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 :)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Australasian Notes: academics go head to head, church decline admitted by top bishop

Two Australasian academic theologians, Michael Bird (Melbourne) and Nick Thompson (Auckland) go head to head on the meaning of liberal democracy viz a viz issues which may themselves threaten the fabric of liberal democracy.  ... I wish Nick would enlighten us, however, on what a "(lacklustre) Catholic" is. Is that going to Mass only once a week? Or lacking zealous commitment to every public thought of the current Pope? :)

Recent posts here have expressed interest in what analysts are saying (or, Christchurch Christians, going to say when Peter Lineham visits on 2 July) about Kiwi Christianity. One of my strong beliefs, based on anecdotal and visual/aural evidence, is that our sharp decline in active Christian involvement is among Kiwis who are not first generation Kiwis and, conversely, many of our churches are being sustained by migrants. Even our strongest national church, the Roman Catholic church, has congregations, according to my own sight, where the worshippers are significantly impacted for good by migrants (e.g. Filipinos who are taking up employment opportunities both in town and country). No less an authority on Catholic church life than Bishop Patrick Dunn confirms this, using the phrase "Kiwi drift", according to this article.

My own conversations have been highlighting for me two factors that are of great Anglican concern.

First, that we (Kiwi churches in general, ACANZP in particular) are now at a point where the next ten years will be experienced as a tsunami in which a large number of parishes will be "swept away". That is, ten years from now, without a miraculous revival, ACANZP will have far fewer parishes. Assuming we retain a commitment to every square inch of these islands being geographically located in one parish or another, then parish mergers (if not diocesan mergers) will be forced upon us, especially in rural districts and regional cities and towns.

Secondly, a question arises, How widely recognised is this tsunami bearing down upon us?

POSTSCRIPT And, the fight continues, with quite a few fighters in the ring, and some kind of mix of boxing, wrestling and karate going on .... in the ongoing bout, Homoians v Complementarians, here and here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sending Subordinationism Out to the Archives?

Continuing a series of links to posts on Euangelion re "subordinationism" in Trinitarian theology, with a view to removing Trinitarian underpinnings to certain "complementarian" arguments re subordination of women to men, I note today Michael Bird posting the following from leading Durham patristics theologian, Lewis Ayres:

