Thursday, June 30, 2016

Will 21st century beat all institutions to a pulp?

Here is a very thoughtful piece on the current meltdown of the British Labour Party:

"On one side is the current leader and a small band of leftist diehards, backed by an energetic, well-drilled movement but devoid of any coherent project and out of touch with the voters who have just defied the party in their droves. 
On the other is a counter-revolution led by MPs who mostly failed to see this crisis coming, have very few worthwhile ideas themselves, and are a big part of the reason the Brexit revolt happened in the first place. As the activist Neal Lawson says, the choice is essentially between different captains of the Titanic, and therefore is no choice at all.
As with the centre-left parties across Europe in the same predicament, Labour is a 20th-century party adrift in a new reality. Its social foundations – the unions, heavy industry, the nonconformist church, a deference to the big state that has long evaporated – are either in deep retreat or have vanished completely. Its name embodies an attachment to the supposed glories of work that no longer chimes with insecure employment and insurgent automation." (From the Guardian)

Note what it says about the non-conformist roots of the Party. But I suggest, with a bit of imagination,  we can say a similar thing, as the whole piece says about the state of the once mighty and fearless British Labour Party, about the church-in-the-Western-world (outside of USA)-as-we-have-known-it-in-the-20th-century: we are adrift in a new reality. We are doing various things which have great potential to be described by future historians as similar to changing the captains on the Titanic in order to secure a new arrangement of the deck chairs on its observation deck!

Now, the one difference between the Western church and the British Labour Party is that God is committed to us but, spoiler alert, leftie readers may be offended, not to the BLP. So our question is not whether we will survive the 21st century, or even the next two decades. Our question is what new form, fit for purpose, the church is being metamorphosed into. And, are we discerning what God is up to, are we catching the wave of the Spirit hovering over the troubled waters of a chilly culture which keeps throwing up icebergs on which every human institution is foundering?

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Balthasar's theology as "quite loony"?

I have not yet embarked on reading von Balthasar's theology, despite his being viewed by some as "the greatest"of the 20th - move aside Karl Barth - century, if not, indeed, one of the greatest of all time. But I recognise that he has been impactive. So for me, and perhaps for you, if you are not yet an expert on this great theologian, this review article by Luke Timothy Johnson (himself no mean scholar and theologian) may be of interest.

SPOILER ALERT: only a portion of Balthasar's theology is described as "quite loony"!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Edwin Judge on W.A. Orange, Religion and Science

On Sunday I went to "WOML", the annual William Orange Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Latimer Fellowship of NZ, with this year's lecture in Christchurch being within two days of the 50th anniversary of Canon William Orange's death, 28 June 1966.

This year's lecture was given by Professor Edwin Judge, one of NZ's distinguished academic exports to other parts of the world (his academic career has mostly been spent in Sydney). The full text of the lecture (which gave only extended excerpts of the full text) is here.

I commend the lecture to you as Professor Judge touches at the conclusion of the lecture on some very important matters about understanding the "deep" chasms and fractures in Western culture.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Where did the music go? [UPDATED]

A hard hitting post here on singing in church and how it has all gone horribly wrong.

Or has it?

What do you think?

Some great comments, thank you, making all kinds of useful observations and interesting points.

My thoughts (in no particular order of importance):

- we place great weight on music with our expectations: convey truth, inspire, other connections with emotions, convey liturgical words, connect one part of written liturgy to another part;

- at any given time in the present, it can be difficult to work out what current favourites will last and what will be forgotten (cf. trying to do this in past times ... who knew that Tallis, Handel compositions would last ... who could work out which of hundreds of hymns written by Watts, Wesleys, Newton would be the dozen or so that are regularly sung in 2016?);

- what we think of as "great" hymns and songs is a mixture of lyrics and music (e.g., reading Jonathan Aitken's biography of John Newton at the moment, Amazing Grace only really "took off" when the tune we are familiar with became associated with it; also, it first gained popularity in the States and only later in the UK);

- while there is an "absolute" standard or standards we can apply to words (faithful or not to Scripture, orthodox or not re creedal belief, accurate or not re rendition of part of spectrum of belief we favour (Catholic sacramental truths, Evangelical understanding of atonement, etc) this is simply not so re music: from age to age, different styles of music are appreciated, unappreciated and reappreciated, and within a given age, different styles of music connect with different cultural and sub-cultural tastes (cf range of styles in some parish churches between first, second and third services, and choices made re attendance which reflect generational preferences) ... that is, the musical side of chants, hymns, songs, choruses, anthems, prayers put to music is a complex field to navigate if we are (e.g.) the music director for a pluriform parish ... but navigate we must, because, at least in the corner of the Western field of church which I inhabit, some styles of music are intolerable to some groups of people and it is plain stubbornness which keeps some congregations going with a style of music which is obviously to the taste of one section of the parish only;

- yes, some education could help greater appreciation of a wider range of music.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NZ is served by some very fine, public servants

If you read this interview you will meet a great Kiwi via the medium of text. The genial, good-natured person in the text is the man I have known in person. Andrew Becroft is starting soon as our next Children's Commissioner, a role in which we have been well served these past few years by Russell Wills. As the interview brings out, Andrew will bring to this important office a wealth of experience as our Principal Youth Court Judge.

