In the nearly nineteen years this site has been active, I’ve had the opportunity to skewer Anglican and Episcopal “divines” for their strange and unBiblical positions. My most recent efforts have related to my prep school’s chaplain and John Shelby Spong.
One of the irritating things I’ve run across in the Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere is the concept that revisionism is a relatively new phenomenon, and I try to reach into the Anglican/Episcopal “wayback machine” to cure this idea. This time I’m going to reach back even further, to the nineteenth century, and the Anglican divine in question is Hugh Reginald Haweis (1838-1901). Our guide is the Scottish theologian A.B. Bruce, from his work The Humiliation of Christ. Let’s start with a little introduction, in his discussion of “new” Christologies of that century:
I could not well avoid saying something on a phase of thought which can scarcely be said to have any philosophic basis, and of which the chief interest is its crudity, which is neither orthodox nor heterodox, simply because it stops short of the point at which orthodoxy and heterodoxy diverge. Probably the best representative of this nondescript school in England is the Rev. H. R Haweis, one of the pulpit celebrities of London in connection with the Established Church, and author of several well-known books in which opinions on all manner of present-day topics are very freely expressed; whose popularity as a preacher and as a writer may be accepted as an indication that his way of thinking hits the taste of many.
It’s easy to forget in these days of secular Britain that London in the nineteenth century was the place of many “pulpit celebrities,” the best remembered of which is Charles H. Spurgeon.
Now to his explanation of answered prayer:
In Christ and His apostles the magnetic and spiritual forces culminated. God, who chose to speak to man through the man Christ Jesus, who thus revealed the divine nature under the limitation of humanity, also chose that Jesus Christ should take in the highest degree all the natural powers which were bestowed on humanity, both as regards magnetic force and spiritual receptiveness. Hence the healing miracles; hence also the frequent modus operandi by the use of magnetised substances, as when He made clay and anointed the blind man s eyes, and sighed or breathed hard upon him, another practice well known to magnetic doctors now. Magnetism also explains answers to prayer, whether recorded in the Bible or occurring in Christian experience now; for the magnetic element is the one thing common to those in the flesh and out of the flesh. And by prayer we put ourselves en rapport with disembodied magnetisers, and receive through their magnetic influence the desired blessing, e.g., restored health.
From here we can proceed to Haweis’ concept of Christ:
Christ is the second conception of God realised as a historical fact, an expression of God under the limitations of humanity. But it will be best to give his view in his own words: “When I am asked to define what I mean by Christ, I use such expressions as these. There was something in the nature of the great boundless source of being called God which was capable of sympathy with man. That something found outward expression, and became God expressed under the essential limitations of humanity, in Jesus. That such a revelation was specially necessary to the moral and spiritual development of the human race I believe; that such a revelation of God was actually made to the world I believe. More than this I cannot pledge myself to.”
In a day when seminary academics never seem at a loss for words, Haweis “stumped the chumps” and Bruce has to throw up his hands in bewilderment:
I am at a loss how to classify this Christological speculation. In some respects it reminds one of the kenotic theories of the Incarnation, according to which the Son of God in becoming man denuded Himself of the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, in order that He might be capable of living the life of a veritable man within the limits of humanity. But in other respects it has no affinity with the views of kenotic Christologists, or indeed with any views that can be characterised as Christian. The incarnation taught by Mr. Haweis has more resemblance to that believed in by the worshippers of Brahma, than to that embodied in the creeds of the Christian Church.
Bruce, however, gets to the bottom of the matter:
That such crude, undigested, and nondescript views should permanently satisfy many earnest minds is not to be expected. The only use they can serve is to be a temporary halting-place to those who, utterly out of sympathy with the formulated doctrines of the Creed, are yet unable to break away from Christianity and its Author. In this respect they are full of interest. It is certainly a striking phenomenon which is presented to our view in this nineteenth century in the person of such a man as Mr. Haweis, a man regarding creeds and dogmatic systems with morbid disgust, and yet compelled by the evangelic records to recognise in Jesus the Son of God in a sense in which the title can be applied to no other man. To some the phenomenon may appear a thing of evil omen, portending the disintegration of the Christian faith, and the ultimate dissolution of the Christian Church. But it has a bright, hopeful side, as well as a dark, discouraging one. It is Christianity renewing its youth, making a new beginning.
We need to stop and consider what happened here, because the “fork in the road” Bruce describes is the one that Christianity (especially in the West) has been presented with over and over again during the last century and into this one. He makes two contradictory predictions, and in a sense both have happened.
One the one hand, his characterisation of a church of Haweis’ ilk is a “temporary halting-place to those who…are yet unable to break away from Christianity and its author” is pretty much what Main Line churches have been in this country for a long time. Now that the culture is moving away from Christianity, the “halting-place” is no longer needed and the churches that acted in this way have bled members. In that respect Haweis’ theology, and that of those like him, was a Faustian bargain whose payment has come due with a vengeance.
On the other hand, his observation that, in spite of his silly theology, Haweis’ recognition of Jesus Christ as extraordinary is worth thinking about. Conservative Christians have always wondered just how much their liberal counterparts really believed that Jesus was divine, or even worth considering. That thought came to mind in reading Jürgen Moltmann. Bruce goes on to note that Haweis’ characterisation of Jesus is similar to the first one the disciples might have experienced.
What was needed—and is still needed today—is a Christianity that combines both a sound credal basis and an experiential one with the risen Saviour. Bruce’s summary of the morass of Lutheran attempts to resolve the Christological problem in the first half of the nineteenth century should be a caution to a faith based solely on credal assent. Today a great deal of resurgence of Reformed theology is based on doing just that, and it will fail as it has in the recent past.
But Haweis missed that twin-hulled boat too. He was an Anglican delegate to the 1893 Chicago Parliament of Religions (at the World’s Fair where my family business exhibited.) As Harvey Cox pointed out in Fire From Heaven, a little more than a decade later a religious “explosion” of an entirely different kind took place at the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. For all of its difficulties Modern Pentecost has cut the Gordian knot of experience and creed, and much of the fuel of the Anglican Revolt that has laboured to reverse the damage of Haweis and his kind has come from its Charismatic wing.
Our greatest challenge, then, is to keep the likes of Haweis out of Pentecostal and Charismatic theology, lest he do the same damage to us that he did to what is now the Anglican/Episcopal world.