"I’m not going to duplicate what Michel has said, and I am going to comment only on what Bruce has said, not the other posts to which he responds. Though I will say, in case anyone asks, that what Wayne Grudem says about eternal generation is just plain daft. I gave a paper – I’ve never published it – at ETS some years ago just exploring how Origen talks about eternal generation, largely in order to show that, surprise, surprise, the term “monogenes” plays very little role in the argument. Wayne was there and we had the opportunity to speak about this at Southern Seminary 3-4 years ago at their Trinity conference. He was very friendly and polite, but I don’t think he even listened.
So, Bruce. While I was at Southern I got to spend some time with him, and we got on well. I say this only to think that I don’t think there is any intentional deception at all when he says that he is thinking about the Trinity itself and not only about gender questions. I do think that he may not have noticed in his own thinking how deeply and unhelpfully intertwined these two have become. But let me make just a few points, arguing that I think Bruce’s theology is just a bit too simplistic. I won’t make these points historically, so much as dogmatically. But throughout I am heavily Augustinian (and Thomist).
There is indeed a certain order in the Trinity (like Michel I would point to Augustine’s trin . 4 as an exemplary text in this regard): Son and Spirit reveal and lead us to the Father. But how is that order presented to us? There are number of reasons, logical and scriptural why we have to be careful about how we speak of it. The first follows from the principle that the divine three are each the fullness of deity and yet there remains one God. It is not enough to say that each possesses the fullness and leave it at that. Rather each possesses it in such a way that there is still only one God, one fullness of deity. This most certainly defeats the intellect (and from this stems the ultimate hubris of much written about the Trinity by recent “analytical theology”). But it also has consequences when we find ourselves placing too much faith in sentences of the form “the Father sends and the Son goes.” Let me draw out perhaps the most important.
All our speech about intervals and succession here may be necessary for our frail minds, but we should at least recognize that it is necessary for that reason, and hides a reality that we barely grasp. Inseparable operation, in other words, is pointing to a considerably more complex truth than simply saying that everyone has a distinct role in each divine action. One consistent way of expressing the doctrine is certainly such language as the Father working through the Son and perfecting in the Spirit, but that is not the only way it is expressed and certainly does not really get to the heart of the mystery of which it speaks. Such language is not wrong, and finds biblical warrant easily enough, but it is not enough (and it is not enough because of other patterns of Scriptural speech). Here, I think John Webster was certainly right to insist that meditation on the divine attributes and the unity of God is rather lacking in modern writing Protestant or Catholic.
Along the same lines, we should not forget texts such as John 5:26 “as the father as life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself.” The Son has been given an equality in power to the Father: theologians from Augustine to Aquinas have recognized that we must say both that the Son is sent, and that the Son sends himself – rather as the Spirit is sent by Father and by Son and yet blows where it pleases. It is true enough I think to say that, risking saying far too much given the state of our knowledge this side of the beatific vision, the Son’s mission is founded in his procession, but one of the fascinating things about the processions is the gift of the fullness of divinity and the eternal maintenance of the unity of God through the generation of the Son and spiration of the Spirit. This has consequences that I don’t think Bruce’s theology has even begun to tap – consequences for what our thought may accomplish and where it may be certain that it misses.
So there are not only two alternatives: The Trinitarian persons are equal or eternal subordination. It is much more interesting than that. But, at the same time, we are recognizing that the scriptural witness itself demands of us this subtlety and recognition of complexity. We might even bring in here the doctrine of “appropriation” – the principle that scripture appropriates to particular Trinitarian persons terms and actions that belong to all. Thus, Augustine most famously makes much of the Son’s title of Wisdom. The Son is wisdom, but who would deny that Father and Spirit possess the fullness of wisdom if they possess the fullness of deity? Appropriation is a practice, a doctrine that exists not to take account of scriptural evidence that doesn’t fit, but it is a practice that takes us to deeper depths of scripture where the failures of the human intellect are laid bare in the face of the true unity of God and the mystery of what it means for there to be a Trinity.
I am with Michel also on not really being convinced by those who are desperate to use the Trinity to come up with a pattern of human existence – as community or as relations between the sexes. Of course, John 17.21 demands we do something like this, and the question of divine unity is at the fore there as is divine love and mission. I have had a little to say about this is the paper I did for the volume from the conference at Fuller a few years ago, but I need to keep thinking about this.
So if you are not reading Bruce Ware, what should you read about the Trinity? The literature on historical material is extensive, for short essays Michel’s “canon” essay is a key piece before anyone starts shouting about homoousios, and that essay and my Nicaea book both point to a world of other literature. For exposition of the resulting range of doctrines I would certainly point to my Augustine and the Trinity (which explains such matters much better than the Nicaea book; my old Augustine and the Grammar of the Trinity paper doesn’t do a bad job of conveying some stuff – I think its on my page along with the paper I did at Fuller), I would point to Gilles Emery’s book on Thomas (or his smaller intro to the Trinity), I would point to Scheeben’s Mysteries of Christianity, and Matt Levering’s Scripture and Metaphysicsalso has much for an evangelical audience that might be really interesting. I have a current student Blair Smith, who is taking up a position in systematics at RTS Charlotte this summer; his thesis on divine Fatherhood, when finished will make an excellent addition to this list."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Peter Lineham prophesying (!!) in Christchurch 2 July 2016

Following up my post from last Friday, later that morning I received the following advertisement for Professor Peter Lineham speaking in Christchurch, 2 July 2016. Although his advertised topic is different to the Wellington lecture mentioned in the previous post, I imagine he will touch on the question of "survival by sectarianism" (that's my phrase). Here is the advertisement:

Will Christianity survive in Christchurch beyond 2020?:
a diagnosis and a realistic prognosis

Presenter: Prof Peter Lineham

2nd July 2016

Peter Lineham

One of New Zealand’s leading scholars, Peter’s specialist subject is New Zealand's Religious History and current religious patterns. Peter is frequently used by the media to speak on Christianity and Religion today.   He is also an active leader in his local church.

