Northern Michigan's Standing Committee writes counterparts

The standing committee of Northern Michigan has written the standing committees of all other dioceses. In its letter the committee says,

What we were not prepared for was the questioning of the bishop-elect that began with Kevin’s use of meditation as a spiritual tool to deepen his own Christian life and progressed to questions about his use of liturgy and even his theology. Fueled by bloggers with misinformation and untruths, some of the “church” press began to publish material questioning all aspects of the election and our choice of bishop.

We have enclosed a letter from Kevin Thew Forrester, “Approaching the Heart of Faith,” in which he speaks for himself to several of the key issues that have been raised during the consent process. These issues transcend our particular consent process and raise the question as to what kind of community we will be as The Episcopal Church. We ask that you read, reflect on, and consider his words. His address to you is significantly more than a sound bite or a blog bite.

Read the letter here. Forrester's “Approaching the Heart of Faith” is here (9 pages).

Comments (16)

I'm glad to see this. Fr. Forrester seems to be answering at least some of the questions about his theology in more detail. The standing committee's letter is simply incorrect that the criticism of Fr. Forrester has been confined to a bunch of blog soundbytes. They discount the serious and charitable scrutiny of bishop theologians like +Tom Breidenthal and +Paul Marshall.

I'm also glad to see him owning the Eckhartian origins of some of his ideas. As he also does in the response to Dar Es Salaam (signed by the entire standing committee and deputation of his diocese, but he seems to be the principal author).

See http://anglicancentrist.blogspot.com/2009/05/this-is-not-what-baptismal-covenant.html

I wrote on Eckhart and would even be willing to defend his orthodoxy, though he and I do have some theological disagreements. What I am missing in Fr. Forrester is the acknowledgment of the classical distinction between Son by nature and children by adoption, to which Eckhart at times appeals, even though the logic of his emphasis on oneness without distinction sometimes causes him to say the opposite. It would be a mistake to see Eckhart as a simple pantheist. Every human being, insofar as he or she is in God, is God without distinction. The real being of creatures, for Eckhart as a neoplatonist, is their being in the divine Logos. But Eckhart well knows our condition of alienation from God. The breakthrough to union is fragmentary at best. Jesus by contrast lives wholly from and toward God and is the perfect incarnation of the Word. What I still want to see from Fr. Forrester is some acknowledgment of the distinction between Head and Members within the Body of Christ, however radically he would like to press a theology of mystical union in developing a contemporary ecclesiology of the totus Christus. For Eckhart, we can be an image of one thing at a time. To the extent to which we are in God, we are transformed into the same image. (2Corinthians 3:18)

What I want to see from Fr. Forrester in other words is some sense that we are still in Adam, in a condition of objective alienation and in need of Christ. That doesn't make me an Anselmian. I don't have much use for the satisfaction theory.

I do think that the explicit rejection of "peace by the blood of the Cross," which he attributes to crusaders, but which is also found in Colossians 1:20 (see the parallels in Ephesians 2), is a mistake. This is an especially important text in the theology of reconciliation and could be used in ways that would help strengthen his theology.

With regard to Eckhart, despite my willingness to defend his orthodoxy, at least in intent, I'm not sure that anyone who said the kinds of things he said would make a very good bishop. Eckhart may be a very good mystic and speculative theologian (even John Paul II cited him with approval), but I'm not sure he would be a good bishop. Being a bishop is at once a conservative office and a prophetic one. It parallels the paradox at the heart of Christianity that we remember a radical past for strength in the present and hope for the future.

Theological quibbles I have with Eckhart has to do with his emphasis on oneness without distinction. I think the fundamental Christian vision is actually one of a communion with distinction. Glossing over otherness does not help. And this precisely is what the idea that we are already One does. It mirrors Windsor's quest for unity as uniformity.

I think Fr. Bill covers my concerns better than I could. Drawing from "begottenness" language of early East Syrian rites won't work post-Nicaea without careful distinctions that Jesus is only-begotten. This is at the heart of the christological concerns that many have brought to the fore. It's my understanding that Eckhart, like Maximos both draw on logoi and Logos language, but Maximos keeps the distinctions more clearly, and it might do Fr. Thew Forrester well to delve a little more deeply into the Eastern Churches theologians on this point. Coupled with this is a sense that atonement goes missing altogether, which is not saying the same thing as prescribing a theory. The Incarnation, as St Athanasius recognized, atones and makes possible our own renewal--theosis.

"Communion" is the theological, sacramental, mystical, ecclesiological, and christological watchword of Anglicanism as whole. As I wrote in a recent poem:

You fill up
without dissolving;
In You we
become more our own.

