Rowan versus Richard Dawkins

God bless Rowan WIlliams. Few leaders in the church if any do I respect more. However, in this interview with Richard Dawkins, he makes a fatal flaw.

Rowan says that God, as creator, “shapes the entire process” of evolution. For the purposes of this discussion I have no real problem with this statement.

Dawkins then supplements Rowan’s comment by adding, “by setting up the laws of nature in which context the entire laws of evolution take place.” And Rowan nods his head in agreement. This leads to a further discussion about the laws of nature, or the laws of physics, in which both men tacitly agree that there is something called “the laws of nature.”

This is my qualm with how Rowan proceeds. I think that a much better approach would have been for him, right at the point which Dawkins brings up this idea of the laws of nature, to say something like, “I am fine with that idea as long as what you mean is really just a convenient way of referring to patterns that we discern in the world that repeat themselves more or less consistently over time. However, I do believe that God is actively “behind” these so-called laws of nature such that every time an apple falls from a tree, it is God who is somehow willing or causing that apple to fall.” (This is not to deny the reality of secondary causation, by the way.)

He could have invoked GK Chesterton, who said that every time the sun goes up, it does so because God tells it to, and when it does, God excitedly says, “Oh, do it again! Do it again!”

To give too much ground to an abstract and distant (from God) set of laws of nature is to give the impression that Deism is true. Deism, the very topic of Dawkin’s book _The Blind Watchmaker_.

Much to Dawkins’ chagrin, Scripture and Christian tradition do not at all imply that the world is like a machine that God wound up and set in motion.

Rather, the world is an enchanted place, “charged with the grandeur of God” and God’s active presence. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it: “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

Incidentally, to see what one of Dawkins’ atheistic comrades Christopher Hitchens thinks of Rowan Williams, see here.

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Why the Liturgy Matters

Wow. The “internet age,” while offering so many destructive dangers, also has its “upside.” Recently on an exam question at SSW, I was asked to elaborate, as if I were writing an article for the church newsletter, on why the liturgy matters. Here, copied and pasted from my actual test response, is how I responded:

Dear friends at and friends of (the Church of the) Epiphany,

It is quite obvious to all of us (and painfully obvious to some of us) that, here at Epiphany we are pretty excited about this thing – this way of being, this way of ordering our lives individually and corporately – called “liturgy.” Why? Why is this church so committed to living this way? During this Easter season – and please remember that according to the ancient church as well as our liturgy, the “paschal mystery” of Christ includes both his death and his resurrection since these two are utterly inseperable – I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts with you about how our liturgy grounds our lives as Christians in the death and resurrection of Christ.

First, simply look at the shape of our Eucharistic liturgy, both in whole and in part. Seen from the “zoomed out lens” of the entire service (also called “the Divine Service”) we can see that the very shape or structure of this ritual is that of death and resurrection. I don’t know if you are like me, but confessing my sins is not one of the most pleasurable activities of my day or week. In fact, when done with sobriety and humility (as our prayer book enjoins) it can often feel like a death. And death it is, according to St. Paul’s writings, where over and over again he tells us to give up on our own ways, our own desires, our own agendas, and to participate in Christ’s death and passion in part through laying down – sacrificing – our lives to him. And then there is the reading and preaching of God’s Word.  Have you ever felt that the preacher’s convicting words were directed specifically to you? Perhaps you have an existential awareness of Christ “walking in the midst” of his people, much as is described in the opening section of the book of Revelation, rendering by his Spirit the judgment  so necessary for true holiness.  None of this is a coincidence! Such “death” – also prefigured in a thousand ways in that second part of the Eucharist knows as the Anaphora – is a necessary prerequisite for the “resurrection life” of feasting like kings drinking wine and then being sent out with real energy into a hurting and broken world.

This ritual movement through time, however, gives rise to yet another way in which God’s time is redeemed in our lives. It’s not simply that we shape our worship on the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection, but actually that we begin to participate in that very paschal event or sequence. Truly, the Eucharist is like a time machine which allows us to touch, to taste, to live into, the very mystery of the universe: that God himself has died and bled for us, thereby “trampling down death by death,” as they say in the East, in his glorious and utterly shocking resurrection. One of the most ancient words used to describe this mysterious transfiguration of time is the word anamnesis, from which derives our English verb “to remember.” Because of liturgical reality – that is, because the true nature of the cosmos is liturgical – when we remember Christ’s death and passion it is not simply that we have a picture of the “cross event” in our minds, but rather that the members of his body are being gathered, or literally re-membered. (So much for bringing the past into our “now.” With more time and space than I have I could elaborate on the fancy word prolepsis – the opposite, if you will, of anamnesis, how this Eucharist also brings us to the end of the world, when we are, by the “first fruits” of the Holy Spirit, feasting with all the saints at the banquet supper of the victorious Lamb of God.”)

