And the fat lady sings…

September 25, 2007

The word is in, and you can find Integrity’s official response at Walking With Integrity.

On a different note, I went to a wonderful lecture tonight at my seminary’s lecture series.  Diana Butler-Bass was the speaker (incidentally, she’s not the fat lady, the fat lady is the Big Easy and the HOB mtg).

A metaphor she used in her speech was from a story she was once told of a town which received 100 inches of rain in a few days.  There was a wonderful old bridge in the town spanning a river.  The miracle was that the bridge survived the storm!  It was intact.  Unfortunately, the river, swollen with the 100 inches of rain, moved away from the bridge and no longer ran under it.  The townspeople had a choice.  They could either continue to service the bridge as it was– which was no longer over the river– or figure out how to make it cross the river in its new location.

The bridge represents the church, and the river culture.  The torrent of rain is the rate of change of society in modernity.

Some want to insist that the bridge is fine where it is.  Others insist we do not need a bridge at all because we can use boats.  But most want to continue to use the bridge but to make it relevant given that the river has moved.

It was a wonderful lecture.

It couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally.

Take what you will from it and its relevance today as you will.

If you want to buy her book, you can get Christianity for the Rest of Us here.



15 Responses to “And the fat lady sings…”

  1. ExactOpposite Says:

    The Bible explicitly warns the people of God about changing the Church to accommodate the culture of the day.

    The Church exists to transform popular culture, not the other way around.

    It is clear that Jeff values the popular culture more than the teachings of the Church.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Exact Opposite –

    Thank you for posting.

    Not at all. If I wanted to abandon the bridge altogether, you would be quite correct.

    I do not.

    But I also do not want to sit on a bridge that does not span the river.

    I think it needs to be extended– looked at carefully so that we can work to extend it over the new path of the water.

    That isn’t unprecedented in our history.


  3. ExactOpposite Says:

    You state that you don’t want to sit on a bridge that does not span the river.

    You state that the bridge stands for the Church in this metaphor and the river stands either for popular culture or humankind. However, the Church is the embodiment of Christ and his representatives and disciples on Earth- the representative charged with preaching Christ and the eternal truth.

    By defintion, it is impossible for eternal truth to lose its relevancy to humankind. By its nature it is always relevant whether humankind understands it or not.

    Human culture—the river—may move closer to the Church or farther away from it from century to century and from country to country.

    You don’t want any form of Church or theology which does not encompass the current popular culture. Again the popular culture is your point of reference. Popular human culture can take many forms, many times popular human culture has been fascist and totalitarian. See Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

    You stand apart from the Church intellectually and purport to correct her based on an outside standard derived from popular culture. It is clear from this blog you that arrived at this point prior to entering seminary.

    The Church is a means to an end for you, the society-wide legitimization of homosexual conduct.

  4. Jeff Says:

    You just couldn’t be further from the truth.

    You are reading into me things that I just haven’t said.

    I don’t know how else to put it, but to move from “the bridge needs to span the water” to saying that I want to embrace popular culture is a big jump for you to make.

    I want to engage popular culture. More than that, we are called to engage popular culture.

    The church has been in a process of change for more than 2000 years.

    The bridge is a bridge. It is not God. The eternal truth is not embedded in the bridge. It may allow us to reach the other side where we will find truth, but it is not truth in itself.


  5. ExactOpposite Says:

    We clearly don’t agree on what “the Church” is. I see it as a repository of eternal truth, therefore, the Church does not change.

    You assert that the Church changes. Hence we are at loggerheads. Anything which you can prove has changed cannot be part of the Church.

    I consider the teachings of the Orthodox Church to be the Truth. The Orthodox Church has preserved its teachings across many centuries. Today regardless of the identity of any individual Church whether Greek, Russian or Antiochian, there exists nearly complete unity on theological issues. The fact that Protestant churchs continually splinter and divide is a powerful suggestion that they are not founded on the full truth.

    We truly believe in two different religions and it would be refreshingly honest for the revisionists to admit this intellectual fact.

  6. Jeff Says:

    Yes, our ecclesiology is very different.

    The Orthodox Church has created many injustices through the years. I know the orthodox line of church as holder of eternal truth, but I’m not sure it is possible to separate the institutional holder of truth from those who perpetuate injustice based on warped understanding of truth.

