Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Love Win over our rejection of Love?

I am very glad to have the contributions made in comments to my post on hell (see below). The subject of hell is theologically demanding, partly because it seems to place the gracious love of God in conflict with the holy justice of God, and partly because (as Rob Bell makes a play in Love Wins) one can come up with lots of puzzles about hell as a destination for people (e.g. the question 'What about those who have never heard the gospel?'). So, here are a few thoughts buzzing in my mind - a few thoughts, not a complete theology - as I prepare for Sunday night's sermon:

To the extent that heaven and hell are responses to how we live our lives on earth, both are required. There could not be a meaningfulness to morality or to justice if (say) the abused and the abusers reach the same end beyond the grave. (Something of this conception is at work in the Parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Luke 16:19-31).

To the extent that heaven is the location of God in which the people of God enjoy the unmediated fullness of God's presence, then hell is the absence of God and the location to which all anti-God forces are consigned. (Althought Revelation does not mention 'hell' something of this conception is at work in this vision of the seer John).

To the extent that heaven and hell are outcomes to our acceptance or rejection of the gospel, again, the question arises whether meaningfulness would be associated with either 'gospel' (what would be 'good news' about it if it does not matter whether we accept or reject it?) or 'human dignity' (the honour God accords us by creating us with genuine freedom to choose to accept or reject the gospel). If God overrides our freedom to choose how we live our lives, then we are not free. (It is very important that we acknowledge that our Lord himself lived with the rejection of the gospel by those he encountered, notably in Luke 18:18-30).

To the extent that heaven and hell are words in our human language used to describe futures we have not experienced and which is also revealed to us as a future beyond our imagining (1 Corinthians 2:9), it is important to be agnostic about the detail of what these futures involve. Some of our unease about hell may be due to presuming we understand fully from this side of the grave what the other side will be experienced as. On this side of the grave we tangle ourselves in theological knots over the question of "annihilation" versus "everlasting punishment" when, in reality, we have no idea what either fate would involve in respect of states we call "death", "pain", "torment" and the like.

Finally, I have always liked C.S. Lewis' insight that heaven is not a reward like promotion and a pay rise is a reward for hard work, it is more like marriage is a reward for courtship, an appropriate destination for a particular journey (I cannot recall where he wrote that). It is hard to see how heaven will be (so to speak) heavenly for those who have rejected God, let alone for those who persist in rejecting God no matter how many gracious entreaties are made.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Come on Muriel, you can do better

Muriel Porter is a well-known Australian Anglican critic of the Diocese of Sydney (from the comparative safety of domicile in Melbourne!). She has just published a book Sydney and the Threat to World Anglicanism. Thinking Anglicans and The Lead carry some reports/links to an article by Porter published on the ABC's website which summarises the thrust of the book's thesis. Here is an extract concerning Sydney's links with the wider world:

"Its international influence reaches beyond the churches assisted through the GAFCON/FCA network, however. Some time ago it moved into the heartland of the Church of England through its close ties with the conservative Evangelical movement, Reform.

Similarly, there are links with conservative movements in the Church of Ireland, in the New Zealand church, in South Africa, and in the US and Canada. Sydney Diocese has also been closely involved in the formation of the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, with a leading lawyer from Sydney Diocese assisting in the drafting of the ACNA constitution.

The Ministry Training Strategy program (MTS) developed in the late 1970s by Archbishop Jensen's brother Phillip - now Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney - when he was chaplain to the University of New South Wales, has spread across the globe.

It boasts that it has been "developed, copied, refined and implemented in many parts of Australia and the world." It claims it has reached into Britain, France, Canada, Ireland (both north and south), Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and South Africa. Effectively, over almost 20 years, it has exported a program to recruit and train ultra-conservative Protestant ministers around the world."
This all sounds like rather a big octopus reaching around the world with its tentacles, destabilizing Anglican churches and their global commitments with each stretch of a tentacle. The fact is, it ain't so. Sydney has a role in influencing Anglican churches around the world - so do other dioceses and Anglican provinces, through companion relationships, through mission societies, through hospitality offered to (say) students invited to study in theological colleges - but what Sydney is doing does not add up to destabilization of the Anglican Communion. To the extent that 'destabilization' is occurring, many players are involved, and most of them jump to their own commands, not to the influence of others. Citing, e.g., a lawyer drafting the ACNA constitution is pathetic: ACNA is big enough and strong enough to do its thing without Sydney, but it is also humble enough to accept help from others.

