Unsolicited Advice to the Bishop-Elect of Northern Michigan

Dude—when you’re under fire for the suspect nature of your views, you don’t come out with a statement like this.

Try something more like this:

As an Anglican, I understand the Incarntion to be an especially important way that the Triune God has shared himself with humanity. As the Creeds and the Ecumenical Councils of the Church teach, Jesus, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was both God and Man in a way that tends to defy our hollow explanations. By taking on real flesh and real humanity, Jesus honored—glorified even—our humble existence and as Anglicans we treasure this act as part of the great mystery of redemption.

I’m also informed by Eastern traditions and greatly respect Athanasius’s foundational On the Incarnation. I’ve also thought a bit about how Gregory of Nazianzus thought about it…

I’m sure you can take it from there.

Bottom line—gave us what we want to hear up front. Then get subtle. Starting out subtle makes folk think you’ve got something to hide.

30 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice to the Bishop-Elect of Northern Michigan

  1. The Postulant

    At first I read this piece a bit too hastily and found myself thinking, “What’s wrong with that inset quotation? Seems like perfectly good theology to me.”

    OK. Reread. That’s what you wish he’d say.

    Me too. I can’t make much out of the statement to which you’ve linked, but it doesn’t exactly set my mind at ease.

  2. Anastasia

    You know, I wrote a long comment just now but I do not want to be flamed, so I’ll truncate. Short version:

    I am almost completely lost in that statement and honestly I shouldn’t be. Moreover, while I see certain words and phrases that evoke the orthodox tradition, I’m not seeing anything like a consistent or thoughtful engagement with the real content that tradition. Rather, I think what we have here is a creative western imagination of what the eastern christian tradition is all about. That means the appeal to eastern theologies seems like a bit of a ruse. The overall outcome is that the whole thing is a little disconcerting.

    Athanasius would most certainly have helped matters.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    Ok—when we can’t make heads nor tails of it, that’s a pretty sure sign that its not deep theology cloaked in mystery, it’s confusion trying to pass itself off as theology.

    I’m going to withhold consent.

    Oh wait…

  4. David Bennett


    I agree with your thoughts. Why can’t he just say “yeah, I’m a bishop, so of course I believe in the Nicene Creed. The Incarnation is not something easily put into words, but the Nicene Creed is the best attempt we have, and the symbol of our faith.” I know some folks are getting on you over at the Cafe for not accepting the bishop-elect’s words as good enough, but I agree with you, a bishop should be able to clearly articulate that he holds the Nicene faith.

  5. Christopher

    First, St Anselm is getting a bad rap here, and I’m already irritated. St Anselm is more Patristic than some suppose–and far more Incarnation-oriented than some would suggest. Atonement is related to Incarnation!

    It’s not that I don’t follow what the bishop-elect is saying, but it’s what Derek puts his finger on that’s important: Just exactly what is the significance for us and to us of the Second Person become incarnate as one of us? And can that be said briefly and clearly in language understanded by our tradition? Of course, the Incarnation has relationship to the entire cosmos, which is where he tends to focus on, i.e., the waters. After all, some have supposed the guiding event of the Eastern Church to be the Transfiguration.

    That’s all well and good, but relate this back to basics:

    I believe that in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrialteral, the Creeds are sufficient statements of our faith. The Creeds proclaim that in Jesus Christ, God became one of us, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. And through this Jesus, fully God and fully human, our existence is redeemed, raised up, and dignified–divinized even as St Athanasius tells us. And in the words of St Peter, Cranmer, Hooker, and Andrewes by Holy Baptism into this Jesus we become partakers of and participants in God’s own life nurtured and renewed by Holy Communion.

    The word “sufficient” reminds us that the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity are (the) great and central mysteries of our faith, Whom the words of our Creeds cannot capture but only point us toward. Rather than end conversation, the Creeds invite us into lifelong reflection on God’s gift of Godself to us. For example, St Nazianzus tells us…

  6. Stuart

    As a former Rassophoros in the Greek Orthodox Church who is now an Episcopalian, I have to say that Forrester+ certainly is selective in what he chooses to take from the Eastern Tradition. He might have profited from this selection from the Lenten Triodion (among many, many):




    Why Incarnation at the heart of Christology at the expense of the Cross? Why not both?

