I have just about "had it" with The Living Church. The well-spun reporting has been an annoyance for some time, and the editorials for even longer. But the March 15 issue reaffirmed my sense that the continual pot-stirring — coupled with less than accurate reporting and whining opining — is not serving the church well, even if it is keeping the circulation of the magazine going. People like controversy — at least the readers of TLC, anyway — but I think the kind of writing that regularly appears in the magazine these days is not serving the church well. As I noted in the former post, the questers after truth may think they are doing well by the church; but when they are less than accurate, and argumentative to boot — well, I don't see how this serves anyone well.
For example, in David Kalvelage's editorial column in this issue, we are once again treated to more hand-wringing about a lack of General Convention's formal adoption in recent years of a resolution affirming the uniqueness of Christ. O.K., to each his own issue, I suppose. I find the BCP to be more than adequate as a statement of the theological position of the Episcopal Church, and don't feel the need for General Convention to act as a theological assembly. In fact, I don't really think I want General Convention to act as a theological assembly!
However, what really annoyed me in Kalvelage's essay is his misquotation of the Presiding Bishop. He writes
In an interview with Time magazine, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori described Jesus as "a vehicle to the divine."
Note the placement of the quotation marks. Here is what the Presiding Bishop actually said; this being, by the way, the entire answer to the question:
Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.
Some may say the difference between "a" and "our" is trivial. I don't think so. But I'm also ready to admit I don't like the language of "vehicle" — or of "getting to heaven" for that matter. But to put this answer in "my" language would be to say, "Christians understand Jesus as the means by which we are saved." Is that really unorthodox? I don't think so; in fact, I think it a fairly trivial observation that Christians believe themselves to be saved by Christ; that we "know God" through Jesus Christ. That's what makes us Christians.
It is the second part of the PB's response that raises the most hackles in certain circles, however. But does it rightly so? Do we in fact believe that "God cannot act in other ways than through Jesus" or that "God is unknowable in other ways than through Jesus"? That does not seem to be in keeping with the biblical witness either to God at work with the people of Israel, or even among the Gentiles through their perception of God at work in the natural world, as Paul said in Mars Field — though, of course, he also wanted to show them a more excellent way, and invite them into his "vehicle"!
There is, of course, also a more Christocentric way to read this doctrine; one that brings Christ back to the center; and I do think it a better reading than what the PB provides — so I'm not letting her off the hook entirely. (Then again, this was an interview, not an encyclical letter or a doctrinal thesis! And, to be fair, TLC is not a theological journal, and I'm finding fault with a misquotation in an editorial.) However, fair's fair, and just as it would have been better for Kalvelage to leave off the quotation marks or move them over by a word, so too it would have been better for the PB to affirm the doctrine that Christians also believe that Christ is the means by which God acts whenever God acts, and that when the world knows God — whenever and whereever God is known — it is Christ at work bringing the knowing. There are plenty of modern exponents of this notion, so one need not rely on the traces of this understanding in John's gospel, and in Paul's reference to the water-providing rock of the desert as "Christ." God in Christ is at work in spite of our ignorance of that work. All who are saved by God are saved by Christ.
This way of seeing God's saving work has some venerable tradition to back it up, as the early church wrestled with the issue of the virtuous who died before Christ's coming in the flesh, or who died after his coming but before hearing the saving gospel's proclamation. But as I say it has modern exponents such as Karl Rahner. Even C.S. Lewis, much beloved of evangelicals, cast his own metaphorical version of this in the final volume of the Narnia series, in which he reaffirmed the old doctrine that earnest seekers after God are found by God — God "overlooks" their specific errors on the basis of their general quest. God is, in fact, too big to put into any of our boxes.
And for that, I think we can all be grateful.
—Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG