Periodically, we like to take stock of our work and mission. How can Covenant best serve the Anglican Communion and wider Christian family? And how do we think about the breadth of our writing? For the next few days, we present perspectives that we hope you enjoy. —Eds.
By S. Thomas Kincaid
While the issues the Church faces in our day are complex, my answer as to why I write for Covenant is simple:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)
I write for Covenant because I am confident in the hope that comes from God’s love having been poured into our hearts. Whatever challenges we face, our future in the Lord is sure.
Karl Barth argues that the watchword for a theologian is “Endure and bear!” (Evangelical Theology, 155). In these moments of theological challenge, Barth would have the theologian — and it seems fair to include a parish priest writing for a theology blog — endure and bear. We have to remain faithfully. Put simply, we have to survive.
Perhaps that sounds dismal. How did we go so quickly from talking about hope to talking about survival? But let us again recall the procedural genesis for Saint Paul’s non-disappointing hope: We rejoice in our sufferings.
Sufferings? Western culture, long a support structure for the Church, is in a dramatic state of flux. A pandemic continues and exacerbates preexisting problems. Secular politics are contagiously fraught. The world is calling on the Church to confront our own complicity in past evils of all sorts. The divide between rich and poor — resourced and under-resourced — is playing itself out in the Church as in seemingly every corner of society. The earthly context in which we labor is showing itself subject to the unknowns of environmental change.
What’s more, the burden the Church carries for the faithful and the world only grows. Human beings are finding themselves more broken — and broken in novel ways. And the Church bears those burdens in her limbs. After all, we are carrying humans in this boat.
I could go on, but do I need to? The point remains: In this tsunami of complexity, the Church is still carrying on — and in many places thriving. To dare to synthesize Paul and Barth: Suffering/bearing leads to enduring.
But just as we are seeing — in real time — that suffering produces endurance, so we see that endurance produces character.
Specifically, enduring forms our character to withstand God’s judgment. And, given the nature of some of the particular challenges the Church faces today, forming our character to face judgment seems important.
To be a contributor to this blog requires a certain set of commitments. For me, adherence to those commitments comes from understanding that in the face of all the challenges listed above (and more), much of Christian doctrine comes to us settled in these latter days.
Yet, the structure of these commitments also presumes an important theological fact: Settled as doctrine is, we are almost certainly wrong on our implementation of those right doctrines. Our imagination fails us as we seek to be faithful while enduring and bearing the challenges of our day. And for that failure of imagination, as it is caused only by our sinfulness, we can most certainly count upon God’s judgment.
But this is not all. Hidden deep beneath this inescapable No is God’s Yes as the meaning of his work and word. This Yes is the reconciliation of the world with God, the fulfillment of his covenant with men, which he has accomplished and revealed in Jesus Christ. (Ibid, 154)
Even in facing judgment, God’s Yes presents itself as hope. Even as we err in this moment, hope abides — or even flourishes.
From the provision of clothes for the expelled-from-Eden Adam and Eve; through the ark built by Noah’s family; through the prophets sent again and again and again to a wayward Israel; through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension of Jesus Christ; through the coming of the Holy Spirit and inauguration of the Church at Pentecost; through the end of the age — at every turn the Scriptures insist: God has a way forward. His people must simply endure. In that continual unceasing endurance, they — we — will see hope.
In the light of that narrative, we see a still more fundamental truth: Life in God is getting better, not worse. The more we bear, the more we suffer, the more we endure — all of it leads to a stronger character, a deeper hope, and a more profound awareness of God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. That gift does not minimize the real pain felt by so many.
Covenant is not a place blind to the very real struggles the Church — and all of us in and outside her bounds — are facing. But Covenant is a place where we are already seeing the fruits of those struggles; we are seeing the faith, the hope, and the love that spring up out of these vines growing amidst weeds. That’s why I’m here.