Monday, February 18, 2019

Ephraim's exile? (aka what's going on with Lambeth 2020)

Introduction

Bowman Walton’s comments here at ADU are much appreciated by me - he puts into words I myself do not (yet) have, clear thinking about what it means to be Anglican in the 21st century. (All comments here a much appreciated but not every comment is equally able to help me clarify my own muddled thinking!).

I cite here, from a Waltonian comment to the previous post, words which remind us that the strengths of Anglicanism (e.g. bishops, “reformed and catholic”) are accidents of history (i.e. driven more by the politics of England in the 16th and subsequent centuries than by clear sighted theological vision):

"[Developing observations about a statement by Michael Bird on why he is an Anglican] But this is precisely an apology for others; it will not do as a self-understanding for actual Anglicans. On one hand, it airbrushes away the monarchy's deep involvement in the Church of England as the wet dog who should not have been in the wedding picture, even though that is the historical reason why a via media happened in England but not elsewhere. For example, Anglicans have bishops because Elizabeth I and her successors insisted on them for the good of the realm, not because they would be helpful to denominational piety a few centuries later. And Catholic and Reformed are anachronisms of later centuries, not what Luther and Calvin got out of bed to be every morning. The theology of Anglican churches cannot be reduced to the political history of modern England, early and late, but neither can it be abstracted from that history. Doing so renders the civic engagement of Anglicans from then to now meaningless. 
Yet that civic engagement is meaningful precisely in light of the apostolic faith in Jesus. At their best, Bird's Baptists are wonderful at acts of charity that bring Christ's love to strangers in need, and this is reason enough to respect their pietism. But the Bible's horizon is far wider than our interpersonal relations, although it surely includes them. Idolatry, personal and social, has disfigured the human community that God created, worship of the Creator-Messiah regenerates that community, and what we call church is just the first fruits of that new creation. According to the scriptures, the Christian hope is not that individuals will travel to a far-away heaven when they die, but that all flesh shall be raised up to see God in the New Jerusalem. All of our private concerns are summed up in it, of course, but this is a public future. If this does not affect our actions in the present, then what do we mean when we say that we believe?
Put another way, when Bird's "gospel people" struggle to make sense of the catholic practice of the Catholic-and-Reformed hybrid of Anglicans, they are trying to find the motivation in Christ for that more-than-individual scope of the biblical narrative itself. Proof texts from the Bible do not help them much unless and until they see the canon as a whole narrative from creation to new creation, garden to city. Once one does see that narrative as the context for those proof texts-- and for the ways in which Jesus and the biblical writers themselves handled scripture-- then, at least intellectually, it all falls into place. Usually, this does not so much solve their problem as reveal it to be a part of a bigger, uglier one-- many of us are alienated from the civic life that God intended for humanity. As in the C1, this alienation is the personal and social fallout of idolatry.
To do missions with + Victoria or evangelism with + Peter is to present Jesus in a way that heals that alienation. Again, Anglicans are not the only Christians who have some resources for doing this work-- Catholics have the social magisterium; Lutherans, a robust two-kingdoms doctrine; Methodists, the example of John Wesley, etc-- but Anglicanism is the only Western tradition that is incomprehensible apart from some political theology."


This citation - noting the role of politics in Anglican decision-making - chimes in with some of the disturbing revelations I am having as I continue to read Michael Massing’s book Fatal Discord about the lives and impacts of Luther and Erasmus on the European and English Reformations. Chief disturbances in recent reading:

1. That Luther was so wrong on a number of matters, some of which had violent, fatal consequences as uprisings and the putting down of uprisings led to terrible, bloodthirsty, rapacious acts of war and terror. To the extent that we appeal to Luther as an authority in Protestantism, why should we treat this (actually) Trump-like* figure as any kind of authority?

2. What on earth were the Reformers doing when they responded to the realisation that their divergences in understanding of Scripture required invocation of authority to settle matters by determining that “princes” and “magistrates” should be that authority?

Sure, we easily get it that the contemporary corruptions of the Papacy meant there was not going to be a “return to Rome” when the question of authority arose (Luther v Munzer; Luther v Zwingli; Luther v Erasmus, etc), but was not the invocation of princes and magistrates by the Reformers merely an alternative papacy (or, more accurately, set of regionalised popes)? The English Reformation may have saved bishops for a church which would come to see itself as "reformed and catholic" but along the way it invested extraordinary authority in the English Parliament and the English sovereign. What was that all about?! (Other than keeping civic order).

