A comment from Ephraim Radner on Michael Poon’s ‘Works of Love’

Epraim Radner’s responded in the comment section but since that article (Works of Love) was posted a while back, I am posting the comment as a fresh article to encourage continuing dialogue. - TW

I appreciate and am thankful for the chance to converse with such an acute thinker as Dr. Poon.

I agree with Dr. Poon on most of his fundamental points:  the church (and the Anglican Communion) should be wholly subject to the Word of God embodied in Jesus and the Scriptures; the structures of the Communion should be “reformed”; N. America and Britain are currently more an obstacle (and worse) to the above than a help; “leadership” within the Communion is properly exercised by Africans (though, along with others); “communion” as a larger calling among Christians, and not just Anglicans, is a primary divine demand; many aspects of Western ecclesial existence are corrupted and alarmingly alluring in their corruption.  I could go on.

Where there may be differences between our views lies in our sense of confidence regarding the process by which these fundamental points are asserted historically, and the character of the players involved.  I have far less confidence than Dr. Poon (it seems) in the usefulness of various players – including Africans, not to mention Americans and British! – taking matters into their own hands, precisely because I have little confidence that there is some greater human purity motivating various leaders from the different churches of the Communion.  Yes – to use the example given – most African Christians have a stronger and more faithful sense of the Scripture’s authority for the Church than their American Episcopalian counterparts; no, it is not clear that this clear sense is more purely enacted in the lives of church and society on the part of these Christians.  The “works of love” that are witnessed to in deed and not in word only are rare enough among us all, because the reach of our horrendously fallenness is equivalent within us all.  Dr. Poon does a good job (and I mean this) of excoriating some of the failings and hypocrisies of the West; but the job needs to be universalized if it is truly to be illuminating and edifying.

The reform of the Communion and the shift of leadership, let us say, to Africa should happen on the basis of the clarity of teaching that, in accordance with the Scriptures, is rightly viewed as authoritative and more rightly articulated in many Global South churches than among those of the West.  But the means of this reform and shift, I believe, need to be conciliar, consensual, and self-controlled. That is a “catholic” bequest, that has little to do with modern inventions of Anglicanism or anything else.  I believe that this bequest has, to a real extent, provided a demanding blessing in West, East, North, and South; and that it can be shown that, when ignored or even “squandered”, much ill has resulted.  The fact that I have made this plea to leaders of the Global South in particular is not that, somehow, they need to hear it more than others. It is, first, because Western leaders have egregiously failed to heed it already (one of the main sources of our malaise) and seem to have their ears stopped; and second, because the reform and shift are already well along their way, and such pleas are rightly addressed to those in power.

It could also be the case that we differ on a fundamental ecclesiological commitment in our understandings of “catholic”,with Dr. Poon taking a more Protestant perspective that perceives catholicity in terms of the vital mutual engagement of more atomized Christian congregations, and I taking the more historically “Catholic” perspective that values mutual subjection of individual communities.  This difference is one of enormous importance, and touches broader ecumenical concerns.  I sense, however, that it is not in fact at play in the current debate and conflict within Anglicanism (except within the U.S.), where we are dealing instead with vying episcopal jurisdictions and relationships, not with smaller localized units of pastoral organization.

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