Monday, March 30, 2009

Gene Robinson, Hermeneuticist Extraordinaire

Here is something Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire is reported by the Boston Globe as saying in a talk (hat-tip to Stand Firm):

"There are a couple of great stories about gay people in the Bible. Maybe you didn't know that. One of them is the Exodus story, which is the greatest coming out story in the history of the world. It is, don't laugh. Because we know what it's like to be in slavery. We know what it's like to be in bondage. We know what it's like not to be free. Because we've had the experience of someone coming and talking about a promised land, not just of milk and honey, but of freedom, and God's love and acceptance, and some of us actually believed it and left. We left Egypt to come out."

This is actually quite clever because it takes a familiar story and grafts an unfamiliar element onto it in a plausible manner! The Exodus story as told in the Bible is not about 'gay people' per se, but it is about people in a bad situation transitioning to a better one. The bad situation is 'slavery' and in large part it is about Israel not being allowed to be itself (the more it wants to be itself, the more bondage and pain it finds itself in). For Gene 'gay people' are people who begin life in a form of slavery, not allowed to be themselves, but through 'coming out', like Israel's Exodus (lit. 'being led out'), they reach the promised land of God's love and acceptance.

So here we have a bishop of our church, charged with the task of being a teacher of the faith. Like any good teacher of the faith, he grounds his teaching in the Bible. He is also a brave teacher because the Old Testament is a challenging part of Scripture in which to ground a significant theological claim. There are all sorts of theologians ready to pounce when we use the Old Testament; for example, some are viciously quick to dismiss any use of the Old Testament which wrests a text out of its context, or makes a text relevant to an ancient day also relevant to our modern and very different day.

In fact Gene Robinson is superlatively brave as a teacher of the faith grounded in the Old Testament because he stakes his theological claim on an understanding of the text which is by no means beyond question. His claim, for example, "talking about a promised land, not just of milk and honey, but of freedom, and God's love and acceptance" raises a question or two. In what way does this version of the promised land resemble the promised land into which God led Israel? In that land, freedom was a fruit of obedience to the law; and that law was a gift given by God to Israel because God loved and accepted her. From the statement above Gene Robinson's understanding of the role of God's law is not clear. But what seems reasonably clear is that in Gene Robinson's teaching the law of God is not inhibitory of the process of 'coming out'.

What is not quite so clear is how this premise in Gene's teaching is itself grounded in Scripture - the Scripture, that is, that tends to make more rather than less of the application of the law to the life of the people of God. Thus Gene Robinson exhibits a certain boldness in his teaching based on Scripture. One can admire his flair as a hermeneuticist while reserving judgement on his credentials as an exegete!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rochester Rocks Off

News out and about today, e.g. Thinking Anglicans, that the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali, will leave his diocese for the vaguely worded task press-released as follows:

"Bishop Michael is hoping to work with a number of church leaders from areas where the church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation. Details of this arrangement are still being worked out."

Clearly a case of 'watch this space' ... cause the Bishop of Everywhere may appear there. The wickedly cynical in the blogosphere are already connecting him with GAFCON stuff, ordaining chaps as bishops etc. But that shows how unable people are these days to read a text in that old fashioned 'plain' way in which words mean what they say and say what they mean. 'Church under pressure, particularly in minority situations' speaks to me of the world of Islam (Nazir Ali's speciality) rather than, say, North America.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's a good day to be an Anglican Down Under

Bishop Richard Ellena, Bishop of Nelson, near to Nelson city's water supply. Something theologically significant about this ...

What a lovely day, the last day of our Bishop's 40 day, 1000km walk around our Diocese (of Nelson). The weather was brilliantly sunny and warm - very warm for early autumn. The walk up to meet him at his camp-site just below the Maungatapu Saddle was challenging, but worth it. I arrived in time for Communion, celebrated in the presence of the Vicar of Havelock and the Sounds, just a couple of hundred metres from one of the furthest boundaries of his large parish. I wonder how many times Communion has been celebrated in that remote spot?

Then off we went, meeting new companions on the way as they gathered at different points to join their bishop. By the time - some four hours later - the walking party met with the welcoming party for a picnic lunch by the Maitai River on the outskirts of the city, there were thirty plus walkers. The final kilometres after lunch took us to the Cathedral Steps. Some prayers in the Cathedral and the walk was over.

But the journey continues!

Off to see the Bishop

It's 5.40 am. If I quickly leave the house and drive to the Maitai Dam I will be able to walk up the hill to meet Bishop Richard who is due to come down it on the last leg of his marathon journey. He and others have been camping at the top - I have been enjoying my own bed, so an early start is not a big deal!! Hopefully I will get a photo to add to this post.

Yesterday in conversation with one of our clergy who has been accompanying +Richard during the last few days my post below was confirmed: this walk has been more than a walk. TTUL (Talk To You Later)!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Luvly yumour

Thinking Anglicans (Thursday 26th March) has posted notice of a conference in the UK, the theme of which is “Word on the Street - reading the Bible inclusively”. Also included is a list of proposed speakers, including this:

"Speaker to be confirmed INCLUSION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT"

I love it! 'Inclusion in the Old Testament' is something of a contradiction so it probably is a little bit difficult to find someone to speak on the topic!