Authority in Western churches, post-Reformation

Four to five centuries later the problem of authority still troubles churches with roots in Western Europe. In today's news, for example, we finally get to learn of Pope Francis making a (well overdue, so many commentators) decision re an abuser: Cardinal McCarrick will be defrocked. But the machinations going on inside the Vatican on this and other matters these days remind (Protestant) observers that no matter the theological strength of claims for Roman primacy, the notion of one centralised ecclesiastical authority is fraught with risk that not only may poor decisions be made, but also (again, so many commentators on aspects of Francis' papacy) indecision will reign.

Meanwhile, here in Anglicanland, as the clock ticks down towards Lambeth 2020, eminent pundits are having a go at what might work for ++Justin and the conference design group. Essentially, the question they raise is both what kind of Communion we are becoming and what kind of authority governs it.

Ephraim Radner offers six proposals for Lambeth Conference 2020. Is he being realistic? (Does he have the ear of the design group? His friend and colleague, +George Sumner is on the group.) Who would be going into exile on the basis of these six proposals? Ephraim or me!?

Then there is a twinned essay from Andrew Goddard here. Goddard highlights different approaches from ++Williams (Lambeth 2008) to ++Welby (Lambeth 2020) in respect of how they are authorising what happens (i.e. is intended to happen) at a Lambeth Conference.

A specific instance of Anglican authority at work in the run up to Lambeth 2020

Intriguingly (and hitherto unknown to me), one subtle application of a form of authority in the Communion (referencing Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 on marriage) is in the fact, revealed here, by Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, that:

"Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies." (My bold).
That is creating some consternation in the socialmediasphere.

On the one hand, Idowu-Fearon informs us that the design group is logically, Anglicanly (Resolution 1.10) consistent in its approach to invitations. Also the group is quite subtly moving beyond the 2008 situation in which, readers here may recall, +Gene Robinson was not invited though was present at fringe events.

On the other hand, this approach will create some - no doubt - angst. Some conservatives may be troubled by the fact that same-sex partnered bishops are invited to Lambeth 2020. Some progressives may be troubled by the fact that partners of such bishops are not invited to Lambeth 2020. Boycott, anyone?

Thoughts, dear readers? [Strictly: thoughts about Lambeth. This is not an invitation to rerun the You Know What arguments.]

Now to be clear: I am going to Lambeth 2020 whomever is or isn't invited and whomever is or isn't taking up their invitations. If the Communion (in whatever shape, size, system) is to have a future, we need some global conversation. If the Communion (in whatever ... ditto) is not to have a future, we need to end well with a global conversation. I would like to be part of such conversation!

Back to Anglican (and Protestant) authority/"authority"

I am glad that Anglican churches have bishops (and not just because I am now one). God through history, Israelite history and church history, has invested authority in individuals (Moses, David, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, etc) and individuals have capacity through experience, wisdom and gifts of grace to lead, discern, judge, teach and proclaim, with that capacity offering expeditious solutions to questions and puzzles which otherwise might languish in committee processes.

Yet such leaders can go terribly wrong (Moses and David made mistakes, Paul likely got it wrong when he fell out with Barnabas over Mark, Peter was a very slow learner in respect of critical gospel issues). Bishops can go wrong (cf. McCarrick above). So the question of guardianship of bishops is critical to the matter of authority in the life of the church.

A Roman answer to that question is to have a hierarchy of bishops with a most trustworthy one at the top of the hierarchy (i.e. the Pope). History has not judged that process well (taking all popes into account and not selectively admiring the many good Popes). And presently a lot of Catholic-based questioning of the current Pope is going on.

An Anglican answer within England itself, as I noted above, has been to have the common sense of the English people (represented by the Parliament) as guardians of the bishops. The Anglican answer outside of England (developed as much in NZ by Bishop Selwyn as anywhere else in the globe), and more recently within England, has been to elect/appoint synods/conventions so that the common sense of the whole church is represented in the governance of an Anglican church.

