On Monday night, Luther College at the University of Regina hosted its annual Luther Lecture. This year’s invited guest was Michael Ingham, Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Bishop Ingham was introduced as one of the 25 most influential Anglicans in the world, and given the issues and events that have happened in the diocese of New Westminster in the last decade, this is not surprising. I have spent the last two years reading and trying to figure out the Anglican Communion, and I have read about Bishop Ingham, as well as reading some of his own writings. Attending the lecture gave me a chance to see the man himself, and I hope that it will help me to better evaluate his influence and his theology without relying on some of the opinions that are coloured by pain and anger. Saying that, Bishop Ingham presented himself as a quiet, smart, and well-composed. And while there are still theologies and actions that I still strongly disagree with, and believe that have caused damage to the Anglican Church in Canada and worldwide, Bishop Ingham is not the devil incarnate, or the “bogeyman.”
To introduce his lecture, he talked about the recent controversy about whether or not the liberal, mainline churches are dying, as discussed in mainstream media articles like Ross Douthat, Margaret Wente and Diana Butler-Bass.
This leads to a need to talk about what “success” looks like or mean in Christian discourse. Is a church successful if it’s growing? Is it successful if it doesn’t? What does success look like in light of the fact that we follow a Saviour who suffered and died?
Ingham’s lecture was on the impact of the shift from modernity to postmodernity on the Christian Church. For the most part, what he said was not really controversial, as he gave a basic overview of both modernity and postmodernity. His argument was that the labels “evangelical” “catholic” and “liberal” are fundamentally modern in orientation and are thus meaningless and obsolete in a post-modern context. These labels have become political labels that represent ideologies rather than theologies, and they belong to an older generation of Christians, and have no place in the new Christianity of the 21st century. Thus, younger Christians are trying to find a way to distinguish themselves. They are post-liberal, post-evangelical, post-conservative, etc.
Ingham then looked at the evolution that has occurred within the three traditions of Christianity: liberalism, evangelicalism, and Catholicism. So for example, out of liberal Christianity has arisen post-liberalism and radical orthodoxy. From evangelicalism has arisen the emerging church movement, and from Catholicism has arisen communities like Taize.
He argued that part of the problem today is that in spending so much time about the decline of the church, we are missing the fact that new and exciting things are happening. Indeed, he emphasized that the church is not dying; but it is changing. And while changed can feel like death because it is painful, Christianity is in the process of evolving.
It was interesting to observe his confidence that he is right in his decisions and actions in his role of Bishop. His lecture demonstrated that he believes that the issue of SSM has been settled in the Anglican church, that he has won, and that it is just a matter of time before the rest of the Anglican church capitulates to his position. This was evidenced in his emphasis that the new generation of Christians doesn’t want to fight about issues or doctrine. The way he set it up, it was clear that the older generation just needs to get on board with the younger generation; that the reason the young generation doesn’t want or need to fight is because it is right on the issues.
If I had had the chance, (or the courage), I would have asked the Bishop one of two questions:
First, what will this age of redundant and obsolete labels mean for the selection and task of the new Archbishop of Canterbury?
Second, his very concluding observation was that we shouldn’t focus on the people who are leaving the church but rather on the people who are coming, made me want to ask him if he is working at all to reconcile with the conservative congregations that left his diocese for the Anglican Network.
This was my first Luther Lecture, and I think I would go again. In the 40 years of the Luther Lecture, Luther College has hosted a diverse company of scholars and thinkers, including Stanley Hauerwas, Hans Kung, Margaret Somerville, James Cone, and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Next year, the Luther Lecture will feature Martin Marty.