In Baptist life in England
there are a number of overused phrases (the Baptist family and deep listening
are two that come to mind) whose benefit to corporate discussion is lost by
repetition. I wonder if it is now time to add the word covenant. I’m not
suggesting the word has no benefit, clearly covenant has helpful resonance with
the Biblical story and God’s dealings with humanity as well as with our own Baptist
history. But covenant seems to be used as a phrase for ‘we are all in this
together’ and ‘we just need to love each other a bit more’.
I’m aware that the resurgence in recent years owes something
to the work of Paul Fiddes, but perhaps that is part of the problem. Paul’s use
of the phrase grows out of his understanding of Trinitarian relations (in his
case of God as relation) something which he explains with care and nuance; though
I still question whether it has space for concrete particulars and its ability
to acknowledge distinctions. But whether you are convinced by Paul’s understanding
of hypostasis and panentheism or not
these nuances are lost in most Baptist discussions!
The problem with our use of covenant in general debate is
that we fail to give enough attention to the bodies which are covenanting
together. We therefore subsume the bodies which make up the Union
into an amorphous group who are then understood to be in some generalised relationship
to God. This done we are then in danger
of separating these relational notions from the practical aspects of
denominational life opening us to the charge that the actual decisions we make
are governed by expediency not faith in God.
So rather than over use talk about covenant and find some other ways of
articulating our relationships with one another and our place in the purpose of
Sorry Neil, i have to disagree, i am convinced by Paul’s theology here, and I am convinced of the need for good coventantal theology to underpin our living together as Baptists. I do agree the word can be devalued and even evacuated of any relvant meaning in some Baptist discussions but that is a case for redeeming the word, or if not the word then at least the theology it sought to express in the life of early Baptists. Perhaps the heart of the problem is that we (BUGB) have no concrete expression of covenant to live by.
I have not read Paul Fiddes work, but am alarmed at the use of the term panentheism as it is a term more at home with Universalism, the Unitarianian of Ralph Waldo Emmerson, process theology and Hartshorne, New Thought, Hinduism, Bahai, Sufistic Islam, Kabbalistic Judaism, Native American thought or even some variants of Gnosticism, than Biblical Christianity! I hope Paul’s view of the Trinity is NOT a form of panentheism!
Hi Stephen – thanks for stopping by. As far as Paul Fiddes’ work is concerned you will need to read ‘Participating in God’ and decide for yourself but Paul writes, “my own proposal is that ‘pan-entheism’ as the participating of everything in God is a sharing in interweaving movements of relational love” p292.
Andy & Craig; perhaps an alternative lies in a fuller pneumatology though I entirely take the point that part of the problem here is a lack of concrete expression. In any event my question, which was a reaction to other things I am involved in, is not seeking to dispute the concept but the manner in which it is articulated.
I got very excited reading Craig’s comment as I thought he was referring to the apostle Paul!
I haven’t read Fiddes either but my reading of the other Paul would suggest that close, deep relationships between followers of Jesus are key for the church’s self-understanding. This was a down and dirty covenant, sharing food and work, lodging and life. It wasn’t expressed in formulas that people signed up to; it seems to have been the natural (though in some cases it took a great deal of teasing out) consequence of following Jesus.
It is this understanding that we have sought to embody in our church covenant – the means by which people come into membership of our church.
But I struggle to see how this can be applied to an institution which which we have a distant and intermittent relationship. So I agree with you, I think, that binning covenant language to describe any relationship other than that between members of the same fellowship might be an obvious thing to do