You see, friends, the Eucharist is, quite literally, a re-membering of the body of Christ. His scarred, fish-eating resurrection body (known in the ancient church as the soma typicon or “typological body”) which hung on the cross, becomes the living members of his true body (corpus verum), you and me. Theologians call this “participation,” but as is painfully obvious, there quite simply are no words to describe this. In a way which transcends the “one flesh union” of my wife and me, we quite simply are members of Christ. We are his body. We are his body for the world and for the world’s life. Which is why the Eucharist involves a third body as well: what the ancients knew as the “mystical body:” the corpus mysticum. This bread, together with the wine, imports the world into the church: the world of harvesting, the world of threshing, the world of trade and commerce, the world of civilized humanity created as God’s image-bearing cultivators of his good world. And so, do you see? As members of his body, we are enacting the world’s true culture and civilization. We are brining about the new world of the living, victorious Christ.

In these ways and so many more, my friends, we are truly living a mystery in doing what we do in the Eucharist. It is the mystery that lies at the heart of the world, the axis mundi. Truly, our liturgy grounds us and our lives as Christians in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Finley on Language, Wind, & Mystical Union

Ten years ago I would have worried that the following testimony from James Finley (from his book _Christian Meditation_) is an endorsement of pantheism. I am grateful, however, to have since realized that Christian / sacramental reality transcends the ability of language univocally to talk about God or even about being. Hence, I offer this wonderful account of a mystical experience of union with God:

One hot summer day I climbed up the ladder into a loft, as up into a cathedral of light and heat. The air was heavy with the primordial, sweet smell of hay, which was neatly stacked in the bails up to the ceiling along the back wall. I was sitting where I usually sat, on some bails of hay, which I had arranged near the open loft door that looked out over a meadow and the surrounding woods. I was reading the psalms. I stood up and began walking slowly back and forth as I continued reading. Everything within me was dry and empty in the hot, solitary silence. There was no sense whatsoever that anything extraordinary was about to happen.

Suddenly, I realized that what I had, up to that moment, thought of as the air was actually God! I was walking back and forth in God. I was vividly aware that the oceanic presence in which I was walking back and forth was sustaining my life, breath by breath. And this presence of God that I was breathing, and in which I was standing and walking about, knew me, breath by breath. And this presence of God that I was breathing, and in which I was standing and walking about, knew me, through and through, with oceanic compassion. There was nowhere to hide, nor did I need such a place. There was nowhere I could run from God. For even if I were to try to flee, God would be sustaining me, breath by breath, in my flight from him, and would be waiting for me, sustaining my life, breath by breath, when I arrived at my planned place of escape. I realized in some baffling, matter-of-fact way, that since God is the infinity of the mystery of air, I was living my life in God and was being held by God always.

There were no feelings. No images. There was nothing imaginary about it. The realization that the air is God was as concretely real and immediate as the smell of the hay, the silence, the small book of psalms that I continued to hold in my hands. I was simply amazed. After a while I sat back down on the bails of hay near the door and looked out through God at the meadow and woods.

An occasional red wasp came buzzing in through the open loft door, to hover in the heat for a moment before ascending to the beams overhead to work on its mud nest. The pair of barn swallows that had built a nest alongside the inside wall beams darted and glided over the meadow. The tin roof made its slight pinging, crinkling noises as it expanded in the hot sun. A cicada whined, unseen, somewhere off in the trees. And I kept sitting there, breathing God, until I heard the bell ring for vespers. I walked back to the monastery breathing God. I fell asleep that night breathing God. It seemed to me that this is what heaven must be like.

I woke up the next morning breathing God, and, in fact, I walked around in this state for several days. On Sundays we were allowed to take walks in the woods outside the monastic enclosure. I was walking along the dirt road that led up to a small lake in the woods where I would sit and read Saint John of the Cross. I was walking along, on this particular Sunday, breathing God, with my volume of Saint John under my arm. Just at the point at which the road curved and led from the open field up into the woods, I paused at a small tree that was hanging out over the road.

Standing there, breathing God, I reached up and touched one of the leaves hanging from one of the branches. As I did so I  looked up. There was one cloud in the sky. I said, out load, “It’s One!” The ground I was standing on, the leaf I was touching, the clouds in the sky, God that I was breathing, my own very self — were utterly, completely, ungraspably one! I walked a short distance up onto the edges of a large field. I sat in the tall grass. A strong wind was blowing. I sat there all afternoon, no moving until I heard the bell ring in the distance from the monastery bell tower, letting me know that it was time to go back to vespers.

I do not know when I lost the direct awareness of breathing God. At some point, perhaps later that day, it dissipated. The air seemed to me, once again, just the air. Except that I knew my experience of the air as being just the air was but my unawareness of what I now knew the air to be. Then even this inner clarity faded. I realized that I had a long road a head of me in learning to live in a habitual state of awareness of the fullness I had fleetingly realized.

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Oops.

Oh, no. My blog, like most blogs, gets lots of spam comments, which I then have to delete manually. Probably 95% of all comments to my blog are in the form of cheap spam.

Well, in my zeal to delete them all last night, it appears that I also deleted ALL the comments that have ever been posted on my blog. Which makes me sad.

Oh, well. Please feel free to contribute if you read something stimulating or encouraging.

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A Good Example of Why I’m Anglican: the Eucharistic Exhortation

The text below, copied and pasted from the Book of Common Prayer (you can find it on page 316) is an excellent example of why I have not been able to resist the call to “convert” to the Anglican way. The point is not simply that this is the theology of Anglicanism, but in addition that this kind of thing is formally enshrined in their (authorized and authoratative) liturgical tradition.

