Richard Kew: We speak a different language


Richard Kew has posted an essay motivated by his thoughts having attended a conference in Britain recently that was tasked with trying to find a way forward in a time of great controversy in the Church.

The bulk of his note concerns his idea that the division within the Church is between people who believe that God is ultimately unknowable and those who believe that God is essentially though not completely knowable via the doctrines and faithful teaching of the Church:

“The challenge before us now is to work out if it is even possible for these two approaches to the nature of the divinity to coexist in any way, shape, or form. Can we talk, or are we like someone who speaks only Chinese trying to hold an intimate conversation with someone who only speaks Arabic? Is it possible that there are folks who can act as interpreters? If we cannot interpet to one another, what should be the next step?

Blowing one another off does not work. The consequence of this is the bitter, bitter disputes that are in the process of ripping North American Anglicanism to shreds. But right now we don’t seem to be able to do more than blow one another off, talk at cross purposes, get angry, bring lawsuits, walk out in a huff, shout, scream, denigrate, and so on, and so on. There is serious theological and anthropological work that needs to be done, but it will not be done while the major players on the field are not only unwilling to listen to one another, but also unable to communicate with each other.

The great missionary statesman, Canon Max Warren, was one of my mentors. He told me about a year before he died when talking about his son-in-law’s work in dialogue with the Hindus in India, that we can never enter into cross-religious discussions honestly until we are prepared to be converted by the other person’s viewpoint. Perhaps this is the level of vulnerability that is required by us at this point.”

Read the rest here: We speak a different language

(Via The Kew Continuum.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I find myself somewhere in-between these two stark choices presented here; that God is both revealed and ineffable, that doctrine is objective and subjective, that doctrine addresses thought and feeling–head and heart, and that doctrine points to the God revealed in Christ but that we are careful to be clear doctrine tends to dilineate boundaries by negation rather than making straightforward assertions (in other words within doctrine there remains room for God being more than what can be expressed in our human words, but nonetheless, points to Whom God is revealed to be in Christ). My friend Joe at Canterbury Trail would say they are Guideposts. For example, we can say the Economic Trinity is the Immanent Trinity, but the reverse requires a great deal of nuance…

  2. You make a great point Christopher. My sermon for Sunday is really about the danger of insisting on either/or choices. I think not recognizing that there is a spectrum of positions rather than a simple polarity of just two is a critical mistake.
    But I think that’s part of this Sunday’s gospel message…
    I am rather taken with the insight into the poles that Richard makes. I’d not seen it expressed that way before.

  3. Paul Martin says

    I find myself in agreement with *Christopher, but from a completely different perspective. We engineers are accustomed to the idea of a scientific theory being “good enough” for use in practice, even if it doesn’t completely describe every last nuance of the truth. We make great use of approximation, which is easy to do when your theories are mathematical. (It’s harder to make analogies to “approximate theology” though.) I actually remember an undergraduate lecture on the electromagnetic theory of the electrocardiogram which began with the statement, “Assume the patient is a perfect sphere.”
    This begs the question, good enough for what? I suspect God lets us know what we need to know, enough to do the work we have been given to do. I know I am not called to fully understand the nature of God. I know enough to go about my work, which is all I really need.
    By the way, Christopher, what is the asterisk for?

  4. Did anybody read the article “The Ecstatic Heresy”? There are some very strange ideas in there, I think.
    Is he speaking of Frank Griswold in particular, I wonder, who gets quoted in the article? And is this all to defend the “scriptural prohibition of homosexuality,” do you think? Here’s a quote from the last section: “As a result, it is not enough to simply say that Jesus called God “Father,” or that Scripture condemns homosexuality, or that Jesus commands us to evangelize, or that the universal tradition of the church requires baptism prior to Eucharist. The revisionists know all this. They relativize these claims by viewing them as partial expressions of an evolving faith that progressively expresses the Indescribable.
    But it’s not unusual that these particular things are being challenged at this particular point in time! Jesus does call God “Father” – but that doesn’t imply that God is a boy, and it’s right to question gendered language for God, and quite natural to do so, when all sorts of other gendered language is being challenged! Whether or not Scripture clearly condemns homosexuality is an open question at this point; I don’t think it does, since it has nothing to say about lesbianism. Jesus does command us to evangelize – but at this point, Episcopalians are reacting against the hard-sell from the “Religious Right” – and have never been particularly good at evangelizing, anyway! Communion for the unbaptized is a to-be-expected further step along the “inclusive” path – and the rationale for it is actually based in the Imitation of Christ in any case. I’m not surprised at all that it’s happened, and there are some pretty good arguments for it.
    So why create an elaborate theory of “Ecstatic Heresy,” when most of these things can be explained much more easily and simply? Why do you think he bothers to do this? What is the benefit of this? And surely the author is aware that – as I just read in “Mere Christianity” – our entire Western economy is based on the lending of money at interest, clearly prohibited by Scripture also, yet nobody ever talks about the “Ecstatic Heresy” in connection with this!
    And I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who regard the 39 Articles as a “cultural treasure,” either. The whole thing seems off-the-wall to me, and I can’t figure out why he thought to write this. Is it just that he really can’t see that the church might make mistakes and have things to learn from outside itself?

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