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Editor's Notes

Ellen K. Wondra

There are at least 289 theological colleges, seminaries, training programs, and other institutions of theological education in the Anglican Communion worldwide. Two hundred and eighty-nine, according to the Anglican Communion office. All of them have a fundamental purpose in common, regardless of their widely varying curricula, pedagogies, constituencies, and resources: they are all dedicated to “equip[ping] the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13, NRSV). None of these programs has the material resources it needs--and this does matter, though certainly it’s not the only or even the main thing that does.

Since 1990, the ATR has seen the Seminaries Abroad Gift Program (SAGP) as a central part of our mission as a journal of theological scholarship and reflection. The SAGP makes it possible for us to send every issue of the ATR to many of these schools and programs that are unable to work the cost of a subscription into their institutional budgets. Over the coming years we hope to expand this program to include all the schools and programs on the Anglican Communion list. The SAGP is made possible by the donations of quite a few individuals, along with some supporting parishes, dioceses, and other groups. You’ll find a list of participating programs and supporting donors at the end of this issue. And you can find more information about the program and see photos sent by some participating programs on our webpage:

Not long ago, we expanded the Seminaries Abroad Gift Program to include an Overseas Subscription Fund (OSF) through which we can underwrite subscriptions for individuals outside Canada and the U.S. who want to read the journal but can’t afford to subscribe. Among the recipients are clergy, faculty, and persons engaged in mission on behalf of various churches--and they are spread all over the Communion. Another section of our webpage gives information about this program:

The ATR Board and staff believe that, through these two programs, we are contributing to the health and vitality of the Anglican Communion and the Christian faith, whatever their shape now and into the future. This isn’t because we think the ATR is the best theological journal going (though we are, I think, appropriately proud of our work). Rather, it’s because we trust in and follow a God who is self-revealing, a God who desires intimate connection with the divine creation, a God who has made the human part of that creation to long for knowledge and connection with their Creator. “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are always restless until they rest in you,” Augustine said. Theological inquiry and reflection are born of that restlessness and ordered toward its fulfillment in God. Such fulfillment is the inheritance of all the children of God, and we hope that, by the grace of God, the ATR may be making a small contribution in that direction.

The grace of God also stirs the hearts of the donors who support these two programs and the journal as a whole, and we are grateful for both God’s gifts and theirs. If you look at the SAGP page, you’ll see a number of schools for whom there currently is no sponsoring donor. These schools and programs receive the ATR anyway, and it is our intention that they always will. Still, this is an indication that we need more support for this and the OSF program. I hope that in time we can build up an endowment for these two programs. And I invite each of you, the readers of the ATR, to help us fund these mission efforts.

The fact that you’re reading the ATR at all is due to the generosity of many donors and subscribers over the years. In addition to subscriptions, our expenses are covered by donations of all sizes, some for general operating expenses and some for special issues; some from individuals, some from congregations, some from dioceses, and some from other agencies. We’re grateful for these contributions, and we receive them as signs of support of the mission of this journal and as challenges to us to keep the journal strong, interesting, and of the highest caliber. Over the past several years, donors’ generosity has helped us begin to build an endowment and to add to it each year. Still, as most of us know, the cost of producing and mailing a print journal increases all the time. And, while we are exploring electronic publishing, we’re also aware that for many, the joy of reading is compounded by the sensual aspects of holding a volume of words and images in our hands.

As I write these notes, the Chicago National Public Radio affiliate is finishing up one of their periodic pledge drives. The challenge of matching funds, the drawings for tickets to events, the premiums for pledges all have joined the familiar coffee mugs, T-shirts, and window decals that indicate support for public radio and the thanks of those who produce it. Fund-raising at the ATR is neither so elaborate nor so unavoidable. But we are nonetheless grateful to each of our donors. And we thank you. Thank you for joining us in equipping the saints, and in building up the body of Christ.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank two people whose work is essential to the ATR. Roberto Pamatmat has been a valuable and faithful member of the staff for some years, assisting Executive Director and Managing Editor Jackie Winter in many of the least seen aspects of the journal’s operation. Roberto’s quiet and persistent efforts keep the infrastructure strong and smooth so more energy can go toward journal contents. It’s trite to say so, but we really could not do it without Roberto. A relatively new addition to the staff is Vicki Black, the ATR’s proofreader. Vicki is also the designer of the ATR’s self-presentation: she is responsible for the journal’s “look,” and for special advertising projects. You may have noticed the very attractive ads for special issues of the ATR in The Living Church or The Christian Century. These are the expression of Vicki’s imagination and creativity, and we are grateful to her for her efforts.

For over forty years, the annual Trinity Institute Theological Conference, a program of Trinity Parish in New York City, has brought together scholars, preachers, church leaders, and pastors for a few days of theological reflection. Often Trinity Institute has provided a chance to learn and think about important matters most of us can’t find the time to attend to in a concerted way. Trinity Institute 2008--held concurrently with the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday--was no exception: its topic was religion and violence. Contemporary Christians are quite aware of the ways in which our religion has supported violence beyond what we can easily consider just or even necessary. We may take cold comfort from the fact that Christianity is not the only religion that has done so. We may be embarrassed by the fact of violence, a historical reality that continues in our own communities (along with racism and domestic violence) and elsewhere (as in the persecution of Christians, and persecution by Christians). We may also take hope and courage from the resources available to people of faith.

