Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ecclesiastical elitism

How did the Anglican Communion get to be in such a mess, anyway? This is, after, a denomination which, on paper, at least, has an evangelical creed. Indeed, it’s technically a Reformed denomination.

It if were to actually adhere to the 39 Articles it would be in pretty good shape. So what went wrong?

Ironically, the thing that attracts Paul Owen to the Anglican tradition is one if the main things that has taken it over the cliff.

Dr. Owen things that individualism is the ruination of the church. He wants something more conciliar, more Catholic, more authoritarian.

There’s a word for that: elitism. Now there are two related ways in which ecclesiastic elitism will kill a church over time.

1.To begin with, elites tend to be more liberal than the rank-and-file. They get swept up in the latest academic fad. They are prey to intellectual pride and the academic shame-culture. They take their cue for the secular opinion-makers. They lead lives more sheltered from the dire consequences of liberal social policies.

The whole dynamic is self-reinforcing. They live and move within their own elite subculture of life-minded elites who read the same writers and share the same lifestyle.

By contrast, church polities in which the clergy sit closer to the ground are more resistant to cultural alienation between the clerical class and the laity. They stay in touch with the rank-and-file because they are literally in constant contact with their flock, enjoy the same lifestyle, and so on.

2.In addition, a top-down polity is irreformable. Once the hierarchy is corrupted or secularized, there is no higher court of appeal. They are answerable to no one below them. And this lack of accountability is another self-reinforcing factor.

The Anglican tradition will survive this current crisis, and be better for it. This is a refining process. Realignment is under way.

But it will only survive in spite of its polity and ecclesiology. It will survive by casting off the shackles of apostolic succession. It will survive by holding fast to sola Scriptura. It will survive by embracing a nomadic ecclesiology (Heb 11), by living in a portable tent rather than a monolithic Temple (Acts 7). It will survive by being more Protestant and less Catholic. It will survive by following the example set by the Lutherans and Presbyterians and, yes, by the Baptists as well.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Out of curiosity, and if you don't mind saying of course (apologies if you do), I wonder what you're studying at RTS for your graduate degree?

    Also, perhaps along the same lines, what's your estimation of RTS or other Reformed seminaries as far as how they are currently training their pastors, missionaries, future professors, etc.? In particular, do you think that Reformed schools might perhaps be less prone toward elitism, since, at least to a layman like myself, it seems like the historic Reformed tradition itself largely rebels against much of that which makes for elitism -- things you mention like top-down polity, etc. -- but at the same time, again at least to an ordinary layman like me, it seems like the education itself is organized much like a typical, modern-day American university?

    Okay, cool, thanks.

  2. Steve,

    You make some good points, but there are examples where things work the opposite way.

    In Massachuesetts no doubt the hierachy of the Roman Catholic Church is liberal, but it is probably more conservative than the actual catholic. And being closer to the people hasn't helped the Northern Baptists and Congregationalists in New England.

  3. RTS/Virtual offers an MAR degree with no residency requirements. To my knowledge, it’s the only distance education program that does so.

    Last I heard, the MAR is also applicable towards a doctorate via the Highlands Theological Institute—another distance education institution.

    In terms of on-site education, it offers the MDiv, ThM, DMin, and DPhil—although that varies from campus to campus.

    From what I can tell, the top-tier Reformed seminaries currently are RTS, WTS-PA, and SBTS.

    The top-tier non-Reformed seminaries are Gordon-Conwell, Dallas, and TEDS.

    Regent and WSC have gone downhill, while SWBTS is on the way up.

    You can find Reformed faculty at some non-Reformed seminaries.

    Brainpower is more important in systematic theology and apologetics than it is in OT/NT studies. To be a competent OT or NT scholar, you don’t have to be brilliant, just diligent. But to excel in systematics or apologetics does require a high IQ.

    There are a number of seminaries, both Reformed and non-Reformed, that have very competent OT and NT scholars, but the talented apologists and systematic theologians are more thinly spread around.

    Where you’d attend seminary depends, in part, on your area of interest and intellectual aptitude.

    Seminary professors, and professors generally, teach for one of two different reasons: either they love teaching, or they love writing, and teaching is simply a way of paying the bills. You quickly find out which is which.

    The choice of a seminary can also depend on the quality of the library. Older seminaries generally have bigger libraries.

    For purposes of accreditation, contemporary seminary education is directly modeled on secular graduate degree programs. So you have a mix of overview courses along with more specialized courses. But, frankly, it’s all a superficial rush-job.

    Seminaries are also very career-oriented. It’s basically to prep you for ordination exams.

    This is a bit unfortunate. It would be better if students came just to learn the Bible. In fact, it would be better if you didn’t have to be a Christian to attend seminary. If an unbeliever or nominal believer has a lot of doubts and questions, a seminary should be the natural place for him to get his questions answered and his doubts assuaged.

    Which brings me to the next point. The seminary culture is also influenced by the student body. Some students just come for the degree. Others come to learn. Some come to be told what to believe. Others have genuine intellectual curiosity.

    Nowadays, many students already have a family and a part time job. They really don’t have enough leisure time to crack the books or befriend fellow students.

  4. Steve Jackson's observations are well taken. I'd just say a couple of things.

    Every polity is a failure in the sense that no polity ensures that a Christian institution won't go down the drain over time. Every polity has its horror stories.

    As to the average Catholic being more liberal than the average bishop, that is due, in part, to the very lax membership standards in Catholicism. If you're a baptized Catholic, you're a Catholic, period.

    In addition, the size of some parishes and the shortage in the priesthood, as well as paper-thin homiles, means that many Catholics have never had systematic instruction in the faith. That, at least, is my impression.