Morning Programme

  9.30   Coffee
10.00   Presentation Prof Peter Lineham
10.45   Short break
11.00   Panel responses
11.30   Questions and exploration of the topic
12.00   Finish


-        Rev Stephanie Robson, Associate Dean of the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral
-        Matthew Gardner, secretary of the Canterbury Interfaith Society and is an active member of the Roman Catholic Church.
-        Rev Melema’u Molitika Parish Presbyter, Beckenham-Sydenham Methodist Parish


St Marks Methodist Church corner of Barrington and Somerfield Streets. Parking is available off Barrington Street

Registration Contact: Andrew Donaldson or phone 980 5002.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quo Vadis KiwiChristianoi?

Two underlying questions through all the years of this blog have been "quo vadis?" or "which way" is (a) Anglicanism headed and (b) Christianity in Kiwiland headed?

I note to you, therefore, in respect of the latter question, two public lectures advertised thus:

"You may be interested in attending one or both of these lectures host by the St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society held at St Andrew’s on the Terrace Church, 30 The Terrace, Wellington.

The C-Word and Secularisation in New Zealand
Tuesday June 14, 12:15 – 1pm
Dr Geoff Troughton
“New Zealand Christianity underwent a series of remarkable transformations during the twentieth century. Notably, and perhaps most visibly, support for the historic “mainline” shrunk and these churches waned in influence. The public reputation of Christianity also took a battering. This talk seeks to understand these changes to the social role of Christianity in New Zealand in the context of wider debates about secularisation. It focuses on certain patterns within early twentieth century discourse and piety that may help to explain at least some contemporary attitudes.”
Is the future of Christianity a sectarian one?
Thursday 14 July, 12:15 – 1pm
Prof Peter James Lineham
“The types of Christianity which flourish in New Zealand in some respects seem very sectarian. They take a very narrow approach to faith and they are exclusive in their membership and they are not particularly interested in interacting with wider social and political issues. Is this an indication of the future of Christianity, increasingly locked into a narrow cultural backwater? There is another side of the argument that certainly the religious landscape is becoming much more pluralist, but at the same time even the most sectarian of faiths – Pentecostal, Mormon, even Jehovah Witnesses and Exclusive Brethren – are being reshaped so that sectarian is not as narrow as it used to be.”"

Unfortunately I will not be in Wellington on either date so I can only hope that these (very apt, interesting and timely) lectures might be made available soon after for public reflection.

I am particularly interested in Peter Lineham's lecture topic. It looks like it is engaging with the observable phenomenon that as census numbers for Christians decline we see the congregation in the church up the road increasing its numbers.

I am also interested in his topic re the Anglican church because, arguably, in certain ways, both at liberal and at conservative ends of the spectrum of theologies, we are becoming sectarian; to say nothing of the question of whether adherence to "books" as main apparatus of our liturgical worship makes us seem as "odd" as some "sects" appear to be to the general secular public.

How we are seen by the general secular public relates to the focus of Geoff Troughton's lecture and thus reading (or hearing) both lectures will be highly interesting.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

No, the Homoians v Complementarians is not War Between Aliens [Updated]

Michael Bird offers a follow up post to the one cited below, after some correspondence with some of the field marshals. Everyone is very anxious not to be covertly or overtly on the side of the Arians :)

LATER: And now "Sydney" is responding. If I understand things correctly (and I may be wrong) this is kinda Sydney Anglicanism lining up with Eastern Orthodoxy's hierarchalism. Do tell me if I am wrong :)

Yes, I know "Homoians v Complementarians" sounds like a couple of opposing armies lined up against each other on the planet Zorg, but Michael Bird draws attention to a theological war breaking out among conservatives in this post on Euangelion.