Porter then describes the complex situation in the Anglican Church of Australia in which the Diocese of Sydney undoubtedly plays a significant role (it is the largest diocese, it is different to most of the rest of the church, especially on the matter of the ordination of women to the presbyterate and to the episcopacy). But no worries. Porter's train of thought steams on to the conclusion that Sydney's dark, significant threat is to the whole of global Anglicanism:

"The Australian church is facing a real crisis that may yet prove to be the "bridge too far." How the national church will be able to handle this situation and prevent possible repercussions both nationally and internationally is as yet unclear.

For all these reasons, Sydney Diocese can be seen to pose a threat to the stability of the Anglican Communion, to the cohesion of the Australian Anglican Church, and also to other Anglican churches such as those in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Canada, and New Zealand.

It is also potentially a danger to those third world Anglican churches that are part of the GAFCON organization, because it claims its involvement is in response to Gospel truth. Sydney and its friends are the true believers.

Churches not aligned with it, taking a different view principally on the issue of homosexuality but also on women in ordained ministry, are portrayed as deniers of the Gospel. These claims, from determined, persuasive, well-resourced church leaders bearing gifts of support for, and assistance to, emerging churches, are hard to resist.

Overall, Sydney's influence is of real concern for the future of world Anglicanism."
This is just nuts. Why is Ashgate, an otherwise solid academic publisher, involved with a book which argues beyond the evidence?

For instance, Porter in this article on the ABC site, repeatedly mentions Sydney's influence on the Anglican church in New Zealand. Did she actually interview anyone here I wonder? If she had interviewed me, this is what I would have said:

1. Some Anglicans in the Diocese of Christchurch have been influenced by the Diocese of Sydney, both generally through sharing some of its ideas, and particularly through a few ministers being trained at Moore College.

2. I know of no other diocese in New Zealand in which either a general or a particular influence is at work. (For the record: I know of no general or particular influence in the Diocese of Nelson, a diocese which long ago in the past sourced three bishops in succession from the Diocese of Sydney, and for a period until around 1970 had a significant number of its clergy drawn from Moore College training backgrounds).

3. The majority of evangelical Anglicans in our church are enthusiastic supporters of their dioceses, support the ordination of women, and are open to charismatic theology and experience. That is, they are not particularly sympathetic with hallmarks of Sydney evangelicalism such as congregationalism, opposition to the ordination of women, and a negative line towards charismatic theology and experience.

4. I detect no destabilising influence in our Christchurch Diocese from those with links to Sydney.

5. In a worst case scenario in which a breakaway Anglican church was established in NZ (i.e. as has been murmured from time to time since the ordination of Gene Robinson) then (a) any 'Sydney' part of it would be a minority; (b) any such breakaway would be small relative to the totality of our church; (c) our whole church would not be destabilized in such an event. (In other words: conservatives in our church, including conservative evangelicals are quite capable of working out their own responses to issues before them, they are not at all bound to do anything which would destabilise our church, and the last rather than first thing they are liable to do is to make a phone call across the Tasman to Sydney).

In eight words: Sydney is not a threat to NZ Anglicans.

Quite the contrary, Sydney has been a good friend to us, not least, this year, in offering financial support to our Diocese as it seeks to rebuild.

I wonder if Muriel Porter in her book ever mentions actions by other churches in the Communion as destabilizing the Communion ... say, against the grain of Communion thinking, ordaining a gay bishop or two?

Just a thought!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reading Rob

As it happens, following up the previous post, I am preaching on the question of hell next Sunday evening (as part of a series of topical questions at a nearby church), and the question has arisen directly from the questioner reading Rob Bell's Love Wins. So now I have a loan copy of Love Wins and less than a week to read, mark, inwardly digest it, and work out whether I will be raving about Rob or belting Bell when I preach.

So far, one chapter in, my antennae are strongly switched on to the possibility that a straw man argument is being set up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hell is Losing

There is a bit of debate around these days about hell and whether it exists, sparked most recently by Rob Bell's book Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I haven't read the book so the following is not a direct comment on Bell's argument - incidentally I have been told that his book is so controversial here in NZ that in some Christian book shops the book is not displayed but is kept 'under the counter' :).

I follow a lot of sport, and some sports very closely. I am learning a lot as I go. Last week's hockey tournament in Invercargill (see post below) was a good learning about the vagaries of tournaments. In particular, every game counts, and certain 'knock out' games count absolutely: lose and there is no coming back. With those games, for players and fans, every minute counts, and time can slow down to an agonising torment. For me, with the Rugby World Cup looming, it was a sobering lesson that tournament sports competitions yield champions of tournaments and not champions of whole seasons. Our NZ rugby team All Blacks are nearly always champions of whole seasons of matches and, so far, hardly ever champions of world cup tournaments.