    -Stuart Nikodemos

  7. Patrick

    Excellent post. I also wish someone better qualified than I would write that when it comes to doctrine (as opposed to people) classic Anglicanism is not so much “inclusive” as “reserved”–that is to say, we do not want to formulate doctrines more elaborately and univocally that is appropriate for a mystery. But this reserve presupposes a deep commitment to scripture, the Fathers, and the creeds precisely as guides to what the reserve is about. The Chalcedonian definition, properly understood, is a good example of this. Otherwise, we lose any theological identity and fall into vacuousness.

    I wish someone would find a way to convey this idea to some of our bishops.

  8. The Postulant

    Thanks to Christopher for making the point about Anselm that I wanted to make but restrained myself from making. I’ve given up my reflexive dudgeon about misrepresentations of Anselm for Lent.

  9. Vicki McGrath

    I think that Patrick’s comment about “reserve” rather than “inclusive” when it comes to theology is right on the mark. Deep engagement with classic Christian doctrine and beliefs from an Anglican perspective of reserve (and even humility) have often resulted in progressive and liberal social policies and actions. It is when we mistake our policies for actual doctrine that I believe we begin to wander far afield.


  10. Brian M

    Christopher says: “the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity are (the) great and central mysteries of our faith, Whom the words of our Creeds cannot capture but only point us toward.” An excellent way to frame it, and from there Forrester+ could have even invoked his predilection for Zen, by noting that the Desert Fathers, the Spanish mystics, etc. took up this matter of what must necessarily exceed the credal formulations in praxis, through contemplation. Given the dearth of Christian teachers willing to, say, teach us to pray like Guigo II, it is fair enough that Christians will look for training in contemplation elsewhere, and it so happens that he found that training in a zendo.

  11. Christopher

    Postulant, I have to admit, I was surprised you didn’t say something about St Anselm.

    A lovely piece from our Eastern kin, Stuart. Reminds of a favorite Collect of mine.

    Incarnation and Cross are not separable, indeed, Cross is a supreme showing forth of the Incarnation, the radicality to which our Lord became one of us for us, as much as the Cradle.

    “Reserve”, now that’s a helpful word in reframing our approach to theology. “Inclusive” has come to mean we have no theology or any old thing will do. Our Quadrilateral is a reformed, yet Patristic synthesis that gives a lot of latitude for ongoing reflection on God’s self-gift, but demarks boundaries such as Jesus is fully God and fully human, Creation is the gift of a loving and good God, etc.

  12. The Postulant

    Christopher, I did come very close to saying something in my comment at the Cafe (under my own name, of course); since that comment never showed up, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Now someone over there has invoked the other red-flag name for me — blessed John Duns Scotus, greatest of all philosophers — but (happily) in a way I can’t complain about.

    Derek, sorry to carry on a conversation with Christopher on your blog. It seems vaguely untoward.

    And let me join the chorus of those endorsing the word ‘reserve’ as a helpful contribution to our thinking about all this.

  13. John-Julian, OJN

    I think one of the serious problems here is the confusion of the discipline of systematic theology with ascetical theology — a problem that has plagued mystics since forever.

    For instance, virtually all practicing mystics down the centuries have described the experience of mystical union with God, with other Christians, with all humans, and even with the whole of creation. That is a mystical and ascetic experience vouched for by hundreds. Even the non-mystics among us can recognize the unitive “presence” of God in the whole world and in each other. Indeed, if “being” is a primary attribute of the Divine, then everything which has “being” shares that divine attribute. And there is that “godly will” or divine spark” or “shard of God” (as various mystics have described it) in each of us.

    But a line is crossed when one equates that sense of the presence of the divine in each of us creatures with the Incarnation itself. The “presence” of God in Jesus Christ is not merely another example of what is true for all of us (which is what I hear behind the candidate’s explanation).

