book of Revelation, “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be sorrow nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And all things will be new.

That is the horizon of hope that, from generation to generation, sustains the great human rights cause of our time and all times—the cause of life. We contend, and we contend relentlessly, for the dignity of the human person, of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, destined from eternity for eternity—every human person, no matter how weak or how strong, no matter how young or how old, no matter how productive or how burdensome, no matter how welcome or how inconvenient. Nobody is a nobody; nobody is unwanted. All are wanted by God, and therefore to be respected, protected, and cherished by us.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

It has been a long journey, and there are still miles and miles to go. Some say it started with the notorious Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 when, by what Justice Byron White called an act of raw judicial power, the Supreme Court wiped from the books of all fifty states every law protecting the unborn child. But it goes back long before that. Some say it started with the agitation for “liberalized abortion law” in the 1960s when the novel doctrine was proposed that a woman cannot be fulfilled unless she has the right to destroy her child. But it goes back long before that. It goes back to the movements for eugenics and racial and ideological cleansing of the last century.

Whether led by enlightened liberals, such as Margaret Sanger, or brutal totalitarians, whose names live in infamy, the doctrine and the practice was that some people stood in the way of progress and were therefore non-persons, living, as it was said, “lives unworthy of life.” But it goes back even before that. It goes back to the institution of slavery in which human beings were declared to be chattel property to be bought and sold and used and discarded at the whim of their masters. It goes way on back.

As Pope John Paul the Great wrote in his historic message Evangelium Vitae (the Gospel of Life) the culture of death goes all the way back to that fateful afternoon when Cain struck down his brother Abel, and the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And Cain answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” The voice of the blood of brothers and sisters beyond numbering cry out from the slave ships and battlegrounds and concentration camps and torture chambers of the past and the present. The voice of the blood of the innocents cries out from the abortuaries and sophisticated biotech laboratories of this beloved country today. Contending for the culture of life has been a very long journey, and there are still miles and miles to go.

The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called “A Life Worth Living.” He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called “a life worth living.”

And I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, looking out the next Sunday morning at the congregation of St. John the Evangelist and seeing all those older faces creased by hardship endured and injustice afflicted, and yet radiating hope undimmed and love unconquered. And I saw that day the younger faces of children deprived of most, if not all, of those qualifications on Prof. Montagu’s list. And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed.

In that moment, I knew that I had been recruited to the cause of the culture of life. To be recruited to the cause of the culture of life is to be recruited for the duration; and there is no end in sight, except to the eyes of faith.

Perhaps you, too, can specify such a moment when you knew you were recruited. At that moment you could have said, “Yes, it’s terrible that in this country alone 4,000 innocent children are killed every day, but then so many terrible things are happening in the world. Am I my infant brother’s keeper? Am I my infant sister’s keeper?” You could have said that, but you didn’t. You could have said, “Yes, the nation that I love is betraying its founding principles—that every human being is endowed by God with inalienable rights, including, and most foundationally, the right to life. But,” you could have said, “the Supreme Court has spoken and its word is the law of the land. What can I do about it?” You could have said that, but you didn’t. That horror, that betrayal, would not let you go. You knew, you knew there and then, that you were recruited to contend for the culture of life, and that you were recruited for the duration.

The contention between the culture of life and the culture of death is not a battle of our own choosing. We are not the ones who imposed upon the nation the lethal logic that human beings have no rights we are bound to respect if they are too small, too weak, too dependent, too burdensome. That lethal logic, backed by the force of law, was imposed by an arrogant elite that for almost forty years has been telling us to get over it, to get used to it.

But “We the People,” who are the political sovereign in this constitutional democracy, have not gotten over it, we have not gotten used to it, and we will never, we will never ever, agree that the culture of death is the unchangeable law of the land.

“We the People” have not and will not ratify the lethal logic of Roe v. Wade. That notorious decision of 1973 is the most consequential moral and political event of the last half century of our nation’s history. It has produced a dramatic realignment of moral and political forces, led by evangelicals and Catholics together, and joined by citizens beyond numbering who know that how we respond to this horror defines who we are as individuals and as a people. Our opponents, once so confident, are now on the defensive. Having lost the argument with the American people, they desperately cling to the dictates of the courts. No longer able to present themselves as the wave of the future, they watch in dismay as a younger generation recoils in horror from the bloodletting of an abortion industry so arrogantly imposed by judges beyond the rule of law.