Last night the All Blacks lost to Australia, 20-25 - their second loss in two matches. Of course one can rejoice that this World Cup the All Blacks will not be complacent about their run to the finals. Only a fool, however, would not harbour doubts as to whether we can now win! Robbie Deans (Australian coach) was not the winning coach of the Crusaders (Christchurch-based local team) for nothing. Is he timing his team's run to glory to perfection?

The flip side of the agony of losing is the possibility of winning. Or, one might say, more accurately, the possibility of winning being a meaningful experience. Imagine if, just after all the teams have arrived in NZ in a week or so's time, an announcement was made by the International Rugby Board that this year's competition was going to be completely different: no results would be recorded, and at the end of the competition the name of every participating team would be engraved on the cup as equally sharing in the winning of the cup. So NZ would have its name on the cup again, and it would mean absolutely nothing to us.

So to the gospel and to the question of heaven and hell. Would heaven be meaningful if there were no hell? Would the question 'do you believe in Jesus Christ?' have any meaning if the answer had no bearing on our future with God?

Saturday, August 27, 2011


This past week has been exceptional and will live long in my memory. Teresa and I travelled to Invercargill last Sunday to support our son and his team at a (field) hockey tournament, and journeyed back yesterday. The story of the tournament and the fortunes of the team is worth telling in its own right, but I cannot presume that readers here are sports followers (suffice to say that the team came 6th in the highest ranked secondary schools tournament, which was a very high achievement in the context of the team's progress through matches during this past winter). My reflection here is about the nature of heaven.

Invercargill is our southernmost city, lying within a few kilometres of the bottom of the South Island (in a province called ... Southland - in case you were wondering from afar, our northernmost province at the top of the North Island is called Northland). It can be the butt of certain Kiwi jokes based on an underlying theme of 'the place we would least want to live in.' I realised being there this week that, despite a few visits in the past, I did not know the city. This week, being there for several days, having a car, and needing to find my way round to shops, physiotherapist, restaurants, and a church office, was an excellent chance to discover that Invercargill is a very easy place to live in, with some great facilities* and generous and kind citizens.

Further, not far from Invercargill are two special places, Riverton ('the Riviera of the South') which is a beautiful village on the banks of an estuary, and Bluff, our southermost town, where State Highway 1 ends. Teresa and I were able to visit each on warm, sunny days. At Howell's Point at the end of the estuary, just beyond Riverton Rocks, the sea crashes relentlessly into large rocks against the majestic backdrop of Stewart Island - standing on one of those rocks the beauty of the raw wildness of nature struck me. I could have stood there for hours and not exhausted the profound depths of the vista before me. On top of Bluff Hill, standing in a very well planned lookout, one of the more spectacular views one can experience in NZ (or the world?) lay around us in a 360 degree panorama. What to spend most time taking in? The majesty of Stewart Island (from a different vantage to Howell's Point) or the bottom of the South Island, including bays and estuarys in the foreground, Invercargill just beyond, and mountains in the background or the tiny islands creeping outwards from Stewart Island, including the famous Mutton Bird Islands?

It is possible to experience 'heaven on earth'! Peace, time stopping still, perfection of beauty, brilliant light seem to be hallmarks of heaven. They were part of the experiences of the two visits we made. I knew I was still on earth, however, because I was also aware of a further experience, of comparing what I experienced with other 'heavens on earth' (especially in the spectacular Top of the South (Golden Bay, Nelson, Marlborough) I lived in for the years 1993-2010). Here on earth, if given complete freedom to choose, I would not know where to choose to live permanently. In heaven itself, I presume there will be no comparisons as to whether this heaven might be bettered by another, and no indecision as to whether this is the place we want to be!

*Invercargill organises its facilities, including some outstanding sports grounds and stadia via the Invercargill Licensing Trust which controls the sale of wine and liquor in the city and uses the profits for the benefit of citizens and visitors.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So why is our General Synod going to the Land of the Tyrant who cancels church conferences?

I have no idea why General Synod in 2012 is going to be in Fiji - the Land of the Tyrant Who Cancels Church Conferences, do you?

"Fiji's military says they have ordered the cancellation of the Methodist Church conference today because the church leadership was involved in politics and some of it was refusing to recognise dictator Voreqe Bainimarama.

Three leading members of the church – the main faith for the country's indigenous population – were summonsed to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks (QEB) last night to hear cancellation orders from Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga."

