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Sarah Coakley and a Theological Vision of the Church

Like a breath of fresh air, Sarah Coakley puts theological thinking at the forefront of the Anglican church. There's so much to like here: a clear vision of the church and theological thinking; an understanding and pride in Anglican theology as more than just a compromise; a reasoned rejection of inconsistent thinking; and an awareness of troubling trends toward bureaucratization, compromise, and division. Just like the mantra of "separate but equal" during segregation, the push to develop alternate tracks for Anglicans opposed to women bishops has led to a bizarre, untenable, and inequitable institutional hierarchy. The call of the church is to be unified, with clergy on a clear spectrum of deacon-elder-bishop, not divided; there is to be a unity under a common ordination, incarnated in the position of a teaching bishop.

Her call for a less bureaucratized church and clergy is especially welcoming, as this trend has been increasing in the United Methodist Church for decades. Dan Dick has had choice words for years about this. With the imploding attendance and clarity of the UMC, the institutional response has quickly been one of numbers, pastoral efficacy, business principles, and goal-setting. The number and length of reports required within the UMC are staggering. Churches have become businesses that can be steered by CEOs with clear goals and quality leadership. In distinction, Coakley calls for a grounded church in prayer, time, and attention. It is an astonishingly painful critique, cold water on churches that have subtly changed in the past decades in response to secular trends and crises.

Coakley's essay raises important issues for the UMC, especially with its current system of ordination (probationary elders, local pastors, full deacons, district superintendents who are now congregational coaches, bishops, and full elders). Have we likewise created a system that is contradictory and ultimately without unity and clarity of theological vision?

This is an exciting time for theology, especially for UK theology, as some of the world's best theologians are currently doing vital theology in service to the church in the UK: Graham Ward, Rowan Williams, John Milbank, and Sarah Coakley. The future is actually quite bright for Christian theology, despite the painful declines in American Christianity.

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