Dr. Mike Ovey: The Grace of God OR the world of the West? [GAFCON II Plenary talk]

This talk generated a lot of “buzz” on the #GAFCON2013 Twitter feed yesterday. Highly recommended!!

The Grace of God OR the world of the West?
The Rev Dr Michael Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill College, London, England
Day 2, Oct 22nd GAFCON 2013

1. Introduction

My first really significant encounter with worldwide Anglicanism came at theological college. It was 1990 and an east African priest was on secondment with us. He preached in the college chapel. He posed a question. Which gospel, he asked, which gospel do you westerners want us to believe? The one you came with or the one you preach now? Which gospel? I was horrified, not because what he said was not true. I was horrified because it was true.

My east African brother`s question has nagged away at me ever since. But how has it come about that we have a different gospel now from the one we first preached. What is this difference between what we westerners say now and what we said then?

I think the difference is nothing less than the grace of God and what we mean by it. The difference comes from the way that western culture and the western church deny or distort God`s grace. The modern west, in both culture and church, is, overall, graceless, and has become so because of its worldliness. That is why I have called this plenary talk the grace of God or the world of the west. Ultimately you cannot have both. It is either/or. My prayer is that as global Anglicans we choose grace, not the world of the west. For those of us who have tried to have grace and the world, I pray for our repentance. My fear is as global Anglicans we will try to have grace AND the world, and that God justly hands us over to the consequences of our sin in rejecting his grace as it truly is and builds his kingdom through others.

But I must now explain why grace is at stake, why the culture of the west denies grace and how the western church distorts grace.

2. Why is Grace at stake?

Let me begin with grace

On first hearing you may well be thinking that I am simply crazy. People in the western church still talk about grace. They talk about it a lot. If anything the charge is that traditional believers like me lack grace. So what am I getting at? It’s this. It`s not enough just to say the word `grace` a lot. The issue is what we mean by it, and whether we mean what the bible means or whether we have made up our own meaning for ourselves.

2.1. Cheap Grace?
Now the kind of grace that I think the western church talks about, and come to that western culture when it thinks about grace at all is this: cheap grace. Cheap grace. I am borrowing from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He says this. ‘ʹCheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate’ʹ1

We especially need to note three points.
”¢ This grace is worldly. Bonhoeffer means that it conforms to the patterns of the world, is no different from the world and listens to the world.2 Crucial. Bonhoeffer was warning us about mixing Christian grace with the world’s idea of grace, and at worst substituting the world`s view of grace for the Christian view. For Bonhoeffer, who was writing in the 1930s, that influence from the world came from the tragic infatuation of some German Christians with Nazism. The precise kind of worldliness may be different now from Nazism then. I`m not saying that modern western culture and the modern western church is pro-­””‘Nazi. I am saying it is pro-­””‘world, just as, in their different way, Nazi Christians tried to be.

This worldliness is at the heart of Bonhoeffer’s criticism. He is echoing the Barmen declaration of 1934, when German Confessing Christians rejected the idea that Christ’s people should listen to any other voice claiming to stand on a par with his. The Barmen declaration comes back to that time and again: the imperative that Christ’s people listen to him the good Shepherd and not to any competing voice. It is Christ alone, not Christ and something else”¦. Whether the something else is Nazism or liberal democracy or an understandable pride in establishing oneself as an independent country. But what does this cheap grace that conforms to the world look like? Bonhoeffer points especially to 2 things that mark out cheap grace from real grace.

Ӣ This grace is repentanceless
Ӣ This is a grace we bestow on ourselves, in other words, it is a grace we give each other when we see fit, rather than according to the pattern of God

We need to look at both aspects, the lack of repentance and bestowing grace on ourselves.