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Higher Plane

Soft blogging this week as I have a higher calling, following our son at a sports tournament. In theory oodles of time between games to blog (and I am on annual leave so not much else to do). But in practice things come up. Just about to go off to spy on a game between two potential future opponents tomorrow, aiming to bring a report back to the coach ...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Scripture Without Dependency

Had an interesting conversation yesterday about things such as the validity and reliability of Scripture. It got me thinking about how many Christians effectively entrust the content of their faith to Scripture and Something. 'Something' might be 'the church' or 'tradition' or 'Calvin' or 'the Thirty Nine Articles' or 'the Church Fathers' or, especially since the Enlightenment, 'critical scholarship.' The something else I am speaking of is a kind of 'extra authority' which sits alongside Scripture, or even over Scripture and gives us confidence that Scripture is valid and is reliable. A variation, however, concerns, critical scholarship: for some this is a kind of radical testing of Scripture in which  Scripture passes the test, for others this is a radical testing of Scripture in which Scripture fails the test but that emboldens them to invest new meaning into the words of Scripture (cf. Geering, Spong, Cupitt). In the latter case critical scholarship is an anti-authority rather than an authority in keeping with (say) tradition or a great theologian.

So here is the next thing that strikes me: if Scripture is what many of us believe it to be, then Scripture is God's Word written and needs no additional authority alongside it or over it. In terms of development of faith or growth into Christian maturity, it could be argued - provocatively, if not dangerously - that our development is constrained if our reading of Scripture is dependent on another authority, if we need, so to speak, the security or warm blanket of the church or tradition or our favourite theologian or creedal statements or those sometimes strange grandfathers and great-uncles of our faith know as the Fathers. Even the bracing winds of critical scholarship can be a heat pump circulating the warm air of satisfaction of knowing that our reading of Scripture has contemporary academic respectability. These additional authorities are helpful and assist us along the pathway of Christian development, but my point or question is whether, in the end, we should depend on one or more of them?

Is God calling us to read Scripture as God's direct means of communication with us? Do human authorities stand in the way of the (so to speak) stark, piercing voice of God speaking into our souls?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What price is a cathedral?

It is fascinating being in Christchurch through these days in respect of who knows what, who does not, and who, surprisingly, does know what I thought they were not meant to know. Take the Anglican Cathedral, for instance. I have been told a figure for the amount of insurance pay out likely, in confidence. To honour that confidence I will not disclose that figure here in print. But I am amazed to fall in conversation with people and find that people outside the circle of folk one might expect to know this figure (e.g. the Chapter, the Standing Committee) also know the figure. What is public is the plan to build a 'cardboard (temporary) cathedral', but prior to the public announcement of this, the plan was very secret. Except I discover quite a few people about town knew about it (and, indeed, the Press revealed the plan two days before the official media launch). A further matter of confidence is the possible location of the cardboard cathedral. Except, again, I am meeting with people and finding out that one possible location is being talked about.

In the midst of these conversations an emergent theme concerns the question in the title, What price is a cathedral? For the cardboard cathedral the figure of $4 million was announced as the likely cost and thus the figure for which funds need to be secured. Some see this as a reasonable amount to spend, others are balking at the figure. Incidentally, if the cardboard cathedral lasts ten years, that sum is $7692 per week, with the prospect that it may be able to be on-sold to some other body to recoup some of the costs. How we secure such funds, thankfully, is not something I have been given responsibility for: I imagine I would be somewhat anxious if I were given that task!

An excellent feature of the cardboard cathedral proposal is that it gets us all recognising that we need some medium-term but temporary means of housing the worship of the cathedral and its choir prior to reconstructing or constructing a permanent cathedral. In turn, that means we have time on our side to conduct a great conversation about the other part of the question, What price is a cathedral?, as it relates to a future permanent structure.

As I see it, this conversation could usefully include the following questions:

(1) Should we Anglicans seek to build a cathedral solely funded by insurance money?

In answering that question, other questions are associated with it: when there are so many other needs around us (locally, globally), on what basis would we seek extra funding? How much more should we spend on a cathedral relative to what we spend when building a new "average" parish church?* What is the importance of a cathedral for a diocese, or to what extent does a diocese wish to 'own' its cathedral, including sharing in the costs of ownership?

(2) What is the relationship of the city of Christchurch to this cathedral (remembering this city has other cathedrals that the city might wish to also be in relationship with)?

In answering that question, as above, there are associated questions: what kind of relationship does the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch want the city to have with the Anglican cathedral? Is a relationship possible in which the city puts up funds and has no say in what the cathedral is used for? (Comment: a significant difference between 1850 when the city was founded and 2020 when, conceivably, a new cathedral might be opened, is that in 1850 there was no pressure for the cathedral envisioned to be a meeting place for all religions, whereas in 2020 there would be pressure for a publicly funded building to be a meeting place for all religions - a consistent theme expressed in a number of letters to the Press).