OK. The speaker could speak about Naomi and Ruth, the Gibeonites (but even they deceived in order to be included in Israel), and Isaiah's visions for a new inclusive world. But election and exclusion are great big walloping themes in the Old Testament: Jacob not Esau, obedient not disobedient Israel, David not Saul, the Temple not the shrines.

I look forward to the announcement of the brave speaker who tackles the topic!!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This is the news: there have been developments!

Anglican Communion watchers look for signs of things happening, hoping to interpret the signs, and from the interpretation to make announcements about the health or disease of the Communion. I am not quite sure how to interpret the following things which are happening. It could turn out that they are not signs; just things which are happening!

One, Thinking Anglicans reports, 24th March 2009, that the long-running saga of Grace and St Stephens property in the Diocese of Colorado has come to an end. Many members, including the rector, Donald Armstrong, have formed a CANA affiliated parish. They wanted to keep the property. The Diocese said it was not theirs to keep. After court deliberation the Diocese is the legal property owner. In one sense the news here is not that the owner is the owner but that a congregation thought it could be what it is not!

Two, Preludium reports the full decision of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Church of Nigeria to recognise and to be in 'full and abiding communion' with the Anglican Church in North America (of which CANA is a part). Mark Harris in this report senses that this declaration is likely to mean that ACN is no longer in communion with TEC (and, presumably, also ACCanada), though the statement does not unequivocally say that. In turn that would raise questions about the state of the Anglican Communion: can it be a Communion in which one church is not in communion with another while being in communion with an Anglican church in the same geographical region as the one in which lies the church it is not in communion with. (Feel free to have a brief rest to recover from reading that last sentence).

I think all I would say at this point is this: it would be premature to rush to judgement about the state of the Communion in general or of Nigeria's place in it. Nigeria is a stalking horse in some ways. There are other Anglican churches that, push coming to shove, would go with Nigeria's decision; some which would be equivocal about being in communion with TEC and ACCan; some which would be in communion with all. Let's not expel anyone without having a cup of tea to think and to talk about it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Walking in the footsteps of Jesus

During Lent we think of Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) and walking with a determination some of his "wannabe" disciples lacked (Luke 9:57-62). On his journeys Jesus attracted attention. People came to listen, to challenge, to question, to be healed, and even to follow him. What would the gospels be but a shadow of themselves if Jesus had been a stay at home rabbi!

My bishop, Richard Ellena, Bishop of Nelson, N.Z. is on a journey. 1000 km in 40 days around our diocese. He has walked over the mighty Takaka Hill, tramped through the Heaphy Track, ambled down the extraordinarily beautiful West Coast, journeyed into the Southern Alps, followed the Inland Kaikouras to the Pacific Ocean, and now is on the homeward leg through the vineyards of Marlborough. Along the way he is attracting attention. People are walking and talking with him. Memories are being created, especially in the outposts of our Diocese. In the photo above Bishop Richard is speaking to a congregation of followers at Ward. God is working in him (see his blog for his reflections) and through him.

Last night, walking to the supermarket, I met someone I rarely talk to, and who has no connection with the church known to me. The first thing he said to me was to compare my paltry journey with the bishop's mighty walk! (With the help of a recent newspaper item on Bishop Richard's progress) this mighty walk is making an impact beyond the confines of our regular church fellowships. Often we talk about our 'journey' or 'being a disciple' or 'being like Jesus' but the way we live is more or less the same as everyone else lives. Bishop Richard is offering a vision of the possibilities of a journey in which literally we do as Jesus did: we walk; people watch; new possibilities emerge for talking about Jesus and his kingdom.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The One and the Many: a catholic clue to the Anglican future from a Catholic with a future

Hat-tip to Ruth Gledhill, from a post speculating about the future of up-and-coming Catholic theologian Dr Paul McPartlan.

Paul McPartlan has published a fascinating contribution to consideration of an Anglican Covenant (also here), grounding it's plausibility into the history of the undivided church, current attempts to reunite the church (with special attention to Catholic-Orthodox and Catholic-Anglican dialogues), and, especially, Apostolic Canon 34:

'The bishops of every nation (or region) ought to know who is the first one among them, and to esteem him as their head, and notto do any great thing without his consent; but every one to manage theaffairs that belong to his own diocese and the territorysubject to it. But let him (i.e. the first one) not do anything without the consent of all the other(bishops); for it is by this means that there will be unanimity, and God willbe glorified through Christ in the Holy Spirit.'

McPartlan offers a constructive appreciation of the Primates as important to the being of the Anglican Communion, a reminder that 'authority' is not necessarily 'judicial' authority or 'external' authority, and that no church should organise itself in such a manner as to be independent of the greater church (ACANZP take note, please)!

Please read what he has to say.

Here is a question for my 'new Calvinist' sympathetic readers: is the new Calvinism, which definitely has strengths in areas such as cultural critique, capable of providing a contribution to 'the church as communion' dialogue such as McPartlan, Williams, and Zizioulas make?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Credible Theology at work

(Hat-tip to Thinking Anglicans)

This is more like 'credible theology' at work than some recent Vatican pronouncements:

"VATICAN CITY -- After opposing a United Nations declaration that called for the decriminalization of homosexuality last month, the Vatican issued its own call to eliminate criminal penalties for homosexuality.
“The Holy See appreciates the attempts made in [the declaration] to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge states to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them,” the statement said."

Credible theology is truth-full theology

Continuing from a post a couple of days back.