Yet the 39A remind Anglicans that we think councils can err and thus synods/conventions are not themselves the failsafe means of ensuring the good of the church according to the will of God. What is to be done? Some kind of wider council has been the Anglican response (i.e. Lambeth conferences, recalling that the first one was called to countenance an alleged heresy), and in making this response, Anglicans have called on a long and wide church history of great councils. Even great councils may err but great councils bring together a wide body of knowledge and wisdom, with a greater chance of transcending narrow "local" concerns and pressures such that any national church (or small international church such as ACANZP) might fall under. Thus great councils have given us the Nicene Creed, resolution of major theological issues and many things followed to this day by the majority of Christians.

The potential authority of the Lambeth Conference is immense. But its potential cannot, of course, ever be reached if individual bishops and individual provinces of bishops within it pay no attention to what is resolved (so 1998 Resolution 1.10) or if, as at 2008, no resolutions are made. Even better is a Lambeth Conference which resolves X and has a uniform response from each Anglican provincial synod that X will be thus and so.

Is this a scenario which can reasonably be conceived for the Anglican Communion and its provinces today?

The run up to Lambeth 2020 is going to be, to say the least, interesting.

*Whenever Luther was recommended to go lightly on his opponents, he nearly always "double-downed" on his invective and mockery of them. A lot of Massing's material about Luther reminds me of Trump's approach to conflict. Nevertheless Luther was different to Trump in important ways.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Bishop of Christchurch

Today is Monday. The weekend was great. The ordination service on Saturday morning in the Christchurch Boys High School auditorium was beautiful, the installation service on Saturday afternoon in Christchurch's Cathedral Square was bathed in sunshine (a little too hot, if we were to complain about one thing!) and well attended, an afternoon tea at Christ's College was a lovely way to conclude the day, then preaching at all three services in the Transitional Cathedral yesterday was a privilege with a superb family and friends lunch between the first two and last services.

The whole weekend involved vast efforts of time and energy from a large number of people and I am grateful to everyone for their contribution: thank you!

Here is my favourite picture from various family snaps - taken after I was installed in the cathedra [bishop's chair] in sight of the cathedral:

Taonga has an article here.

My installation service address is here.

Our Diocesan website has articles here, here and the video of the ordination is here and of the installation is here. (Excellent quality too!)

Here is the text of my sermon yesterday in the Transitional Cathedral:

