Friday, August 03, 2007

Philip TURNER responds to Stephen NOLL: Two decent men present two very different approaches to The Episcopal Church: Why?

A starter for reflection.

Writing from Uganda, Dr Stephen Noll urged the leadership of The Anglican Communion Network to secede from The Episcopal Church, where a false gospel is proclaimed. Writing from Austin, Texas, Dr Philip Turner urged the leadership of the same Network to stay put, recognizing that much was being done to seek to bring changed attitudes and actions in The Episcopal Church.

Before noting the very different estimates of each man with regard to the state of Anglicanism in North America, let us briefly note what they have in common and where they are in agreement. In fact they have much in common, since they are baptized Christians, who believe the Creed and confess that Jesus is Lord. Both have served as priests in seminaries within The Episcopal Church; both have earned Ph.D’s; both have served in Uganda; both believe that the leadership of The Episcopal Church is basing itself upon and commending a false gospel; both hold firmly to a generally evangelical understanding of the way of salvation; both are solidly against the blessing of same-sex couples and the ordaining of persons in such partnerships; both desire to see the renewal of the Anglican Way in North America; both accept the ordination of women (Turner is married to a female priest); and both accept that the innovatory Formulary [i.e., the 1979 Prayer Book] of The Episcopal Church is generally orthodox, and both do not appear to see any loss to the Church in the placing of the historic Formularies [classic BCP, Ordinal and Articles] in the archives to be regarded as historical documents only. Finally, each man is rational, lucid and passionate in the presentation of his case.

How can it be that two good men who have so much in common in belief, vocation and experience come to such different conclusions concerning whether or not those who desire to be biblically orthodox should or should not remain within The Episcopal Church in 2007. Though both supply what appear to be good reasons for their views, I would suggest that neither man has come to his present position of secession or not on the basis of study and reasoning alone. Behind and underneath the use of observation and reason is what we may call “a mindset” which is composed of a mixture of emotion and rationality and which is acquired in various ways but never solely through objective rational study. In fact, the formation of a “mindset” is a complex psychological story

Noll has acquired through his own unique personal circumstances, a mindset, a disposition, a conviction, that allows him or tends to cause him to view the situation and evidence in a given way, a way that leads to the belief that secession from the Church dominated by a false gospel is the only way forward for those who confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” and wish to maintain the Anglican Way. In a similar way, Turner through his own unique circumstances in life has acquired a mindset, disposition and conviction that allows or tends to cause him to see things very differently—nearly totally opposite when it comes to secession, which he opposes as the thing to do in 2007.

To speculate on why the two men have very different psychological bases, which deeply affect how they see the situation, would be to enter into the details of their personal and family lives and a host of other things. It is best not even to try to provide an answer why each man possesses a different estimate and comes to a different conclusion about whether secession or remaining within is the right option. After all, we have a similar recent public difference in mindset between Dr Ephraim Radner (a close friend of Dr Turner) and Bishop Robert Duncan. Radner has resigned from the Network because of the move to secession and forming a new province which he sees Duncan advocating. Again Radner and Duncan are both fine men, both hold to the Creed, to personal salvation and godliness and also both agree on the ordination of women (Radner is marred to lady priest) and happily use the 1979 Prayer Book as orthodox. Obviously, they have similar but yet different mindsets!

Looking back over Church history we face the same type of problem when we ask such questions as: Why were some decent Christians Pelagians and others Augustinians, some Protestants and some Catholics, some Calvinists and some Arminians, some Evangelicals and some Anglo-Catholics, and so on? Good men and women of seemingly impeccable character and devotion are found on both sides of these many divides, even as they are now in the confused state of American Episcopalianism and Anglicanism. In fact the Anglican Way invented the Anglican doctrine of Reception in the late 1980s in order to try to keep together in one diocese or province those who differed radically on the ordination of women as priests and bishops.

It would appear that unless any one of us actually possesses the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—and this has been verified by the Archangel Michael in a written document sealed in heaven—then we have to be ready to admit that, even when we have come to a given, ecclesiastical position after careful thought and prayer, we may still be only half right or half-wrong. Indeed, we may even be totally wrong though we are utterly sincere and totally rational, for, after all, our conclusions are only as good as our premises (and our premises are often not wholly consciously known to us!).

Of course, I am referring here not to disagreement about the foundational doctrines of the Creed but to different views and approaches with respect to the application of basic doctrines in complex and difficult situations, as is the dysfunctional reality of Anglicanism in 2007. In fact there are so many aspects to the complex reality of the great variety of forms of Anglicanism in North America that any evaluation is more likely to get it at least partially wrong than nearly right.

The reality is that, as complex human beings who use our senses and minds, we cannot avoid coming to positions and opinions and mindsets; but we can avoid being uncharitable in the way we speak of others who differ from our own positions. In this matter, Dr Turner sets a good example of charitable writing in his Open Letter to Dr Noll.

Dr Peter Toon August 2, 2007

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