Canadian Christianity — Bishop Michael Ingham

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.

  • Charles

    I found the Ingham lecture fascinating.

  • Dustin

    Thanks for this review, Amanda. I appreciate your carefulness and charity.

    I didn’t quite hear Ingham to convey the bit about being “right” or having “won” in the matter of same-sex blessings. I also didn’t hear him say that the younger generation doesn’t care about issues or doctrine in general (…he actually made it clear that they care deeply about social and environmental and spiritual issues…), but rather that they don’t care about the issues and doctrinal hang-ups of his generation. I didn’t take his comment on those points as though he was confident in his own rightness or victory in some battle. Rather, I heard him being quite careful to avoid speaking about his opinions on these matters. And I think that the weakness of the lecture was precisely because he didn’t suggest how Christians might have courage to believe and to act in so-called postmodernity. As some of us discussed after the lecture, now that we are supposedly past an era of entrenched positions along party lines, what ought to guide us? How do we discern truth in post-modernity? My fear was that the lecture set us up to be at the mercy of our own desires or the religious consumer market. Now, I have to think that Ingham DOES actually think that there is a way of discernment for the church in post-modernity; he, at least, has exercised rather remarkable boldness in his role as bishop of New Westminster. Whether we agree with his particular stance or not on blessing same sex unions, or on his defense of the Book of Alternative Services, or on religious pluralism, he clearly has conviction. Sadly, the lecture didn’t help us to see where that conviction and boldness is rooted and how we might learn from it to be faithful to the Gospel in our own era.

    On another note, I do find it really interesting that the same guy who is often set up by evangelicals as the “bad guy” in the Anglican Church of Canada because of his actions with regard to same-sex blessings, is the same one who defended the Book of Alternative Services—the very prayer book that has been instrumental in drawing many free-church evangelicals into the Anglican Communion in the first place!

    • CWtheology

      Dustin,
      I like your comment on the BAS. Especially after having taken the Patristics class and getting a taste of some of the early church liturgy, I found I liked the BAS even more. Now, I should note, that I’ve only had one experience with the BCP when we did a service in honour of the BCP 350th anniversary. And it was hard to appreciate the liturgy of that only because we were all stumbling through it. But, I think that there is a place and a need for both, and not just along a “old school” “new school” kind of way (sort of like the worship wars in evangelical churches between hymns and choruses), but in a “both offer ways of forming and informing the Christian life” kind of way.

  • Sue

    How is he supposed to go about reconciling with those clergy who have left? I know them all personally, and I can’t think of anything that Ingham could say that they would listen to. Just can’t.

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