"Sermon for Sunday 10 February 2019 @TC
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; [10 am only] 1 Cor 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
By splendid coincidence the prescribed readings from the lectionary today, featuring the prophet Isaiah, Jesus our Lord and his apostles, [Paul and] Simon Peter fit perfectly with a new bishop speaking about a new chapter in Christ’s mission for the Diocese.
By terrifying coincidence, the prescribed readings today speak of prophetic and apostolic ministry and mission which was faith-filled, fruitful, and enduring in a manner which sets the highest of standards for a new bishop to attain to.
Isaiah receives a vision which terrifies him.
“Woe is me!”
No vague, ambiguous God confronts him through the vision.
Majestic, awesome, holy, the Lord of hosts sits on his divine throne.
But this overwhelming, Almighty God seeks a human servant – a missioner who can be sent to call Israel to return to God – and Isaiah is that servant.
“Here I am; send me!”
If we, the Diocese of Christchurch, believe in Isaiah’s God, what is God wanting us to do in God’s service?
Are we available to this God? Dare we say, “Here we are, send us!”
Isaiah’s call is set in a time when Israel had some hope that it could work itself out of a considerable mess in respect of its theology and its practice, but all too soon that hope was dashed.
Israel would not heed the prophetic message of Isaiah and other prophets.
God led it into exile - a severe punishment for unfaithfulness, for spiritual recklessness.
But it was not the end of Israel.
The same God led the return of Israel to its promised land, creating in the process a longing for a new anointed ruler, a new King David.
Those longings are motifs hidden within Paul’s phrase “according to the Scriptures” in the 1 Corinthians 15 reading, where he contextualizes the execution and then resurrection of Jesus into the history and expectations of Israel.
Those expectations were often put in pastoral images – sheep, false shepherds leading the sheep astray, a true or good shepherd to come.
And much talk about pastoral ministry in the church, including that of a bishop, is couched in this pastoral language.
We can excuse the first disciples Jesus called to follow him for being a little confused when the talk of a new future for Israel was about fishing and not about shepherding.
Luke’s gospel story of the net full and overflowing with fish illustrates that the God of Israel is the God of expansion and growth.
The mission of God which becomes the mission of Christ shifts focus from one nation to all nations.
Israel will grow beyond its racial and geographical boundaries to include new fish – new peoples, new nations.
God through Jesus Christ came into the world to gather together all the peoples of the world, a vast catch.
If Isaiah’s mission is to speak to Israel as sheep that have lost their way and become disconnected from God,
then the mission of Simon Peter and his fishing mates is to speak to the world as fish God wishes to catch and make connection with.
In both cases, God is at work in the world and amazingly invites ordinary human beings, frail and fallible people,
that is, you and me, Isaiah and Simon Peter, to share in the divine mission.
If there is one task in my time as bishop I want to make the stand out priority,
it is to challenge myself and all who will listen to me to actively share in the mission of God, to be co-workers in the mission of Christ.
The church ought to be primarily missional: outward facing, always available to be sent by God into the world, unafraid to catch people into the great net of God.
In theory, we know this, we nod in agreement with this but in practice we the church often find it hard to be primarily missional.
We often settle on primarily responding to our internal wants and needs.
Yet as long as we read Holy Scripture, God will challenge us to be primarily missional, as our readings do today.
There is a specific challenge in our Gospel reading that I draw to our attention.
In the background to this challenge are these observations:
The sober reality is that the number of Anglicans active in Christ’s mission in our Diocese is declining.
Our total Sunday attendance has been declining through the past few decades. Since the quakes, 70 ministry units have been reduced to 60 units.
It should not be surprising to us if in my time as Bishop of Christchurch we further reduce to 50 ministry units.
Yet such realities in the present time are at variance with the mission of Christ laid out in this event of an overwhelming catch of fish – an event which illustrates the expansive, universal heart of God.
In this passage Luke invites us to ask:
Are we joining with Jesus in great faith, believing that – even though the contemporary night seems long and the fishing to date has caught little – the best catch is yet to be?
A couple of years ago Stephanie Robson, now our new Ministry Educator, published a sober report into the state of our life as a Diocese.
In that report, Stephanie makes a very sharp observation about our tendency (in my own words) to avoid facing the double jeopardy of many congregations simultaneously reducing and ageing.
We are doing that avoidance, I infer from the report, on the basis of a vague hope that some new people might turn up, transferring to us from other churches;
or that a change in government immigration policy might one day lead to the recruitment of thousands of ready-made Anglicans from Africa.
No. Our hope should be directed to a different way of thinking.
If we are not to die as a Diocese, in approximately twenty years’ time, we must freshly offer ourselves to God to be part of an apostolate, of an evangelistic mission in Canterbury, Westland and the Chathams.
A mission which seeks to draw new people into the life of Christ.
Only if this is our mindset will we be taking seriously the words of Jesus:
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
Ah, you may be thinking to yourselves,
“That is all very well, but isn’t Christ’s mission much more than evangelism? Doesn’t it include working for justice, seeking to meet the needs of the last, the least and the lost?”
Indeed, Christ’s mission is comprehensive, broad and far reaching and often it is better conducted by deeds rather than words.
But I will be failing in my obligation as the Bishop of Christchurch if I lose sight of the evangelistic mission of Christ and if I fail to challenge our Diocese to have the same mindset as Jesus himself had.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
At stake is not simply the size of the Diocese but the future of the Diocese and its work in the mission of Christ.
In twenty years’ time, who will be available to reach out to the poor in our communities around the Diocese with the practical love of Jesus?
So what might we do, here and now, today and tomorrow?
A little introspection is good for the soul.
What if we were to ask ourselves this question:
What is so valuable to me about Jesus Christ that I want others to have what I treasure?
That is a loaded question, of course, because it raises the question how valuable Jesus is to us.
But it is great question because it leads us to a place of renewal.
If we have lost our first love for Jesus, Jesus is more eager than we are to renew that love.
If we have difficulty articulating why Jesus is central to our lives, Jesus is more eager than we are to teach us about himself.
When I returned to the Diocese not long after Bishop Victoria began her episcopacy here, I heard people saying things like this:
“Bishop Victoria has made it cool to talk about mission.”
That was and is brilliant.
Let’s keep talking mission.
Our challenge today, for the next ten years, at least, is whether we will all – together in Christ - make it cool to talk about evangelism at the forefront of mission.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”"

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, February 4, 2019

GAFCON Fragmentation?