One of the difficulties with creationists and anti-contraceptionists, as I see it, is that their approach suffers from lack of engagement with (what could be called) the reality of truth.

Creationists, for example, deny the reality that a vast number of people, believers and non-believers, believe evolution to be true, and do so on the basis of evidence provided by science, that is by that body of discovery and learning which provides a whole lot of truth which we rely on in daily life. Creationists attempt to deny what is 'plain truth' in the name of 'biblical truth' rather than to expand 'biblical truth' to incorporate 'plain truth'. The result may be a small gain for creationist church membership, but it is also a loss for the credibility of Christianity across the world.

Anti-contraceptionists (as in the Pope in recent days, speaking during a visit to Africa, denying the usefulness of condoms in the fight against AIDS), denies the reality of the usefulness of condoms in the general fight against AIDS across diverse populations in the name of a particular truth, that married couples should be open to the conception of new life as the fruit of their love for each other. But even that particular truth should be subject to the reality that sexual intercourse is not only a means to produce life but also a means, celebrated in Scripture, to express and to deepen covenanted love. To employ human discovery to make responsible choices about the consequence of sexual intercourse such as remaining open to expression of love but closed to conception of more children is not an action against truth. (Indeed the Roman Catholic option of so-called natural methods of controlling fertility between a couple underlines this point). In sum: anti-contraceptionists lack engagement with the reality of truth.* In the process of this lack of engagement working itself out in the world's public discourse, the credibility of the Christian faith suffers.

In our search for a credible theology for the 21st century, it may be very important to allow into the search a quest for truth, that otherwise sidelined concept of post-modernism!! But the quest should be for a theology which is full of truth, unafraid of any truth, and horrified at the thought of suppression or denial of truth.

*I have no doubt that the vast majority of Roman Catholic worshippers, at least in the Western world, are not anti-contraceptionists. The variance between practice and papal pronouncement is one of the great unaddressed issues of modern Roman Catholicism. It could be that the sad gaffes of Benedict XVI in recent weeks has a very good outcome, namely leading the College of Cardinals to face the reality that they need an Honest Reformer to lead the Catholic church in succession to Benedict, one who will close the gap between rhetoric and reality. All Christians should pray for such an outcome, as the credibility of Christianity is the concern of all churches but can be damaged by just one of them. All this is said by one who is a great admirer of Catholicism and thinks Protestants have much to learn from Rome. If you think I am being a bit tough on the current Pope, try this!

On a different aspect of this issue, the Pope speaks truthfully, and for the vast majority of Christians when he asserts that the most effective means of AIDS prevention is abstinence. But that message can (and should) be promoted by the church, by all churches, without the associated message that it is wrong to promote condom usage. The Pope could also reasonably draw attention to the folly of relying on condoms as a means of AIDS prevention (since the use of condoms is likely to increase the incidence of casual sexual contacts and thus the possibility of AIDS infection which can not be prevented by condoms); and could do this in support of the promotion of abstinence. Again, this does not require opposition to condom usage per se.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

If you have a moment

Read Time on the New Calvinism as no 3 on a list of the 10 ideas most changing the world today.

Then read a response from Mark Driscoll on how the new Calvinism differs from the old Calvinism.

The combination might amuse you ...

... because if (i) Calvinism means anything at all, there are no big ideas changing the world, just one God inexorably working out his masterplan; (ii) if the new Calvinism means what Driscoll says, then it's an 'all things to all people theology', and that ain't Calvinism; ...

... and it might annoy you because (iii) the new Calvinism sounds like a really helpful idea, according to both items, but, in fact it raises significant questions:
- does it build ecumenicity? (I ask this question because I see Calvinism, old and new, as a set of convictions about the truth of Scripture which do not readily negotiate compromises)
- does it exalt men over women? (A number of new Calvinists, including Driscoll and Piper argue for a 'complementarian' position on women's full involvement in ministry).
- does the emphasis on the sovereignty of God lead to pastorally helpful practice in the face of tragedy and evil? (Some of my reading on the internet has led me to ask this question: if God is sovereign over the details of our lives, as some bloggers under the influence of Calvin, seem to assert, what can be said about tragic accidents and evil perpetrated on innocent people? Has God lost control? Does he want people to suffer?).

[Note: I have revised my original post in the light of Rhys' question in a comment below. This revision does not directly respond to the question but it does acknowledge that it is better to ask questions than to make statements in theological dialogue with those with whom we disagree!]

Credible theology: creation, contraception, charity

The search for a credible theology is getting quite urgent for conservatives, both Protestant and Catholic.

On the Catholic side the current Pope is beginning to be perceived as leading or presiding over a church hierarchy lurching backwards to a world previously experienced when, (say) the Catholic church tried to repress Galilean discovery of scientific fact or to pretend, in the Modernist controversy, that modern biblical scholarship was irrelevant to dogma. (In both cases the church eventually 'got it', but untold damage was done).