*I estimate the difference between the monetary value of the cathedral prior to the earthquakes and our least expensive parish church to be a ratio of 200:1, and the difference in respect of an "average" parish church here to be a ratio of 50:1. In the 21st century, what would be an appropriate ratio? 20:1? 10:1?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The christological shape of liturgy?

I keep thinking about worship services and the liturgies we use to shape and structure them. Sometimes this has a professional urgency (e.g. tonight, weather permitting, I am leading a training session on worship), othertimes it is my mind perambulating along, perhaps reflecting on a service I have participated in, or attempting to penetrate the inner theological sanctum of the mysteries of the eucharist (Was Cranmer right?!).

A couple of themes these days are recurring in my reflections about services. One I will describe as 'missional': is what we are doing in worship services helpful in the mission of the church? Primarily our worship services are gatherings of faithful believers, but often a non-believer is present: is what is said and done a proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ? That is, does the content and the style of the service communicate the reality of Jesus Christ alive and reigning in the midst of the congregation?

Another theme is 'christological': is what we are doing in our worship services centred on the Lord Jesus Christ, and does it flow out from Christ - his teaching, his commandments, and his life (example, death, resurrection)? It is (in my experience) remarkably easy to 'miss the christological mark' in worship services. A certain chatty casualness can easily centre the service on ourselves. A prissy fussiness about getting details right (from ritual matters through musicality to Powerpoint backgrounds) can easily centre the service on performance up front. A christologically shaped service will subsume everything said and done to the presentation of Christ and to enhancing Christ's presence in our midst.

The commitment of Anglicans to liturgy is a two-edged sword. It is often attractive because it offers excellence, dignity, and indefinable qualities in the experience of worship. But our Anglican ways can be shaped by ambition to be properly Anglican. That is not what Christ calls us to do and to be in worship: he calls us to himself, to be with him, to watch and pray with him, to listen to him and to break bread at his supper. Anglican liturgy must serve that end, not be an end in itself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

White as Snow

Two mornings in a row I have gotten up before the dawn to the sight of glistening, thick snow lying all about. I am formulating a theory that snow looks at its best under streetlights. This morning is amazing. Every tree about us is white as though frost after frost has made it so. Overnight ten centimetres of snow on our outside table has replaced what melted away during the course of yesterday when the sun shone for a brief period. None of this will mean much for northern hemisphere readers used to snow lying around for months on end. But this is the second major snowfall in Christchurch in less than a month (we can go for years without snow settling on the ground here) and the firstsettling snowfall in many other parts of northern New Zealand for decades (since 1939 for Auckland). Something happening to the global climate perchance?

Quite a good anti-riot measure is snow. People stay indoors (as we did for most of yesterday). Through overnight correspondence some good links have come through which are worth a look:

Andy Hawthorne speaking on the power of the gospel to transform lives.

Peter Ould with post-riot reflection here.

Happy reading and viewing  - especially for Kiwis indoors!

Meantime I have absolutely no excuse not to mark some essays :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Let's build an ecumenical cathedral and not go to Fiji

Following up on some posts a while back:

Ecumenical cathedral for Christchurch

Keeping my antennae up for what is what and what is not in the thinkingsphere of Christchurch re cathedral or cathedrals and other large churches I am wondering about these questions:

(1) Do we Christians with strong denominational allegiances really grasp the importance for non-Christians of seeing Christians working and worshipping together?

(2) Is a truly ecumenical cathedral (i.e. not only open to all churches for use, but also jointly controlled by all churches) utterly unrealistic?

(3) If 'Yes' to (2), would we Anglicans consider building an ecumenical cathedral which we governed according to a perpetual trust in which we committed ourselves to making the building available to other churches as a priority of use?

I acknowledge that (3) might also prove to be utterly unrealistic, but it would be worth a shot. I sense that Anglicans are not about to give away control and governance of the cathedral (partly because we want to have a cathedral to call our own, partly because the record of joint ecumenical control of churches in this country is not brilliant). I know that currently we consider our cathedral is in general terms open to all. But I wonder if that openness is an openness to the occasional use by other churches and not to regular services being held there by other denominations. (3) here would be about openness to a new way of the cathedral being an ecumenical cathedral.

What my antennae are detecting is the possibility that quite a few Anglicans would like to see the ecumenicity of the future cathedral be explored with resolution and openness to the leading of the Spirit.