    Whether or not that is the case, how does the Church, in your definition, ever know whether it is acting as the proper guardian of eternal truth– say as the excommunicator of Arius– or as the improper one– say as the excommunicator of Galileo? That seems to me to be a question that orthodox folks usually have an answer for, but usually not one rooted in eternal truth but instead rooted in the current presenting problem and context.

    No, I do not think we are in a different religions. I believe in the Holy Triune God. If that is what you believe, then it is the same religion.

    I am a liver in a post-modern world. I am not uncomfortable with multiple truths. God is infinite. God is, by nature, plural and unified all at once. If God is plural yet one I see no reason why God’s truth cannot be– in fact there is reason to believe that our very call is to move towards embracing pluralism as a call to unity without uniformity.

    As a result, I see ecumenicism very differently then you do. To say we are in different religions says something about you, not about me– it says something about your willingness to be in communion, not about mine.

    Revisionist. What a label. I take tradition very seriously. But tradition has laid a path for us. To stop there is untrue to the tradition itself.


  7. ExactOpposite Says:

    The differences between your beliefs and those preached by the Orthodox Church are sufficient to support the conclusion by any reasonable person that you belong to a different religion. This is a free country and you are free to develop your own theology, however, it is simply intellectually dishonest to claim to belong to the same faith tradition as that of the Orthodox Church.

    As to the doctrine of the Holy Faith and Tradition. This is a very deep and complex issue. I would refer you to the writing of Father Hopko among others. These writings are available in many libraries and on the net.
    As a seminarian you have the time and ample opportunity to examine those writings.

  8. ExactOpposite Says:

    An observation

    Russian Orthodoxy entered the North American scene through Alaska. Greek Orthodoxy entered the North America scene from the east coast and the south. Today, a worshipper who has been baptized in either branch of orthodoxy can attend either a Russian or Greek church and worship through the recitation of the same liturgy.

    Orthodox use a liturgy which has been in continuous use since its development in the 4th century.

    The current Episcopal Church of America is the offspring of the Anglican Church which had its birth in a dispute which was as much political as religious. Luther and others split from the Roman Catholics who in turn divided from the Orthodox centuries before. There has been no such organizational or theological splits, breaks and controversies in the Orthodox Church which are comparable to the Prostestant Reformation and its immense upheavals or Henry the VII’s rebellion against Rome. Liturgies vary wildly from church to church or denomination to denonination.

    This is an historical observation and I think any reasonable person can draw some important conclusions from it

  9. Jeff Says:

    Of course the reformation was political. It was the birth of the separation of the political and the religious.

    Again, if it is important for you to differentiate yourself from me with distinctions, feel free. But you are the one doing that, not me. And again, that says more about you than it does about me.


    PS – please do not presume to know anything about my schedule and availability to research your interests because I am seminarian. You know nothing about me.

  10. ExactOpposite Says:

    Access to a seminary library

    I assume you have access to a seminary’s library which should include treatises by leading authors from the major Christian bodies. Orthodoxy is the second largest Christian religious group in the world. Aren’t we suppposed to transcend our narrow little American worldview and look at world-wide events, particularly in the intellectual life of the Church.

    Apparently you don’t think it is necessary to complete your studies before you support and propound a very particular brand of theology. So be it, but, you are supposed to be the professoinal theologican in training.
    Maybe your ideas will change when you learn more.

    The point to be taken from my referent to the Orthodox Church is that it has used the same liturgy for about 16 centuries. By contrast, the theological history of the Episcopal Church is torn by at huge upheaval across the same centuries.

    Political vs. religious events:

    Actually I referred to the rebellion of Henry VIII from the Roman Catholic Church as being as least as political as it was religious. This, to my understanding is the beginning of the Church to which you belong, the Church of England transplated here to America as The Episcopal Church. Correct me if I am wrong you are the professional in training.

    The Reformation is a different event entirely. You
    seem to have confused the two historical events. Keep up that studying.

  11. Jeff Says:

    Whether I have time or not in seminary to explore every possible denomination in question is the issue.

    The reformation is a broad theological and philosophical category of events that took place in the 16th and 17th century. Henry VIII by no means started the Church of England. He was one in a series of players that created it. Elizabeth I, to my mind, was much more important, along with Thomas Cranmer.

    It was only in the Reformation and post-Reformation period that we begun to view politics and religion as separate. This is an entirely modern innovation.

    The question of liturgical change is a big one. Episcopal liturgists would argue that our liturgy, which it has fluctuated, has some of its deepest roots in very ancient practices.