When an overemphasis on oneness as uniformity or sameness rather than communion-in-differentiation is applied to ecclesiology, as Fr. Bill espies, we're in serious trouble, and moving in a direction distinctly not on the whole what Anglicanism has affirmed.

Arguing over stuff which can never be proven may be one reason more people today do not identify with any particular religious tradition.

Forrester's letter should satisfy anyone who doubted whether he was doing traditional Christian theology.


Theology is such a waste of time but maybe that is its attraction. It all recalls Ptolomey's crystal spheres, which could be juggled to predict the positions of planets, but ultimately failed because they were too much of a bother.


Copernicus was more elegant. I think Forrester is trying to tidy up a messy tradition and that we are, to speak like Thomas Kuhn, in need of a paradigm shift away from theology.


Gary Paul Gilbert


Declaring one's hostility to theology is no way to win a theological argument.

Bill, I don't want to win a theological argument but rather to displace the context to social justice/worship/theater. Theology goes nowhere because none of its claims can be verified. There is more to church than theology, thank God!

Otherwise, the church would be condemned to being little more than a flat earth society.

Gary Paul Gilbert


Refusing to engage one's opponent rationally disqualifies one's opinions from consideration. It's also a sign of profound disrespect for other human beings. As if justice, worship, and theater were outside of theology's purview.

Bill, Religious studies needn't bother with the question of belief. Writing on one's own particular beliefs is mere emotive language without any real academic content. Objective scholarship and commentary do not require a researcher to state his or her belief or disbelief.

Theology is going down in universities while religious studies has risen.
Mainline seminaries are losing business while departments of religion are doing pretty well. One needn't pretend to be a church person in order to write on religion anymore. In the old days it was wrongly assumed that an interest in religion meant one should go to a seminary in order to seek ordination or at least hang out with religious people.


You are the one who casts yourself as an opponent.

Theology has to learn to keep its hands off the rest of religious life. If I were to enter a debate that is where I would enter.

Theology is yet another collapsed master narrative.

Nonengagement may be more of an engagement than ordinary debate.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Theology doesn't deal with facts. It's a form of literary criticism: explication and elaboration of a story, narrative, text. I have a lovely volume called Dogmatic Theology by Hall that puts everything in outline form: for instance, the nine orders of angels, their names, ranks, and functions. Where did this information come from? From odd mentions in religious texts, as biographies of Sherlock Holmes can be constructed from hints in the stories by Conan Doyle. Angels exist in stories, and very influentially so; there is no evidence that they exist in the world of physics and biology.

Bill Carroll seems very good at theology, ranging around within the official story and coming to progressive (gay-friendly) readings. (I wonder how, with his nose for heresy, he deals with the seven toxic antigay texts of scripture. Or with the antisemitism of the Church Fathers that led to centuries of cruelty and persecution.) But theology is all narrative with no grounding in evidence. Argument for the sake of argument. Opinion against opinion. Rationality is part of the game, but rationality is a name for consistency in premises and isn't necessarily a guarantee of correctness. That's what my husband means in calling theology a master narrative -- an abstract idea that is thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. But nowadays, we leave armchair reasoning in favor of evidence and fact. (In Brecht's play Galileo, the astronomer begs the civic leaders to view the moons of Jupiter as evidence that the Earth is not the center of the cosmos. No, no, they say, we have no need to look through your glass, Sir; our books tell us what is in the heavens.)

I was struck when this discussion began by Carroll's statement, "What I want to see from Fr. Forrester in other words is some sense that we are still in Adam, in a condition of objective alienation and in need of Christ." But Adam is a myth (as are Abraham and Moses, probably), part of a narrative that gets almost every verifiable fact wrong. "Objective alienation?" We aren't creatures fallen from original perfection, but organisms that have developed from previous life-forms. "In need of Christ?" Genetic evidence indicates that the ancestors of present-day humans lived about 150,000 years ago; the message of Jesus spread around the Mediterranean in the first century C.E. but was unknown over most of the world for 1,500 years until the spread of European colonialism. If humankind needs Christ, most in history have had to do without. And "Christ" also is a Greek demigod type of myth, perpetuated by becoming part of the religion of the Roman Empire; it comports uneasily with what we know of the Jewish Jesus. (The quip is that Jesus preached the kingdom, but we got the church.)

The point being that Carroll's theorizing doesn't live in the world of evidence; it's a well-developed, productive story, but it cannot command assent on any other basis. I have my favorite William Temple quote, too: He observed in a lecture given in New York City in 1914, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, that there was no way to distinguish between deep religious conviction and sheer prejudice -- neither depend on evidence.

If meditating on the old story reinforces your impulse to do good, fine. Fewer and fewer people find it necessary to retrace those steps; they want to get on with justice and constructive living on the basis of present-day concerns.

