Thursday, June 09, 2011

Who is Ken Schenck?

I decided to update the link that takes people to a description of who I am.  Nothing here is new, but occasionally people will link to me and I'll get a flurry of hits on the older version of this post.

Ken Schenck might self-describe himself in the following ways:

A Pietist of Sorts
I believe that what is most important about a person is not what you know but who you are, and by who you are I mean what your motives and intentions are.  This makes your actions--as they flow from your motivations--the second most important aspect of a person.  I love ideas--they are my life.  But they are for me less important than who you are, understood as the most consistent intentions of a person as they lead to actions (=character).

A Seeker of Truth
I love truth, understood as the most likely interpretations of the data of life on the basis of sound logic and hypotheses that accommodate the most data with elegance and simplicity.  As a Christian I embrace the age-old motto of fidens quaerens intellectam, "faith seeking understanding."  We start with the understanding of Christian faith we have and then dialog with the data of life and history.

Because God's revelation is always "incarnated" in the thought categories of its audiences, our specific understandings of faith as they come mediated to us through Scripture and the Church are always subject to interpretation and critique.  I thus reject the high presuppositionalism of the hyper-Reformed tradition.

I have a PhD in New Testament.  I do not treat the "philosophy" element of this title lightly.  I have been trained to interpret the New Testament in its original historical and cultural context.  I appropriate the Bible as a Christian.  I can justify ideological and "theological" interpretations as a hermeneutician.  But my first course of action is always to let the contextual evidence of the original meaning fall where it lies, whether it is convenient to my faith or tradition or not.  I can then deal with it in my theology.

Catholic in Spirit
In keeping with Wesley, I believe Christians share much more in common than they disagree on.  We believe in the literal existence of God and Christ as the ultimate mediator between God and humanity.  If I am Protestant, I am Protestant because I believe the medieval Catholic Church had wandered from some first principles. But in the words of Wesley, "if your heart is as my heart, then put your hand in mine."

However, as a Protestant in the Anglican-Methodist stream, I am not nearly as engaged with some of the high Protestant objections (come obsessions) of the Lutheran and Calvinist streams with Roman Catholicism.  I reject the popular dismissal of Catholics as "not Christian."  Indeed, it is quite possible that some Catholics come closer to Wesleyanism than some Lutherans do.

Wesley himself operated with a "quadrilateral" of inputs to understanding and decision making as a believer (Scripture, tradition, reason, experience).  It would thus be more appropriate to speak of prima scriptura (Scripture first) as our motto than sola scriptura (Scripture only).  Indeed, sola scriptura is not even a coherent concept when the Bible is read in context, because the formation of a biblical theology regularly requires organizing dynamics extrinsic to the texts themselves.

Wesleyan-Arminian in Tradition
I thus do not fill in the philosophical blanks in relation to human freedom or divine expectation in the same way as the Calvinist or Lutheran traditions.  The idea of God as love becomes incoherent if he does not in some way give the possibility of salvation to all, including those who never hear the name of Christ.  And it is both biblically and philosophically appropriate that God expect faithfulness from those he calls his own.

So I believe that God judges us according to the light we have, by our hearts rather than our heads.  His justification is always through the mediation of Christ, but we do not have to know about Christ with our heads to receive that mediation if our hearts respond to God's prevenient empowerment appropriately.  God empowers everyone at some point in their lives in this way--which is why I reject the Calvinist tradition at its core values.

But God as patron also expects that we continue to receive his empowerment to live righteous lives, where the basic definition of a righteous life is one consistently motivated by the love of others.  The idea of someone claiming the name of Christ and yet living a life of hatred is ludicrous.  This would thus distinguish me from the Lutheran tradition, which has so overreacted to the idea of boasting over works that it dares not speak of living good lives.

A Chastened Wesleyan
I am an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church, a very small denomination in the Methodist tradition.  I am currently academic Dean and teach at my denomination's only seminary.  I thus not only have the values I mentioned above, but I also represent a denomination with a particular history.  Obviously I would not be in my denomination if I did not think that the values I mentioned above fit well within my church.

I call myself a "chastened" Wesleyan because I recognize the location of any embodied part of the Church universal within the flow of time and culture.  Denominational identities are a study in continuity and discontinuity over time.  The values of my denomination currently are not the same as its values 100 years ago, and it is possible they will look different 50 years from now.  Hopefully there is also much continuity.