Heads Up and Spoiler Alert: there are two very Anglican-geeky questions at the foot of this post!

So, I was toying with the idea of a further report from the still-enthralling Fatal Discord reported on in the post below. It remains a wonderful read, not only because of good writing style, but also because the writer has a great grasp of Reformation history centred on Luther and Erasmus.

Luther comes across as a hero - an absolute hero in human terms because he is relentlessly courageous, abundantly insightful, and a rockstar of a man in social and political terms as well as theologically and spiritually. Single handedly, through pamphlets and his translation of the NT into German, Luther forges Germans of several principalities and powers into a nation, defying great world leaders of his day as he does so.

Erasmus is a great intellectual who accidentally falls into a trap. Every age cries out for a synthetic leader, a person who can forge a unifying centrist position which gives voice to the common ground among people and across communities and nations. Erasmus was that person in many ways and in many centuries he would readily be the super-outstanding figure of his day.

But events over took him. Pioneering a willingness to re-look at Scripture (by questioning the supremacy of the Vulgate, bringing the Greek NT into publication) and unafraid initially to voice searing and deserved criticism of the Roman church, Erasmus offered fast burning fuel to Luther's fire as he began to recognise, with Erasmus' assistance, that the penitential aspirations (and corruptions) of the early 16th century Roman church were contrary to Scripture.

When that Lutheran bonfire of Roman vanities started to scorch more than the obvious corruptions of the day (e.g. creating political turmoil not only across Europe but also spreading into Britain; moving beyond reformation of the Mass and other sacraments to throwing them out altogether), Erasmus found himself in that agonising centrist position in which both sides of the conflagration turn on the centrist.

Loyal to the Roman church (and somewhat financially dependent on both papal beneficence and royal patronage from kings and princes loyal to Rome), he was hugely pressed to put his sharp pen and intellectual prowess to deprecating Luther. Sharing many sympathies with Luther's criticisms and standing firm on his own theological insights which underpinned them, he was reluctant to savage Luther in print. Moreover, accidentally becalmed in Basel for many years - a hotbed of increasingly radical Reformation zeal - he was conscious that public criticism of Luther on behalf of distant Rome risked local wrath falling on him.

Luther was willing to be martyred. Erasmus made it clear in writing that he himself was not willing!

So much for history: the reflections for our current situation are easy to come by. No doubt for another post, but I have been thinking about such things as what it means to be faithful to Scripture. Erasmus was but Luther challenged him to go (so to speak) deeper. Luther was but Muntzer and Karlstadt challenged him to go (so to speak) deeper. Who was right? In a divided Anglican world today on faithfulness to Scripture, who is right? There are definitely Erasmian, Lutheran and Karlstadtian figures in our 21st century midst! Who is to judge?

Erasmus was right on many counts, not least on the importance of working for peace, not war. Luther was right in all sorts of ways, but also clearly wrong, not only about Jews, but also about relationship between state and church (at least as measured by the ability of the future German church to tolerate the rise of Nazism). Moreover, few today, if any would go the distance on something he wrote which I had not previously known: that a wife with an impotent husband should take another husband! Karlstadt and his radical colleagues were right to push hard on the full meaning of a renewed knowledge of Scripture being applied to all aspects of society which were unjust. But, arguably, they turned the gospel of grace into a new tome of laws and replaced the Pope in Rome with the pope in the local pulpit.

All in all, Luther spurred a mighty chaos in the church in Western Europe, so that it was very difficult to work out in many cities and towns who exactly was in charge of ecclesiastical life.

We are not quite as chaotic today but today's news alerts us to a little bit of global Anglican chaos. According to conservative news site Anglican Ink, the Anglican Church of Nigeria has appointed four new bishops for work in North America without consultation with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).

