7/15/2008

The Global South Anglican Catechism in Outline

Credit goes where credit is due. For some time the Global South Anglican theological team has been working on a document related to an Anglican Catechism in Outline, one that it is hoped would, along with the emerging Anglican Covenant, provide a basic communion wide teaching on what it means to be Anglican.

In my mind there are several glaring failures to this effort, yet in reading it I was struck by the utility of both its content and method.

First to get my concerns out of the way: It carries forward the increasingly untenable notion that the 39 Articles are foundational of what it means to be Anglican. It is too married to the emerging Anglican Covenant in a form that has now been transformed as the Anglican Covenant itself has been a work in progress. Attached to it are position papers, one of which proposes that the 1979 BCP of the Episcopal Church is not a "Book of Common Prayer" of the sort that derived from the 1662 book, the "standard" as far as the Catechism in Outline is concerned. I am not moved.

There is a lot to be concerned about in the Catechism in Outline, but all those concerns gathered together do not mean that the effort was in vain. I have read the paper several times and find myself attracted to its basic methodology and its sense that the enterprise is primarily about teaching the faith in context and with purpose.

It would be interesting to take its recommendations and spread them out next to the 1979 Catechism to see just how much is in common. The Episcopal Church Catechism will be I suspect a bit more baptismal covenant oriented, more suggestive of the roles of all orders in the church, more personally directed in its sense of the mission of the church. Yet much of what is in our Catechism is to be found in the "outline" proposed. The flavor is different, but I suggest many of the ingredients are the same.

The project was described by one of its authors as follows:

A Global South Catechism is designed provide for a complete presentation of the story of faith that “hands on” fundamental theological truths and the possibility of practical spiritual living of these ageless truths with the post-modern context. This work does not offer absolute answer to the great questions of life and faith. It does offer a way to understand those questions in the context of how the mystery can be lived as opposed to trying to attack life as a series of problems to be solved! The future of a 21st Century catechism should be based in the three traditional thematic of Anglican identity, that is oft termed the “three-legged stool”. These are: Scripture, Reason and Tradition. As the Anglican foundations have not changed; how they may be lived out in a dynamic way does and will. The Global South catechism is an invitation to shape that dynamism of lives in such a way that can offer people direction and meaning and serves as an excellent complement to the liturgical Rites of the church and will assist in the reclamation of an Anglican Christian mythic consciousness as had occurred during the great catechetical periods in the Church."

Quite an undertaking.

Under the heading of taking one another seriously I recommend a reading of the Catechism in outline. It can be read by downloading the 90 page paper from the Global South webpage, under the entry, "
Anglican Catechism in Outline: A Common Home Between Us.

(You may have to hunt to find the PDF file....for some reason the link file and its own page do not give the PDF link. But seek and ye shall find. )

Let the criticism begin.

6 comments:

  1. Mark, I haven't had a chance to take a look at this Catechism yet, but I was intrigued by your quotation from one of the attached position papers, 'one of which proposes that the 1979 BCP of the Episcopal Church is not a "Book of Common Prayer" of the sort that derived from the 1662 book, the "standard" as far as the Catechism in Outline is concerned.' Hmm. It is my impression that in England and various other provinces the 1662 BCP is venerated more than it is actually used. Even in Sydney they apparently have a "modern language" alternative version of the 1662 Book. Kenya has a fairly recent Eucharistic rite that is well in line with current liturgical thinking. The West Indies, who have been through a couple of liturgical revisions in the last half-century, use a rite that borrows a lot from our 1979 Book but also has some interesting features of its own. The same is true of Canada. I think the same is true of Scotland. The New Zealand Prayer Book is, of course, a landmark work. What's interesting is that (I believe) most Provinces have either the 1662 Book, or their own "old" Prayer Book, plus some authorized alternative liturgical texts, which are widely used and in a number of instances have so many variants that the book itself is liturgically unusable and therefore there are presumably local booklets or leaflets of one sort or another that print out what is actually going to be used. (Anglicans Online has links to a lot of these liturgical texts.) It seems to me that pretty much the only Province that actually uses its officially authorized Book of Common Prayer is TEC! The 1979 BCP is _precisely_ a "Book of Common Prayer."

