Well, I just finished my weekend reading, a new little book entitled
written by the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle,
9th Bishop of the Diocese of Texas (Episcopal)
Before a review, something of a disclaimer:
First, Bp. Doyle is my bishop.
Those who know me well will know what an amazing statement that is.
When I first came into the Episcopal Church one of the appealing factors for me was contained in the idea of the episcopate: that each congregation (and each minister) was not on it’s own to define and safeguard the content of the Christian faith. There was a core body of understanding for which the churches were responsible to one another. This responsibility extended not just through our local association, but around the world and back through the ages. The chief difference from the (Roman) Catholic understanding was that, instead of this responsibility vested in the office of one central “vicar” (or representative) of Christ – the Pope, it was understood as vested in the collegiality of bishops. This mix of authority, responsibility and society was and is enormously appealing to me in a way that relates to the very idea of the Triune God as a Three-in-One; Plural, and yet One. In short, I loved it. I resonated to it like a tuning fork in a cathedral bell tower. Well, to quote a past-his-prime pop icon,
“How’s that been working out for you?”
Whatever one’s opinion on the issues of the day in the Episcopal Church, it is no secret to any but the most determined ostrich that we, along with our more global parent Anglican Communion are in deep distress. And in distress over issues that strike at the heart of accountability and collegiality for the guarding and teaching of Christianity. My bulwark had let me down.
Emotionally, I want to place a lot of blame on our House of Bishops over the past few generations. Thus, all Bishops strike the ears of my heart as suspect until proven trustworthy. Bp. Doyle is no exception. And yet, my desire to trust his pastorate is profound.
So when I say that “Bishop Doyle is my Bishop” I mean something a great deal deeper than just that I am a member of a church in his diocese. It is a statement of ownership, of trust. There is no pedestal on which he can stand, and that is a problem for us both; but primarily on the basis of this book, and on his recent statement “Unity in Mission” I can own him in the fellowship of our Lord, as I trust he can me.
So, with that declaration of biases for and against out of the way,
“What did you think of the book, Eric?”
Twenty and Thirty years ago, I would have loved it. And I think I would have been right. He does not do something I have long wanted from the Bishop of Texas; he does not rise up and bear arms against our troubles. He does not denounce those who rend this church, nor does he issue a call to arms and an inspiring “Follow Me!” as he leads into the battle, risking all so that the purity of the Gospel be defended. I wanted that. I still want that. But I am becoming convinced that it is not the path of wisdom. Bp. Doyle offers something else.
This book is not a deep read. Again, I wanted something else. I have been reading a lot of Bp. N.T. Wright lately; he has long had my trust, and yet he challenges me immensely through his scholarly authority, through his commanding vision. Bp. Doyle is not so imposing. I started reading this book with one ear out to catch traces of “tainted thought,” and even imagined that I caught a few. But in the end, I had to admit that I was reaching. His call to be the body of Christ, to do the work of Christ in this world, that “Your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that “the kingdom of God is among you,” that we as Christians are called to bring healing to the wounded, and peace to the fearful, to live out reconciliation and redemption as a matter of first importance (it is the incarnate “outward and visible sign” of the inward and spiritual aspect of God’s saving work), is straightway in accord with Wright as I understand him. Back in an age before the leadership so seemed to doubt the foundations of the faith, I would have cheered every line.
Although I don’t think I am Bp. Doyle’s prime target, I do think he is calling me to return to a vision of the church I had in the time antebellum, before the war: when I understood the story to be told was of the love of God for His people, for all of His creation; that even though this world, often through our own fault, was broken and bleeding everywhere, He had never lost His love for it, for me, and for you. He has never stopped trying to reconcile us to Himself. He invites you, and me, to lay down our frightened, wounded, fruitless and counterproductive rebellion today, to repent and be transformed; and then to help bring that reconciliation to the rest of this world.
Bp. Doyle reminds me that this is the Gospel.
The rest of the things which concern me may be related to a sheep herder marking off dangerous water springs, poisonous plants, dangerous bogs; to identifying wolves. It is important that he understand what sheep need, and what the range is like, so that they may be cared for.
But all those things are not the life of the flock. They are needed, but they are not the point. They are not the life.
Bp. Doyle’s little book is a recall to that life. In his stories, in the very brief description of his own dark night, of what in my Baptist days I would have called his “personal testimony” of a salvation encounter with Jesus, he gently presents that vision again.
No matter what “winds of doctrine” may blow, and how much the church is troubled by storm, *This* is the Gospel. This is Life.