Posts Tagged ‘doctrine’

Lost Our Middle Way?

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Yesterday, the priest in charge of our link parish in London, the Rev. Paul Kennedy reminded us of the original goal of the Church of England to be a “via media”–a middle way that would be able to unite the various factions within Christianity.

This is particularly true of the Broad Church, which in the past has strived to accept both Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Anglicans into the one fold under the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen of England. In the nineteenth century, Incarnation was part of this progressive, non-partisan wing of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.

These days, the increasing divisiveness of the political arena seems to have affected the religious realm. Christian denominations are becoming more and more political, either toward the right, as with some evangelical churches, or toward the left, as most mainline Protestant churches. One result is more politics in the pulpit and in public prayer–a phenomenon that has often put off potential members of American churches and driven present members away.

Yet, as Fr. Kennedy noted, Anglicanism strives to present the subtleties of Christianity, which doesn’t lead to easy answers or hard doctrines, and therefore will often shy away from extreme political positions.

It’s not easy to be the via media. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Banality of Evil

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

When I was doing graduate work in philosophy, I was fortunate to take some courses with Hannah Arendt. Prof. Arendt became known for, among other things, her phrase, “the banality of evil.” She was referring to the phenomenon during the Holocaust where terrible events like the death camps and tyranny were so common that evil became banal–ordinary.

It’s hard not to think similar thoughts these days, following many mass shootings and terrorist acts at home and abroad.

Our Men’s Group last night looked at the presence of evil and how its existence might be reconciled with the Christian belief in a loving and omnipotent God. The key component of any defense of the Christian position is the necessity of human freedom in order to fulfill the purposes of God. We can’t grow in love and service to others unless we have the option of being unloving. And a world in which accidents never occurred would similarly preclude human freedom. Justice further requires life after death so that wrongs in this life can be made right.

Nevertheless, we agreed that many mysteries surrounding the phenomenon of evil remain. In the words of the Psalmist: “Out of the depths we cry out unto thee. O Lord, hear our prayer.” —J. Douglas Ousley

Conspiracy Theories

Monday, October 30th, 2017

As political conspiracy theories fly about in the political sphere, it’s interesting to note that such theories have not fared well in the realm of Bible studies.

One theory that goes back to early times and is revived every few years is the notion that the disciples stole the body of Jesus, buried it secretly, and then pretended that they saw him alive. Another theory had him surviving the crucifixion and then pretending he was resurrected.

There are massive amounts of evidence why such conspiracies are unlikely. For example, if Jesus never died, what happened to him after Easter? Wouldn’t he have lived a normal life on earth–instead of “ascending” into Heaven, as the Bible teaches? And if the disciples had hidden his body, their deception would surely have been discovered by local authorities who were anxious to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah risen from the dead.

Another fanciful theory, for which there isn’t a shred of contemporary evidence, is that Jesus was secretly married to Mary Magdalene.

There’s nothing like a secret plot to spur the human imagination. Happily, for Christians, the evidence is strong that Christ was who he said he was. —J. Douglas Ousley


Can You Believe There are Actually Unbelievers?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

As a judge on the TV show, The Voice, the popular singer and music producer Pharrell Williams often refers to Gospel and other Christian musical traditions. He describes himself as a kind of Universalist, though clearly coming from the Christian camp.

Asked once about “those who have concluded that God simply doesn’t exist”, Williams remarked: “It’s so incredibly arrogant and pompous. It’s amazing that there are people who really believe that.”

A good point. Given all that we know about the vast universe and the mysteries of the human soul, the notion that some divine force doesn’t exist seems to strain credulity. —J. Douglas Ousley

No Room in the Guest Room

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

In a recent book, Journey to the Manger, the British New Testament scholar Paula Gooder claims that the word translated as “inn” in the traditional Christmas story really meant a guest room in someone’s house. “Inns” were only found out on the highways, where travelers needed to stop for the night.

So Luke seems to have envisioned Joseph and Mary being put up in a typical Bethlehem house–beneficiaries of the traditional hospitality for which the Middle East has been famous. There would have been no room on the upper level of the house where the family slept, so the visitors had to stay on the lower floor, which is also where the family’s domestic animals resided.

In fact, as Gooder points out, this revision of the story actually makes a better theological point than the familiar version. For Gooder, Jesus received the hospitality of strangers; and he received it not in an ancient version of a Holiday Inn but in someone’s own home, under the same roof of the local family’s house. All the more encouragement for us to offer hospitality to the stranger. —J. Douglas Ousley

Heresy Then and Now

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Today is the Lesser Feast of Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer–bishops who were burned at the stake during the English Reformation.

As we were reflecting on their brave sacrifices at Morning Prayer, I was struck by how minor the differences between their heretical views and the orthodoxy of the time. Of course, historians are quick to point out that the persecutions of many churchmen had more to do with power and money than faith. Queen Mary wanted to solidify her reign and was happy to get rid of Henry VIII’s supporters however she could.

Perhaps this is something to remember when we are horrified by contemporary punishments of “heretics” by Islamist zealots. Often the judicial violence is as much about political power as religious purity. —J. Douglas Ousley