Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bonus post: who are Marsden’s true heirs?

Thoughts on ++Davies assessment of Marsden’s authentically Anglican heirs, as articulated here?

Monday, October 14, 2019

John Henry Newman and the shape of Down Under Anglicanism in the 21st century (Possibly part 1 of several)

We'll get to JH Newman in a paragraph or two but first a note on a few perambulations recently.

The weekend before the one just past we were in Hokitika for a prayer mission. It was very cool to arrive (a first day after the first events had taken place) to enter into All Saints church to find this:

Yes, pews removed to a corner of the building, fairy lights added, and worship band in the centre of the gathering. We had a lovely weekend, praying for Hokitika and South Westland, singing the Lord's songs, aided by a dynamic group of younger and older adults who had travelled from the other side of the Southern Alps. Very encouraging.

Then this weekend just past. A quick trip to Wellington on Saturday to join the last event in that Diocese's Ministry Conference, shared with NZCMS and the Anglican Mission Board: the ordination of Rosie Fyfe, new National Director of NZCMS, to the diaconate. Many young adult ministry leaders were present, representing the journey in renewal that Diocese is experiencing.

Yesterday, a service at St John's Woolston, celebrating their 162nd year as a parish with acknowledgement that it is nearly one year since a significant disaffiliation from that parish took place. A small group of dedicated lay leaders have worked hard with clergy leaders to continue the life of this parish. It was a joy yesterday to see new people in the congregation - signs of hope.

I enjoy very much these signs of hope, and they may or may not in the future be recognised as a turning point against the tide of secularization (per last week's post). But whatever they betoken against the larger narrative of declining allegiance to Christianity, they remind us that there are things of value within our parishes here Down Under.

Thus the shape of Anglicanism Down Under is developing, pressed by tectonic forces into new shapes and sizes. Always raising, I suggest, the question, What does it mean to be an Anglican Christian?

That question sits with other news from this weekend, news of the canonization of John Henry Newman.

I am not much of a man for canonizations and what have you - mark me down as Protestantly Protestant on that score. But whatever you or I think about such a canonization, it does reflect the simple fact that many people around the globe to this day admire, revere and respect the Catholic prelate and theologian who was once an Anglican priest, not least because his ideas about many theological matters through to "the idea of a university" remain extraordinarily influential.

A couple of articles I have come across in the past 24 hours underscore the mana of the man: here and here.

Clearly, in the end, being an Anglican Christian was not a situation Newman valued. He disaffiliated from us!

By implication the many friends and colleagues who did not cross the Tiber with Newman thought he was wrong; as do we today who keep our swimming togs in our lockers.

But what is right about remaining Anglican? I think I might explore that for a bit in succeeding weeks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A turning point in Kiwi religious stats

A few weeks ago, in our local media, we read reports of how the 2018 NZ Census revealed that for the first time, respondents stating they affiliated with Christianity were fewer than respondents stating they did not affiliate with Christianity (e.g. here, here and here).

Around that time our local newspaper, The Press, offered a considered Editorial on this news, which is here.

I felt that it was a moment when it is reasonable for a church leader to also make public comment and I wrote and submitted an op-ed to The Press. So far it has not been published so I will publish it here.

This is what I submitted:

"“Has Godzone turned Godless?” is the right question for The Press Editorial (27 September 2019) to ask in response to recently released statistics about religious affiliation in New Zealand. The 2018 Census is the statistical point in our history ‘when “no religion” eclipsed Christianity as the leading religious affiliation’ in our nation.

For most churchgoing Christians this news will not be new. For decades now we have known that there is a huge gulf between the number of citizens willing to declare themselves Christian in the census and actual attendance in churches. Another way of understanding the figures the editorial discusses could be to say that 2018 is the year when we decided to change our conversation from talk of the decline of the number of Christians to talk of the growth in the number of post-Christians. The editorial, after all, rightly notes that we are a nation in which “A sense of being spiritual replaces the idea of being religious,” and that “Philosophers such as John Gray have persuasively argued that even as ‘secular liberals dismiss Christianity as a fairy tale, their values and view of history remain essentially Christian’.”

I think we could develop the last observation. As we respond to climate change, to tragedies such as the shootings on 15 March 2019, and to poverty, to name but a few issues of our day, we see virtues such as compassion, mercy, and grace motivating the vast majority of our nation to act selflessly, to love our neighbours as ourselves. In other words the no longer Christian nation by stated religious affiliation remains still a Christian nation in respect of attitudes and actions.

We are not, however, united as a nation around these values. If compassion and generosity, for instance, were to the forefront of responses to 15 March 2019, we have also been painfully aware that racism continues to be a feature and not a bug in our post-colonial society. That raises the question, What will sustain Christian values in a post-Christian nation? Can a nation with declining allegiance to Christianity be sure to remain admirably Christian through a long post-Christian future? The 2018 census figures offer no guidance as to what kind of nation we might become in the long term as an increasing majority jettison affiliation to Christianity.

Potential good news is that while affiliation to Christianity measured by successive censuses has dropped dramatically, churchgoing remains reasonably steady in New Zealand, at about 9% of the population. Some churches are experiencing decline but others experience increase, especially through migration which brings Christians from Asia and Polynesia to New Zealand. In uncertain religious times ahead of us, we can be sure that churchgoing Christians will continue to promote Christian values and to resist their demise. Among the diverse voices which will seek to shape our future society, a strong Christian voice will speak up for compassion, mercy and grace."

Ron Hay, a Diocese of Christchurch cleric and writer has a probing, percipient blogpost here, also in response to the Press Editorial on the census figures.

Monday, September 30, 2019


(1) In many ways following up last week's post and comments thereon, I draw your attention to Issue 2 of Theology Magazine, which focuses on the nature of the church. Here is the Mag's own byline for the edition (my bold):

"Exploring ecclesiology doesn’t begin with church government, nor does it ponder church programs and music preferences. No, exploring ecclesiology takes on a much more sacred task, that is, the exploration of our union with the risen Christ. In our second issue of Theology Magazine we do just that, we explore what it means to be united to Christ."

(H/T Bryden Black)

(2) I was struck last week by an interesting parallel between Greta Thunberg's now famous UN summit speech and a DEL reading for Thursday, Haggai 1:1-8 (but stretched here to verse 11).