We are very fortunate in Kiwiland to be served by wonderful public servants.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Cunning plan, Francis?

Late last week, perambulating around the Twittersphere I noticed the following extraordinary claims of Pope Francis, reported in this way by the Catholic News Agency,

"the great majority of sacramental marriages today are not valid, because couples do not enter into them with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment."

This is quite extraordinary. Go slowly through this. The Pope, no less, says that "the great majority of sacramental marriages." Not just a few exceptional cases, "the great majority." The Pope says that the great majority of sacramental marriages are "not valid." And for these reasons: they are not entered into with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment.

But, wait, there is more. A later report says that the Vatican has revised "a large majority" to "a part" in its official transcript of his remarks.

Oh, well, if the Vatican is going to go that way, it is very hard to be sure what the Pope ever says about anything (other than an official, formal publication). That kind of revision may or may not assuage globally read conservative Catholic journalists. Damian Thompson is worried. Ross Douthat, on Twitter at, is aghast (but points out that he more or less saw this coming via a Walter Kasper interview in 2014). Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society thinks the Pope is straight out wrong.

Now, I will leave it to experts on sacramental theology (e.g. many commenters to the above articles and respondents to Tweets) to sort out the ways in which Francis is right or wrong or both about the sacrament of marriage. There seem to be comments/posts in favour of all three options :).

(Now, as a Protestant Anglican I think that much of this confusion in the papal remarks would be avoided if there was a fronting up to the fact that marriage is not a sacrament. Whatever Jesus said about marriage he said about all marriages, whether contracted according to tribal custom, Roman civil law, Jewish law or Kiwi law. When attempting to size up the situation about marriage in the modern world, nothing is gained or rescued by distinguishing between "marriage" and "sacramental marriage". Marriage is marriage, according to the time immemorial custom of a man and a woman being joined together for life. Validity relates to marriage between a man and a woman. It might be later determined invalid for some reason such as force or fraud (a person forced into marriage against their will, a person married to someone who turns out to be a bigamist), but not for reason of "insufficient understanding". But then, you would expect a Protestant Anglican to say such things!)

What clearly is not expected is that the Pope should say what he said (or revisedly said). But here is the thing, did Francis speak out of turn or did he voice something which is part of a cunning plan? You see, we know the Pope is concerned to ease the pathway for the divorced-and-remarried to receive communion, but that pathway has been blocked in one direction. Why not open up another direction?

That other direction is to make annulments simpler (he has already done that) and easier. And what could be easier than declaring that "a great majority" of even sacramental marriages are invalid due to "insufficient understanding." That is tantamount, is it not, to saying that even sacramental marriages stand a good chance of being found to be invalid and thus annulled.

Of course I could be wrong. There could be no cunning plan, just mis-spoken words.

UPDATE: Perhaps I am both wrong (there is no cunning plan per se re the remarks themselves) and right (Pope Francis may truly believe some contradictory things about marriage/"marriage", the force of which is that more annulments may be possible if he has his way), so Nick, commenting below, and the very erudite post by canon lawyer Edward Peters here.

NOTE: this is NOT an opportunity to expound on same-sex marriage or same-sex blessings. Time off on those comments until July. I will NOT publish comments which so much as mention, even in passing, SSM or SSB. But please do tell me I am misunderestimating or misoverestimating the clever logic of Francis!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Disappointed? That is the understatement of the millennium!

A week or so ago I got quite excited.

One of my enthusiasms as a Christian is for church unity. ADU has banged the ecumenical drum these years of its existence. To be frank, most Christians I talk to about these things are pessimistic about the chances of much changing in real ecumenical terms. My optimism is no doubt, privately, treated as some early sign of madness.

Here's the thing, the pessimists this week are right!!

My excitement was fuelled by noticing two articles (here and here) on what was then a forthcoming major, major Orthodox ecumenical event, 55 years in the making, designed to inch all Eastern Orthodox churches towards unity, and not just any kind of unity, but the unit which would shape these churches up for the mother and father of ecumenical encounters, East with (Roman) West.

But then a kindly correspondent drew my attention to this article in The Guardian.

"After an interlude of more than a millennium, 55 years of careful planning, and within days of its opening, the first global gathering of Orthodox churches since the year 787 is teetering on the brink of collapse amid dissent and power struggles.
The historic “holy and great council” of the world’s 14 self-governing Orthodox churches, due to begin in Crete on Sunday, may not go ahead after five pulled out.
The unravelling of the week-long Pan-Orthodox Council, which has been in preparation since 1961, began with Bulgaria saying earlier this month it wanted a postponement, citing disagreements over the agenda."

Certain swear words spring to mind which go well with "Bulgarians".

As for the Russians ...

For another report on the matter of meltdown of the proposed council, see here. Bosco Peters has posted here. There is a very good YouTube interview here (H/T Andrei in comment below). The latest commentary from Alexander Lucie-Smith is here, where he observes that fear of modernity drives the meltdown and notes three terrific reasons for church unity. I feel a post coming on for next week ...

Incidentally, I am all for one church or set of churches declaring itself the "true" church and simultaneously declaring all other "churches" to be false pretenders, anathematizing them in fact as "non churches." According to this logic I belong to the one and only true church. It is perfect in every way, doctrinally, liturgically, morally, ecclesiologically. It only has one member. And you can't join it in case you wreck it :)