Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Review by Charles Raven of Mike Higton's, ‘Deciding Differently: Rowan Williams’ Theology of Moral Decision Making’

An important article by Charles Raven, reviewing Mike Higton's ‘Deciding Differently: Rowan Williams’ Theology of Moral Decision Making’, Grove Ethics Series, E162.

[...] It is always comforting to think that we can be Berthas or Chucks, occupying the middle ground yet keeping our integrity, but in today’s Anglican Communion that is a dangerous illusion. It depends on the assumption that what Mike Higton calls ‘the plain sense’ of Scripture and its ‘deep patterns’ are incompatible ways of looking at Scripture. Thoughtful evangelicals have never denied the importance of reason, but insist that reason should work subject to an inspired Scripture. This means that the ‘deep patterns’ will never therefore contradict the ‘plain sense’ when Scripture is read in the context of the whole. For instance the late John Stott’s understanding of homosexuality followed ‘the plain sense’ of Romans 1, but buttressed it by tracing the ‘deep pattern’ of human identity and gender in Scripture as a whole, notably the teaching of the early chapters of Genesis, as reaffirmed by Jesus in the synoptic gospels.

Mike Higton's distinction between ‘the plain sense’ which can be trumped by the ‘deep patterns’ is symptomatic of an unacknowledged problem with Rowan Williams’ understanding of Scripture, namely that Williams employs a hermeneutic of suspicion, not only about ourselves as readers, but about the text itself. Revealed truth, as I seek to demonstrate in ‘Shadow Gospel’, is seen to lie not in the text itself, but floats somewhat mysteriously behind it and therefore allows us to talk of ‘gospel’ truths that can be in direct contradiction to the straightforward teaching of Scripture, much as Rowan Williams did in his highly influential lecture ‘The Body’s Grace’ of 1989 in which he suggested that same sex unions were not only capable of expressing grace, but had could do so in a way that heterosexual unions could not.

So when we are told that accountability to Scripture is understood as sharing ‘a recognizable conversation’ (p17) this should ring an alarm bell. Such thinking pervades the Lambeth leadership of the Communion to the extent that the main conclusion of those Primates who did attend the Dublin Primates Meeting last February was to affirm that ‘we are passionately committed to journeying together in honest conversation’ while false teaching and immorality remained unchecked. The best contribution to that kind of conversation is absence and an unprecedented number of Global South Primates refused to give the impression of ‘business as usual’ when other Primates, notably Katherine Jefferts Schori, were being received as in good standing despite their unilateral abandonment of established Anglican sexual morality and doctrine. And it is rather difficult to see how those who take matters into their own hands can be recognised as subject even to the ‘grammar of obedience’, let alone the Word of God as Anglicans have historically understood it. Read more

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