I would suspect that the Presiding Bishop’s heresy remarks within her opening address
to the 2009 General Convention would illicit strong feelings with a resounding, “AMEN!” or a nervous, “Huh?” from just about anyone. Her words certainly drew a strong reaction from me, and thus, I took considerable time to study her words. Frankly, I wish she would expound upon her theological statements regarding personal salvation for the sake of clarity. Christian news sources all over the world have reduced her statements that the PB has deemed personal salvation a heresy. This isn’t hard to do based on her brief, polarized comments. Evangelicals (and probably a few remaining evangelical Episcopalians) have taken offense to this, as personal relationship with God in Jesus is key to one’s salvation and at the heart of the gospel as they see it. Certainly we cannot discount the inherently personal nature of ones relationship with God and how Scripture speaks to that.
As a post-evangelical, Episcopalian “convert,” I was utterly compelled to spend a few days meditating on the PB’s strong words regarding what she deemed “the great Western heresy” – a rather bold accusation. I disagree with the PB that individual salvation can be categorically
deemed a heresy. Her words are too polarized and there needs to be a nuanced, theological discussion on the topic of salvation in order to pinpoint where the heresy lies if she wants to take that rout. Heresy is a bold accusation and in this case can potentially be applied to many, many Christians. I do not feel I’m being too sensitive here.
What I hope the PB is saying is that individuals can not be saved or be in a right relationship with God alone
from being reconciled with God’s good creation. I am comfortable with that. There is no “just God and I,” but “God and us.” This follows James and how faith without works (broadly understood) is dead. What we do with our neighbor (and all of creation) is inseparable from what we believe or profess. I run into problems with her harsh remarks however, because there is still an event
(or a series of events) that takes place in each of our lives that transforms us. Transformation in Christ is both personal and communal. An over-focus on the self can and does lead to idolatry, but it does not mean that one can’t have personal salvation. To me, the personal and communal aspects of "right relationship" with God are inextricably linked. I hope that’s what she’s trying to get at by saying that such idolatry is in part motivation for their use of Ubuntu. However, I feel all I can do is speculate because her rhetoric is cleverly worded at best, but sparse in clarity, where clarity is needed when making a heresy accusation that can apply to such a broad range of Christians.