The parallel depends on making an imaginative equation between the house of the Lord and planet Earth ... which is plausible if we think of Genesis 1, according to some scholars, as setting out the creation of the world as though the world is God's temple.

Here is part of Greta's speech:

"My message is that we'll be watching you.
"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
"You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.""For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight."
Here is Haggai 1:1-11
"In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak,[a] the high priest:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands."
In other words, while we may argue (or not) with the scientific underpinnings to Greta Thunberg's speech (not cited above) and for which I have seen debate which suggests science is on her side, there is a case for thinking of Greta as a prophet in Old Testament style!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Two roads diverged in the the wood and I, I didn't know which one to take ...

Here is a series of recent posts or news items about division in the churches of the world ...

Eastern Orthodox in Western Europe.

Western European Roman Catholicism.

Within American Catholicism.

On the possibility of schism within Roman Catholicism; also here (but most of article behind paywall), though see embedded Tweet below.

Within The Episcopal Church.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Then, across the Ditch, the most recent posts by David Ould highlight an emerging crisis for the Australian Anglican church which - it is not rocket science to wonder about this aloud - could become an emerging division (hasten an already emerging division?).

Of course here in the Blessed Isles, there is a bit of Anglican division also.

No wonder David Ison writes here about "An Anglican Communion at a Crossroads?" (with H/T to Ron Smith who republished this article on his blog). This article is a very helpful review of a book about the Anglican Communion at a Crossroads, by Brittain and McKinnon, with perceptive comments from Ison. In the book, as relayed through this article, and in the article itself, there are both key observations about how all major strategies for uniting Anglicans are failing (and why), as well as a recipe for a way forward. Spoiler alert: centre on Jesus and focus on what we agree on and not what we disagree on!

The following Tweet highlights something Pope Francis has said about the possibility of a Roman schism:

It would be an intriguing Anglican theological essay, methinks, to respond to the task:

"A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine." DISCUSS.

Not least the interest in the essay would be the fact that much talk by those who leave the Anglican Communion over the past decades has described the leaving as a response to elitist control of (e.g.) TEC, CofE ... such control driven by ideology and not by doctrine ... and, indeed, separation is precisely to maintain doctrine.

Yet, Francis has a point, I suggest. There is an "elitism" which proposes that the few know better than the many. And when doctrine necessarily always includes ecclesiology and genuine ecclesiology always upholds unity, it is a strange commitment to "doctrine" which breaks unity rather than remains within the church to continue to contend for truth. Further, when there are many things wrong with the church, with churches plural (and if the links above mean anything at all, they mean that in churches around the globe, members think there are severe faults within their churches), it is always striking when one and only one fault/"fault" is focused on as a catalyst for schism. It is not "doctrine" (as a whole) which drives such schism, but a fixation on one idea - an ideology which drives division.

Though, to return to Ison's perceptive article, current Anglican divisions are complex and not simple!

While I am personally committed to the Anglican Communion in communion with Canterbury (so not taking the GAFCON road), I am also committed to attending Lambeth 2020 which, noting a TEC link above, not all non-GAFCON bishops are committed to doing. Normally I am committed to the road marked "church discipline" but find myself deeply out of sympathy with the canonical pursuit of Bishop Love (see also link) above ... too many forks in the road in the one Anglican wood???

But if the Anglican woodland has some complexes forks in the road to negotiate, the links given at the beginning of the post make a very simple point: other woodlands have their complexities also. Some Anglicans may be tempted to jump out of our woodland to another - a longstanding option exercised by many through the centuries. But in the 21st century, a century in which there is instant and widely available communication about each and every fork in the road, no matter how great or small, those woodlands should not be entered into with some kind of ecclesial naievity about (change of metaphor) how green the grass is on the other side of the fence!

Monday, September 16, 2019

So, how did we get to be religious, Charles Darwin?

Before we get to this week's main fare, a couple of important articles to link to:

(1) Last Thursday Teresa and I had the extraordinary privilege of attending the ordination of Waitohiariki Quayle, the second Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika, first female Maori bishop and first Aotearoa NZ born woman as bishop in our church. Taonga has an excellent article here with lovely photos.

(2) Do we ignore Pentecostalism Down Under style at our peril? This article explores "How Hillsong and other Pentecostal megachurches are redefining religion in Australia." But as pretty much every Christian in NZ knows, Hillsong is hugely influential in NZ also! Lots to ponder for Anglicans used to small congregation: we can get (to put church growth crudely) bums on seats if we define the gospel in terms of God's plan for your successful life. That is not something Anglicans (and most other denominations want to do) ... but in the meantime is Christianity in the perception of society around us being redefined? What if Pentecostalism a la Hillsong is perceived to be normal Christianity and Anglicanism a weird little sect?

So to the main fare.

Inter alia at our recent Synod there was a challenge in terms of evolution: when do we hear the bishops of our church asserting their belief in evolution? Does believing in evolution define (or not) whether we are "conservative" or "progressive"? Does not believing in evolution make Christians very weird in the marketplace of ideas?

 The latest Church Times has a very interesting article here by Mark Vernon.

It begins by setting out the issue of explaining the development of religious consciousness in terms of evolutionary biology:

"EXPLANATIONS for the origins of human religiosity have not escaped the immense fecundity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many proposals address why people have believed in gods and other worlds as far back as archaeologists can see. To date, two ideas have tended to dominate.
One is that Homo sapiens needed “big gods” to survive. These deities threatened to punish people for their wrongs, with the upshot that large groups worked better together. It sounds plausible, except that our ancestors lived in large groups long before punishing big gods emerged; so the proposal nowadays is widely criticised.A second idea is that early humans were superstitious: they were readily inclined to interpret a rustle of leaves, say, as the movement of a spirit. They were wrong, it is presumed, but that doesn’t matter, because, every so often, a rustle of leaves had a real cause: it signalled the presence of predators. Evolution, therefore, selected for the superstitious because they survived."

But these two ideas have weaknesses, so:

"IN SHORT, the field is ready for a new hypothesis, and another is now gaining ground. Moreover, this hypothesis appeals not only to evolutionary biologists but also to sociologists and theologians. It feels less reductive than its predecessors, and may well cast light on human religiosity today, as well as in times gone by.Leading its development is the Oxford evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar. A recent meeting of the International Society for Science and Religion brought together experts in science and theology as well as archaeology and psychology. It made for a fascinating few days.The proposal might be called “the trance hypothesis”. In the middle palaeolithic period, perhaps 200,000 years ago, humans started to realise that they could induce altered states of consciousness. It marked a step change from the capacity to experience awe and wonder, which is something that we probably share with our primate cousins and other animals. The control of ecstatic states meant that what was revealed could be intentionally explored."