Do not go to General Synod in Fiji

On this matter I am hearing nothing at all which suggests it is a good idea for our General Synod to meet in a country where people are bullied, beaten and even killed when opposition to the regime is suspected. There are other ways to engage with the church in Fiji and offer encouragement and support.. Taking our General Synod to a place where we will not be free to speak out what we think about the government of that place cuts against the prophetic freedom we normally prize and cherish at General Synod.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fallen Totara

Archbishop Sir Paul Reeves has died. Taonga carries two articles here and here. Neither article mentions a connection to the Diocese of Nelson: Sir Paul was baptised in the Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness, Koromiko (Parish of Picton).

Sir Paul was a towering figure in the life of our church. His death is the falling of a mighty totara in the forest of life.

I cannot say I agreed with everything Sir Paul preached and taught. But in my own personal dealings with him, and in my direct hearing of some talks, he was utterly impressive as a man with (in my view) the mind of a genius. That is, he had the ability in a few words to express complex matters simply and directly. On matters of decision-making and evaluating a course of action, he could cut to the heart of the problem and offer a transformative solution in a sentence.

Marriage and Society

Lots is being said about the riots and looting in Britain. As I said in the previous post, from far away Down Under the interest is not just in a story with shock, horror elements, but in a story which could be our story as we work our way through this Great Recession. Two thoughtful articles in post-event reflections pouring off the printing presses noted by me this morning make points which sit at the heart of Christian theology.

Peter Oborne opines on the moral decay of British society occurring in all sectors of it, making special reference to the greed of its venal politicians who are rushing to judgement on what is wrong with the rioters and looters. The theological point is simply that all are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God: noone does not need salvation, none of us have nothing to repent of. If Britain is to change its ways then the example needs to come from the top.

Philip Blond notes in an interview that two particular problems lie at the root of the recent riots (italics mine):

"I believe the cause of the riots is essentially liberalism in the form of libertarianism, both left libertarianism and right libertarianism. The left libertarianism came first and essentially denounced human relationships. It broke up the extended family, repudiated the nuclear family and separated children from parents such that the state became the main guardian of people rather than people. As a result, it created a whole class that was based on one-way entitlement rights rather than mutual rights and responsibilities. As such, a whole class developed of subsidized output and this subsidized output pursued its own agenda regardless of anyone else’s and it led to its own privatized world where whatever it wished for is what it thought it should have.

That led to a form of libertarianism on the right that produced a form of neo-liberalism that only helped those at the top of society and, increasingly, ordinary wage earners and ordinary working people were squeezed out of prosperity, wealth and advance. We’ve created a whole new generation of serfs who are waited on enough to maintain living standards and people have to go to the state for middle class welfare. Once we cut off the paths to ownership and opportunity, what we’ve actually done is we’ve created a world where the free market produces monopoly and oligopoly. As a result, we’ve produced a cartel capitalism and a state that denies people ownership and opportunity."
There is much to think about here, but I want to note one thing: the connection made between the breakdown of family stability and structure and the disturbances. Other material I am reading makes a similar point: where male role models, particularly fathers are absent from young people's lives, the disciplines of life which contribute to the stability and structure of society are missing. The theological point here is that the bonds of marriage are foundational to the biblical vision of human society. To the extent that the church, here and there, at times, has lost sight of this foundationalism, and even now in the Anglican Communion may be (is?) playing with possibilities for changing its theology of marriage, it (i.e. you and me) shares (later: may share?) in responsibility for communities losing the basis for order that is not based on the 'violence' otherwise required through police and even military upholding decency and civility. [ADDENDUM: I note comments below which suggest my last sentence is a 'blame it on gay marriage' kind of thing. Perhaps - reader-response may rule here! But that is not what I wrote. As an attempt at restating what I am trying to say, let me try this: if marriage between a man and a woman is at the heart of stable family life and stable family life is at the heart of ordered society not relying on massive policing, even military discipline, then the church would do well to maintain rather than vary its theology of marriage. In a variety of ways the church has varied or is contemplating varying its theology of marriage. Implicit in what I am raising here is this question: if marriage is an elastic concept, is commitment to the core of family being the presence of a mum and a dad loosened? I think churches, including Anglican churches in the West have elasticised the concept of marriage and have failed to commit clearly and specifically to the core of family being the presence of a mum and a dad. Thus we have, or more diplomatically, we may have contributed to the social contexts in which social disruption occurs in which young people are out of control. If you do not think this is so, then I would be interested in whether you think church teaching or lack of teaching has any bearing at all on the state of societies in Christian and post-Christian countries.]

Everytime we contemplate if not articulate, as I know some of us do, a weakening of the standard that sexual intercourse belongs within marriage, not outside of it, we contribute to a narrative or script for society which says marriage does not matter in any absolute sense, and that risks may be taken that children will be born into homes without male role models. Other things play a role, as Peter Oborne notes, such as greed and venality afflicting every class and corner of society, but social disruption flows as much as anything from disruption to marriage.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sin of omission?

Which post-British riots' speech should the ABC have given? The first one at this link, or the one he did in fact give, reprinted below the first?

People are asking here in NZ whether there could be a similar outburst in one or more of our cities. No Western country is immune these days from some deprivation occurring as a direct or indirect result of the world recession.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Busy As

Very light, inconsequential blogging this (unusually) busy week. A course for First Incumbents, an NZ Anglican Schools Conference, Post Ordination Training, and a Strategic Planning Day are playing havoc this week with thinking about being Anglican. No wait. That does not sound right ... it's more important to act, pray together, fellowship and edify one another Anglicanly than merely think about it :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Is the world going to the dogs?

I am very much an amateur when it comes to trying to understand what goes on the world around me, so I have nothing fresh, or new, let alone authoritative to offer by way of analysis and conclusions about the economic news which is turbulently washing around us at the moment. If the world economy is not actually going to implode, it does seem inescapable that it looks like it might. Even amateur economic sleuths can see that!

Theologically I wonder if God has any interest in saving the world economy. The stronger the global economy the more we entrust our lives to building up wealth, to acquiring possessions, and to aiming to get ahead in life as measured by increasing income. Nothing in the gospels is more anti-kingdom than Mammon!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Complacency About Disunity

I am always intrigued on this blog when I write something in favour of Christian unity and find responses have an overall tendency to remind me how difficult Christian unity is. We are divided on truth, on praxis, and have little or no hope in this life of achieving greater unity than we already have. That's the gist of responses. And they are reasonable responses because, let's face it, there are some difficult barriers to Christian unity around. Rome's unwavering "submit to the Bishop of Rome, join our communion and we will be in communion with you" is very difficult to see changing in the foreseeable future. Realistically my vision for an ecumenical cathedral for Christchurch city in this coming decade is going to be very hard to persuade Protestant churches to commit to, let alone persuade my Anglican colleagues to agree to let go of "ownership" of our current cathedral, and impossible to envision our Roman and Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers in Christ coming on board with, save for a miracle. Even then some might say that miracles can happen but the impossible takes a little longer.

And yet is this what we are to settle for? Does Christ enjoy our complacency on Christian unity, that is, that we cannot do anything about our disunity and just have to get on with living out a fractured Christianity?

Here are the words of Scripture which particularly unsettle me when I contemplate the difference between denominational realities and God's will:

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:7-10).
I realise that one implication of these words is that Christian unity is not our work but God's work and in the fullness of time God will complete that work. But that would still leave us with the historical fact that we Christians have greatly contributed to the amount of work God has to do to unite all things in him because we have divided many things in Christ!

Every Sunday many Christians say in our churches in Christchurch "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church."

Well, the Spirit has spoken through Paul in Ephesians! Are we listening?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rebuilding edifices to cement past differences

I wonder what it would take to get Christians seriously changing our ways to overcome our differences and to worship God together as one body of Christ? One can imagine scenarios in which, say, we are all thrown in prison and restricted to one gathering in one place per week in order to corporately worship God, or we are just a few people in an isolated village and it makes perfectly good sense to work out corporate worship as one group. Here in Christchurch we are neither imprisoned (in the usual sense) nor a few people, but we are in an extraordinary situation in which we could if we chose to do so, imagine a new ecumenicity. But to imagine this new ecumenicity we would need to break out of the imprisonment of our past divisions.

Writing in yesterday's Press (page C5, no i-link yet), Martin van Beynen, who frequently delights in parading his atheistic secularism, makes an excellent case for Christians coming up with a new way of gathering together in an edifice in order to worship God. His column is titled, “Save space, just one church should cover it.”

“Rebuilding the churches would be a failure of imagination. Imagine the square without the Cathedral. It could be a wonderful clear space with exciting things happening right around its edge. The ruins could serve as a memorial. ... All I am suggesting is the churches combine to give their buck more bang and to create a facility which is both a sensational piece of architecture and as well as something relevant and useful in our secular age. ... I just don’t like to see money wasted and if the churches decide to commit their dwindling resources to rebuilding edifices which serve no use other than to cement past differences and fill up air space, I can’t see the point.”
Would rebuilding our churches of differing denominations "cement past differences"? It is hard to see how such rebuilding would not do so!

Is it worth taking this unique opportunity in the life of one city in the post-Christian Western world to do things differently?

