Anglicanism: Rotting From the Top Down?

Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has caught my attention lately. If you’re not aware, he’s the head of the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church here in the US. The man is something of a tragic figure. He’s usually painted as a conservative who’s too diplomatic or weak-willed to impose his brand of orthodoxy on an increasingly heterodoxical communion, and is left as the conservative figurehead at the head of one of the most liberal Christian churches on Earth. As with any church leader, he’s taken heat from both sides of the aisle, so to speak. On the one hand, you have a lot of Anglo-Catholics and others who long for an orthodoxy they see waning, with Abp. Williams too weak or unwilling to save the Anglican church; on the other hand, you have a rising tide of radicals who want to impose their vision of Womyn-church on the entire Anglican Communion, and who have been wiping out traditional Anglicanism at an astonishing rate. C.S. Lewis, the most famous and one of the greatest Anglicans in history, died in 1963. He would hardly recognize the church he died in.

Even Lewis’ Mere Christianity, a sort of “lowest-common denominator Christianity,” no longer applies to much of Anglicanism. Bishop John Shelby Spong, bishop emeritus for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, published twelve theses arguing, amongst other things, against theism (not just Christianity). Here are Spong’s theses:

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God.
therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

So Spong, not just an Anglican priest, but actually a bishop, has publicly denied the core of the Faith: the Virgin Birth, Heaven and hell, the Resurrection, the Incarnation, theism, the immorality of homosexual sex, the effectiveness (nay, the possibility) of prayer, and so forth. If Spong is a Christian, then I have no idea what “Christian” means. And neither, it seems, does the Anglican Communion, which failed to excommunicate this brazen heretic (who, it should be noted, uses his episcopal title to sell more anti-Christian books, with titles like Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile). Don’t get me wrong: the Catholic Church is notoriously bad at excommunicating those who ripely deserve it, and sometimes this is born out of a pastoral care for the flock — you want to use the extreme measure as an absolute last resort where there is no hope left. So I can sympathize with what might be going on here. But this is a bishop, representing a relatively large city, denying the essence of the Faith.

Then things get weirder. Abp. Williams jumps in to debate, and in the process, says:

The doctrine of the incarnation does not claim that the ‘theistic’ God (i.e. a divine individual living outside the universe) turns himself into a member of the human race, but that this human identity, Jesus of Nazareth, is at every moment, from conception onwards, related in such a way to God the Word (God’s eternal self-bestowing and self-reflecting) that his life is unreservedly and uniquely a medium for the unconstrained love that made all things to be at work in the world to remake all things. Jesus embodies God the Word or God the Son as totally as (more totally than) the musician in performance embodies the work performed.

What?!? The doctrine of the Incarnation does, in fact, say that the theistic God, who lives outside the universe, became a member of the human race. And the connection between Jesus and God the Son is not like the connection between a musician and a piece of sheet music. It’s like the connection between a musician and himself. Because we think Jesus is the Son of God, not just “is an example of a unconstrained love.”

Perhaps the reason that there isn’t any policing of brazen heresy is because it’s eaten away the core of the faith even at the highest echelons of the Anglican church. When the supposed conservative Archbishop, the man in charge of defending orthodoxy against heretics like Spong, doesn’t even believe in the Incarnation, it’s a grim reflection of a dark age.

A little more on Abp. Williams this afternoon (and I’ll mention Anglicanism a bit more on Monday as well, this time referring to their Communion-wide conferences).


  1. Spong aside, it has long been argued that Protestantism in general is often crypto-Nestorian in its Christology. Williams statement, quoted above, seems to be pretty good example of that.

  2. This is why I left the Episcopal church for the Catholic Church last year. It took me a while to understand that this was what was really going on. Once I realized, I couldn’t stay!

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