Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Posts Tagged "Wendy Dackson":

‘Unabashedly Episcopalian – Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church’, by Andrew Doyle: Wendy Dackson



C. Andrew Doyle is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.  In this short book, he takes the reader through the Baptismal Covenant found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer  in use in most Episcopal congregations in the United States.  The book’s intended audience appears to be those seeking baptism (for themselves or for a child) or confirmation in this denomination, and one of the endorsements on the back jacket of the book claims it is a ‘love letter to a church that could use one right this minute!” And yes, Doyle does hold up the beauty of Episcopal liturgy and practice as attractive reasons to enter into a life journey of Christian faith within this particular expression of Christianity.  It may also help those who have been long time members to “see our church again for the first time” (ix), as he says in the acknowledgements which start the book.


The book is a good introduction to the Episcopal Church for those who have never been part of a Christian community.  It tells clearly, accurately, and passionately about the life of  Christian faith in the contemporary world.  Mostly, it avoids what I consider to be a too-heavy and wrongheaded emphasis on ‘salvation’ as individualistic and about getting to heaven after death.  Indeed, one of the things Bishop Doyle emphasizes early on is that the point of faith is this worldly:


“We do believe in the kingdom of heaven, but we believe that we participate in bringing it to life today.  We do not spend a lot of time concerned with life after death; we spend most of our time working to make haven real in this world.” (p.11)


This has been the direction my own spiritual journey has taken in the last few years, and I was happy to see it as part of what a bishop promotes as appropriate instruction for new Christians in the Episcopal tradition. He also emphasized that in the Episcopal Church, our life is lived in connection with the gospel sacraments of baptism and eucharist, with the understanding that they are to strengthen and equip us for mission in the world.  That mission includes care of and responsibility for others (although I found that in his discussion of this toward the end of the book, it was a little more individualistic, one-to-one care than might really be transformative of the unjust social structures we are meant to transform). He is clear throughout that the baptismal covenant is not only about belief, but about “the kind of people we wish to become, and the type of world we wish to live in” (p.12)


All of this is encouraging, especially as people of all ages (not only the young on whom so much energy is lavished) seek to connect what they believe with how they live, and at a time when one of the biggest reasons for leaving church is that people fail to find that connection.  About midway through the book (pp.48-51), there is an excellent reflection on the meaning of each clause of the Lord’s Prayer.  This is one of the high points of the book, and worth reading the whole for these three pages alone.


What troubles me (and I am admittedly not the target readership for this book) is that Doyle makes many claims for what is uniquely Episcopalian, and I often found myself asking questions such as “What deonmination does not hold the Lord’s prayer as central to their common life of worship?” Or “What denomination does not believe that it was their responsibility to walk with God in faith in the world?” And “What Christian church does not proclaim the stories of scripture?”  Claims such as these are not, in my view, not only wrong (these things are shared by a variety of Christian denominations, and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral recognizes more commonality than Doyle does in this book), but they are indeed contrary to the ecumenical leadership that the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion have provided in the search for greater Christian unity.  Interestingly, he cites only one theologian from the Anglican tradition (N.T. Wright), and holds up examples of Episcopal missionaries, but makes no mention of American Episcopalians who have contributed to the life and belief of the church through their ideas.


I am a firm believer that Christianity is best practiced within the framework of particular communities, and my chosen one is the Episcopal Church (and has also been the Church of England).  I think that people should be very aware of their denomination’s commitments and emphases, and for the neophyte Episcopalian, Doyle’s book is a start.  But there is something of an inappropriately triumphalist tone in statements such as the following:

“Our world is hungry and starving for the Word of God proclaimed by our kind of church—the Episcopal Church’: (p. 104).  This is especially jarring as, in several places within the text, Doyle claims that we are a hospitable church, and it is not our mission to make people be or believe “like us”.


I think Unabashedly Episcopalian is an excellent book for those inquiring about membership in this denomination, and there is much that I agree with theologically.  But for the ecumenically minded Episcopalian, or one who has studied other works on the history of Anglicanism, it does not have much to offer.




Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church, by Andrew Doyle.  Harrisburg, PA:  Morehouse, 2012. Paperback, 114 pp.

The image of Bishop Doyle is via the Episcopal News Service.