    I would argue that the more relevant question that you are poking around at is whether or not the story of our salvation is closed. What Diana Butler-Bass calls “Conventionalists” think yes; what she calls “Innovation” people think no. I am on the innovation side and I think history bears that out.

    Each age has had its own set of questions to pose to the story and has come up with different sets of answers. This doesn’t mean that God changes, but it does mean that each set of questions asked in our story reveals something new about God. Not everything about God was revealed in the 1st century. We, as humans, will never know everything about God.

    A liturgy that never changes seems to me to indicate that sometime long ago people thought they knew everything about God and so there is no need to move forward. It is the faith of the dead instead of the living faith of those who have died – a faith which we continue to build on and develop.


  12. ExactOpposite Says:

    The “denomination” you refer to is the second largest Christian group in the world. Its history includes myriads of martyrs to Communist and Islamic persecution of a kind unknown by any American Christians. It would serve you well to offer greater respect for them than referring to Orthodoxy as “the faith of the dead.”

    I believe we will be held accountable for our words.You are a seminarian, a theological professional in training. Describng Orthodoxy as the “faith of the dead” is a deeply hostile sentiment and I, might add, deeply mistaken one.

    Feel the love.

  13. Jeff Says:

    You’ve misunderstood.

    Orthodoxy has a wide berth of members with a wide berth of beliefs.

    I know several Greek Orthodox who do not share your views on revelation.

    I don’t cast Orthodox as “the faith of the dead” but rater the view you seem to hold that truth is something revealed in the past which is complete and finished.

    Look – why are you coming here? Do you have a need to pick fights? If you don’t like my point of view go somewhere else.

    Have you been elected to ensure that Episcopal Seminarians get a dose of Russian Orthodoxy or something?

    I’m happy to have charitable conversation but you started off being offended. Why even bother? What are you trying to prove?


  14. ExactOpposite Says:

    The teachings of the Orthodox Church on the core, vital aspects of theology has been remarkably consistent across the centuries and across the continents.

    A person may be called Greek Orthodox if they were born into the faith, or joined the faith later in life. An individual’s opinion, is just that, an opinion. One may not differ with the teachings of the Orthodox Church on its core, vital premises AND remain Orthodox regardless of what one calls oneself. So the existence of several people that refer to themselves as Greek Othordox who have various opinions proves nothing. They are simply people with various opinions and if they diverge enough for the core, vital teaching of Orthodoxy to a significant extent they cease to be Orthodox in truth.

    If Truth “changes” then it isn’t Eternal. Religion is the search for Eternal Truth. In practice this discussion about the nature of Eternal Truth is somewhat silly. Your intellectual quest is an effort to reclassify something that God considered an abomination into something that God blesses. Quite a hat trick, but that is the core.

    The proof of the matter is that your expounded your theories before you entereded seminary. You entered seminary to find proofs of your theories not to be transformed by the study of Scripture and the writings of holy predecessors. This fact is apparent from your essay on Jonathan and David. The Bible is a source of proof of your argument, not something that transforms the reader.

    By the way, there does not seem to be any example of a homosexual liason in any part of the Bible that God granted approval to. Why not?

    Why would God chose to change His Truth regarding one particular type of activity? Why would God wait 2,000 years to chagne this Truth about this particular activity? Can we expect God to change His position on other types of human activity, if so what?

    My arguments are direct but not rude. You should engage them as reasonable comments. Why post on the net and offer a comments section? Certainly your ideas can hold up to examination and you have the advantage of two years at seminary.

  15. Jeff Says:

    God has continually revealed his activity throughout the ages. Why did we only come to understand Jesus as divine in the second century? Why did we only come to understand slavery as wrong as of late? Why did we only recently come to understand women’s ordination as equal.

    The Bible is a set of people in a particular historical context answering a particular set of questions. It is not an eternal set of answers to be used in all questions of all ages. Each age has its own questions to be asked, and while God does not change, our understanding of God deepens as we struggle to understand and build on our tradition to add to it our unfolding knowledge of the infinite God.

    Orthodox tradition is very different from Western Protestant tradition. God is big. The trinity points us to God’s unity without uniformity. That doesn’t mean that orthodoxy is right nor that protestants are right. It just means we have different views of the same God based on our different perspectives. There is no tension unless you create it.

    As for my presuppositions entering seminary, that’s for me and my bishop. Thanks for your advice.


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