Generous Orthodoxy  

The word ortho-doxy (Greek for "right doctrine") has both positive and negative connotations. In a culture that prizes what is iconoclastic and transgressive, orthodoxy has come to sound constricted and unimaginative at best, oppressive and tyrannical at worst.

The position taken on this website is that we cannot do without orthodoxy, for everything else must be tested against it, but that orthodox (traditional, classical) Christian faith should by definition always be generous as our God is generous; lavish in his creation, binding himself in an unconditional covenant, revealing himself in the calling of a people, self-sacrificing in the death of his Son, prodigal in the gifts of the Spirit, justifying the ungodly and indeed, offending the "righteous" by the indiscriminate nature of his favor. True Christian orthodoxy therefore cannot be narrow, pinched, or defensive but always spacious, adventurous and unafraid.
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Fleming Rutledge has been named Preacher-in-Residence

Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fleming Rutledge has been named Preacher-in-Residence at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, SC. This will involve two visits each in 2014 and 2015 for a total of four visits. Her first residence will be in Lent this year (March 26-April 2), and her second will be in the pre-Advent season in November (dates to be announced).



Recent Ruminations

Orthodoxy (whether generous or not) in disarray
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

During the 14 years I spent at Grace Church in New York City, April Fool's Day fell on a Sunday twice. In those days we had a beautiful church bulletin printed by a real printer in Brooklyn who set the type by hand (can you believe that was still going on? in the 1980s?). As the editor, I prepared the content and sent it over to Joe in Brooklyn every week (I think that delivery was probably by hand, too). On the Sunday morning of April 1, a couple of years after I'd been doing the bulletin, the "real" bulletin was intercepted by a benign conspiracy of our young  parishioners -- I was completely in the dark about this -- and replaced by a subversive bulletin (also printed by Joe, who was in on the joke). The ushers did not realize what they were handing out, until a number of chortles and pokes in the side among the arriving parishioners that morning alerted them to the headline on the front page: THE FEAST OF ST. PELAGIUS. The substitute bulletin was an affectionate, knowing satire on the clergy, the prayer groups, the Bible studies, the worship, the romantic entanglements among the young parishioners, and especially the well-known and well-loved content of the preaching and teaching at Grace Church. It was one of the most marvellous things that happened during those years in that congregation. Seven years later a new committee of wits (with some holdovers from the first time) did the same thing all over again, with the same headline. The"St. Pelagius' Day" bulletins are remembered with much delight to this day.

If you don't know who Pelagius was or why he matters (or doesn't matter), then the whole thing would have been lost on you. At Grace Church in those days, a lot of people knew. A lot of the young adults, as well as the older ones, knew that the very knowledge of our salvation depended on the outcome of the debate between Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine won the debate -- theoretically -- but the Pelagian position has remained the default for everyone, and must therefore be identified, understood, and rejected all over again in every generation.

What's this all about? We'll get to that, but the first thing to be noted is that there is now an overt, intentional, and quite serious move afoot to reclaim Pelagius as a Doctor of the Church. J. Philip Newell, a very popular author and "spiritual" leader, is one of the chief cheerleaders; you can read about him at http://ghostranch.org/spiritual-retreats/casa-del-sol/john-philip-newell/

This move is associated with the current enthusiasm for all things Celtic, which has deeply penetrated the mainline churches, perhaps especially the Episcopal Church. Closely related is the overt outreach to the group, now growing in numbers, of those who define themselves officially as "spiritual but not religious" (hence the earlier use of quotation marks for the word "spiritual"). The New York Times last week ran an article about that phenomenon, with a reference to the delightfully fearless Lillian Daniels, who can be found here: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/08/13/answering-the-spiritual-but-religious-an-interview-with-lillian-daniel/ 

Lillian is a tonic. She understands, for instance, that the phenomenal popularity of "Celtic" services being held for all comers, with open communion for the unbaptized, is not going to strengthen the faltering churches. Her voice is valuable and much needed. She does not, however, seem particularly interested in The Great Tradition (aka generous orthodoxy) of the church, but rather, in what the church asks of its people -- and more power to her on that. Doctrine, however, still lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. As soon as one becomes unmoored  from the Great Tradition of biblical interpretation and Christian doctrine, there are unnumbered, treacherous currents, tides, and rocks to get lost in or run aground on. Moving away from the church (with all its all-too-obvious defects) means exchanging one flawed organism for another -- oneself. Pelagius was a Christian, a very serious one, but the teaching that Augustine was dead set against was his tendency to substitute human agency for divine agency.