Read it all (PDF File)

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, - Anglican: Analysis, GAFCON II 2013, Global South Churches & Primates, Religion & Culture, Theology

11 comments on “Dr. Mike Ovey: The Grace of God OR the world of the West? [GAFCON II Plenary talk]

  1. Karen B. says:

    Hello? Is anyone here? I’m *REALLY* surprised this excellent talk hasn’t generated a single comment. There’s so much truth here, stated very powerfully. I’m planning on forwarding it quite widely.

    I’ve been saddened this week how few T19 or SF readers seem to be engaging with anything about GAFCON other than what the Abp. of Canterbury has said in his sermon & video message. There’s so much more coming out of this conference!

  2. MichaelA says:

    Karen B., unfortunately very few people comment on T19 anymore.

    One of the main issues for me is that articles move so quickly through T19 (i.e. they are gone from the front page within a day or two). I just don’t have the time to look at any blog every day, and the fact that any comment I leave may be gone before others have the chance to look at it makes me further disinclined to leave comments at all.

    I think T19 could use a makeover, perhaps putting all the international news items into their own box, even with separate categories for sport and general interest news, and with theological items staying on the front page for an extended period, weeks rather than days.

    Stand Firm has an interface that is much more aligned to excite interest in its articles. Anglican Down Under and Cranmer’s Curate have the same effect, not because they have that good interface, but because they publish a lot less articles, hence they stay up on the front page long enough to generate some good debate.

  3. CSeitz-ACI says:

    I have also been taken by the lack of response and wondered what that meant. I suspect many people may react ‘been there, done that’ or ‘isn’t that a great thing, but I don’t know where it fits for anything resolving of our larger crisis.’ #2 points out the sheer number of entries — probably over 30 total. Maybe there are a combination of factors. We are in a period where it is unclear what will happen at a communion level, involving all the provinces/primates. Will the ABC take the step–called for in Toronto–of assembling all the Primates and wiping the Dromantine
    episode out of the picture? I believe the GS primates gathered in Toronto saw that as the necessary first step.

  4. Sarah says:

    RE: “I’ve been saddened this week how few T19 or SF readers seem to be engaging with anything about GAFCON other than what the Abp. of Canterbury has said in his sermon & video message.”

    As I’ve said, I’m very — *very* — happy for the participants and know that it is an exciting time for them, full of fellowship and sermons.

    I know it will be good for the feelings of unity and togetherness of all those attending.

    It will do absolutely nothing for me, my parish, my diocese, or TEC, obviously. And that was never the expectation. But as a result I feel like I feel when my friends attend a worship conference or a fabulous vacation elsewhere and share with me how wonderful it is. I’m sure that it is. I’m thrilled for them. But it’s hard for me to comment other than “I’m so glad for you! This is truly wonderful!” I haven’t kept up with the Gafcon posts because there are so many great sermons and lectures out there that I usually have to set aside time to say “now, what shall I read this month out of all the good things there are to read.” I have a very limited number of modern-day preachers that I read. The Internet really gives even more access to more good things than I can possibly read, and my personal hope is to really absorb the Patristics. If I can get through them before dying, that will be good.

  5. Karen B. says:

    Michael A. and Dr. Seitz, thanks for your thoughtful comments.
    Yes, I understand well the inherent problems of T19’s structure (how quickly the posts move down the page, among other things) and the number of entries.

    But even when posts are left stickied for days at the top of the blog they get little comment, and at Stand Firm, where posts are visible for longer periods, and where David Ould has been posting excellent entries, there is little comment or apparent interest. Most everyone over there is commenting on Matt’s critique of Charismaticism or Tim’s post of a very sad tale about Anglican dysfunction in Waco TX. So, it’s not purely a matter of T19 structure.

    Apart from churches that have sent delegates to GAFCON II, I see little to nothing about GAFCON on several major church websites which I checked. The ACNA GAFCON portal is not structured in an easy way to get at the important news & resources, and their daily updates are a good idea, but quite weak in terms of what they actually say in terms of helping people get any sense of the momentum or potential importance of this gathering. I’ve found following the Tweets, especially in the early days, was critical in terms of helping me sense what was going on and get excited about it…

  6. Karen B. says:

    Let me add one PS that is actually somewhat relevant to the theme of Dr. Ovey’s paper, (which I believe is one of the centerpieces of GAFCON II).

