Thursday, February 15, 2007

Where Have All the Scholars Gone?

This past Friday, February 9, Jim Naughton of the Daily Episcopalian wrote "On Feeling Unprepared," specifically for the meeting of the Primates in Tanzania, and whatever consequences might come of it. Among other things I included in a comment on his post, I said, “We have long looked to our scholars to articulate possibilities that the rest of us can consider. What are our scholars writing? Those publications don't get to the blogosphere much, but they could be very helpful.”

This is certainly true. Much of what we cherish in our articulation of the Anglican tradition has come not from ecclesiastical authorities but from scholars (one consequence of which has been a history of elevating scholars to ecclesiastical authority). Long before he made him Archbishop, Henry valued Thomas Cranmer as the scholar who could help him with problems of marriage and succession. John Jewel and Richard Hooker were academics who carved out for the young Church of England space in the faith between the Romans and the Puritans. The authors of the Tracts for the Times were more commonly scholars than bishops. F. D. Maurice, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis – our understanding of the Anglican tradition passed down to our generation reflected more notably the work of scholars than of princes of the Church (again, notwithstanding that some scholars also were or became princes of the Church). In a sense, the meetings at Lambeth and the meetings of the Primates articulating what it “the Anglican tradition” is the innovation and exception.

Now, there are folks in the blogosphere trying to bring scholarship and academic tools to understanding the Anglican tradition and the issues today within the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. I look with some frequency at Gower Street, HALIGWEORC, Catholic in the Third Millenium, and The Anglican Scotist, among others. That list is not intended to be exclusive or exhaustive, and there are bloggers from various perspectives with scholarly credentials. I think they are better represented among the (choose the term you consider appropriate: reasserter, conservative, “orthodox”) voices. At the same time, I wonder where we might see our academics today, and especially (again, choose your term: progressive, reappraiser, “prophetic”) voices, bringing their scholarship to our current difficulties.

One scholar who is heard from with some frequency is Dr. Michael Poon of the Center for the Study of Christianity in Asia. He is also Convener of Global South Theological Education & Formation Track, and I do not always agree with his opinions. At the same time, his work is always thoughtful and stimulating, and does not fit neatly into a stereotypic image of a conservative scholar. His recent article, “The Long Road to Full Inheritance: Anglican Communion, Anno Domini 2007,” has been linked from both Thinking Anglicans and Praeludium.

Dr. Poon’s article is an interesting reflection written in preparation for the meeting in Dar es Salaam, and is worth reading in its own right. At the same time, one of his footnotes pointed to an article by Clare Amos. Dr Clare Amos is Director of Theological Studies in the Anglican Communion. The article in question is “Anglican Theological Education: What Next?” published and available on line in The ANITEPAM Journal (The African Network of Institutions of Theological Education Preparing Anglicans for Ministry). In the article she writes of Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAC) and of its “Anglican Way Target Group.” She writes, “In drawing up the initial detailed brief for their work, the members of the Anglican Way Target Group felt it right to set out a working definition of ‘The Anglican Way’, and it was this that accompanied the questionnaire.” She then lists the “working definition,” as I shall do shortly. She goes on to comment,

"One of the interesting and slightly unexpected side-effects of the work of TEAC has been that this ‘Anglican Way brief’ (as we still call it) has begun to acquire a bit of a life of its own. Published on TEAC’s website, and therefore fairly widely available, it has been read and shared by a number of people semi-independently of other TEAC documents and has a certain ‘status’ as a definition of what the Anglican Way is. "

It is important to remember, however, that it is ‘work in progress’, and was originally produced for a pragmatic purpose. But of course we are pleased if people are finding it useful more widely."