“Speaking Christian”: Marcus J Borg – Review by Wendy Dackson

Speaking Christian

Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—and How They Can Be Restored

For almost two years, I have been trying to reclaim my love of God and Jesus Christ, as (for reasons I will not enumerate here) it has been badly damaged by the institutional Church.  But about ten years ago, I stopped wearing a cross around my neck, although I have a small collection of some quite lovely crosses.  Apart from various theological claims (especially by Jűrgen Moltmann) that to make the cross into adornment is to trivialize it, I sensed that wearing it was more of a lifestyle-branding statement than a traditional symbol of Christian faith.  This kind of status-consciousness, the creation of an in/out group tribalism, was the occasion of some substantial uneasiness, especially considering that the message of Jesus is supposed to be radically inclusive, and I did not want to visibly identify myself with anything else—especially by wearing intricately crafted precious metals.

Marcus Borg, the liberal and sometimes mildly controversial New Testament scholar, has unwittingly identified much of the source of my malaise through his book Speaking Christian.  In it, he articulates clearly how much of what is claimed to be ‘biblical’ language by those who subscribe to a ‘heaven-and-hell’ version of Christian faith, is a far cry from the way the biblical writers intended their words to be understood.  In his opening paragraph, Borg claims that ‘big words like salvation, saved, sacrifice, redeemer, redemption, righteousness, repentance, mercy, sin, forgiveness, born again, second coming, God, Jesus, and Bible and collections of words like the creeds, Lord’s Prayer, and liturgies have acquired meanings that are serious distortions of their biblical and traditional meanings.’  A large part of the problem is that the way we use language now is not the same as it was at the time the documents which eventually became the Bible were written.  In our post-scientific age, we have become more literal in our use of language, and we have lost much of our understanding and appreciation of the more-than-literal meanings of words and phrases.  This literalness, coupled with the emphasis on the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, the penal substitutionary atonement theory of Jesus’ passion, and orthodox belief (in, of course, the literal words used in the framework of a heaven-and-hell Christianity), diminishes the power of Christian language.  This means that people who would wish to follow Jesus but cannot subscribe to this literal, individualistic religion based on punishments and rewards to be decreed in the afterlife are left with the option of a different understanding of Christian language.  And, according to Borg, ‘the differences are so sharp that they virtually produce two different religions, both using the same Bible and the same language.’

Borg guides the reader to this ‘alternative’ understanding.  But is it ‘alternative’ in the sense of ‘optional’, or ‘not what was really intended’?  He makes a good case that much of heaven-and-hell Christianity (in which I personally have little interest) is a distortion of biblical language.  Each of his chapters (and there are over 20—but they are short!) deals with a different word or collection of words, and explores the meaning of the word as it was most likely intended by the writers of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (or creedal composers).  For example, the word ‘deliver’ (or ‘redeem’).  In Exodus, the Hebrews did not long for someone to take them to heaven—they awaited someone to deliver them from economic and political bondage, from physical danger, from degradation.  This is not about afterlife, it is about life in the concrete here-and-now.  Likewise, the main petitions of the Lord’s Prayer—for ‘daily bread’ and ‘forgiveness of debts’ (and Borg points out why this is probably the actual word used)—are about the main perils (hunger and permanent economic deprivation) that faced a common person in the first century c.e.  Even ‘heaven’ in the Lord’s Prayer is a construct that may mean ‘where God lives’.  We are not asking to go to where God lives, but asking for God’s kingdom to come to earth—for our economic and political ordering to be a place where God might happily dwell.

To reclaim these more foundational meanings of the Christian lexicon could be what is needed, at least in part, to revitalize the church, and the faith of those like myself whose faith is diminished or damaged.  Although Marcus Borg is a scholar of international status, his writing is accessible and even friendly—especially to those who find much ‘popular’ Christian writing to be judgmental and exclusive.  This is a book worth reading by individuals, and for group study—clergy and parish book study groups could benefit from reading together, and discussing the implications for mission and ministry as we learn to do a better job of Speaking Christian for the 21st century.

Marcus J Borg: 2012 Edition; 2011 Edition EPub Edition March 2011, HarperCollins e-books (available through Amazon Kindle)

Wendy Dackson

We rely on donations to keep this website running.