On the Protestant side a plethora of popes are leading their churches into a variety of side alleys, dark corners, and dead ends; and untold damage is being done to the progress of the gospel. Whether it is creationism, restriction of women in ministry,* supporting uncharitable agenda around imprisoning people, or, blandly offering as 'theology' talk that is indistinguishable from 'new Labour' philosophy, the future of Protestant Christianity as a faith which engages the majority, if not the whole of society is bleak. (Please note those last words carefully: one might, say, build a large and successful church today on the basis of creationism; but the impact on society as a whole will be almost zilch, with the exception of the USA, and even there I think we will find (in line with a bloke I cite in a post below) that within a generation any such success will be smoke in the wind). For the Anglican Communion in particular, attempts to lead Anglican churches towards a future as a 'confessional' church (in the most Protestant sense of 'confessional') are flawed as a missional strategy for reaching the whole of Western society.**

Funnily enough, for the future of Christianity outside of Eastern Orthodox lands,*** Protestant and Catholic Christianity need each other. Liberal tendencies in Protestant Christianity could do with reversing through imbibing Catholic strengths in adherence to creedal orthodoxy and offering a sacramental ordering of life's mysteries. Conservative tendencies in Catholic Christianity to think the future lies in anti-contraception, Latin Masses, and the like could do with reversing through imbibing Protestant common sense.

A credible theology for the twenty-first century has no room for creationism, anti-contraceptionism, and incredibilism which leads to perceptions of a lack of charity. I will try to explain why in succeeding posts.

*An explanatory note: I mention this not to reopen for discussion the merits, theological and scriptural, of women's full involvement in the ministry of the church (at least, not here, not at this point in time); rather I would argue that, whatever the strength of the case for restriction on women's ministry (e.g. in some Anglican contexts, excluding women from the presbyterate and the episcopacy), the long-term (50+ years) future of this approach is a cul-de-sac for those churches which maintain restrictions.

** Anglicans should take note of the respective strengths of Protestantism and Catholicism in the Western societies and recognise that both speak into the diversity of those societies. A missional strategy for reaching the whole of society will embrace both Protestant ('word') and Catholic ('sacrament') characteristic strengths. Anglicanism has the potential to do this, but not if it fights within itself for one to succeed over the other.

*** The future of Eastern Orthodoxy is something I am scarcely able to comment on: I am unsure of social and ecclesial dynamics in Eastern Europe. The phenomenon of the transition of Protestants to Eastern Orthodox churches in North America is interesting. But to the extent to which it is driven by dissatisfaction with Protestant Christianity it is likely to be a temporary feature. Either Protestant Christianity will rediscover its mojo or it will die. Either way there is a limited future for Protestant dissatisfaction.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Credible Theology

In many ways it's easier to nail down 'incredible' theology than 'credible' theology. A universal furore, such as the Roman Catholic church has experienced recently (see post below), is quite a good sign of incredibilism. But claims as to what constitutes credible theology will probably always generate an argument or two. For example, credible theology is not the reduction of theology to what we can experience indisputably and speak about perfectly rationally. The Resurrection of Christ, for example, cannot be experienced indisputably: if the initial experience of the disciples is disputed, how much more our own claims to experience the Presence of the Risen Christ.

Nevertheless it is worth pursuing a credible theology, not least because it responds to the instruction in 1 Peter 3:15, 'always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.' In turn, a credible theology lies at the heart of our participation in the mission of God. In that mission God announces joyful, good news to the world. Inherent in the message of the gospel is the supposition that the message is able to be understood, otherwise it is not 'news'. We have four gospels, not one, or, more accurately 'one gospel according to four different authors', I suggest, because the apostles and their communications team (i.e. Mark, Luke, etc) understood the need for a credible theology.

For a Roman audience, for example, Mark communicates differently to Matthew whose mind is focused on his Jewish audience. Intriguingly Luke also has a Roman audience in mind, yet feels that Mark can be extended and reshaped. (This difference could possibly be explained by thinking of a general Roman audience for Mark's Gospel and a leadership class audience for Luke's Gospel). John's audience is perhaps more difficult to confidently describe, but it does seem to be one with a strong awareness of Hellenistic philosophy, possibly combined with a distinctive Jewish theology.

Today we seem to misunderstand our audiences. What may be credible within the congregation is all too often incredible when simply repeated outside. We could take a leaf from the apostles' communication strategy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Conservatism on the cusp of custardization?

The future of the Anglican Communion requires a common theology which binds us together. The future of the Christian faith requires (among other things) a credible theology. Part of the conservative approach to securing a common theology (among Anglicans) and a credible theology (generally) is an (underlying) argument that alternative approaches such as liberalism are flawed whereas conservativism is not, or, is at least less flawed than liberalism. The strength of the conservative approach, in a broad, sweeping judgement, is that there is an attractiveness to the theology offered, evidenced by numbers in conservative churches.

But there are potential problems in conservative Christianity, including conservative Anglicanism. It can turn to custard! One such problem is a tendency towards legalism, another is towards fundamentalism. When fundamentalism and legalism are combined then theology can become incredible (i.e. not-able-to-be believed) rather than credible.

A recent outbreak of incredibilism occurred in the Roman Catholic church when Brazilian church authorities excommunicated medics and the mother of a nine year old girl for permitting and performing an abortion on her while not excommunicating the man who abused and raped her. At least the Catholic church is recognising the absurdity of the situation. This comes, of course, on top of the absurd recognition of the Holocaust-denying Bishop Williamson via the mechanism of de-excommunication. [Postscript: and is followed up by silly assertions about the ineffectiveness of condoms in Africa, as Ruth Gledhill reports].