I will leave you to read on to get the further detail needed to complete the explanation of this new hypothesis. Moreover, Mark Vernon offers some striking thoughts about the difference between "spiritual/spirituality" and "religious/religion" worth noting in our age when we are concerned with how we reach people with the gospel or (so to speak) reach the gospel embedded in people already.

My question goes something like this (remembering that I am a bear of small brain and questions about how our faith developed in respect of the prophet Charles Darwin are at the edge of my linguistic, philosophical and theological competency):

If we accept that some such hypothesis as introduced above explains how, along the way of our biological development as homo sapiens, we reached a state in which we could consciously articulate religious thoughts and insights, on what grounds do we then discern that at least some of those thoughts and insights are "not our own" but come to us from outside of ourselves as a newly emerging community of religiously conscious people?

That is, how do we as evolving animals determine that we have received revelation, that God/gods are not our invention?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Mission for an asset rich cash poor church?

We held our Diocesan Synod over the last days of the past week - my first as President of the Synod. It was a full Synod - we finished a few minutes before the designated finishing time of 5 pm on Saturday. It was a helpful Synod - to me at least - because it helped chart some directions over the next twelve months in respect of strategy and planning for action towards my stated big theme for the Diocese: Regeneration through Christ.

In due course and through our official Diocesan media we will report on the Synod. Here I want to reflect generally on an aspect of church life, perhaps more peculiar to Anglican churches than other churches in Aotearoa New Zealand, which various discussions in the Synod touched on. This is the question of funding mission (say, new outreaches into society) and church development (say, building a larger church for a growing congregation to gather in) when the funds do not appear to be available, yet the overall assets of the church (in this case, a Diocese or region) are considerable.

Other ways of putting this include:
- We are asset rich and cash poor.
- We have churches in the wrong places in respect of how housing has developed in the past 50 years; what if we sold all our churches and started again?
- Why own church buildings at all when they consume so many dollars maintaining and repairing them and take up so much administrative time and energy?

But putting things like that raises the inevitable questions of what can and cannot be done.

For instance:
- can a Diocese make a plan, sell buildings over here and build new buildings over there? (Answer, in Anglican polity: mostly a resounding, No!)
- what difference does the heritage status of a building make to what might happen to it? (With related question of cemeteries on church land ...)
- would we settle for always using rented properties rather than properties we own?

On the one hand, it is pretty simple to put up so many questions and raise various issues so that we do nothing to change the status quo.

On the other hand, there is a will to find a way forward and an urgency pressing upon us to change the status quo.

As we sometimes observe to ourselves hereabouts, there is no point in being the last Anglican in the Diocese of Christchurch wondering what to do with several hundred million dollars of real estate.

Our Synod raised questions. This time we didn't settle on answers. A year from now we will come back to these matters. We will have done more work by then. My blog a year from now may or may not have some definitive decisions to report!

On the other hand

Monday, September 2, 2019

Round up of not insignificant things

(1) This past weekend Teresa and I have been in Nelson for the ordination of Steve Maina as bishop and installation as the 11th Bishop of Nelson. There is a good report with a small video and a photo or two here. The weather was amazing so the town procession referred to in the report was very pleasant. The two and a half hour service seemed not to take that long. It was a joy to be back in Nelson cathedral (one of my favourites).

(2) Bishop Steve's new role in the traditionally conservative Diocese of Nelson in part will be worked out against the backdrop of continuing outworkings of our GS 2018 decision on the blessing of same sex civil marriages. Although, in a sense, the "noise" since then has been about disaffiliations, there has nevertheless been a "quiet" progress in the development of a Christian Community, the option for staying within the polity of ACANZP while strongly signalling a certain distance from the GS decision. Taonga has an update on the development of the AFFIRM-based Christian Community as well as a rationale for it, here.

(3) How important is marriage? How do Christians respond to its breakdown? How should we respond? What is held in common about marriage across the great Christian streams (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox), and what is different? No less a figure than David Bentley Hart has some interesting things to say here, from an Orthodox perspective. His criticism of annulment in the modern age is my criticism. But is he correct in some other things he has to say? Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Perspicuous, puzzling, pleasant and painful passages: theological development across Scripture?

Prompted via an offline discussion of last week's post, I am going to continue digging into reflection on Scripture as the Word of God written.

Can we say, accurately and fairly, that the whole of Scripture is "God's Word written"?

Scripture, after all, is pretty much divisible into two kinds of passages: the perspicuous and puzzling (see last week's post on Psalm 17), and the perspicuous passages in turn could be divided into the pleasant (i.e. passages we like, which inspire and comfort us) and the painful (i.e. passages we do not like, for one reason or another, which are difficult to reconcile with our understanding of God and God's Word, as revealed in the pleasantly perspicuous passages).

Thus my interlocutor during the week mentioned passages I am calling "painful": 1 Samuel 15, Joshua 11 (passages about destruction of Israel's enemies) and 1 Timothy 2:13-15 (a passage with a dim view of Eve/women). There are many such passages.

We can, of course, attempt to respond by explaining such passages: they are not as bad as they seem ... the destructive talk was rhetoric, it never actually happened ... but even the best explainers among us have to admit that we are not going to deal with all such passages. My interlocutor's point was not whether we can minimise the number of such passages but whether the existence of even one such painful passage undermines generalised talk of Scripture as God's Word written.

Is it reasonable to speak of Scripture as God's written Word when it contains painful passages (i.e.  passages which raise the moral challenge of whether God is actually good) and puzzling passages (i.e. passages which raise the moral difficulty of why God communicates through words we do not understand)?

Note that this question is not an idle one for Anglicans because we are committed to reading Scripture in our public worship services, in our daily devotions when we follow Morning and Evening Prayer, and generally because of our commitment to Scripture through our constitution.

Thus, I remind myself and you, dear reader, of Article 6, "In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church ..." and Article 20, "... And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." The book we commonly call "the Bible" is the Scripture which is God's Word written.

