Thoughts on William J. Abraham’s Logic of Renewal

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For the Church Renewal Class, we are reading several books and writing about a page on them… so, I intend to share them with you.

Abraham is not writing to the academic or the theologian who decides to stay in the depths of God, but to the Church where it is. His language is often forceful, especially when he wishes to disagree with one of his examinations (149; and his issues with changing ‘patriarchal language’ for the sake of change). He is not biting, but provides his readers with enough to chew on. His presentation, at least in as far as it seems to one who has not read many of the works examined, seems fair, although he shows the true intellectual dogma of not believing, agreeing, or accepting out of hand everything present to him, and to him us. The author is careful to let the examinees speak for themselves, and had generally aligned the comparisons neatly so as to present two different views of renewal to contract one another immediately and directly (The easiest example of this is Cupitt and Norman as well as Wagner and Reno).

Most importantly was Abraham’s refusal to accept fully anything presented and to consistently, even if his personal agreements seemed to come through (such as with MLK, Newbigin and Wagner). Further, his discussion of the Enlightenment throughout the book is relevant because it is something that we still face today, either in faith or in reason. For myself, I prefer the side of reason; however, through the readings on Cupitt and Spong, there are errors in reason over the Spirit which I see need to be addressed not only in myself, but so too the larger Church. This is Abraham’s most important contribution, in that Abraham readily secures against the full encroachment of the Enlightenment’s brand of Reason, but challenges those, such as Draper, Norman and Wagner, to make use of intellectual integrity to propel the Church forward. Finally, Abraham, against Cupitt and others who wish to simply dismiss the ‘canonical’ tools of the Church, instead insists on holding more firmly to them to guide us into renewal.

While Abraham sees the renewal of the church heavily dependent upon the canons of the past (169), I would have preferred to see a chapter by him (although admittedly, his work on this subject most likely addresses it fully) directly on this subject. The Scriptural canon is something still held differently by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, and among Protestants there are the debates involving translations, such as the King James Version only movement and the use of inclusive language. Further, there is the notion of original text, which as F.F. Bruce would point out, is a canonical question all of its own. Then, there are the Councils, of which Protestants hold to just a few, as well as the Creeds which many Protestants simply dismiss as unnecessary, or hold in vile and utter contempt. While I appreciate his allusions to these issues, I would rather have seen his stance detailed more than just a footnote to his previous work.

The ministry aspect of this, I think, is that first and foremost, many voices are needed, but rarely do they have the singular answer to the question of Church Renewal. Instead, the voices contribute to the overall answer, although we may not see it at the moment. Further, we have to understand just what our experiences do to our viewpoint. Taking Spong as the primary example of this, I see that his background in fundamentalism shaped his need to run as far as possible from any foothold into literalism or Christian history. Because of this, Spong seems to want to remake Christianity into his own image, devoid of the Spirit, the Creeds, the Scripture, and most importantly, the miracles in which we find Christian reality. The same, although the origins are different, may be said of Cupitt; however, with people such as Dr. King, the background helps to shape in a positive way the vision cast for renewal. There is a danger then, of being too subjective in determining your path forward (such as Reno), although the opposite is true as well (Newbigin) in which one may have an almost dominionist control over Church and State. Ministry is always rooted in subjectivity, but sometimes, our answers for renewal need to go beyond our experiences and viewpoints.

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