We are not quite there yet in the Anglican Communion. But the bemusing restraint of conservative Anglican blogsites to engage with the Archbishop of Nigeria's current burst of support for the criminalization of immorality suggests we are willing to entertain thoughts that an incredible theology is an acceptable outcome of conservativism.

Anyone for custard?

[Postscript: It could be worse than I am suggesting, in respect of Western evangelicalism. After penning the above I came across 'The coming evangelical collapse' by Michael Spencer, published in the Christian Science Moniter. It makes a bit of sense when he says,

"We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.


1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures."

Read it all here.]

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Protestants protest. It's what we do. Apparently.

Archbishop Peter Akinola in recent days has come out in support of draconian Nigerian laws which would see gay people imprisoned for 'gay marriage' (and witnesses thereof also imprisoned).

Andrew Brown runs the story, with comment, in this way:

"If ever you think the Anglican church of Nigeria cannot get more incoherently bigoted about gay people, you're wrong. The latest proof comes in a position paper (pdf) submitted by the church to a parliamentary committee which is planning a law against gay marriage. Homosexuality is already illegal in Nigeria, of course, as is gay marriage. But the proposed law would provide three years in jail for gay couples who got married, and five years for any witnesses. Earlier drafts have proposed long jail sentences, also, for anyone who argues in favour of gay marriage.

If ever a law were a simple incitement to hate, this is it, and here is Archbishop Akinola of the Church of Nigeria cheering them on:

Same sex marriage, apart from being ungodly, is unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, un-cultural, un-African and un-Nigerian. It is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this country. It is also capable of existincting [sic] mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria. Outlawing it is to ensure the continued existence of this nation. The need for doing this is urgent, compelling, and imperative.

His statement also suggests that the penalties in the law be changed around, so that the happy couple be sentenced to up five years in jail, and individual witnesses to up to three years. If witnesses were to be charged collectively, the archbishop suggests, there should be a mandatory sentence for all of them of one year in jail.

Compare and contrast the resolution of the Anglican Primates, meeting at Dromantine in 2005:

We continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship.

Archbishop Akinola also signed up to that statement, which tells you all you need to know about his sincerity."

There is enough there, is there not for Protestant Anglicans to protest? An Archbishop who is inconsistent. An Archbishop who supports severe punishment for immorality, contrary to the teaching and the example of Christ.

But here is the rub, being noticed on various Anglican sites: where are the protesting Protestants?

They are hard to find.

Well, here is one. I protest Archbishop Peter. You have gone too far. You have not followed the wisdom of your fellow bishop Martyn Minns when he says on the CANA website (CANA Perspective #8):

"Every person is made in the image of God and deserves to be treated that way."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI reaches out inclusively to the Anglican Communion

At least that is the implication of this extraordinary paragraph as he writes about recent events concerning the formerly excommunicated SSPX:

"Can a community leave us totally indifferent in which there are 491 priests, 215 seminarians, 6 seminaries, 88 schools, 2 university institutes, 117 brothers, 164 sisters? Should we really calmly leave them to drift away from the Church? I am thinking, for example, of the 491 priests. The plaited fabric of their motivations we cannot know. But I think that they would not have made their decision for the priesthood, if next to some askew or sick elements there had not been there the love of Christ and the will to proclaim Him and with Him the living God. Should we simply exclude them, as representatives of a radical marginal group, from the search for reconciliation and unity? What will then be?"

After all, who are Anglicans if not those with the love of Christ and the will to proclaim Him?

Read the whole here. Be moved by the soaring ecumenical vision of the Pope. Laugh (or cry) at the admissions of living in the world unaware of the power of the internet. Weep at some of the convoluted logic necessarily involved trying to reconcile all doctrinal commitments. Pray that one day we funny bunch of people, "Christians", can indeed be one despite our amazing differences!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Of that which we cannot speak we should be silent

Reading a book review by Andrew Barry in The Briefing on a book of essays Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques edited by David Gibson and Daniel Strange (2009) I find myself gobsmacked. Barry begins like this,

"While reading this selection of essays, I've also been reading the prophet Jeremiah. Both are stretching, edifying and hard going, and yet it has struck me that both deal with theological disagreement—that is, dare I say, false teaching—in very different ways."

OK. Got that. Barth is a false teacher. Barry knows Barth is wrong. To an extent his conviction is strengthened by the book being reviewed. Yet the book itself falls short because it is not tough enough on Barth.

"If the conclusions that most of the contributors reached are true, the weight of those conclusions seemed to be lacking. There was a lot of light, but not much heat; most of the essays tended to frame Barth's theology as being wonderful, but also inadequate or unsatisfactory, rather than pastorally dangerous."

Barth is Barth. Not quite kosher evangelical: not Stott nor Packer nor Piper. More N.T. Wright, evangelicals could say, than right. So able to be judged a false teacher, as well as pastorally dangerous. But what about Calvin? Is he ever deemed a false teacher by evangelicals? (No doubt some commenter will provide evidence, but I do not know of it). Yet Calvin's teaching has given rise to pastorally dangerous nonsense such as 'double predestination'. And, while I am on my high horse, there is a lot of pastorally dangerous nonsense around in the evangelical world that can scarcely be upheld by a plain reading of Scripture. But, as an aside, is it helpful to cast the label 'false teacher' around? Is theological disagreement not possible without incurring this denotation? Does our fellowship in Christ as fallible sinners improve with name calling?