It is not as though the case for a new ecumenicity is actually based on Martin van Beynen's atheistic secularist critique of Christianity. It is based, we may care to recall, on the fundamentals of Christian theology: there is only one God, that God is Father Son and Holy Spirit Three Persons in One Being, one gospel, one faith, one baptism, one body of Christ. It is also based on one understanding of liturgy: that we worship the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other worship which is true and genuine Christian worship, and neither Father, Son nor Spirit are divided into Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Reformed and Lutheran.

Of course there are a hundred difficulties (or more) to overcoming our present divisions. History, style, habit, diversity in theology and liturgy, local and regional commitments, you name it, there is a reason not far away to bring up for why we cannot be united, why if we were it would be difficult, indeed likely that we would just divide again and so forth.

But are these reasons good reasons? Standing before the judgement throne of God will our answer sound horribly pathetic when the Father asks us why as a Christian of Christchurch we failed to use the opportunity presented to us to cooperate with the Son in answering his prayer ut unim sint (that they may be one)? Will we be embarrassed and speechless as to why we did not challenge the various denominations spending upwards of $100 - 200 million dollars to ensure that we each had a great church or cathedral to call our own when some smart timetabling and mutual determination could ensure that one large church would service the needs of us all (i.e. to have a large worship space for occasional regional gatherings, to have a spacious sacred space for sacred acts such as ordinations, etc)?

There is only one God and only one gospel. Do we believe that? Are we willing to act on that?

I don't think this is the last word on this opportunity. I am genuinely interested in your responses, including those which tell me I am naive, wrong, barking up the wrong tree or just barking!

Link to a post by Bosco Peters on Liturgy, pointed out below in Comments by Stephen Donald re church buildings

Friday, August 5, 2011

Marian Episcopacy

At last the full text of Bishop Victoria Matthew's address to the WATCH/Open Synod meeting in England at the beginning of July is on the web, courtesy of Thinking Anglicans. The whole is well worth a read, but here are a couple of excerpts with an element of provocation (i.e. provoking us to think differently)!

"So again let me say that speaking about the idea of women in the episcopate does seem a bit odd to me. Believe in it? I live the reality. But let me also say that if you are experiencing this conversation and my presence as something of a disaster, an earthquake happening out of the blue, than please know you will be a casualty if you do not actually engage the earthquake. Sitting in shock as your house comes down in not healthy. Earthquakes require response and recovery because the one thing that will not happen is that they go away and life continues as normal. Earthquakes change your experience of life and knowing that is the first step to a healthy and life-saving response."

Bishop Victoria speaks clearly and powerfully about the role of Mary Magdalene as Apostle to the Apostles, but also says this about Mary the Mother of Jesus as sacramental leader:

"I suggest to you that Paul was enough of an Alpha male that he was most interested in gathering the leaders. Both male and female Christians are his target. This strongly suggests to me that women held positions of leadership in the early church and that this was recognized and acted on by Saul. But as a catholic as well as evangelical Christian I find the strongest argument is the Virgin Mary who grows in her womb the body and blood of Christ, the incarnate Son of God. She is therefore the first celebrant of the Eucharist. “Let it be according to your word.” "

Bishop Victoria also has some very interesting and moving things to say about being a woman bishop in relation to bishops of Anglican and other churches who do not agree with woman bishops.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fijian Military Will Invite Themselves to our General Synod Next Year

I hope that every member of our church considering allowing their name to go forward for nomination in elections for General Synod of our church will be made aware that at the next General Synod in Nandi, Fiji, in July, 2012, representatives of the Fijian Military will be present, checking the General Synod papers do not include any matters they do not like, hovering anxiously lest something is said out of place, and initimidating media representatives into only publishing material agreeable to the military junta running that country. Goodness knows what the military will do if one of the members of the General Synod makes a speech critical of the illegal Fijian government, but I hope they will realise their liability to be put on the next plane back to Aotearoa New Zealand or to Samoa or to Tonga. That is, if they come from such islands. You can be sure no resident of Fiji will say anything critical as they know what the consequences will be.

If you are getting the impression that I won't be standing for General Synod you are on my wavelength. I am not going near that country to take part in the parliament of our church subject to constraints on freedom of speech. I just hope that our church will be clear at its diocesan synods and hui amorangi what membership of General Synod in 2012 is going to involve so that those who do allow themselves to be nominated realise what they are letting themselves in for.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cardboard Cathedral for Christchurch

Yesterday it was announced to the world that there is a plan for a temporary new cathedral for Christchurch to be built out of cardboard. Think very solid cardboard tubes, not cardboard boxes! Here is a picture of the envisaged design:

You can read all about it here.
Members of the Diocese of Christchurch will be informed about this exciting new development as they read their copies of The Press this morning, or browse, or Anglican Taonga.

PS Light blogging over next week or so as work deadlines and duties need to be met and fulfilled.