What are we to say about the painful and the puzzling passages in Scripture: are they God's Word written, or not?

Another bit of inspiration for this post is a lovely three volume set of books which arrived at my front door this week: Robert Alter's three volume translation with commentary of The Hebrew Bible. Reading his superb apologia for why he is offering "yet another" translation, I was struck in a fresh way by the depth and width of the humanity (i.e. human authorship) of Scripture - a process across time, arising from community and experience, incorporating diverse sources and varied theologies.

In short, Scripture is NOT God's Word written because God dictated the words of Scripture in toto. (Clearly some of Scripture is a form of dictation because "thus saith the Lord" passages are composed with words the prophets believe have been dictated to them to say.) Whatever we make of the painful and puzzling passages of Scripture, we acknowledge that  the humanity of Scripture lies behind those passages and is expressed through them.

Then, reflecting further on the recognition of the humanity of Scripture, I suggest we need to account for the fact that Scripture's words are counted as "Scripture" by a community which received them. And the nature of that community has changed through the centuries. In the mists of time, for instance, the community of Israel received the Book of Judges as among its Scriptures, even though it includes the most horrible stories such as the story of Jephthah's Daughter (chapter 11).

In the not so misty period of ancient time, the Christian church has chosen to maintain such a story within its combination of Old and New Testaments. Yet dare any Christian today say that if we were compiling Scripture from scratch from ancient treasured documents for the edification of the church today, then we would include this dreadful story?

That is, our continuing reception of the Bible as the Scripture of the church (NT and OT), in continuity with the Scripture of ancient Israel (OT), involves some fancy theological footwork. We simply do not accept that the theology of Judges 11 (God blesses a man who takes a vow with tragic, terribly, terrifying consequences) is the final, completed - in the light of the whole of Scripture - theology of the church. Yet. Yet we do not expunge that chapter from the Scriptures we read, commend and reflect on. Why not? Why risk detriment to an understanding that Scripture is
God's Word written?

I suggest that we retain rather than exclude Judges 11 because a stubborn integrity acknowledges that in the history of God's people understanding who God is and what God is saying to us has developed over time as not only God has revealed more of himself but also as we have demonstrated capacity to receive more of that revelation. Even when God in Christ came into the world, there was a limited capacity to receive him as God's living and final Word (cf the gospels!! ... and the importance of Paul, on the one hand, and the writer of the Fourth Gospel on the other, in making sense of what God was saying in and through Jesus Christ). Judges 11 stands as witness to an impoverished and dangerous understanding of God's Word for that day but it stands in our Scripture as a witness to God's continuing patience with God's people as God spoke and spoke again to stubborn hearts and limited minds. As also do the prophets stand witness, in a different, centuries later era.

There is lots more to be said - books and books have been written on the topic, and by far better thinkers than myself -but I will stop here for now, with one final thought.

It is not necessarily the case that the latest writings to be written down which represent the greatest, clearest "Word" from God. The greatest, clearest Word is the message of divine mercy, grace, kindness and love. That message permeates Scripture. It is summed up in 1 John. God is love.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Anglo Catholic Hui

Last week I attended the first day of our church's second Anglo-Catholic Hui - hosted by the Wellington Diocese.

I really enjoyed (and was encouraged, challenged and inspired by) the main speaker, Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, England.

Taonga has a report here.

I am pleased to report that the next such Hui will be hosted by the Diocese of Christchurch.

Otherwise, I am working on another long post on Scripture as God's Word written ...

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Perspicuity, diverse readings of Scripture and Psalm 17

The perspicuity of Scripture is the clarity with which Scripture conveys to us the revelation of God. In part, the Reformation was about Scripture's perspicuity: is the message of the Bible (at least after translation into an understandable language) clear to its readers and hearers in its own right, or does it need the (formal/informal) M/magisterium of the church to clarify that message?

We can readily, with hindsight, conclude that what we have ended up with is quite a bit of "on the one hand ... on the other hand ...".

On the first hand, Protestantism both seized the right to translate the Bible from  the power of Rome, and unleashed the Bible from its Latin chains, enabling its treasures to be read in local languages across Europe (and, later, spurred the work of Bible translators around the globe). At the very least, as a consequence, the ordinary reader could determine for themselves whether or not Scripture was clear, whether in its overall message or in its details. To say nothing of the ordinary reader determining whether or not Scripture and church teaching were well aligned.

On the second hand, Protestantism soon found that some magisterial assistance was required to ensure that (so to speak) the right clear message from Scripture was received through reading and hearing Scripture in one's own language. Cue various statements/articles of faith, Luther's Works and Calvin's Institutes. And, in more recent times, cue Protestant resistance to false readings of Scripture as propagated through, e.g., Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons. For those who know their German Reformation history, both Luther and Muntzer read the same Bible, to very different political conclusions!

On the third hand, Rome agreed to Bible translations and (after some initial resistance in the early 20th century) has encouraged full engagement by Catholic biblical scholars in the enterprise of academic biblical scholarship. In the world of biblical scholarship today, there is an alignment of interests and concerns which was scarcely imaginable in, say, 1525. Note, as one instance, the incredible, common reception of the New Revised Standard Version across Protestant and Catholic worlds.

On the fourth hand ... in the comments you might like to add an observation or three!

In other words, Catholics and Protestants have learned a few things from each other through the centuries.

But there remains work to do on the role of the Bible in the life of the church. For instance, sometimes in Anglican settings, I come across promotion of a certain kind of scepticism about the Bible in terms of understanding that its words collectively amount to God's Word written - this scepticism prefers to put more weight on "hearing what the Spirit is saying to the church" than on "the words as written and as we read them." Of course I have also come across promotion of a different form of scepticism in which the role of the Spirit in illuminating the meaning of Scripture is downplayed. To get the balance correct on such matters is is challenging - much ink has been spilled over the years.

Not least in the challenge, is the question of the perspicuity of Scripture: how clear is Scripture?

I recognise that the Bible is a complex set of books, of genres, with multiple layers of messaging, which often falls short of perspicuity.

A recent case in point, for me, was reading Psalm 17:14-15 (initially, NRSV).

I will cite from verse 13, because in this version verse 14 is a continuation of a sentence begun in verse 13:

13: Rise up, O Lord, confront them [= psalmist's enemies], overthrow them!
By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
14: from mortals - by your hand, O Lord - from mortals whose portion in life is in this world.
May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them;
may their children have more than enough;
may they leave something over to their little ones.
15: As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied,
beholding your likeness.

These verses struck me in this way: the psalmist sees around him satisfied, contented, materialistic, this worldly people (uncannily like many secularised Western persons in the 21st century) but is himself eager for something more, much more than that. The psalmist, verse 15, wants to see God.

Nevertheless this reading of verse 14 is at odds with verse 13: there the psalmist implores God to overthrow his enemies, whereas in verse 14 the psalmist seems quite comfortable with these same enemies having a good life.

Then I looked the verses up in some other translations and discovered some quite different translations of verse 14:

The Revised English Version (REB) has:

14: With your hand, Lord, make an end of them [= enemies of the psalmist];
thrust them out of this world from among the living.
May those whom you cherish have food in plenty,
may their children be satisfied
and their little ones inherit their wealth.

The first sentence here is in keeping with verse 13's diatribe. The second sentence changes the subject: no longer the enemies of the psalmist (and of God) but "those whom you cherish."

The Good News Bible (GNB) has a different translation again:

14: save me from those who in this life have all they want.
Punish them with the sufferings you have stored up for them;
may there be enough for their children and some left over for their children's children.

The first sentence continues verse 13 - the psalmist wants to be saved from his enemies, here described as those who have all they want in this life. But the second sentence is vindictive: may those enemies be punished and may the punishments stored up for them by God be sufficient to have punishments left over for their children and their grandchildren.

Between these three translations there is not much perspicuity in Psalm 17:14!

Looking up the commentaries, we find that the underlying Hebrew is difficult - so difficult that the MT has a marginal note or two, offering alternative readings. Hence the variations between English translations. Naturally this drives a reader to the commentaries (a form of magisterium) which are all united in saying ... that the Hebrew is difficult and one must wring one's interpretative hands to make sense of the passage.

The best of the ones I consulted is Goldingay, who offers a meticulously justified translation which is pretty close to the NRSV:

14: from mortals by you hand, Yhwh,
From mortals - in their lifetime will you fill their belly
with their share in life, with what you have stored up.
Their children are to be replete,
they are to leave what they have left to their offspring.
(John Goldingay, Psalms vol 1: Psalms 1-41, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006, pp. 236-37).

Incidentally, in relation to the NRSV, I have come across a comment that "stored up" means the punishments that God has stored up in order to mete them out to the enemies. But Goldingay's translation does not support that sense.

Thus Psalm 17:14 is a puzzle and underscores that Scripture is not always perspicuous. Simultaneously 17:14 illustrates that Scripture has within it diverse ideas, because each of the possible translations of this verse can be matched to other statements in Scripture re the fate of the ungodly.

By contrast, 17:15 is much clearer. Moreover, it sets out one of the great, recurring themes of the Bible: that God will be seen by those who aspire to do so and to whom God reveals himself ... Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Thus 17:15 illustrates that Scripture does have consistent theological themes, that we can reasonably expect to find in Scripture an understanding of God and the godly life, disclosed for our benefit and bearing witness to the character and identity of God.

Herein is something of a conundrum for those (such as myself) who lean evangelically within Protestantism towards an understanding of Scripture that Scripture is God's written Word - the whole of it.

Is it only God's Word when perspicuous? Does it remain God's Word when the text is somewhat mangled?

But here also is a possibility for evangelicals to sit more kindly within churches where diverse readings of Scripture are supported (such as many Anglican churches which belong to the Communion): acknowledging that Scripture is not perspicuous everywhere, that Scripture gives rise to multiple readings is a starting point for living with disagreement within the body of Christ.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

What the divine nature is not ...

I am working on a longer "all my own work" post but time has escaped me, albeit for some pleasant reasons, including a lovely wedding at the weekend.

But why bark like a gruff dog when the tenor lead can sing beautifully?

Edward Feser has a mind stretching, let's remember Aquinas was outstanding post on the theology (lit: study of GOD) of Herbert McCabe here.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Pilate, pitch perfect?

Wonderful, challenging article here, from First Things, on, well, Pilate, but more than Pilate, on all of us who deliberate and prognosticate on what is truth and what the truth is.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Another world

The reason why I was "incommunicado" this past week was a visit to the Chatham Islands.

Most of the Diocese of Christchurch is an easy drive from my home or the Anglican Centre. Only 3/58 parishes on this side of the Southern Alps are more than 2 hours drive away. 2/58 parishes on the West Coast side of the Alps are more than 3 hours drive away, with the furthest away church building being 5 hours drive. That is, 52/58 parishes are within 120 minutes of my home and most of that driving is on fairly straight roads.

Those doing the arithmetic as they read will want to know about the one remaining parish. That is the Chatham Islands, 2.25 hrs flying time from Christchurch (and longer, if, as Teresa and I did, the flights are via Wellington) - east, out into the Pacific, next stop Chile.

It was our privilege to spend a week on the main island (Chatham, also known as Rekohu to Moriori and as Wharekauri to Maori). We were generously hosted and visited most but not all sites of interest. I won't detain you with the general (and very interesting) history of these islands and their people - Wikipedia can do that job.

This was my first visit to this parish, so one essential job was to preach and preside at a eucharist last Sunday, in St Augustine's church, Te One. This photo includes the Vicarage where we stayed. (There is currently no resident vicar. Regular priestly ministry is supplied via an NZ-based priest.)

There used to be a second church, at another small settlement, St Barnabas', Owenga. Services were discontinued there about 14 years ago and the church was demolished a few years ago. Keen to preserve the memory of that church, however, parishioners have worked hard to organise the building of a memorial shelter on the site of the former church. So last Wednesday we dedicated this brand new "St Barnabas' Memorial."

We had a great meal after the dedication and it include important local foods: fish, crayfish, paua (=abalone), and weka (one of these native birds is pictured above). It is illegal to kill and eat weka in New Zealand, except in the Chatham Islands.

We visited two sites on which an 1840s Lutheran mission team established mission stations. The information panel above (if you can expand the photograph of it) tells a sad story. The mission only lasted a few years. It made no converts of local Maori or Moriori. The missionaries gave up being missionaries and decided, those who stayed, to simply make their living there. As one brought up on many missionary stories, some of which were tales of persistence, faithfulness and only after many years, eventual fruitfulness, this is the saddest missionary story I have come across. It is a salutary reminder that there is no guarantee of success simply because we set out to do God's work with godly intentions.