Barth is incomparable, as human theologians go. He thinks, reflects, digests, and slowly, painstakingly shares his conclusions. So slowly that, as Barry rightly observes, 'Barth is an almost unassailable mountain'. At least he is a mountain when so much that passes for 'truth' in the evangelical world are mole-hills.

Barry takes Barth to task on the doctrine of election. "From almost every angle, it is Barth's view of election that is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Barth's innovation is that rather than people being elect, Christ is both the elect one and the rejected one. Therefore, all humanity is given a ‘yes’ in Christ that negates our ‘no’ towards God. While the arguments are complicated, it is not hard to see that the trajectory Barth's theology follows leads to universalism (i.e. that all people will be saved)."

I wonder what Barry would say about Calvin and his doctrine of election - in its own way an immense stumbling block to many? This is no idle theoretical point about the high places of theology. When bad things happen to good people our hearts cry to God for an explanation. A doctrine of election provides such an explanation. But that explanation in the hands of some evangelicals can add to the terror of human pain rather than relieve it. Especially when it gives a sense, however unintentionally, that God authorises our torment.

Perhaps we should be silent about election and leave it as a divine mystery. That could leave us free to not speak when we have nothing to say that makes any sense when our world is shattered and we know not where God is.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The communion of the world

I guess it is possible to live through these months as though there is no crisis in the world's economic order. Shops still stock goods, so if one has steady employment, is not trying to buy or sell a house, and avoids reading the newspaper, then it could be business as usual.

I have been reading quite a few articles, and last night spent some time watching current affairs programmes such as the PBS News Hour. Part of my interest is personal (I like following politics), part is ecclesial (I am a member of our Diocesan Financial Team), and part is curiosity (what is actually going on? Is there a plan? Is Obama in action able to fulfil his potential as the greatest president since Lincoln?)

But all that is idle theorizing. Yesterday I met a friend and discovered that by the end of next week he will be out of work. Within this past week our local city, Nelson, has had announcements of lots of other jobs being lost in our major industries (fish, wood production). My friend will look for work, but his applications will be ones of hundreds.

Interestingly, our wood production job losses were explained like this: we pulp pine logs to make 'medium density fibre boards' which is shipped to China to make inexpensive furniture which is sold in the United States. The soaring unemployment in the States is a direct cause of soaring unemployment in Nelson, N.Z. So an interest in whether Obama and team have a way to draw the American economy out of the mirey clay is an interest relevant to daily life here. But do they have a way out?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How not to translate the Bible!

After posting the non-italicised words below, a commenter took the wind out of my sails, a little, by pointing out that the NLT I draw attention to has been revised in 2004. I note the revision below.

Recently, reading from the New Living Translation, I heard myself saying what the steward at Cana said, “… when everyone is full and doesn’t care, [the host] brings out the less expensive wines …” (John 2:10). I thought to myself, “That doesn’t sound right!”

The Bible when speaking about eating, drinking and other bodily actions generally uses frank, earthy terms. ‘Everyone is full and doesn’t care’ smacks of late modern Western euphemism for drunk, plastered, intoxicated or, as a man stepping out from a shelter in Hagley Park once explained his condition when asking if I should be so kind as to bike into Cathedral Square in Christchurch to buy him some chocolate, inebriated. (I wasn’t so kind, by the way).

To the Greek. Methuo, to be drunk. Why could the New Living Translators not be straightforward, ‘when everyone is drunk, [the host] brings out the less expensive wines’? We can only guess. One hopes it was not due to a sense of ecclesiastical correctness (conservative variety), nor to following too many other English translations at the expense of attentiveness to the Greek. The latter, incidentally, is also used at (e.g.) 1 Thessalonians 5:7 and Revelation 17:6 where the NLT correctly has ‘drunk’ (as in intoxicated rather than quenching thirst). English translations of John 2:10 include ‘drunk freely’ (RSV, NEB), ‘had plenty’ (CEV), ‘plenty to drink’ (JB Phillips), ‘well wined’ (NJB), ‘have well drunk’ (AV), ‘drunk a lot’ (GNB). Note the way ‘freely’, ‘well’ and ‘a lot’ not so subtly change the sense of ‘drunk’ from ‘intoxicated’ to ‘having imbibed plenty of liquid’. From the perspective of these modifiers, the NL Translation keeps good company among other translations.

Incidentally, the New Jerusalem Bible, which I personally like and use, but also know is somewhat uneven as a translation, both in accuracy and style, provides one of its less felicitous moments when it has the steward saying, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first and the worse wine when the guests are well wined; but you have kept the best wine till now.’ Sometimes assonance and alliteration lift an ordinary translation into the category of extraordinary, but here ‘worse wine’ and ‘well wined’ do not work. ‘Good’ should be complemented by ‘bad’ or ‘inferior’ in this sentence; and ‘well wined’ is an unfortunate way to say ‘drunk’ when ‘wine’ has already been used twice in the sentence and will be used one more time.

Does any translation get it right? I have found one. William Tyndale, unsurprisingly, ‘… when men be drunk, then that which is worse’, is our man.

Updated NLT, 2004, John 2:10 now reads: “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This is more in keeping with other translations, but, arguably, is not as plain speaking as the underlying Greek.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Gracious Truth

A couple of posts below I posted an excerpt from a stringent critique of Jewish and Christian biblical theology: the God of the Bible is difficult if not impossible to believe in because charity and capricious cruelty contradictorily constitute his characteristic behaviour. I also said I thought this charge (which is, of course, old and not new) could be defended. Here are a few thoughts, but not a comprehensive essay.