That is, despite much ado about GAFCON (which includes Nigeria and ACNA) being the true beating fellowship heart of global Anglicanism, when it suits Nigeria to not respect its communion with ACNA, it is happy to do so. Which, of course, is not communion. It is not good Anglican communion practice to unilaterally make cross-border episcopal incursions into the territory of another Anglican province. Such bad practice has, of course, been justified through recent decades by assertion of a judgement that the incursion into an Anglican province with bad something (theology, practice, both). Is there something wrong with ACNA?

Is GAFCON fragmenting?

We will see.

But here are a couple of questions for Anglicana geeks:

(1) If, perchance, ++Welby were to invite ACNA bishops to Lambeth 2020, should he also invite the four new Nigerian bishops for North America?

(2) If, perchance, for the next GAFCON Conference, the four non-ACNA bishops for North America were invited, should ACNA consider not attending?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Fatal Discord helps me sleep better

Following up a recommendation, I ordered and am now reading Michael Massing's Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind (Harper, 2018). I am only about 25% through it, so this is not a book review. But a couple of matters are worth reporting on.

First, this is a wonderfully told story of the early 16th century. Michael Massing (so far) is telling the twin biographical stories of Erasmus and Luther, via alternating chapters. A nifty way of keeping this reader's attention. But along the way, Massing is not afraid to head down some profitable sidetracks as he explains this or that development in philosophy or theology or gives us a biography in miniature of a relevant character in the plots of church history.

A few nights ago I was reading about Reuchlin, a man I had not heard of, who single-handedly turned German biblical scholarship towards the importance generally of the Old Testament and in particular the importance of learning Hebrew, all in the face of immense vitriol towards the Jews.

It is that vitriol that I especially want to report today. I knew well - having studied Luther when at Knox Theological Hall - that Luther was a factory spewing filth when it came to his excoriation of the Jews. What I was less aware of was how much he was a man of his times, unfortunately, when we read statements by other church leaders and theologians. Further, Jews were being expelled from various cities in (what we now call) Germany, and in some cases even slaughtered. There were confiscations of Jewish books. My reaction reading about these kinds of things in this first quarter of the book is that the Holocaust of the 20th century had a deep, longstanding reservoir of hatred and bigotry to draw on. Was it a case of "when" and not "if" that reservoir would spill over into the terrible events experienced in 1933-45?

Finally, Massing writes so well that it is a pleasure to read him - a few pages each night not only advances my knowledge but also assists me to sleep better!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Clearly we need clarity

In the post below I note a controversy over the appointment of a high-ranking Oz clergyman to the position of Interim Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome - a controversy arising because of remarks made about 10 years ago about the resurrection. The social media campaign about this led to some mainstream media news articles and that, almost inevitably, led to a refutation - what I do believe - by Dr Shepherd of the conjectures being aired about what he does not believe.

Here I am not particularly concerned with Dr Shepherd's views on the resurrection nor of those of his critics. But I am keen to reflect a little out loud on what we think we are doing as Christian pundits when we use the word "clear" (or clearly, clarity).

I tweeted a little about the controversy and in one tweet back this was tweeted:

"So give us clarity. Is it acceptable for a man that clearly denies the Resurrection to hold such a position of senior leadership?"

Irrespective of whether Shepherd himself "clearly" denied or affirmed any aspect of the Resurrection, the word "clearly" raises questions when we discuss theology in relation to Scripture.

I presume, for instance, that in 1611, if I were reading the Bible in contemporary English for the first time as a young man, I could exclaim, "The Bible clearly teaches that God made the world and everything in it in six (twenty-four hour) days" and, presumably, the only people to deny my confident "clearly" would be those who read Genesis 2 as well as Genesis 1 and engaged me in a discussion about time and creation within the biblical narrative itself.

But in 2019, post-Darwin etc, it is not so clear what what the Bible means by Genesis 1's six days of creation. Is the best we can do, the clearest we can be, to say, "Clearly the Bible is truthful and the descriptive language used in Genesis 1 must now, clearly, be understood in a way which corresponds to the complex, long duration of the world as we know it coming into being"?

That is, between 1611 and 2019, "clearly" on an aspect of creation has been forced to give way to a new, revised statement on what the Bible means. We need to take words such as "clearly" carefully when we talk Bible and theology, but we do not need to do away with them. Science makes no clear claim as to whether God created the world or not and the Bible in 2019 as well as 1611 makes a very clear claim that God created the world.