Like Gary, I'm not taking up Bill Carroll's challenge to argue theology. I'm saying that when you lay theology over the real world of evidence and history, it mostly doesn't fit.

Murdoch Matthew
Spouse of Gary

Theology doesn't deal with facts. It's a form of literary criticism: explication and elaboration of a story, narrative, text. I have a lovely volume called Dogmatic Theology by Hall that puts everything in outline form: for instance, the nine orders of angels, their names, ranks, and functions. Where did this information come from? From odd mentions in religious texts, as biographies of Sherlock Holmes can be constructed from hints in the stories by Conan Doyle. Angels exist in stories, and very influentially so; there is no evidence that they exist in the world of physics and biology.

Bill Carroll seems very good at theology, ranging around within the official story and coming to progressive (gay-friendly) readings. (I wonder how, with his nose for heresy, he deals with the seven toxic antigay texts of scripture. Or with the antisemitism of the Church Fathers that led to centuries of cruelty and persecution.) But theology is all narrative with no grounding in evidence. Argument for the sake of argument. Opinion against opinion. Rationality is part of the game, but rationality is a name for consistency in premises and isn't necessarily a guarantee of correctness. That's what my husband means in calling theology a master narrative -- an abstract idea that is thought to be a comprehensive explanation of historical experience or knowledge. But nowadays, we leave armchair reasoning in favor of evidence and fact. (In Brecht's play Galileo, the astronomer begs the civic leaders to view the moons of Jupiter as evidence that the Earth is not the center of the cosmos. No, no, they say, we have no need to look through your glass, Sir; our books tell us what is in the heavens.)

I was struck when this discussion began by Carroll's statement, "What I want to see from Fr. Forrester in other words is some sense that we are still in Adam, in a condition of objective alienation and in need of Christ." But Adam is a myth (as are Abraham and Moses, probably), part of a narrative that gets almost every verifiable fact wrong. "Objective alienation?" We aren't creatures fallen from original perfection, but organisms that have developed from previous life-forms. "In need of Christ?" Genetic evidence indicates that the ancestors of present-day humans lived about 150,000 years ago; the message of Jesus spread around the Mediterranean in the first century C.E. but was unknown over most of the world for 1,500 years until the spread of European colonialism. If humankind needs Christ, most in history have had to do without. And "Christ" also is a Greek demigod type of myth, perpetuated by becoming part of the religion of the Roman Empire; it comports uneasily with what we know of the Jewish Jesus. (The quip is that Jesus preached the kingdom, but we got the church.)

The point being that Carroll's theorizing doesn't live in the world of evidence; it's a well-developed, productive story, but it cannot command assent on any other basis. I have my favorite William Temple quote, too: He observed in a lecture given in New York City in 1914, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, that there was no way to distinguish between deep religious conviction and sheer prejudice -- neither depend on evidence.

If meditating on the old story reinforces your impulse to do good, fine. Fewer and fewer people find it necessary to retrace those steps; they want to get on with justice and constructive living on the basis of present-day concerns.

Like Gary, I'm not taking up Bill Carroll's challenge to argue theology. I'm saying that when you lay theology over the real world of evidence and history, it mostly doesn't fit.

Murdoch Matthew
Spouse of Gary

Webmasters: sorry for the double post. Trust you'll delete the duplication.

Murdoch

I don't see anything in what you say but naked assertions. Very little reasoning. Why assume the Whiggish story you assume? Why not just try the Gospel?

Bill, Are you projecting? It felt to me that you trashed Forrester's well written letter and insisted that he had to say things you wanted to hear. "What I wanna hear" sounds a tad narcissistic. As for assertions, a champion of theology must be the expert on that subject.

As for the Gospel, which one? Is there only the one as interpreted by a shrinking number of Anglo-Catholic Socialists? I understand there was a day when some Anglo-Catholics such as Kenneth Leech believed and taught that Anglo-Catholicism, being rooted in the incarnation (whatever that means) should be more inclined toward radical politics but even Kenneth Leech admitted five years ago that was a delusion. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=21579

I close with a quote from Leech himself, from The Church Times, "Farewell to the Days of Birettas and Cassocks," April 23, 2004. “At first, the group was very confident that the Anglo-Catholic tradition was intrinsically radical in its politics, owing to its focus on the incarnation and the Kingdom of God. We gradually admitted that this was only one aspect of the tradition, and probably not the dominant aspect.

“At the time it seemed possible to be both traditional in one’s theology and radical in one’s politics; lots of people who influenced me were like that. But over time I’ve become much more wary of some of the traditionalist strands in Anglo-Catholicism, which I think belong to an early stage of the movement."