Our issue begins with the sermon by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori that opened the 2008 Trinity Institute Conference. Bishop Jefferts Schori draws on the readings for that service of Evening Prayer to highlight the challenges presented to the faithful by the Scriptures of the Abrahamic traditions. Any time we think we’ve finally reached any depth or maturity of understanding, the Scriptures remind us we’ve much farther to go. And that journey takes us, like Abraham himself, out of the familiar into the strange, the unsettling that is also revealing. There we must be confident that “perfect love casts out fear,” a trust expressed particularly in the mystical elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

That casting out always involves struggle, internal and external, against the sources and perpetrators of such fears, and that struggle is the focus of the address by Professor James H. Cone, rightly known as a principal voice in the articulation of black theology in the U.S. and a major influence on liberation and postcolonial theologies around the world. Professor Cone’s address fell on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and he honors that occasion by exploring the themes of justice, hope, and love that pervade the experience and discourse of black Christians, especially in the U.S., and of other oppressed and marginalized people. As he provides overviews of how both Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Muslim Malcolm X elaborated these themes, he also underscores the importance of calling into account not only those who cause suffering quite directly and immediately, but those who benefit from it and those who collude with the circumstances, conditions, and structures that perpetuate it. The point of accountability is responsibility, but the point of responsibility is not blame or guilt if all such responses do is provide another occasion for turning away from hard realities. The point of faith is not only to understand the world; it is also to change it. And, as Professor Cone says, “Faith is real only to the degree it endows us with the courage to fight.”

In typically bold manner, Marilyn McCord Adams probes the theological, spiritual, and ethical implications of the ordination as bishops of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians, and of the ecclesial blessing of same-sex relationships. Adams maintains that “Homophobia is a sin whose end-time is now.” On this view, the need is not for toleration or acceptance merely, but rather for giving institutional form to liberal Christian commitments of conscience. In analyzing the present dilemmas faced by liberal Anglicans, Adams distinguishes between process and content, a distinction she sees all too rarely made, to the detriment of liberal content-commitments. She does not consider liberalism either optimistic or easy. Rather, the basis of liberal tolerance is a Niebuhrian mistrust in the ability of individuals or homogeneous groups to think and act ethically, coupled with a confidence that even so human struggles can, by the grace of God, come closer to the eschatological realm that is at the heart of the gospel.

Faith that is real is, as I’ve noted, challenged by Scripture, and it is also nurtured, strengthened, and emboldened by Scripture. Yet a theological account of how Scripture does this is not always apparent or intelligible; too often we are tempted to resort to a more eloquent version of “because it does, that’s why.” In his essay “Biblical Reasoning,” John Webster provides an account of the kind of thing Scripture is and how it feeds human reasoning within the divine economy. That economy--the workings of God within creation--unfolds in and as history, through which both revelation and redemption come. Reasoning is healed and enhanced in its encounter with revelation. Thus reason and faith (grounded in the Scriptures) are far from antithetical--they are in quite particular and providential ways interdependent.

Steven Smith takes a different tack, looking further into Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s question, “What is scripture?” The study of “the religions” has tended to reduce scripture to text. W. C. Smith considered scripture as a genre to be a “primary mode of human language.” In the present essay, Steven Smith develops that idea in seeing scripture as the most significant instance of “directive language,” an instance which is “sovereignly authoritative” in its own contexts. Christians are quite comfortable with saying that all we do is grounded in scripture--and by that we generally mean the Christian Scriptures (including our particular version of the Hebrew Bible). But Smith’s argument goes farther than that in suggesting that all scriptures fulfill a particular and legitimate function within the communities where they are viewed as scripture. This does not, I think, contradict Webster’s article, or at least not entirely, but it does put before us the quite difficult question of how Christians can see the claims to divine revelation by those who do not find their home in Christianity. So, tacitly, Smith’s essay directs us back to the subject of religion and violence.

The final essay continues this focus on the complex situation of the present Anglican Communion in examining the idea of “core doctrine,” put forward periodically as a way of discovering what differences are divisive, and what are enriching. Christopher Brittain raises theological questions about the very notion of core doctrine, observing the extent to which the current urgings are reactions to contemporary stresses and strains in the Anglican Communion. Proponents want a degree of doctrinal precision that has not been characteristic of Anglican Christianity; and it is far from clear how the various provinces of the Communion would come to agree on what the core is. Further, differentiating between what is core and what is adiaphora undercuts the significance of what is considered “of no importance” and thus dilutes the richness of Christian faith. Brittain examines similar problems with two other proposals for establishing Anglican norms: ecclesial practice, and a Communion-wide covenant. In all three cases, there appears to be a frantic rush toward centralization. But, Brittain contends, “The present situation demands not the enforcement of greater theological conformity, but greater theological rigor, in the form of deep and sustained theological debate.” Perhaps that debate will result in greater precision of doctrine, practice, and governance. If so, then it is a reasoned outcome, rather than a panicked one.

Taken as a whole, the essays in this issue look without flinching at some of the most apparently intractable challenges facing not only Anglicans in North America, but Christians worldwide. I hope you find the issue stimulating and provocative.

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