    I just wrote this in my latest prayer entry at Lent & Beyond:

    [em]As GAFCON II has so clearly addressed (particularly in the talk by Bishop Nazir-Ali, but also by others), the challenge for us is no longer just about the crisis in the Anglican Communion or how to reshape Anglican structures. No, it’s bigger: how do we in the Church deal with agressive secularism both in the West and elsewhere. How do we respond to Islam. How do we recognize and avoid syncretism (compromise with the culture), be it in the West, or in Africa. It’s not just Anglicans facing these problems, it’s the whole Body of Christ. [/em]

    This is why I think GAFCON matters. It’s addressing questions that matter, and providing some really good teaching and also encouragement to help orthodox believers respond and persevere with joy in the battles that are ahead.

  7. CSeitz-ACI says:

    “(it isn’t) about the crisis in the Anglican Communion or how to reshape Anglican structures” — it is a functional AC that enables mission and the address of these matters, urgently. And negatively, a dysfunctional AC hampers the flow of assets human, theological, financial, practical. A fire needs a fireplace.

  8. Sarah says:

    RE: “there is little comment or apparent interest . . . I see little to nothing about GAFCON on several major church websites which I checked.”

    If others grant that this is true, I would be very interested in hearing from commenters about *why* it might be so.

  9. Karen B. says:

    Sarah, I’m guessing it’s a combination of things:

    1) not worth the effort to redesign websites to create some kind of GAFCON feed for a 1 week event. Most websites are now very heavily graphics based… not so easy to just add links to say “follow news from GAFCON in Nairobi here…” or “here is Monday’s update from GAFCON” [One thought is that perhaps updates MIGHT be on church facebook pages or Twitter feeds… I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, so I could be missing something.]

    2) I imagine these churches assume their members will get GAFCON news from ACNA or ACNA Diocesan websites (or PEARUSA site)…

    3) I think there is a sense that “being identified too publicly with the Global Anglican “civil war” is bad for business. I see most congregations focusing on and promoting local outreach. People in the pews are tired of the battle.

    But still, it surprises me.
    P.S. I should note that I looked at these websites of these large ACNA churches:
    Falls Church
    Christ Church Plano
    All Saints Dale City
    St. Stephen’s Sewickley PA

  10. Sarah says:

    Hi Karen B — I can see why those might be good reasons why there’s nothing major about Gafcon on “several major church websites.”

    I do not see that the comment addresses why there is “little comment or apparent interest” on blogs that are posting about Gafcon.

    Since this post is off the front page, I’m guessing I won’t get responses except by email, but I’m still interested in other people’s reasons why this might be so, again, if we grant the premise. I’ll check in on this post periodically, just in case.

  11. MichaelA says:

    Hi Karen B, now that I’ve posted on this thread I get email alerts, so here I am!

    One important point of comparison – how many parishes in western Anglican churches carry any news about what is going on in the Anglican Communion? I suspect the answer for most is “very little”.

    In fact, I will hazard a guess that prior to any of the kerfuffle about women priests or homosexual bishops etc, most Anglican churches parishes showed little interest in what was going on in their own province, let alone what was going on outside of it.

    That was my experience growing up. I lived in Sydney, but even before my teens I had gone to church in other dioceses. If we went to visit relatives in the country, we would go to an Anglican church on a Sunday. Or if we went away with the church boys’ club. And my recollection was that all Anglican churches were much the same – plenty of parish news, a little bit about the diocese, and virtually nothing about the national church or overseas.

    However, one thing that I remember did have a strong impact was when the ++Luwum swas martyred by Idi Amin in Uganda in 1977. That was talked about and prayed about a lot.