Gary Paul Gilbert


Bill, What are your points but naked assertions -- or rather, assertions clothed in tradition and authority? My points about Adam and the history of human development rest on verifiable scholarship. It's simply a fact that most people in most history never heard of Jesus; the ubiquity of the gospel is a phenomenon of the past 500 years, the colonial age. The Adam-Abraham-Moses-David-Jesus-Church story has a certain complete arc, but it doesn't conform to what we know of history or how the world works. What I want from spokespersons of the church is some acknowledgement that they're peddling pure narrative, helpful and suggestive perhaps, but little to do with the world as we understand it. Your reasoning is within elements of the story; my reasoning -- a good ten or more inches of tiny type above -- tries to assert the primacy of evidence and fact.

Try the Gospel? Define the gospel.

I was raised Southern Baptist, surrendered to preach (two years at Oklahoma Baptist University cured me of that), was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, layread, worked for six years writing the Anglican Digest and editing selections of the Episcopal Book Club, two years being Assistant Press Officer for the Church of England Information Office. In London, I had was a layreader with license to preach. At Hillspeak we had the daily offices and Eucharist. I've spent time in two monasteries.

All in pursuit of the religious experience promised by preachers of the "gospel." Word in the 1960s was that marriage and family were the only route to maturity -- batchelors were men who refused to grow up. Fr. Foland at Hillspeak sent me therapy to save me from his life-long alcohol-ridden burden of same-sex desire; I came back admonished to keep my wrists and thoughts straight and I too could learn to like girls. A very nice girl came along and we married and had five kids (two adopted). Wow. Grown-up at last. Not.

After ten years of marriage, my wife said to me one afternoon, You talk and write a lot about religion, but I don't see much of it in your life. She was right. I realized that I'd been repeating what I'd read and been told, and what I'd extrapolated for myself. I hadn't had the experience. From what I can see, this is the basis of most religious talk -- reworking of the official narrative. People assume that the religious feelings they have are LIKE the ones everyone talks about, but I see no sign that many actually "touch Jesus" as you suggest. Those who pursue actual experience of God, like St. John of the Cross, tend to find not God but the void, the dark night of the soul.

The final straw was that after fifteen years of marriage, I hadn't learned to want a woman. My wife knew I was gay but we thought common interests and faith would carry us through to a normal, conventional life such as we both thought we wanted. She wearied of being my social life preserver but never getting the validation she needed as a woman. After three more years of marital counseling, we separated. I met Gary. We've had 26 years of fulfilling relationship. In the gay community, I've found the freedom, the joy, the spirit the church promised but never delivered.

And that's what really nails down the case against conventional Christianity. It had nothing to tell me as a young gay man. The monks at the monasteries smiled and offered me friendship but never told me, Look, you're queer, here's what to expect. And most of them were gay, hiding away in the church like I was. The church has had no message for gender nonconformists -- they may be welcome as individuals but they get only the crumbs from the majorities' table. If the message has nothing for you, keep quiet and be glad we let you sit by the fire.

I've said what I know to say. If you're interested in this line of thinking, follow the trajectory of Richard Holloway, once Primus of Scotland. He's drifted away from theology and institution, having thoroughly sampled all the theological wares along the way. His example has an authority I can't offer.

Murdoch Matthew
husband of Gary

(This is biography. I think my spouse is preparing a more learned response.)

One more thing. "Just try the Gospel"? This sounds like, try harder. Have more faith. How many gay kids have been told that if they have enough faith, God will heal them, make them straight? When it doesn't happen, the implication is that it's their fault. In a world where they aren't accepted and God doesn't answer, too many decide to opt out. If religious faith isn't accessible to people with ordinary knowledge making ordinary effort, the fault isn't with the people left out.

Murdoch
Gary's

There is a great response by Louis Weil on the situation in Northern Michigan. An audio file of his talk may be got at
http://www.nwcu.org/AudioDownloadCenter.htm

The answer to the question about Northern Michigan is about one hour into the audio. It comes right after a justification of liturgical experimentation, which I also recommend. Weil says Northern Michigan is one of the poorest and smallest diocese in TEC and has been finding new ways to do church with very few people on stipend. Northern Michigan is the future of TEC, he says, because it embraces poverty. Weil says the experimental rite of baptism Forrester experimented with goes against Anselm's satisfaction model of the atonement. TEC has never said there is only one model of the atonement, Weil says.

I highly recommend this audio.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Re: Just try the Gospel.

It occurs to me that in reading the Daily Offices at Hillspeak from the 1928 Prayer Book, we read the New Testament through twice a year. Okay, reading isn't living, but lack of exposure to the Gospel isn't the issue.

Murdoch Matthew
riding on Gary's sign-in

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