    Bill

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  2. I find this rather disturbing. First, because in asserting the 39 articles as the mantle of theological authority, it seems to me that the idea is a step back into time that no longer exists. The old "three legged stool" idea was one I and, presumably every other Anglican priest has been acquainted with. While not officially a Hooker idea, it was always an assumed idea, one that left enough "wiggle room" for both dialogue and for evolution of ideas. I suppose that I'm trying to say that this catechism represents an in-your-face answer to theological evolution.

    Second, the rather triumphalist touting of the 39 Articles is, perhaps, more irksome. Although these articles certainly did represent a step forward for the then Church of England when they were written, I know of no instance where they were ever etched in stone. I seem to recall that while I was in seminary, our professor made a point of telling us that while the 39 Articles were a fairly definitive statement in their time, they were never particularly adhered to or even upheld unanimously as doctrine. Just my two cents.

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  3. The "three-legged stool" was taught to me--and, presumably, every other Anglican cleric--at seminary. What I find it interesting that this should be dragged out by these folks as though it were basic doctrine. I might be wrong, as I often am, but "the three-legged stool" is a metaphor: nothing more and nothing less. In other words, it is a tool by which we may make intellectual and spiritual assessments. In and of itself, it speaks of no doctrine. What it does, however, speak to is an invitation to dialogue and discernment in the best Anglican tradition.

    As to the non-status of the 1979 Prayer Book, the BAS (Canada), etc... where did that ever get set in stone? Even Cranmer's original model got heavily edited and changed in his lifetime.

    And, finally, as to the 39 Articles...

    In seminary it was stressed to us that, although the 39 Articles were a unified statement of faith for the Church of England at the time, they were never, apparently, entirely accepted by all the church. In other words, they were an "official" statement with which not everyone agreed. The 1979 BCP does the Anglican world a favor by placing them with the "Historical Documents," such as the so-called Athanasian creed. I suspect that if we put a group of reasonably well-informed Anglican theologians in a room they would come up with a group of articles that would not resemble the original 39 at all. The point is that things evolve; it is the nature of living things. We have evolved beyond the 39 Articles and the need to proclaim reformation.

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  4. The problem I see with virtually everything the global south does is it somehow has to point back to the Episcopal Church in the US. The idea of creating an up to date prayer book, one they can use is admirable, we have all done it, but why the cheap shot about the American Prayerbook, as if to say, it is no good, we can come up with something better. Okay, come up with something better, just don't use the US as your foil.
    The other thing I am appalled at is the constant attempt to codify everything, literally to what some (who knows who they are) think is the final and divine word. The attack on the three legged stool is indeed an attack not on which is primary but rather on the thinking process one uses to come to conclusions. Don't confuse me with the facts, I know what I believe and by God you will believe this also. There is a little ditty in even the RC canons that allows for the ability of each memebr of the body of Christ to ultimately come into the relationship with God in their own way.
    I say, you want to make hay for the global south, great -- do so and more power to you. Then we wil lsee it over time and ifwe find value in it we will begin to ponder that value. Anybody ever remember the dialectic?

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  5. I spent a good deal of time with this earlier this year. I have had more to say on my own blog, but in general I think there is much to be said for the Catechism in Outline itself. On the other hand, I continue to be concerned that the commentaries are still published apparently as part and parcel with the Catchism in Outline itself. I think two of the three commentaries are problematic.

    The Catchism in Outline itself is quite open, and would leave room for a good amount of local inflection and interpretation - which may be cause for controversy all by itself, but which is arguably very Anglican.

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  6. WSJM, in the province of IARCA (Anglican Church in the Region of Central America) there has been talk of creating a Book of Common Prayer, but in the mean time we all use the Spanish-language translation of the 1979 BCP from the U.S.A.

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