    I do think that he is trying to “accent the positive” in his exposition of human nature — trying to get past the Calvinist dark depravity with which we are all far too familiar — but (like so many of us) he overcorrects and ends up at the untenable far end of the see-saw. (As a semi-pelagian Cassianist, I’m sympathetic with his intentions, but not with his blithe demotion of the Christus.)

    It all seems quite sad to me because I see real value in the direction he tries to move. If only he had a stronger ecclesiology, he’d probably find the balancing correctives to his too private insights (and his private liturgical experiments).

  14. Derek the Ænglican

    That’s a very helpful way to look at it. And I think it’s no accident that many of our best mystics and contemplatives are those nurtured by the interplay of Mass and Office that offer correctives to private fantasies.

  15. Christopher

    Thanks Fr. John-Julian. I think you hit on an important point. Truth be told, to my mind the Creeds are expressions of the Church’s experience of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, and as such are not mere systematic theology, but mystical theology themselves. They prevent us from diluting the Incarnation as the unique event of the Person of Jesus Christ and at the same time raise all flesh up as the loci of God’s ongoing Presence.

  16. Tobias Haller

    Thanks for the further illumination. I do like “Reserved” vs. “Inclusive.” It echoes Huntington’s original concept of a Quadrilateral, which is a building with four walls — a territory marked off, not to say there isn’t other territory, but that here is where sheep may safely graze…

  17. Tim Cravens

    I don’t mean to be offensive, but I have to say that I am profoundly relieved that I am no longer part of the Episcopalian organization. The fact that a so-called “diocese” of the Episcopal “church” believes that a Buddhist unbelieving heretical apostate is somehow an appropriate candidate for bishop is beyond appalling.

    I used to be an Episcopalian. Now I’m an Independent Catholic. I fully support the ordination of women, the ordination of gay and lesbian persons, and the marriage of same-sex couples. It is the tolerance of misogyny and homophobia that originally drove me out of the Episcopal denomination.

    But, I am a Christian. I believe the Nicene Creed. I adhere to traditional forms of the liturgy. Having shared the podium this past May with “Bishop” Spong (who is not a bishop, as he is not a Christian), whose address (I will not dignify his blasphemy with the term “sermon”) was a repudiation of Christianity, I am disgusted with the tolerance of rank heresy that the Episcopalian sect gives to its members. Anyone who has been “ordained” as a lay or whatever practitioner of Buddhist meditation should immediately be defrocked — the fact that the “diocese” of Northern Michigan sees fit to put forward this blasphemous heretic as a candidate for bishop is horrifying.

    And I thought that because I officiated at same-sex marriages in New Paltz in 2004, I would be considered a “liberal” — by the standards of the Episcopalian sect, I am actually a rigid hide-bound conservative!

    I recognize that there are many faithful Christians within the Episcopalian organization, and my sympathy goes out to you. But your sect, as a whole, regardless of diocesan and parochial faithfulness, can no longer be credibly regarded as a legitimate Christian denomination. I will revise my opinion if the Buddhist heretical apostate is refused the episcopate. If not, I will no longer recognize confirmations and ordinations from TEC as valid.

  18. Tim Cravens

    Fr. Postulant,

    First, I love your blog.

    Second, I will happily apologize for calling the Episcopal denomination (of which I was a member for 15 years) a sect when Jack Spong is no longer a bishop and when Mr. Forrestor is refused the episcopate. Until that time, I cannot in good conscience regard the Episcopal organization as a legitimate church, since the organization as a whole tolerates heresy. I recognize that there are many wonderful Christians, bishops, priests, and deacons within the Episcopal denomination — but if your denomination is unwilling to insist on a minimum degree of orthodoxy (and any minimum that permits Jack Spong to continue to be a bishop is unacceptable), then I don’t really see how you can justify being a Church rather than a heretical sect.

    The attempt to always be polite and nice and overlook very real differences, IMHO, is one of the big problems with TEC.

  19. Derek the Ænglican

    Well, you’ve got to call ’em like you see ’em bishop.

    I don’t claim to understand the existence of either +Spong or +Righter. As far as I know, there was no evidence of their theological short-comings before their consecrations. In this case there obviously are.