We do not know, we do not need to know, how the battle for the dignity of the human person will be resolved. God knows, and that is enough. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta and saints beyond numbering have taught us, our task is not to be successful but to be faithful. Yet in that faithfulness is the lively hope of success. We are the stronger because we are unburdened by delusions. We know that in a sinful world, far short of the promised Kingdom of God, there will always be great evils. The principalities and powers will continue to rage, but they will not prevail.

In the midst of the encroaching darkness of the culture of death, we have heard the voice of him who said, “In the world you will have trouble. But fear not, I have overcome the world.” Because he has overcome, we shall overcome. We do not know when; we do not know how. God knows, and that is enough. We know the justice of our cause, we trust in the faithfulness of his promise, and therefore we shall not weary, we shall not rest.

Whether, in this great contest between the culture of life and the culture of death, we were recruited many years ago or whether we were recruited only yesterday, we have been recruited for the duration. We go from this convention refreshed in our resolve to fight the good fight. We go from this convention trusting in the words of the prophet Isaiah that “they who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

The journey has been long, and there are miles and miles to go. But from this convention the word is carried to every neighborhood, every house of worship, every congressional office, every state house, every precinct of this our beloved country—from this convention the word is carried that, until every human being created in the image and likeness of God—no matter how small or how weak, no matter how old or how burdensome—until every human being created in the image and likeness of God is protected in law and cared for in life, we shall not weary, we shall not rest. And, in this the great human rights struggle of our time and all times, we shall overcome.

“A generation is now growing old, which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young”

G.K. Chesterton made these observations about a generation past its prime in his day, over 85 years ago. The same could well be said for the aging icons of the “Baby Boomer” generation of our day as they ride off, ever so unwillingly, into the sunset.

A generation is now growing old, which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young. It was the first progressive generation – the first generation that believed in progress and nothing else…. [They believed] simply that the new thing is always better than the old thing; that the young man is always right and the old wrong. And now that they are old men themselves, they have naturally nothing whatever to say or do. Their only business in life was to be the rising generation knocking at the door. Now that they have got into the house, and have been accorded the seat of honour by the hearth, they have completely forgotten why they wanted to come in. The aged younger generation never knew why it knocked at the door; and the truth is that it only knocked at the door because it was shut. It had nothing to say; it had no message; it had no convictions to impart to anybody…. The old generation of rebels was purely negative in its rebellion, and cannot give the new generation of rebels anything positive against which it should not rebel. It is not that the old man cannot convince young people that he is right; it is that he cannot even convince them that he is convinced. And he is not convinced; for he never had any conviction except that he was young, and that is not a conviction that strengthens with years.

H/T The Anchoress

Horace Bushnell: A misguided herald sounding an uncertain trumpet

Naturalistic theology (often referred to as theological liberalism) did not appear as a challenge to orthodoxy overnight. Its precursors constituted the panoply of heresies repudiated by the Ancient Church and, as the preacher of Ecclesiastes long ago observed, there is nothing new under the sun. The rise of naturalistic theology first in Europe and then in America was, in large part, merely a repackaging of old lies in newer, more sophisticated, wrapping.

In his encyclopedic history of homiletics, The Company of Preachers (Kregel, 1998), David L. Larsen notes the rise of “New England theology” in the early nineteenth century and the negative influence it had on the preachers of the day. Like most expressions of naturalism, this was a theology of denial, not affirmation. New England theology denied the orthodox doctrines of sin, depravity, and imputation, paving the way for even more radical departures from the faith as the century progressed.

The person at the center of the transition from doctrinal purity to theological liberalism, was Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), a gifted preacher with a penchant for pushing the doctrinal envelope well beyond acceptable limits.