Michael offers the following summary of the skirmishing to date:

"One wing of that movement has been arguing for a while that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father and importantly the way that the Son submits to the Father is mirrored in the way that wives submit to their husbands. So the hierarchy in the Trinity is said to provide grounds for a hierarchy in gender relationships. Since this trinitarian debate is not really about the Trinity but about gender and equality, it is no surprise that Complementarians have been arguing for the subordinationist view (e.g., Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem) over and against the Egalitarians who have been arguing for an equality of persons view (e.g., Kevin Giles, Gilbert Belizekian).

Yet it is worth noting that many Calvinistic Complementarians, especially one’s that know their patristic theology and doctrine of the Trinity, have always balked at the idea of postulating the Son’s eternal subordination and questioned the wisdom of using the Trinity to bankroll a particular view of gender. In their mind, Calvinist Orthodoxy is Nicene, it affirms the eternal equality of the divine persons, which rules out any hierarchical subordination. They are still complementarian in regards to marriage and ministry but they reject perceived tinkering with the Trinity by the Subordinationist Calvinists. This group of Nicene Calvinists has always been rather silent and never really offered vocal protest against the Subordinationist Calvinist. However, I think that is about to change."

He then posts a couple of thoughtful excerpts from theological bloggers and makes a few more comments of his own. In the comments to date on the post a link is made to a very erudite and challenging review of a recent book on (so to speak) Trinitarian complementarianism. This review is by Steve Holmes who draws this conclusion re bad Trinitarian arguments for complementarianism:

"If I wished to defend ‘complementarianism’, I would abandon the Trinitarian argument completely; there is a potential Christological argument available in Eph. 5; I do not think this works, for reasons I have explored elsewhere, but it is less obviously wrong than the Trinitarian position explored in this book. 
I reflect, however, that these continually-shifting arguments to defend the same conclusion start to look suspicious: by the time someone has offered four different defences of the same position, one has to wonder whether their commitment is fundamentally to the position, not to faithful theology. Judging by his essay in this book, Grudem is ready to throw the Nicene faith overboard, if only he can keep his ‘complementarianism’; other writers here are less blunt, but the same challenge may be presented. How many particular defences of a position need to be proved false before we may assert that the position itself is obviously false? 
In the case of the sort of Christian ‘complementarianism’ it defends, this volume makes me wonder seriously if we have reached that line."
The comments below that post are well worth reading and include comments from one commenter frequently read here! At risk of implying other comments are not quotable, I will quote just one of the comments here, by Gerald Bray (well known evangelical theologian, and frequent visitor to these shores):

"I have never understood what the connection is (or is supposed to be) between the Trinity and gender-complementarity and think that most of the discussion about this is wrong-headed to begin with. But at the same time, we should admit that all relationships are complementary by nature. This is not a denial of equality, but in many ways, an affirmation of it. As long as it is assumed that ‘complementarianism’ means that one party in the relationship is subordinate (and inferior) to the other, and that ‘egalitarianism’ means that all involved are interchangeable because that is what being equal means, we shall get nowhere. The church fathers worked out that the Father and the Son are equal and complementary. The Bible teaches the same thing, in a different context, about male and female. Can we not come to terms with this?

Steve Holmes has a good reply there.

So, a war in which shots are being fired but no one is dying, though perhaps some are feeling wounded?

For myself, I am very pleased to see the link between a particular understanding of the Trinity and a specific understanding of gender relationships broken. I think it reasonable to generally see an analogy between the "diversity-in-unity" of the Trinity and "diversity-in-unity" of humanity (imago dei, etc) but unreasonable to draw analogies re hierarchies (not least because the imago dei theology of Genesis 1 is precisely a theology which posits male and female as equal participants not subordinated participants in the imago dei).