One comes from J.I. Packer's Knowing God (which a commenter on an earlier post pointed me to, re atonement and predestination). A recurring reminder in Packer's unpacking of the God of the Bible is that anthropomorphisms both help human understanding of God and lead us to false understanding if we forget that God is God and not some accumulated creation of the sum of all anthropomorphisms. In part, at least, Plotz in my post below savages belief in God because the anthropomorpic "God" is savage; but does not account for the true God, the God beyond the limits of human language.

Another, the source of which I have forgotten, is that I (and you) are not entitled to a god who fits our expectations of reasonable behaviour, desirable though such a god would be, our expectations as nurtured by modernity and post-modernity being crucial to our view of what is right and true. That is, we may be making the God of eternity subject to judgement from a thin perspective of temporal experience. (This response, however, could itself be undermined from within the Bible since even there various Jobs and Jeremiahs wonder at what God is up to when disaster strikes.)

Thirdly, finally for today, I suggest when we allow for limitations in human language used in the Bible, and have acute awareness of the danger of judging God from the narrow base of our own experience and expectations, we need to acknowledge the progression of theology through the Bible. In Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God is the revelation of a consistent charity in God's character which has not been revealed prior to Christ. This a relatively straightforward claim to make (an old claim of theology, not a new 21st century revelation, by the way) but it raises significant questions for how we understand the Bible, the relationship of 'theology' to 'Scripture', and the continuing role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blogs as Revelatory Texts

Odd-bit post today. Tonight I begin tutoring a class at Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson on 'Biblical Interpretation'. One book I have dragged off my shelves is Sandra M. Schneiders' The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture. This is a good book as far as hermeneutics goes - many are long (this is middling in length), turgid (not here), and overly complex (not too bad). But Sandra M. Schneiders is in the blog world today; and this book is not the reason, indeed I have not seen it mentioned.

Damien Thompson, Holy Smoke (more accurately it might be entitled 'Holy Smote'!!), picks up on an email from Sandra which is doing the rounds (presumably no hoax), perhaps from First Things, since he approvingly quotes Elizabeth Scalia writing there on the email. Scalia herself has posted about this article on her blog, where one can read that the story broke in the National Catholic Reporter. Still with me?

In a nutshell the story in these revelatory texts is that Sandra M. Schneiders ('Catholic biblical scholar and feminist' according the publishers blurb on my book) is organising passive resistance to an inspection of the religious order she belongs to. The critique asks the question, does this order belong to Rome or not? If it does not, is a 'new Catholic church' in America being birthed through Schneider and her sisters' actions?

Hang on. We have heard that story already, mutatis mutandis, in North America Anglicanland!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Only read this if your faith in God is secure

"Not to sound like a theocratic crank, but I'm actually shocked that students aren't compelled to read huge chunks of the Bible in high school and college, the way they must read Shakespeare or the Constitution or Mark Twain.

That's my intellectual defense of Bible reading. Now a more personal one. As a lax, non-Hebrew-speaking Jew, I spent my first 35 years roboting through religious rituals and incomprehensible prayers, honoring inexplicable holidays. None of it meant anything to me. Now it does. Reading the Bible has joined me to Jewish life in a way I never thought possible. I trace this to when I read about Jacob blessing his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh at the end of Genesis. I suddenly realized: Oh, that's why I'm supposed to lay my hand on my son's head at Shabbat dinner and bless him in the names of Ephraim and Manasseh. That shock of recognition has been followed by many more—when I came across the words of the Shema, the most important Jewish prayer, in Deuteronomy, when I read about the celebration of Passover in the book of Ezra, when I read in Psalms the lyrics of Christian hymns I love to sing.

You notice that I haven't said anything about belief. I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn't really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I'm brokenhearted about God.

After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting—every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God—I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty—such sublime beauty and grace!—but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love."

That is David Plotz, Editor of Slate, writing Good Book: What I Learned from Reading the Entire Bible. Read it all here.

This God of Scripture is challenging! I think there is a response to David Plotz, though it's not easy to do in a few pithy words. What do you think?

Substitutionary Atonement is Anglican, Buddhism is not

Buddhism offers some clues about meditation; meditation is a way of being still before God; Anglicans can do that. But Buddhism also offers some clues about the problem of suffering (one is tempted to say, the main clue is 'there is no problem', but that might say more about my superficial knowledge of Buddhism). These clues know nothing, make nothing of Jesus Christ dying on the cross in our place for our sins. Anglican theology continuous with Anglican theology, via the ancient church fathers and the Book of Common Prayer, makes a lot of Jesus Christ's substitutionary atonement, especially in the BCP; or, if it has forgotten this, ought to make more of it than it does.

Of course some Anglican theology today is discontinuous with Anglican theology, effectively creating two Anglican theologies, Mk 1 and Mk 2. Mk 1 has had its day; Mk 2 is the truth for our time. Kevin Thew Forrester's embrace of Buddhist ideas (see post below) will be interpreted by some as heresy (by those, that is, who follow Anglican theology continuous with past Anglican theology). By others this embrace will be unremarkable as it is simply Anglican theology Mk 2 at work.