    I seriously do wonder about the state of Northern Michigan—they only work with one candidate and it’s this guy… ??

    Lots of folks call us apostates, a sect, an organization masquerading as a church, and worse. Me, this is where I stay and I’ll hold and teach the faith as I’ve received it.

  20. Tim Cravens

    Derek (and Fr. Postulant), just to be clear — I believe that the One True Church consists of all baptized Christians who believe in the Triune God, Christ Incarnate, and the Atonement through Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. Even if the ecclesial body with which one is affiliated is defective, that does not detract from an individual’s orthodoxy. (And I am a hopeful universalist who believes that Christ’s triumph over sin and death will ultimately redeem all of humankind — I don’t think Jack Spong will burn in hell — I believe he will apologize for teaching erroneous doctrine [and for wearing the ugliest pectoral cross I’ve ever seen — which may be a worse offense than his heresy!] and then he will be welcomed to the heavenly banquet.) I really do believe classic Anglicanism is the clearest expression of essential Christianity.

    However, as a friend of mine who is now an RC has observed, the recent unpleasantness has resulted in a split between “Baptists in Brocade” and “Liturgical Unitarians” – and I am afraid I agree with him. The right wing is so focused on issues of gender and sexual orientation, which are not the central focus of the gospel, that they have ignored the central truths. The left wing has, in its eagerness to overcome discriminatory exclusionary tendencies of the past, jettisoned even the necessary allegiance to the central truths of the Christian faith. Of course, there are many faithful adherents of the Christian faith (Derek and Fr. Postulant being two good examples) within TEC, but unfortunately, unless the denomination as a whole reverses course, I fear that as a whole it will cease to be a vehicle for authentic Christian teaching (with many local exceptions).

  21. The Postulant


    It’s not your belief that my Church is a sect that I was objecting to (well, strictly speaking, it wasn’t your expressing that belief that I was objecting to), but your using that word in a comment in which you professed the desire not to give offense. I guess it’s my lingering philosophical scruples about performative self-contradiction. I actually quite agree with you that the Dogma of Niceness is a big part of what ails my Church (or whatever it is), and I am hopeful that the current debate will mark a turning point in which we at last come to acknowledge that even Niceness has its limits.

    One very lovely thing about this exchange is that I can feel quite sure that when you say you love my blog, you’re not just being Nice. :) So thank you, very sincerely.

  22. Tim Cravens

    Dear Fr. Postulant,

    One of the things that is so wonderful about your blog is the fact that it is tied to the Embertides. The jurisdiction of which I am a part requires Embertide reflections of all clergy and seminarians (although since we retain the practice of the minor orders, our seminarians are already clergy as clerics, porters, readers, exorcists, acolytes, and subdeacons), so your emphasis on this salutary practice of the ancient Roman church, which, like so many Roman customs, only survives in Anglican contexts, resonates with us.

    I really believe that you represent the best of the Anglican tradition, and I sincerely hope that one day you will be called upon to become a bishop. And I will regard you as a bishop of the Church, not of a sect (which is all I can regard Spong and the “bishop-elect” of Northern Michigan as being officials of).


  23. bls

    Wow, this is a great discussion. Finally, maybe, we can talk about something real, rather than going on and on about how to re-arrange the furniture, and what we’re all doing wrong in that regard?

    Actually, I’ve grown very, very tired of the institutional Episcopal Church, too – I am seriously looking around at other options at this point – but there’s quite a good crowd at this blog, I must say, and in any case I smell change in the air.

    I would be so nice if we could turn this ship around (slowly, slowly). (I must say I laughed out loud at the disdainful mention of “medieval mystification” on the recent Cafe thread! Amazing….)

  24. Paul Goings

    “If not, I will no longer recognize confirmations and ordinations from TEC as valid.”

    Extra Cravens, nulla salus.

    But he has a real point…

    My problem is that I’m not interested in the minimalist liturgical life that appears to be the only other local option outside of TEC, from the R.C.’s, to Dr Craven’s own Diocese of Stonewall.

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