As a small example, much of my denomination arguably lost its way in the second half of the twentieth century with regard to issues that had at one time been core values.  A denomination whose very founding took place over abolition tended in spirit and in inaction to oppose the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  A tradition whose founding namesake saw social justice as essential Christian practice found itself caught up in the fundamentalist leftovers against such values.

I believe we are regaining these core values as well as open-hearted spirit of Wesley I mentioned above.  We do not fight over how to baptize or how to do communion.  We do not fight over how the second coming is precisely going to play out.  We do not fight over penal substitution or a precise understanding of inerrancy.  If anything defines us right now it is action to bring the good news on every level to the world.

So I am Wesleyan by family, Wesleyan-Arminian by tradition, a catholic Christian by faith, and a warm-hearted thinker by commitment.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

And you chose the latter two....

Allan R. Bevere said...

Very nice, Ken... very helpful even though I already know you. You forgot sophisticated eater of whole lobster. I was actually there to witness it!

Ken Schenck said...

I'll deny any accusation that I have ever eaten lobster in a sophisticated manner! ;-)

Dave Smith said...

This is the man I love to spend time with for all the reasons you stated.
And to keep the "lobster" conversation going; there is nothing better that Maritime even outshines Maine offerings. Can I schedule you at the table????

Ken Schenck said...

If only someone would by me a ticket ;-)

FrGregACCA said...

Ken, with all due respect, I must challenge your identification as "catholic".

To paraphrase Frederica Mathewes-Greene, who says, "Everybody wants to be transformed, but nobody wants to change", it would seem that "everybody wants to claim catholicity, but nobody wants to be Catholic".

What I mean is this: "catholic" means, literally, "according to the whole". Thus, the Catholic faith is "the whole faith for all people for all time".

Now, of course the Roman Church needed to be reformed back in the day, and still does. The problem, however, is that the Reformation attempted to re-invent the wheel, throwing some things out that were universal to East and West and that go back to the beginning (Apostolic Succession and the Eucharist as sacrifice and as conveying the Real Presence, for example) and, at the same time, KEEPING some of the more egregious distortions (the Augustinian view of original sin and predestination, Anselm's soteriology, the Filioque, for example).

Thus, while I applaud your ecumenism, which I share, and I also recognize that Arminianism/Wesleyanism has largely moved away from the worst aspects of Augustinianism and Calvinism, I must ask that you re-examine your claim to catholicity.

Ken Schenck said...

Perhaps the qualifier catholic in spirit gets me by? ;-)

If the term does not apply then it does not apply. However, I suspect that the Protestant wing of Christendom has had enough prominence and staying power by now that any definition of catholicity must now be able to accommodate it.

So catholic for me is "the consensus of faith and practice in all places by the end time." ;-) (the "all time" is a sham that requires anachronistic readings of the NT and early church)

FrGregACCA said...

Well, Ken, what are we to do with where Protestantism, in general, has parted from the consensus shared by the four major communions, themselves not in communion with each other, which directly descend from the Church(es) of the Apostles?

Some examples:

- Sacramentality (including, again, the Eucharist as sacrifice, the Real Presence, and also, baptismal regeneration).

- Apostolic Succession and the authority of the Church as a whole?

- The Communion of Saints (and particularly, the unique, ongoing role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in human salvation)?

Ken Schenck said...

I do not oppose most of these (I am more uncertain). But the fact that the fifth communion ;-) has not accepted them leads me not to include them in my definition of catholicity ;-)

FrGregACCA said...

But Ken, doesn't that seem a bit incongruous to you in light of the fact that this "fifth communion" did not emerge until more some 1,500 years after the beginning of the Church?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schenck, I can boast neither the education nor understanding that you and your other readers seem to have. However, I wonder if it might be possible to e-mail you in order to have an opportunity to ask a few questions. I don't want to take up space here with a lot of back and forth. ;-) As you probably do not wish to advertise your personal e-mail here, please feel free to say "BOO" to me at BTW, I just watched one of your Greek language lessons, and enjoyed it. Again, here I say, don't be discouraged by the Professional Ancient Greeks. You were awesome - this world needs more men like you.