Ben Quash is one of my favorite young, British theologians. His study of theodramatic conceptions of history, Theology and the Drama of History, was great; his expositions of Hans Urs von Balthasar are lucid, his judgments judicious, and his prose makes you believe he really does find joy in crafting them. He also contributes the essay on ‘Revelation’ in the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology which is equally good. So I was excited to get hold of his most recent edited volume, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why it Matters what Christian’s Believe.
[T]he border between schism and heresy is a blurry one. And in fact, one of the instructive features of the Donatist dispute as a whole is precisely the way it highlights the artificiality of separating faith (or belief) from love (or practices). Christian practice is a sort of theology, an exposition…And in lots of ways the Donatists (at least those not marauding or supporting the marauders) embodied just that proper emphasis on right practice as inseparable from Christian truth…They wanted at their best, to be disciplined communities of character.
The problem was that their practice betrayed two things at the heart of Christian teaching: the ineradicable fallibility of creation (including the Church) and its consequent unavoidable need of grace on this side of the end of time. It is God’s job to make the Church pure, not ours, and he will do it when he is ready. However morally zealous we are, we will never by our own effort carve out a pure space which we can call the true Church by pointing to the unimpeachable lives of its members. Instead, they will sin, and they will need to be forgiven, and they will do so constantly. The holiness of the Church is precisely that it is a place where this circulation of forgiveness goes on all the time; it is not because forgiveness is never necessary in the first place. A Church which insisted that its members – or even just its clergy – had to be spotless would be an empty Church, or else a dishonest Church (p. 83, 88-89)