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Invention of Lying

Suffering cold turkey this weekend as there was no Super Rugby and the brief International Rugby Window in June starts next weekend, we watched a movie on Saturday night on TV, the Invention of Lying. Without giving too much of the plot and its contents away, this movie is a very good satire on religion, working from a clever premise, that the world might have been a perfect truth-telling world until someone had an epiphany about the possibility of telling a lie. With one lie leading to another, before you know it, religion has been invented (according to the film).

Now we can view such a film as straightforward comedy - that is laugh with the film and at ourselves as religious people who believe what, within the film's narrative world, is a lie. But we can also muse on these two challenges: whether or not (1) we might in actuality be believing a lie; and (2) the film tunes into Western culture at this time. That is, the film expresses what many Westerners believe deep within their hearts: all religion is a lie, there is no God or gods, the reality of this world is all there is to reality. We could describe the first challenge as philosophical and the second challenge as missiological.

I will by-pass the first challenge here and reflect a little on the second challenge. My connecting the film with the deep heart of Western culture is made because I have been in a conversation or two or been reading a note or two recently about the staggering lack of belief and surplus of ignorance about Christianity. Here, for instance, is Geoff Robson, TSCF staff worker at Canterbury University, writing about a conversation with a student friend, which reveals the depth of biblical illiteracy in Kiwiland:

" "Andrew" is from a completely unchurched background. He started coming along to Christian Union's lunchtime Bible talks early in 2014. He was fascinated by what he heard, but still had mnay questions, so we started to meet up semi-regularly during the year to get to know each other and discuss what he was hearing from the Bible. Near the end of the year we met up ... We chatted about plans for the summer. When I casually mentioned that I really look forward to Christmas as a celebration of Jesus' birth, he gave me a puzzled look. "What do you mean?" he asked. "Christmas - Jesus' birthday," I repeated, being a bit slow to grasp what he hadn't understood. He blurted out with genuine surprise, "Wait - Christmas is Jesus' birthday?!" [Canvas, TSCF Quarterly Magazine, Issue 77, Autumn 2016]

Geoff goes on to write that he meets students who have never even heard of Jesus.

Another aspect of the conversations I have been in goes like this (according to a respected colleague, about my age and ordained slightly longer than me): we have moved on from a period when we focused on "church growth". That turned out to be more about attracting Christians from other churches to our church than about evangelism. Now there are fewer Christians looking for a better church than the one they are in. For the church to grow, even to maintain current numbers of worshippers, it has to connect with the community around it in a different way than the methodology of church growth. It is tough. And we are not sure how to make the connections.

So, what are your thoughts? In a Western world either ignorant of Jesus or immune to belief in God because convinced there is no God, what does it mean to preach the gospel? What is the gospel for such a world?

Finally, and likely I will take up this question in a post or three in the next month or so, is the church generally in these islands, let alone ACANZP in particular grasping the challenge we face?

We could die, and it could be in less than 50 years.

We are in Acts 17. The toughest part of the otherwise triumphant story of the expansion of the Jesus' movement from Jerusalem to Rome. Athens didn't want to know about the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Neither, it seems, does Aotearoa.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Latest ACANZP development re same sex blessings

No, this is not a post about my views and thoughts on same sex blessings in the context of ACANZP. But I notice on Taonga today two items of great significance in terms of follow up to General Synod (May 2016). A timeline ... a chance to send in our ideas of what we think may or may not work structurally ...

Here they are.



In the spirit of my recent declaration that I would not post on these matters for a while, I am not going to re-open discussion here. I will not take comments on these two items announced here. Comments are closed for this post.

It is so important that we get this next stage right, I am more than happy to draw irregular or non-readers of Taonga's attention to what has been posted today. But this does not mean I am ready to renew conversation on these matters.

What I may do, around 1 July 2016 is to post something and to see if we can have a constructive conversation which, God willing, might lead to something worth saying to the new working group.

Meantime I will keep thinking and no doubt you will too.

And praying.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Married people have all made a mistake

Alain de Botton has something interesting to say about marriage!
(No, I am not returning to the subject of same-sex blessing / marriage and I won't publish comments made to this post which raise or mention the subject).