Friday, July 25, 2008

Dead Again

In his article on The Death of Protestant America, Jody Bottum's star witness is Bishop James Pike. Pike's British counterpart was Bishop J.A.T. Robinson, and for that there's not Jody Bottum, but Harvard preacher and professor Peter Gomes. The occasion is a series of essays assessing Robinson's onetime best-selling Honest to God, which insisted traditional theology was outmoded. Gomes is more complimentary than critical. After lauding the chapter on situational ethics (which Rowan Williams dismisses), Gomes permits himself a snipe:
"Neither Roman Catholics nor evangelicals could take much comfort in this, addicted as they are to absolutes and standards... (p. 78)"
How far should we take Gomes' reasoning here? Is the history of Catholic moral thought, nothing to sniff at, to be dismissed as snuff? Is Evangelical ethical engagement, responsible for minor advancements such as, I don't know, the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to be categorized as a nicotine fit?

In the same volume assessing Robinson, Alister McGrath claims that, considering the trajectory of Anglican theology, "Bishop Spong is the new Bishop Robinson." But did we really need an Evangelical like McGrath (they're addicted to absolutes, you know) to tell us this? Why not hear it from Spong himself:
"When one reviewer referred to me as the American Bishop Robinson, I was deeply touched... I increasingly found myself occupying the space in which John Robinson once stood... I have been privileged to walk, however ineptly, in [Robinson's] footsteps."
Bottum's essay hits hard, but the Christian faith assures that death is not only bad news; there can be resurrections. But when Gomes, a winsome and entertaining preacher with 26 honorary degrees, carelessly dismisses nearly all of world Christianity (get your mid-2008 estimates here), he not only provides more evidence for Bottum's thesis, but ensures that the American Protestant Lazarus, whom Jesus loves, stays bound.