Ellen K. Wondra
“The ATR is a quarterly journal of theological reflection. In the spirit of sound learning that has been the hallmark of Anglican divinity, our aim is to foster scholarly excellence and thoughtful conversation in and for the church.” That is the first sentence of this journal’s mission statement, and in line with it the journal has made some very significant changes to its website, www.anglicantheologicalreview.org. A new section has been added, called “Conversations,” where anybody who cares to can read or download some of the major articles that have been published over the past few years. So there are essays on “the open table,” on confirmation, on theological education, and on sexuality and ethics. More will be added. This initial selection reflects the number of requests the staff regularly receives for reprints of articles for use in parish discussions, clergy study groups, and seminary and other classrooms. We hope that posting these materials on the web will make them useful to an ever wider range of people and groups. The mission of this journal is to stimulate careful and informed conversation as part of the ongoing life of the church, in North America and elsewhere, and we know that these articles do so. As time goes on, we will be adding other already-published articles; and we will include articles of a time-sensitive nature that should be made available more immediately than is possible with a print-only journal. We hope you will make free use of what you find on our website, and that you will let us know what else it would be helpful for us to include there.
No particular theme or thread pulls together the articles in this issue. Each of them is a sustained reflection on a particular aspect of ecclesial life in contemporary North America, shedding some light on possible avenues of understanding and modes of response. I hope you enjoy them.
Douglas Burton-Christie writes movingly of human restlessness, that longing for rootedness in a place one has yet to discover. Thomas Merton’s reflections on his experience at Polonnaruwa, written only days before his death, serve as a starting point for exploring the sense of place as geographical, autobiographical, and metaphorical, all at once. Particular places have certain resonances, certain associations, and away from them we feel a deep sense of loss of self and of world. At the same time, for Christians no earthly place is entirely “home”; our hearts are always restless until they rest in God, says Augustine. The profound longing for a home which is vividly imagined but to which one has not yet come provides the occasion for rich contemplation of how humans move ever more deeply into the mystery of God and “the infinite fragility of the divine life in us which is real.”
Restlessness and rootlessness are bound up with a sense of unworthiness, of undeserving. Christian faith understands grace as gift, given by God without concern for what is deserved or what is earned. In his essay, James Gould notes the tendency to collapse earning and deserving into a single concept, and he urges retaining the distinction. It is also important to distinguish between creating grace and saving grace. Grace, he says, is always unearned, and creating grace is both unearned and undeserved. Saving grace, on the other hand, is deserved--but not because of human works. God has created human beings as spiritual creatures whose purpose is relationship with God but who cannot fulfill this purpose without help. Not being able to help ourselves, we deserve the offer of salvation—union with God—in order that we may be what God created us to be. As creator, God has a duty to offer us what we need. But this is an obligation God has created for the divine self in and through the act of creating out of love.
Forty years ago, James Cone published Black Theology and Black Power, but despite the growth of black theology since then, few white theologians have incorporated the insights and methods of black theology in their own work. Among Roman Catholic theologians, Edward Schillebeeckx and David Tracy are exceptions: through their study of black theology, they have been able to discern the limits of white theology and find in the work of Cone and others some ways beyond certain impasses in current theological discussion. Ryan Cumming explores Cone’s use of contrast experience to ground his theological claims, and then moves to Cone’s liberative use of fragmentary sources to challenge the false claims of universality that too often characterize white theology. These fragments yield hope as they testify to the ongoing liberating activity of God in the midst of oppressive ideologies and methodologies.
The juxtaposition of James Cone with Richard Hooker points to Hooker’s firm and constructive engagement with the heated ecclesial conflicts of his time. As A. S. McGrade indicates, Hooker’s purpose in the Laws is to confront deep divisions in his church and to provide a framework within which those divisions need not be church-dividing. This framework does not call for a reconciliation of opposites, if by “reconciliation” one means the end of disagreement on contested issues. Nor is the mere assertion of the possibility of common worship adequate. Rather, Hooker’s view of the complicated interaction of a variety of norms and types of law indicates that all parties to controversies recognize both the limits their own uses of Scripture, tradition, and reason, and the reasonableness and fidelity of their opponents’ mustering of the same material. Hooker requires disputants to render each other “at least grudging mutual respect” even as they continue to dispute each other’s claims. Hooker does not solve the problems besetting contemporary Anglicanism, but his work does serve as an aid to reflection and “a persuasive account” and reminder of why worldwide communion matters.
The final two articles in this issue are revisions of papers given at Epiphany West in January 2008. The title of that conference was “Sacred Text as Window—Seeing one’s self through the eyes of another.” This is not a new topic, but it is made newly challenging by the religious pluralism with which North Americans now all live. How does one maintain one’s fidelity to one’s own faith tradition while fully appreciating the gifts of other traditions? Particularly in times of intense interaction among the three “Abrahamic” faiths, how ought Christians to understand Torah? In his presentation, Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski examines the need for a positive Christian theology of the Torah. Too often, Christians have seen the Torah as nullified by Christ, or in some sense superseded even while it is incorporated in some form into the “new covenant.” The contrast between law and gospel has too readily been turned into a contradiction between the Torah and the teachings of Jesus. These approaches relegate Judaism to the margins both historically and theologically, with disastrous results. Supersessionism obscures much of the revelatory power of Scripture. It also hampers Christian appreciation of the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples. What is needed is a Christian theology of the Torah that finds in the Torah a living tradition that stimulates devotion and forms faithfulness for Gentiles as well as for Jews.
Finally, A. Rashied Omar urges those involved in interreligious dialogue to move beyond “mere tolerance” to intimate knowledge of and genuine appreciation for the riches of each other’s traditions. On his reading, Hebrews 13 teaches the importance of welcoming strangers precisely as strangers, which is to say, to recognize and affirm others as representing the presence of God. This ta’aruf implies intimate knowledge, the kind of knowledge that is found in the sharing of meals, through which “the truth of God’s presence gets itself into us.” Hospitality in all three Abrahamic traditions entails embracing the stranger—that is, actively coming close to the humanity of the other. For Omar, this means, among other things, recognizing that all sacred texts are ambivalent. All sacred texts can be and have been used to incite violence. It is the morality of the reader that finds the imperative of hospitality in one’s own text and the texts of others.