What is clear about the resurrection of Jesus?

I think we can make some incontrovertibly clear statements about the resurrection. For instance,

- Believing that Jesus had been raised from the dead made all the difference in the world to the first Christians.

- Appearances of the risen Jesus, as evidenced by 1 Corinthians 15, were widespread among the community of followers of Jesus.

- The four canonical gospels attest that the tomb of Jesus was emptied of his corpse.

- The witness of some accounts of appearances of the risen Jesus is that the risen Jesus engaged in physical acts such as speaking, eating and drinking.

- Combining the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul, the New Testament attests to "the" resurrection of the dead being a transformation into a form of being beyond our imagining (e.g. a form of being that will not lead to marriage; a form of being with as much or as little resemblance to our earthly bodies as a plant has to the seed from which it germinates).

- The words "physical", "spiritual" and other words such as "transphysicality", when used to discuss the form of body of the risen Jesus encountered by his followers and described in the gospel and 1 Corinthian 15 accounts, require careful elucidation and explanation if controversy and/or confusion is to be avoided.

- When, according to Scriptural accounts, people were raised from the dead (such as Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain) readers are not intended to presume they will not subsequently, eventually, die in the usual human way, thus such resurrections are resuscitations and not examples of "the" resurrection from the dead.

Readers will have noted that what I don't propose as "incontrovertibly clear" are statements such as:

- The tomb of Jesus was empty from the third day and that proves that Jesus rose from the dead.

- The four gospel accounts of the events associated with the resurrection of Jesus (i.e. the discovery of the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus) and the account given in 1 Corinthians 15 are easily harmonised into one seamless account.

- Considered together, the four gospels accounts of the events associated with the resurrection of Jesus and the account given in 1 Corinthians 15 should be read as reliable, consistent, trouble free, objective historical descriptions of a public event.

- All Christians agree that "physical resurrection" is the best descriptive phrase for what happened to Jesus on the third day after his crucifixion.

Now, I believe that we can be "clear" about a number of matters concerning the resurrection of Jesus. For instance, referring you back to the post below and my citation there from Robert Jenson, I am very clear that the tomb was emptied of Jesus' corpse on the third day after his crucifixion. My clarity flows out of both the scriptural accounts and other considerations such as Jenson brings to bear on the matter - considerations, for instance, that it is more likely the tomb was empty than not, given the lack of history of veneration of the corpse of Jesus at the tomb of Jesus. But I acknowledge that I cannot be incontrovertibly clear about this. It is always possible - as the Gospel of Matthew acknowledges, in its final chapter, that the empty tomb might be because of skulduggery with the corpse being removed from the tomb.

I also recognise that unclear statements and words or phrases within statements do not help us in discussion of the resurrection. The Shepherd controversy highlights that words such as "physical" and "spiritual" need explaining ... Jenson highlights that "body" needs elucidation ... Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15, within another resurrection controversy, takes great care and trouble to work through what our resurrection bodies will be like.

We need clarity when talking about any great matter of doctrinal importance. Clearly this is so!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Holiday musings

As I resume blogging - approximately once a week in this new era in my life - I am also winding out of holiday mode into picking up the tempo as we go working mode. Here I will stick with "holiday musings", perhaps next week taking up "work musings."

Teresa and I, along with 4 million plus Kiwis were blessed this post-Christmas holiday period with some hot summer weather. It was not obvious before Christmas that this would be so. Nor, indeed, the day before we left Christchurch when I watched a day's cricket at Hagley Oval with a nippy wind in my face!

That eventual heat made us appreciative of opportunities - sometimes quite briefly -  to be in some of our special Down Under summer spots, with special reference to water: Kaikoura Coast, Tahunanui Beach, Pohara, Tata Beach, Gisborne, Tolaga Bay, Tokomaru Bay, Te Araroa, East Cape, Raukokore, Opotiki, Gisborne (again), Mahia Beach, Lake Waikaremoana, Napier. Also appreciative of cars with air conditioning!

Exploring the East Coast of the North Island was new to me. I had been to Napier and Gisborne before, but never driven the road between these two towns, nor driven the coastal route from Gisborne to Opotiki. Our journey took in some memorable places, generating some pics below.