From the TEAC website, the “working definition” is as follows:

Understanding and describing our unique ethos and contribution to the wider Church; defining the Anglican Way:
1. The Anglican Way, though rooted in its history and historical formularies, nevertheless is not fixed but continues to be shaped by its multiform cultural settings. The Anglican Way is a particular expression of the Christian Way (Acts 9:2).
2. Understanding and describing a distinctive theological method incorporating, for example, 'contemplative pragmatism', 'inhabiting doctrine', doing theology by preaching, liturgy, hymnody, artistic creativity, etc.
3. Scripture, tradition and reason: Reading the Bible together, corporately and individually, with a keen and critical sense of the past, a vigorous engagement with the present context, and with patient hope for the future.
4. Awareness and critical assessment of other defining characteristics commonly associated with Anglican identity - for example, spirituality nurtured by Word and Sacrament, Lambeth Quadrilateral, Book of Common Prayer, distinctive polity, comprehensiveness, unity in diversity, Via media, bridge between denominations, balance of freedom and order, balance of pastoral, mission and prophetic, exercise of ministry, etc
5. The polity of the Anglican Way includes the threefold order of bishop, priest and deacon, intended to be united collegially with the laity in synod; and the interaction of provincial, diocesan and parish structures, governed by constitutions and canons.
6. An approach to mission which is holistic, incarnational and transformational and which shapes the engagement of the church with the world in each context.
7. Acknowledgement of provisionality, incompleteness and vulnerability as potential strengths.
8. The four formal instruments of unity (Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Conferences, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates' meeting) offer cohesion to global Anglicanism, limit the centralisation of authority, rely on bonds of affection for effective functioning but are put under strain in situations of acute disagreement. Other emerging instruments of unity include Anglican networks, commissions and taskforces.
9. Awareness of Anglicanism's past and present failures, and its susceptibility to particular kinds of abuse (for example, aspects of colonial heritage, excessive association with power and privilege, hierarchical authoritarianism, clericalism at the expense of the ministry of women and laity, its identification with Englishness, etc).
10. The Anglican Way encompasses communion (koinonia) with the united churches and other churches in full communion with the See of Canterbury. These relationships enrich our understanding and experience of koinonia.
11. The Anglican Way is deeply committed to building ecumenical relationships and strives to define itself through statements made in ecumenical dialogue.
12. The Anglican Way as interplay between witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; yearning for and working towards mutual respect, peace and just relations with other faith communities; and a prophetic critique of religious and political ideologies.

Now, this working definition has several aspects of interest to me, largely independent of its specific content. First, since its source is the TEAC Working Group I think we can presume that scholars were involved in its development and that there is wide representation across the Communion (although I can’t seem to find a list of participants; if someone else can, I’ll add the link). Second, since the TEAC Working Group was established by the Primates, this definition is one that most of the Primates would accept, at least as a starting point.

In the context of my ministry as a hospital chaplain, physicians and researchers value and actively seek consistent descriptions of individual diagnoses. That makes it possible for physicians and researchers to communicate more clearly. Looking to this definition as an agreed starting point for discussions would facilitate communication as we explore together what it means now and what it will mean in the future to follow “the Anglican Way.”

Some will ask – some have asked already in other settings – whether the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral isn’t a sufficient set of standards of what it means to be Anglican. It has the authority of acceptance by not only The Episcopal Church, but by the Lambeth Conference in 1888. At the same time, the standards of the Quadrilateral were proposed as “principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence,” and not as definitively Anglican. It was intended, as it were, as minimal standards, standards that have made possible conversation with other communions. The TEAC “working definition,” on the other hand, attempts to articulate specifically Anglican understandings of how the standards of the Quadrilateral are lived out.

Regardless of the results of the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania, currently in progress, we will still be involved in exploring and arguing what it means to follow “the Anglican way,” and how we see ourselves as Anglicans, at Communion, provincial, and even individual levels. I hope we will see more exploration from our scholars of these questions, and see more of them in the public arena, and not simply in academic journals. That scholarly contribution to our life as Anglicans has been critical to our history. And for the scholars, established and new, who would like to explore these issues, I think the TEAC working definition of “the Anglican Way” would be a good place to start.

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