In the end, it's about God. Who is God, and what difference does that make? There are a number of dangers in the Pelagian route, but perhaps the primary route out of biblical faith is the redefining of the identity and nature of God. It is simply tragic that the issue defining the various parties in the church today is same-sex unions. The passions surrounding this debate have almost entirely obscured the all-important questions of Christology and the role of Scripture in an age when an unprecedented number of books and media messages are bent on undermining the church's ancient confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

This is the first post of two or three to follow on the subject of Christian doctrine, the Augustinian position, and the fashion for spirituality.
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More help for preachers
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

While working 10 hours a day (literally) on finishing The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, I am finding some wonderful resources for preachers. Paul Scherer was one of the preachers I never heard but often heard about in the days when I was hanging around with professors at Union in New York. Here is a link that I like:

http://www.preaching.com/resources/past-masters/11567306/page-2/
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Latest Tips From the Times

Fire and brimstone, 1822 and 2015
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All this is in one day's New York Times:

A sermon preached in a Congregational church in Dudley, Massachusetts, in 1822 began with these words: "The corruption of mankind is very great."

This opening gambit would not be tolerated today. We enlightened ones of the 21st century preach about corruption and sin not at all. The mainline churches of today (the very ones that are closing hand over fist all over New England) preach human potential, inclusiveness, radical hospitality, incarnation in an unblemished creation, the triumph of the human spirit, and various related messages designed to make us feel good about ourselves and the world.

On the front page--just this one page--of the same issue of the Times, July 30, 2014, we have this:

1) Over the past decade, European countries have been secretly paying ransoms of multi-millions of dollars to free hostages kidnapped by Al Qaeda. In other words, the West is bankrolling the terrorist organization. "Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least 125 million since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year" to ransom Europeans taken hostage.

2) The former governor of my home state of Virginia (formerly known for probity in government), Bob McDonnell, and his wife Maureen, are on trial for conspiring to use his office for personal enrichment. The defense will argue that their marriage had broken down so badly that they did not even communicate, let alone conspire.

3) Steven A. Cohen, one of the most powerful of all hedge fund managers, entered a guilty plea to insider trading charges, which involved a $1.2 billion penalty paid to the US government. He has changed the name of his company from SAC to Point72 and as of this date has made nearly that much in the past six months. He and his family rented a yacht for a vacation in the Greek isles, attended an international art exhibition in Switzerland in June, and last weekend, with his wife, was a guest at a charity gala in the Hamptons at the home of Jerry Seinfeld.

4) The large front-page photo of the day showed mourners at a funeral for an Israeli soldier. They are cowering on the ground by a wall, seeking shelter from yet another rocket fired from the Gaza Strip. The caption notes also that on the same day (yesterday) an Israeli strike hit Gaza's only power plant, thereby cutting out most electricity in the territory.

5) The latest round of sanctions against Russia is creating alarm among ordinary Russians who are beginning to fear with good reason that Russia's relations with the West will be affected for years to come, speaking of a "fundamental shift," "a long-term standoff," a "long-term problem" -- yet Putin remains as inscrutable and unreachable as ever, and is "hugely popular."

Shouldn't we take seriously the situation we are in, all around the world, and reconsider the church's message? The New Testament in its various voices proclaims Jesus Christ as the victor over evil, sin, and death--but how can we make that real in the church's preaching and teaching unless we are willing to look the Enemy in the face? and recognize how easily Sin takes root in us all?

" 'They proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me,' says the Lord."  ( Jeremiah 9:3)    
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