Memorial to Sir Apirana Ngata, outside St Mary's Memorial Church, Tikitiki

Extraordinary stained glass window in east wall of St Mary's Memorial Church, Tiktiki. Two WW1 Maori Battalion soldiers kneeling at the foot of the cross, the crucified Jesus and slain soldiers set within Paradise.

Christ Church, Raukokore - the North Island's corresponding church to the South Island's Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo?

Hicks Bay - one of a series of famous East Coast beaches.

Mahia Beach - arguably as nice a beach-to-have-a-holiday-home-beside as any beach in Aotearoa NZ!
The occasion of our visit to this lovely but remote part of Down Under was the Unveiling of the Memorial to Archbishop Brown Turei, at his marae and nearby urupa (cemetery) at Whangaparaoa, on Saturday 5th January. Everything went well and we were privileged to be participants in this occasion of great importance for Archbishop Brown's whanau, for Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa and for our church as a whole. The following day, back in Gisborne we were also privileged to be guests of current Archbishop and Pihopa o Aotearoa, Don Tamihere.

Now, these brief reports do not tell the whole story of all places and churches visited recently, nor or people met and books and articles digested. And, in comments on my previous post, below, there continued to be much food for thought. And, and ...  I notice continuing "events" in the wider, global Anglican story of our times ... and I note that these mostly continue to be about That Topic. So my "holiday musings," here below, are not solely catalysed by our East Coast adventure.

Musing 1: holidays can be an opportunity to recall, again, what an extraordinary world we live in. I thank God not only that God created our wonderful world but also that we have One whom we can thank. A musing through these past few weeks has been about whether as church we bear witness to the God Whom We Can Thank for the gift of life and of love. We worry about whether atheists pray or not when in a foxhole on the battlefield, but what do atheists do when absorbing the beauty of an East Coast beach?!

Musing 2: holidays can also be an opportunity to be reminded that many Kiwis are happy and contented with their lives. Finding well patronised restaurants and cafes in holiday places, with happy, laughing patrons, or walking the beaches and meeting people enjoying sea, sand and sun, I find myself musing that the progress of the gospel Down Under is difficult because life here is so darn good for lots of people. Now - of course - I do not wish for misfortune to drive us back/forward to God but my musing is that we continue to have a huge challenge communicating to fellow Kiwis that God is worth bothering about, that the truest, deepest, enduring secret to life (Colossians 1:27) is Christ and not Kiwiana! Working also from Colossians - an epistle I have been reading especially these past few weeks - our question today is how we can make the secret "clear" to our fellow Kiwis (Colossians 4:4).

Musing 3: nevertheless, while not wishing this to be so, I have also been musing on whether we are very close to (climate) catastrophe? That same summer heat at times has felt unusually hot. We know the climate is changing. Recent news reports have talked about the heating of the planet's seawater and the probable acceleration of general global warming as a result. How close are we to a global catastrophe with respect to climate?

Musing 4: I have kept reading Jenson's Systematic Theology, including his chapter on the resurrection. Coincidentally, there is an emerging controversy over the newly appointed Interim Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Very Rev'd Dr John Shepherd, because of some remarks he once made about the resurrection (see news reports here and here). Jenson himself is very careful and nuanced about the resurrection and would have words to say to Shepherd's critics (to the extent, e.g., that they throw terms like "literal" around without nuance). But Jenson makes one of the best points ever about why the tomb was empty: concluding discussion on what "body" means in respect of human bodies, the body of Christ in sacrament and as the church, he writes

"The organism that was Jesus' availability - that was his body - until he was killed would have as a corpse continued to be an availability of this person, of the kind that tombs and bodies of the dead always are. It would have been precisely a relic, such as the saints of all religions have. Something other than sacrament and church would have located the Lord for us, would have provided a direction for devotion; and that devotion would have been to a saint, and so would have been something other than faith and obedience to a living Lord. The tomb we may therefore very cautiously judge, had to be empty after the Resurrection for the Resurrection to be what it is." (p. 206, Vol 1 Systematic Theology).

UPDATE: Shepherd has responded to his critics here. AND we could add this in here (Rowan Williams on John Spong ...).