An Exhortation

 

This Exhortation may be used, in whole or in part, either during the

Liturgy or at other times. In the absence of a deacon or priest, this

Exhortation may be read by a lay person. The people stand or sit.

 

Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before

he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and

Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual

remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual

sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are

made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one

body in him, and members one of another.

 

Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in

obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty

God our heavenly Father never‑ending thanks for the

creation of the world, for his continual providence over us,

for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the

world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh,

and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he

might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy

Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life.

 

But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy

Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must

remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call

upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to

prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and

drinking of that Cup.

 

For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living

faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if

we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord=s Body.

Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.

 

Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s

commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have

offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in

thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before

Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being

ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by

you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have

offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven.

And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the

banquet of that most heavenly Food.

 

And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then

go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest,

and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of

absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal

of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the

strengthening of your faith.

 

To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own

blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God

and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through

him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is

our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come

boldly before the throne of grace [and humbly confess our sins

to Almighty God].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ritual Enactment vs. Historical Reenactment: Two Sacramental Views
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“Of Thine Own Have We Given Thee:” Donation & Eucharist

“All things come from you, and of your own have  we given you.” (I Chron 29:14)

David had just witnessed God’s people demonstrate that they understood a foundational principle of all joyful giving—that what they were giving, and thus, what they had, was not theirs, but God’s. This understanding had resulted in joyous and abundant giving, the type of giving we are called to even today (II Corinthians 8:7-12).

This is exactly what is going on in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the first thing we do — in the offertory, that is — is to offer a sacrifice to God. We give of the abundance he has given to us. It all comes from him anyway. In the ancient church this initial offering would have included things like wine, bread, meat, eggs, in addition to money.

These gifts (in the form of bread and wine) from the people back to God — which are God’s and provided to us by God — are then taken by the presider and offered up to God on behalf of the people.

These gifts are then given back to us yet again (this is the third act of giving so far!), yet now transfigured. The creation has now become new creation (in this renewing of covenant) and now the bread and the wine, in the midst of the members of Christ’s body, become the body and blood of Christ in some sense which is not merely symbolic or merely a simple change from one substance to another in time, but rather in a sense which can only be called sacramental. When we eat this bread at this ritual meal, we are truly feasting on and being nourished by Jesus Christ.

This circle of giving, this cycle of donation, is truly God’s world in miniature. It is a microcosm, or perhaps a microchron, of God’s world.

Participation in this cycle of donation is what priests — and all Christians have been made priests in baptism — are called to do.

As Bono says in quotation of Psalm 116:

What shall I offer the Lord

for all his benefits toward me?

I will lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God!

This view of the Eucharist-as-giving-and-receiving goes well with the thought of Louis-Marie Chauvet, by the way, which I have blogged about here and there, including this:

Chauvet argues sociologically that the Eucharist can be viewed as an example of symbolic gift exchange, in which a “circuit” of community members share in gift exchange which is not simply bilateral, and in which gift givers actually give themselves to their fellow circuit members. In this community of (self) gifting, the upshot is that a superabundant economy of peace is created and sustained which truly binds people together in the fullness of human communion. In other words, Chauvet, in a very post-Heideggarian move, sees ontology as symbol, or even symbolic gift exchange. When the Body of Christ performs this action in Eucharistic synaxis, deification occurs, and the members of the Body participate not just in one another but in the very life of the Triune God.

Chauvet’s approach to the Eucharist presupposes not only post-Heideggarian metaphysics, however. It also relies on the “scansion shift” of the three-fold body of Christ documented among others by Henri de Lubac. No other development in the history of modern theology opens the door to ecumenical relations more than this recovery of the patristic understanding of the three-fold body, for it gets behind the high medieval doctrine of transubstantiation in a way that even Rome must be open to. To assert that the ancient corpus verum, the members of Christ gathered around the bread and the wine, is what is transubstantiated is precisely what The Cypress Statement affirms when it speaks of deification in the context of the Eucharist.

Such a reinterpretation of transubstantiation resonates deeply with this theology of personhood kata holos, for it sees that which is ultimately real as dynamic, free, and (above all) relational between persons. In addition to critiquing radical individualism as seen in the competition between church entities such as Anglican provinces, it also reveals the inherent individualism behind the medieval Eucharistic theologies in the wake of the three-fold body scansion shift.

 
 
 
 

 

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Godly Bishop

Busy as I am (two jobs, seven month old, seminary, etc.) I am going with God’s help to try to intensify my blogging, especially about liturgy and bishops. This desire / commitment flows from many intense conversations I have had with dear friends on these matters over the last few days and weeks.

For now, I would encourage folks to listen to Archbishop Drexel Gomez talk about the proposed Anglican Covenant. Many conservative Christians who have cut off all relations with the Episcopal Church (eg, J.I. Packer) deride the Windsor process as sort of a duplicitous joke.

As you listen to Archbishop Gomez (who is the Primate of the West Indies), ask yourself this question: “Does it seem like he is joking?”

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