By contrast I am pleased to report that the Christians I came across on the island in 2019 have a lively faith in God, a deep commitment to the well-being of God's church and a care for community and for creation.

We had an amazing week - much of the landscape was unlike anything else I have seen on NZ's main islands; apart from a few i-moments, we had no internet connection to family, friends, and the world; we ate weka for the first time; we waved to everyone who drove a car and they waved back; we never locked the doors of the vicarage; we ate fresh, raw paua during a picnic; and saw ancient carvings on trees.

It was another world. And it was good.

Friday, July 12, 2019


My diocese has some remote corners to it. Today I am heading to one of them. The likelihood of e-connection to the other corners of the Diocese, let alone “the world”, is so low, I have zero expectations of Tweeting up a storm. Silence is golden and internet silence is platinum! So, don’t post a comment, unless you want it to lie fallow until my return. I only ask one expression of sorrow for my connectiveless sojourn ... I am worried that I might not be able to follow NZ v England in the cricket World Cup final at Lord’s on Sunday evening (NZ time) ... :).

Monday, July 8, 2019

Apology, apologia, aggiornamento


A few posts ago, here,  a robust conversational thread included a claim that such and such was the view of another commenter. Within the thread I treated that as a difference in evaluation, an opinion, rather than as a true/false claim. I have now reviewed the thread and accept that the claim is unfounded. I have posted an apology on that thread. Over the years I have been a less than perfect moderator and I accept that in this instance I have been less than fair in moderating the claim made without evidence.


That Topic continues to rumble on. In following a recent exchange on Twitter, I have had a bit of a revelation. It concerns slavery. Hitherto a line of thought has been expressed with a question such as "if the church changed its mind on slavery, why couldn't it change its mind on same sex partnerships?" But that has been a cue for discussions about what the church really thought of slavery, whether there was a trajectory within Scripture re slavery (towards abolishing slavery) which does not exist for homosexuality, etc.

My personal revelation is this: whatever the church (and Israel) was thinking about slavery in the New Testament (and in the Old Testament), by our standards today (slavery is anathema), the church/Israel accommodated slavery. It was wrong, it denied the full and equal dignity of all human beings, it was proleptically destroyed by the cross (which re-created all people as brothers and sisters, see Philemon). Nevertheless the church lived with slavery as part of the culture of its world - culture being the way we do things around here - and sought to make the best of it by asking slave-owners to treat their slaves well and urging slaves to serve in a manner bearing witness to Christ.

That is, the church in NT times was able to offer an apologia for slavery. No church would do that today. If there was a justification for the ancient church being accommodationist on slavery it was that to have attacked that institution would have been to provoke the fury of the socio-economic established order, in the process destroying the church as carrier of the gospel message.

On That Topic: could we ask ourselves whether we are sufficiently recognising the nature of culture and establishment in the West in respect of a sea change in attitude to homosexuality, and thus also ask whether we are in the process of destroying the church as carrier of the gospel message? (This, I suggest, is part or even the whole of the situation in Australia in respect of Israel Folau.) Why should we think we are smarter than St Paul?


I have been travelling recently - perhaps a full report when my travels are completed - but, as is often the case, travelling around the world and connection with the church in its various and varied parts, reminds me that the church is rarely if ever ahead of the world, which ever changes. Thus the question of "aggiornamento", of the updating of the church, impresses me yet again. Of course to move from this very general observation, without examples, to some specific observations would necessarily look like criticism of this (local) church and that (denominational) church, which I don't want to do!

Suffice to say that as we look around and within, observing our arcane disputes and our divisions, on the one hand it is possible (vaguely possible?) to discern that out of present disputes and divisions will come aggiornamento, that is, conclusions which means the church is more fruitful at expressing an "updated" gospel for the world today. On the other hand, it is possible (probable?) that out of these disputes and divisions, the gap between church and world will accelerate to such width that all churches will look like obscure sects. On the third hand, is it possible that we might all wake up one day and recognise that our disputes and divisions could be let go, in favour of a united effort at aggiornamento?

Monday, July 1, 2019

Focus on good (NZCMS) news?

Try as I might to not make this blog mostly about That Topic, the world (Anglican and otherwise) seems to conspire against me. Over the Ditch, in the West Island, the Folau saga continues and continues and continues. While it is now becoming quite a bit about freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief, it has not ceased to also be about whether the Christian gospel requires faithful Christians with a social media presence to spotlight gays and lesbians. Within the last week a troubling story has emerged in the evangelical section of the Church of England - you can catch it in  a recent Thinking Anglicans post. But, enough of that - I acknowledge these news stories but see no need at this time to add to the plethora of comment which circle around them.

Instead I want to link to a good news story here in Anglicanland Down Under. After earlier news that current NZCMS National Director, Steve Maina, is to be the next Bishop of Nelson, we now have news of his successor.

NZCMS announce here that Rosie Fyffe will be the next Director. Rosie will be the first female National Director (or General Secretary) of NZCMS. She will be based in Christchurch and most welcome in the Diocese of Christchurch.

Please continue to pray for Steve and Watiri Maina as they prepare for the their move to Nelson in August and for Steve’s consecration as the 11th Bishop of Nelson on Saturday 31 August 2019.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lambeth 2020: "a remarkable, though fragile, gift--a sign of the Church catholic"?

The Living Church reports "Bishops Call for Lambeth Conference United in Faith and Charity" which is about a letter signed by "a group of influential and diverse Anglican bishops." These bishops are:
"The Rt. Rev. George R. Sumner, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas
The Rt. Rev. Lloyd Emmanuel Allen, Honduras, the Episcopal Church of Honduras (Spanish) 
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa (Arabic)
The Rt. Rev. Manuel Ernesto, Nampula, Mozambique (Portuguese)
The Most Reverend Martin Nyaboho, Primate of Burundi, Diocese of Nampula (French)
The Rt. Rev. Joel Waweru, ACK Nairobi Diocese, (Kiswahili)
The Rt. Rev. Emma Ineson, Bishop of Penrith, Church of England 
The Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa, Mishamikoweesh, Anglican Church of Canada
The Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo, Primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa."