Bushnell has been called the father of liberalism, and indeed in moving beyond New England theology he lurched very close to Unitarianism. Certainly in God in Christ he lapsed into Unitarian thinking, espousing a modal view of the Trinity. In his Vicarious Sacrifice and Forgiveness and Law, Bushnell jettisoned transactual and propitiatory aspects of the atonement. In a reaction against revivalism, he opted for gradualism rather than conversion in his book Christian Nurture. Neither did he believe a child to be depraved. He believed the child was to grow up never knowing that he or she is other than a Christian.

Charles Hodge spoke of his views as “less than Christian.” For Bushnell the Bible was essentially figurative. In 1866 he indicated his leaning toward understanding the fall in Eden as a myth. Jesus was teacher rather than the crucified and suffering God. His were “orthodox memories, Unitarian hopes.” The old wine had not survived being transferred to new bottles. He scoffed at the idea of the Second Coming. He was very theological but he did not preach sound doctrine.

What Bushnell lacked in doctrinal substance, he made up for in homiletical style. This was not enough, however, to spare him criticism for going off the theological and exegetical reservation.

Yet Bushnell was a preacher’s preacher. There was a virility in his style and a fire inside him, but the common people were not drawn to his variety of naturalism. Early on, he gained a reputation as a public speaker of note, and his ability to title sermons is dramatic. Little wonder he was offered the presidency of the College of California (later the University of California at Berkeley), which he turned down.

Bushnell’s celebrated sermon on “Unconscious Influence” is based on John 20:8, “Then went in also that other disciple.” But for Bushnell this had nothing to do with the resurrection or Jesus Christ. He did not do exegesis, and even Brastow speaks of his interpretations as often “fanciful” and lacking “the support of recognized exegetical canons.”

[Larsen, p. 528]

In the end, Bushnell must be characterized, in Larsen’s words, “as a tragic figure in American pulpit annals” whose “influence upon successive generations has been unfortunate.” For all his intellect and homiletical ingenuity, he was a misguided herald sounding an uncertain trumpet.

Still relevant: Peter Berger on American apostasy

It has been over a quarter of a century since Peter L. Berger delivered his 1987 Erasmus Lecture entitled, “Different Gospels: The Social Sources of American Apostasy.” While the social, religious, and political landscape were somewhat different at the time, his observations on the not so rosy state of the American church, particularly its mainline Protestant franchises, remain astoundingly relevant today. Consider his caution against blurring the lines between the temporal and eternal realms.

If we are liberated by faith, we act in the full knowledge of the precariousness and tragic unpredictability of all human projects. Most important, we act in this world not to be saved, not to attain some perfect purity or justice (which goals are not attainable), but to be of specific and necessarily limited service to others. Paul addresses himself to the Galatians on this issue when he insists that the freedom of the Christian is to be used as an opportunity for service, in love of one’s neighbor (Gal. 5:13-14). Let me put this in terms as worldly as I can find: we get no moral brownie points for good intentions or noble goals. The moral measure of actions is their probable consequences for others. This is especially so in the case of political actions, because this is a category of actions with particularly unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences. Precisely because of this, we are most likely to be effective politically (effective, that is, in being of service to our neighbors) if we ground ourselves in a realm beyond politics, thus becoming free to deal with political reality soberly and pragmatically. We cannot do this if we look on politics as the realm of redemption.

Elsewhere, he relates a personal story to illustrate how churches which immerse themselves in political agendas lose sight of the things that matter most.

Some time ago a friend of mine went through a very difficult period when it was suspected that he might be suffering from cancer. It turned out later that this was not the case, but during this anxiety-ridden period neither he nor his family was given any attention by the clergy or the active members of his congregation. This is a congregation famous for its social and political activism. No one was interested in what, compared with the allegedly great historic challenges or our age, was the trivial matter of one man’s fear of pain and death. The people of this congregation had more important things to do–attacking the “root causes” of hunger by lobbying in Washington, organizing to “show solidarity” with Nicaragua, going on record (“making a moral stand”) against apartheid. My friend says that during this time he felt like an invisible man in that congregation. Needless to say, this is a congregation that religiously employs “inclusive language.” (Again, I can hear some mutterings: Can one not lobby in Washington and also minister to the sick? Perhaps. In this case, the first activity precluded the second. And one may reflect that it is easier to love people in distant lands than people next door.)