The error involved in Mk 2 theology is the error the church has battled with repeatedly: a new revelation has been received, therefore we may now delete the former revelation. Spong, for example, offers this error at the heart of his theological proposals: for centuries the church thought this way about God, now, thanks to theologians such as Tillich, we realise the error of our ways and offer this new truth.

The battle for the future shape of the Communion is only between 'conservatives' and 'liberals' to an extent. The theological issue underlying the controversy is bigger and wider than that particular divide. It concerns whether the theology binding Anglican churches into one world Communion is coherent or not with the theology which formed and then reformed the Church of England.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Will the writer of these doctrines become a bishop in the Anglican Communion?

Kevin Thew Forrester has been elected to be bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. To actually become the bishop his election requires approval from diocesan standing committees in TEC. Will they or won't they confirm?

What would your decision be as your read this kind of thing from a candidate for the episcopacy publicly espousing views of a mixed Christian-and-Buddhist kind?

"And yet, it has not been easy for me to see this belovedness in my own life, or in all of God’s creatures – such as those who flew planes into the Twin Towers. I seem to thrive on setting-up conditions for God’s love. My fear and ego needs have been blinding all too often. Sin is another word for such blindness. Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness. And when we are blind we hurt ourselves and others – sometimes quite deeply.

Zen Buddhism, for me, is about learning how to see the bedrock truth of our baptism – we are beloved. To say this may sound odd, at first. But 2,500 years ago, an Indian prince became known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, because he courageously sat and faced his fears, and after years of facing them, saw this basic truth about life: we are one, utterly one, yet we do not know it. We suffer because we fearfully cling to this or that thing (for me, trying to be perfect) in the hope that it will bring us happiness."

Jesus died, apparently, because we are blind to our own goodness.

(Read the whole account of Kevin Thew Forrester's amalgam of Christo-Buddhist beliefs here. You might like to compare it with this more recent, after the fact of the election, apologia for being Christian and sympathetic to Buddhism here. Do the two statements gel?)

Let's see if TEC confirms this election or otherwise. Either way we will learn something about TEC's commitment to a common, orthodox, Christian theology for the Anglican Communion.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Is Jesus Saviour of the World or Saviour of the Elect?

Triggered by a note in another blog I have been doing a little reading and reflecting on the question in the title above. Calvinism's TULIP has blessed us with the idea of 'Limited Atonement' or, probably better expressed, 'Particular Redemption'. If Christ died in our place receiving the punishment for our sins then he did not die for everyone, since then some people would be punished twice for their sins, once on the cross and once in hell. Ergo, Christ died for the sins of the elect and not for the sins of the non-elect.

Silly people like me wonder why the Bible then includes John 3:16 (God so loved the world) and John 4:42 (This is indeed the Saviour of the World), but no doubt if I look harder enough I will find the appropriate Calvinist solution.

The howlers here are fairly obvious and make one book I was alerted to somewhat inglorious! Howler 1 is thinking about the death of Christ and its theological meaning in a human mechanistic manner, including 'punishment' for sins being a 'thing' there can be two helpings of. What is punishment for sins from the perspective of God? Perhaps it looks quite different!

Howler 2 is assuming we have a completely satisfactory grasp of what the 'elect' means. Perhaps 'the elect' means those who are destined to be saved with the logical corollary that the non-elect means those who are destined not to be saved. But what if it does not mean that? If, for example, the elect is not a neat category of people, inexorably linked to predestination in the sense of God's irresistible force which means some must become Christians and others not, then Christ's death is not quite so particular!

Howler 3 is a generally small-minded approach to salvation: it's about numbers of people and measurable dollops of punishment, according to this watertight theory; but everything the Bible says about the grace of God reeks of the mystery of the immeasurable dimensions of God's grace. God in Christ reconciles the whole world to himself; heaven is envisaged as peopled with an unnumbered crowd; Jesus of Nazareth mingles with all shades and shapes of people, and not only with those 'destined' to become his disciples.

Calvinism needs to get a life! If a preoccupation with the penal substitutionary theory of atonement leads to such howlers, perhaps the 'theory' needs revisiting, rather than attacking critics of limited or particular atonement. For what it is worth I find the 'penal' part of the theory unhelpful: it too readily draws into our minds mechanical versions of the consequences of sin such as 'X years in prison' or 'a fine of Y dollars'. The consequences of our sin are more and less than that. For example, one consequence is slavery to the power of sin. On the cross Christ provides the means ('redemption') for release from that slavery: that release is available to all, but not all avail themselves of it.

The book, incidentally, is Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution and written by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey and Andrew Sach. Its foreword is by John Piper, noted American preacher and arguably the current doyen of Calvinism in the world today.

Now here is an interesting 'Anglican Down Under' angle on this book and its argument for limited atonement or particular redemption. The three authors are Anglican theologians connected through teaching/study at Oak Hill Theological College, London. But one of the theologians they have a go at because he or she argues against particular redemption is none other than the late Broughton Knox, former Principal of Moore College, Sydney, and the theologian par excellence behind the general theological tenor of the Diocese of Sydney today (pp. 276 - 278).

One of the beauties of Anglicanism, I suggest, is that it distances itself, rather than embraces, the full-blown '-isms' of other modes of being Christian, whether it is Calvinism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism or Roman Catholism.