The Living Church also reports, "“We aim to express what a traditional, irenic center might look like,” said Bishop George Sumner of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, one of the authors. “I think the ground the letter is trying to articulate comprises a significant amount of the [Anglican] Communion.”"

The "irenic centre" may be of special interest here on ADU in view of some recent discussions here in blog comment threads.
The letter has been issued simultaneously on the diocesan websites of the bishops (21 June), in six different languages. Sumner, Waweru and Ineson are members of the Lambeth Design Group which is working on the design of the Lambeth Conference.

In other words this is a potentially important letter, offering a way forward for Lambeth attendance to be very large (including GAFCONites?) and for Lambeth to track the Communion towards the "irenic centre."

But what does the letter say? Its text in English is posted here and reads,

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that it is the ‘acceptable time’ to articulate a vision of what we hope for in the Lambeth Conference 2020.  While all are free to offer their views, harsh disagreement ought not to be the dominant note the world hears from us.  This multi-lingual letter lifts high those things held largely in common in order to build up and encourage.  We claim no special authority, and thus speak to our fellow bishops as their brothers and sisters. 
Though our provincial Books of Common Prayer show many variations, they all witness to the creedal center of our faith: the triune God, the divinity of Christ, His atoning death for the forgiveness of our sins, His bodily resurrection and ascension, and the Holy Spirit’s work in the Scriptures and the Church’s life.  There is agreement, furthermore, in most of the Communion about the received, traditional teaching concerning the nature of marriage, which is in accord with Scripture. It found expression at Lambeth 1998 in Resolution I.10.  Finally, we Anglicans share a common history, for example the See of Canterbury itself, which is a symbol of our apostolic roots and common life.  We hope for a Lambeth Conference where we take this common inheritance of truth seriously and seek to build upon it for the sake of witness and teaching. 
At Lambeth, though a fractious family, we ought still to think of our fellow Anglicans in the best light possible. For example, there have been many important movements of mission and renewal in our Anglican tradition (e.g. the Oxford Movement and the East African Revival), and we can likewise see GAFCON in this way.  We can also appreciate the role Global South Anglicans have played in strengthening the mission of Christ in their provinces. We commend the Primates’ view that only Churches aligned with Communion teaching should represent it in ‘doctrine and polity.’  But we are also willing to listen to our colleagues who hold in conscience dissenting views.  More generally, we all need in our hearts to lay aside old recriminations, as each of us hears these Gospel injunctions: ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ ‘speak the truth in love,’ ‘do not let the sun go down on your wrath’ (Galatians 6:2, Ephesians 4:15,26).
We hope for a Lambeth that is ordered to prayer and the Bible, that nourishes our humility, that opens us to God’s conversion in the Spirit, and that encourages us to renewed forms of teaching and witness which will inspire and attract younger generations in our nations and our churches. It is also crucial that we reject all forms of cultural and racial pride, while listening and deliberating with one another with full respect.  I Peter, upon which Lambeth 2020 will meditate, says it best: ‘have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind…always be ready to make your defense…for the hope that is in you’ (3:8,15).
United in faith, hope, and love, we can at Lambeth confront together the urgent problems in our Communion and in our world.  We all share a worry about what may lie ahead in our common future, for as a divided Church we will struggle to witness to a divided, broken world.  We hold in prayer those among us who face persecution and danger.  We need to be stewards of creation.  We hope for a conference which encourages us all to stand on the side of the poor and those who are maltreated, to call sinners to repentance and to offer forgiveness in the Lord’s name, to walk His way of love, and to seek reconciliation among ourselves and with our neighbors. 
As it did a century ago, we hope Lambeth 2020 will remind us of the ecumenical calling from our Lord to be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:22).  We do so by taking seriously the witness, gifts, and counsel of our brother and sister Christians in other churches.   Within the Communion itself, some have felt frustration with the ‘Instruments’ over the past two decades, as they have struggled to balance autonomy and mutual accountability.  We hope for a Conference that lays out a path ahead in the next decade, and we pray for the patience to walk it.  We hope for a Conference in which we deepen our sense of ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ’ (Anglican Congress 1963), both in the program and in personal friendships.
Throughout, may we be reminded that our truly global Communion is not primarily a problem but rather a remarkable, though fragile, gift--a sign of the Church catholic.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
[signatories, as above]"

I may comment myself on the letter in my next post.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Two evangelical roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the road ...

... actually, I don't know if it will turn out to be the one less travelled by :)

A social media exchange during the week gave me a bit of a revelation - not the sort where one learns something for the first time, more the sort where something becomes much, much clearer.

It is something like this:

I think I am evangelical (more on that below**) but there are evangelicals who think I am a false teacher. Why do they think that (apart from the fact that we disagree on some matters)?

The social media exchange highlighted that there is an evangelical approach to Scripture which goes like this:

- Scripture, despite its varied genres, diverse contexts (of original writing and contemporary reading) and multiple authors, provides us with clear teaching which may be expressed propositionally.

- These propositions, once set out, on some agreed lines by authoritative evangelical teachers, construct a sound body of irrefutable, unchangeable, even unchallengeable teaching.

- Should one such proposition or set of propositions come under pressure, there is either staunch, unyielding defence [so, in some quarters, propositions re homosexuality]; or, there is deft logical footwork to slightly revise such proposition or set thereof [so, in some quarters, ordination of women; remarriage of divorcees].

- Interestingly, where there is such slight-but-acceptable revision, there is NEVER any determination (within that quarter of evangelicalism) that the un-revised are now "false teachers": there seems to be capacity within such an evangelical section to live with "two integrities" on the matter (e.g. on ordination of women; or remarriage of divorcees).

- Someone (e.g. me) who disagrees with one (let alone more) of certain propositions is, logically, a false teacher - a person posing as a teacher of the faith who, in fact, teaches a denial of the truth. [So, in certain quarters of Anglican evangelicalism, difference on propositions re homosexuality incurs the false teaching charge but difference on ordination of women or on remarriage of divorcees does not.]

- I suggest that this approach both builds an impressive body of interlocking propositions while seemingly lacking a "self-awareness" that these inter-locking propositions are a human construction which lacks the authority of Scripture (because Scripture does not set down a mandate to so construct; because such construction may contradict another, plausible construction from Scripture; because the NT in particular does not purport to be a set of materials for constructing a new body of law for God's new people; because an outcome of the construction seems at odds with the example of Jesus). [See below for elaborations*].

