“PB” is not for Peanut Butter

Posted on March 4, 2010

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PB is for Presiding Bishop.

One of the changes in polity I’ve had to get used to since my return to the United States has been the subtle differences between the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England and The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

What I’ve noticed is how the Presiding Bishop’s office is evolving through the current litigation process with clergy, parishes and dioceses that have reformed into the Anglican Communion of North America. Two bishops, one in writing another in conversation, have noted the subtle changes as the PB interprets her authority within their diocesan boundaries.

Another American friend overseas in the Diocese of Europe has spent quite a bit of time analyzing what the PB means in her Christology, entitled, “What do people mean when they say that Presiding Bishop Schori has denied the resurrection or the divinity of Christ?” He makes a careful examination of interviews with the PB and writes,

My conclusion here in both cases is: Schori most definitely never, at any time, denies these outright, in simple, “literalist” words; however, her words can indeed be reasonably taken to deny the doctrines of the Church on both matters.

I would like to propose the hypothesis that the confusion comes in what the PB says and what she means has more to do with the influence of gnosticism upon modern theology.

Gnosticism is an ancient heresy of the Church. One that I learned about first many years ago as an interesting sidebar to early Church history, long dead and gone. Yet it seems to be making a comeback. NT Wright, Bishop of Durham, speaks about it here.

Four themes I find in contemporary gnostic impulses are:

1. Humanity is “saved” by gnosis, by knowledge. It’s about illumination and enlightenment.

2. There is an antipathy toward incarnation and embodiment. It’s a spiritual but not religious impulse. No need for real death or real resurrection.

3. A focus on the spiritual inner self, the divine spark within.

4. An emphasis on present spiritual reality rather than eschatological hope, on the God of timeless truth rather than the God who will bring history to consummation.