There’s no fun like theological fun. Once upon a time, I thought that only the Hong Kong public had so much theological fun in their secular presses. With new debates everyday across the Hongkonger public sphere about the relationship among biblical exegesis, political theology, and grassroots democratic activism, it seemed like those of us in North America were missing out.
But some of the fun has now arrived in Vancouver, the city where I learned to be a Chinglican and where I began to blog about what I once called ‘Anne Hathaway Anglicanism.’ Vancouver’s public sphere is currently obsessed with how to conceptualize conservative Protestantism, largely because of local debates about a transgender policy at the Vancouver School Board and the viability of a law school at Trinity Western University that asks its participants to sign a conduct covenant banning all sexual relations outside of heteronormative marriage. In this context, the local religion journalist Douglas Todd issued a 10-point primer on liberal Christianity in the local paper, the Vancouver Sun. While ‘an estimated 80 million liberal Christians live in the U.S. and Canada,’ Todd observes that ‘given a media framework packed with conservative Christians at one end and militant atheists at the other — the public rarely hears about these people in the middle.’
Now an evangelical Anglican church is responding. In a ten-part series, St. Peter’s Fireside is putting on its blog a ten-part series on ‘classical Christianity,’ an attempt to correct Todd from his putative misperception that liberal Christianity is the via media. Against ‘liberal Christianity,’ they wave the flag of ‘classical Christianity,’ which is apparently ‘the ancient faith practiced by the majority of Christians for the last 2000 years’ that is actually the ‘middle way between aggressive, anti-intellectual fundamentalism and flaccid, lukewarm belief.’ One can safely assume that the latter is Todd’s ‘liberal Christianity.’ In fact, they say that ‘there are some things that Classical Christianity can affirm in each of Todd’s 10 points’ while emphasizing that ‘there is also much that must be added to, or rejected completely.’
The trouble is that these assertions to represent the position of ‘classical Christianity’ seem — perhaps unintentionally, but inadvertently — to be claims that these blog posts speak for the monolithic, uncontested (evangelical Protestant) alternative to liberal Christianity (read: Protestantism) for the rest of the church catholic. One wonders if this is an example of argumentative over-reach. Perhaps they mean to say that they have articulated an ‘evangelical’ theology — that would be good and fair. But aside from the slight problem that we do not know whether Todd is in fact an Anglican, were Todd to have articulated a ‘liberal’ broad church theology and St. Peter’s Fireside an ‘evangelical’ one, an Anglo-Catholic voice certainly still deserves to be heard. I am, of course, not a particularly good representative of Anglo-Catholicism, and at this point, I need to disavow representing anything. If anything, consider me an interlocutor with some Anglo-Catholic commitments, although I really feel uncomfortable calling myself an Anglo-Catholic because I am in fact a Chinglican.
The point is that however the authors of these forthcoming blog posts claim to speak for classical Christianity, that one wonders whether they have taken the totality and complexity of the church catholic into consideration suggests that they need an interlocutor. I’d be happy to give that — and only that, with no claims to representativeness — a go. And here’s my main point: I’m not sure it’s always productive to see ‘liberal’ and ‘classical’ Christianity as binary opposites.
This first post by Mike Chase is a great example of why these ‘classical Christians’ need an interlocutor — and hopefully, more than one. The fuss that Chase makes in this post is over Todd’s claim that a liberal Christianity espouses ‘co-creation with God.’ Here are Todd’s claims in their entirety:
While some Christians think of God as a supernatural “Almighty” being who can do whatever “He” wants, liberal Christians believe God has feminine and masculine qualities; operates as much like a force field as a person and needs creatures to help achieve divine aims. Since the 1960s, it’s been common for liberal Christians to talk about being “co-creators” with God.
Chase has a three-part rebuttal – very trinitarian, I must say, after Trinity Sunday. First, a classical Christian God is a sovereign person; second, God’s primary gender is masculine; and third, God is autonomous and does not need co-creators. I recognize that much of this delineation seems owed to the way that systematic theology is taught in seminaries. To call this view of God ‘classical’ suggests that there are multiple positions through which God is approached, some of which owe more to arguments from antiquity (which makes them ‘classical’) and others that take a more ‘progressive’ view (which makes them ‘liberal’ or ‘modern’). That is to say, there’s a sense in which one set of arguments are classified as ‘classical.’ This is opposed to another set of arguments that is ‘liberal.’
It’s with that sort of catholic anticipation that we look forward to a second rebuttal to Todd on the authority of Scripture.