- Such construction may, however, have some other authority behind it: "this is the logical implication of what Calvin wrote" or "this is required by the canons of the Church of England" or "this is what the Diocese of Y has determined is the policy of Y."

I want to suggest another evangelical approach to Scripture. It goes like this:

- Despite its varied genres, diverse contexts (of original writing and contemporary reading) and multiple authors, Scripture provides us with clear teaching which may be expressed propositionally and in other ways (e.g. through familiar stories such as the Good Samaritan which challenges every hearer every time to not only think about the proposition, Love your neighbour, but also to develop new and renewed understanding of who our neighbour is);
- Teaching from Scripture is only "clear" when it is universally received; without universal reception it is "not yet" clear. If, within evangelicalism, there is agreement about "clear teaching", that agreement may be proposed to the wider church; but if the wider church does not receive it as "clear teaching," then evangelicals should carefully reflect on what it means to adhere to that teaching, to promote and attest to that teaching, and possibly to separate from the church which will not receive it. (Here "possibly" concerns what disputed teaching, if any, justifies separation, because there is no clear teaching in Scripture concerning which matters justify breaking the unity of the church.) It could be that a time will come when evangelical clear teaching will be universally received. It could be that evangelicals will be proved wrong. It could be that evangelicals will simply remain in an ongoing dispute with other parts of their churches - a critical question then being whether there is freedom for evangelicals to continue to teach what is not universally received.
- Scripture is unclear on many matters and evangelicals who treasure Scripture happily acknowledge this; and even apparent clarity can be shattered under new circumstances. John Stott and his teaching is a kind of "gold standard" for Anglican evangelicalism yet his personal conviction was that he should be a pacifist in the context of World War 2 - a war many other British evangelicals fought in. Who was right about what Scripture taught? Presumably both Stott and his non-pacifist evangelical colleagues both thought Scripture was clear on the matter. Logically, doesn't that mean that Scripture is unclear about such matters? Has such lack of clarity held back Anglican evangelicals since WW2 from teaching boldly, confidently, and with clarity what they believe Scripture teaches? No! On the shattering of apparent clarity under new circumstances, consider the impact of Darwin and evolutionary biology. The clear reading of Genesis 1 re a literal six day creation has had to take one of two pathways: continue as though no new circumstance affects that clear reading (so, Creationism) or adapt (so, much but not all evangelicalism, including, in my experience, nearly all Anglican evangelicalism). More divisive, of course, has been the shattering of clear understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 as forbidding women teaching and exercising authority in congregational life - shattered by the rise of women as equal of men in social consciousness. Much of the evangelical world has given way on this matter, but vicious conflict still remains (e.g. within the Southern Baptist Convention: google the name "Beth Moore"), as well as quieter conflict (e.g. within Australian Anglican evangelicalism). We could continue with other examples such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the use of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, schools of interpretation about the last days. The humility of evangelicals when asserting that this or that is "clear teaching" should be very evident; but is it?
- Scripture is a basis for conviction more than clarity. What evangelicalism has been pretty good at is respecting differing Scripture-based convictions. John Stott's pacifism (as I understand it) was respected by those who disagreed with him; and he respected those whose convictions were different. Is the great question before evangelicals in the 21st century whether we can set aside the pursuit of "clear teaching" with its consequential logic that those who disagree are "false teachers" and renew our acquaintance with conviction, respect for conviction, and a will to work with those who differ in conviction from our convictions? On which matter, a fellow Kiwi blogger, Trevor Morrison, offers a first post in an intriguing series, "Defending the Faithful," bringing to life a very old evangelical conflict from the 19th century! I hope it goes without saying that my argument for convictional teaching more than clear teaching does presume some evangelical clarity about shared orthodoxy: that we are credal Christians, and if Anglicans, then faithful to core elements of being Anglican. But on such bases we might stand together, despite our differing convictions.
- Scripture is our foundation and we keep returning to it so that our convictions are challenged and re-challenged, not least that any theological constructions we build on the basis of our convictions are challenged: is the edifice something Jesus requires of us? Is its character consistent with the character of Jesus Christ? I have run out of time this week to elaborate, though some of the elaboration is in the paragraphs above and some in the appendix below. But, relevant to such a point, I link you to a stirring essay by Wolfhart Pannenburg, "When everything is permitted" - an essay which I see as a challenge to my own convictions ... if not to yours!
- Perhaps putting this another way, evangelicals seek to live according to the authority of Scripture while being realistic and honest that Scripture in many of its parts requires interpretation which raises many challenges about method of interpretation and about securing agreement about interpretation, all of which invokes a sound understanding of church history (which is, effectively, a history of the interpretation of Scripture!) and of theology (for all readers of Scripture, including evangelicals, bring presuppositions to their reading).


- As example of two human constructions, note the kind of evangelical construction I am observing above and the Roman Catholic construction on sexuality: both end in pretty much the same place on homosexuality but each disagrees with each other on remarriage after divorce (evangelicalism does not have the "annulment" pathway which the Catholic construction gets to), yet both constructions work with a strongly literal approach to reading the relevant texts of Scripture).

- Examples of human constructions ending at a point which seems at odds with the example of Jesus (even if it begins with the words of Jesus) include, with respect to evangelicalism, that construction which determines that because of differences over homosexuality, a church should split, despite everything about Jesus' example of inclusion and reaching out to excluded, marginalised people implying that Jesus does not support schism over homosexuality; with respect to Catholicism, whatever Jesus intended by his teaching on divorce, it seems at odds with the Jesus who breaks bread with Judas, and shares many meals with sinners, that a remarried divorcee should be excluded from communion.

**Am I an evangelical? Well, I continue to:
- bring matters of faith and practice to Scripture so that decisions about faith and practice conform to Scripture and are in some manner coherent with Scripture;
- bring matters deemed "tradition" to Scripture for assessment;
- accept without reservation that all things necessary for salvation are found in Scripture;
- preach and teach that Christ died on the cross for our sins, an atoning, once and for all, complete sacrifice, that we might be forgiven by God, and that Christ was raised to life, that we might be raised to eternal life in unmediated and unending fellowship with God;
- preach and teach that a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is both possible and a prayer of commitment away from beginning for each and every human being.