The origin of this phrase is not really known, although it is generally ascribed to Maslow. It expresses our common tendency to see the world through our familiar bias. Present day example of this include people who blame humanity for global warming. There is no doubt that the world is warming up, but this has happened before, and the unwillingness to look at other causes such as Sun spot activity shows how powerful a grip Maslow’s principle has on many people.
It certainly has a grip on the church. A friend of mine, hearing a colleague preach, once said “he read ‘From Good to Great’ last year, now that’s what he preaches. I hope he reads a new book this year.” We all have a tendency to want to use our shiny new hammer on every problem. Not surprisingly it is rarely the solution to the problem we are trying to solve.
The Crisis withing the Anglican Communion can be seen through this lens. The Episcopal Church has a new hammer. It’s not so new of course, the question of Same Sex Relationships has been discussed in TEC since the 60’s. It became front and center in the 90’s and assumed center stage in 2003. Now for TEC, everything that is in the way of their hammer looks like a nail.
Following the Windsor Report’s release, TEC was invited to attend the Anglican Consultative Council to make a Biblical case for Same Sex Blessings. This was a bit of a set back for TEC as there really isn’t a Biblical basis for what they wanted to do. But no matter, TEC still has their hammer and the Bible looks like a nail.
This has played out in several ways. I respect the honesty of Presiding Bishop Schori who is quite forthright about the fact that TEC has not made a Biblical case for same sex relationships, and her openness in describing a possible path forward. She has publicly talked about re-understanding the entire arc of scripture from a perspective of “original blessings”. This means grounding all of theology in the creation account and playing down the “Fall”. This is really quite incredible. This re interpretation of scripture neatly does away with sin. This is the sort of thinking that happens when you have a hammer that you can’t let go of. Everything becomes a nail.
Anglicanism expresses its DNA of discerning God’s will with a simple phrase “Scripture, Reason, and Tradition”. At the time of the Reformation, the English Church came close to becoming a “Sola Scriptura” church. The historic emphasis on Scripture as the basis for our doctrine can hardly be over stated. Reason, our best use of intellect to understand scripture, and Tradition are in a distant second and third place. Over the last decade I have observed revisionist bishops talk about “Reason, Tradition, and Scripture”. Sometimes they toss in “Experience” as well. The Bible is still a nail, but rather than reinterpreting it, this approach de-emphasizes it.
A third approach, a sort of revisionist “via media”, is to diminish the authority of Scripture. This is done by questioning the authenticity of the various books of the Bible. The “Quest for the Historical Jesus” fits nicely into this category. The Jesus Seminar is a contemporary expression of this approach. Tendencies we see here are to date the various books of the New Testament much later than is commonly accepted. The reason for this is that the later they were written the less reliable they must be. De-mythologizing Scripture is also a common approach. For example someone in this camp might argue that Jesus never really walked on water, the intent of the Gospel writer was to show God’s rule over nature. By far the worst example of this has to do with Jesus’ Resurrection. A revisionist using this third approach would say that you do not need to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead to be a Christian.
Needless to say these approaches to Scripture are why I am no longer in The Episcopal Church. They are however natural workings out of a certitude that the hammer being held is the right one. I have never questioned the faithfulness of revisionists in TEC to the hammer they hold. I just think its the wrong hammer. This brings us to today’s startling reading from Acts. It is the Gospel in a nutshell. Peter wastes no words in covering the basics.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12 ESV)
Peter had his hammer. Everyone has a hammer. It’s vitally important that you have the right hammer. I like Peter’s. I am an Anglican.