Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Hopeful Epiphany

With best wishes to all readers ...

... a little blog holiday, a respite from posting, a temporary withdrawal from Anglicana is in order.

ADU will be taking a holiday from posting anything from 24 December 2011 to 8 January 2012. Comments may be posted from time to time. And if the sky falls on our heads but leaves the internet on, I may post on such an event.

Note re yesterday's (23 Dec) quakes in Christchurch: I and my family are safe. They were bad shakes and things fell over but we are okay.

Postscript petition: if worldwide Christianity could agree on one thing, could it please be that preachers at Christmas time will not spend time during their sermon casting doubt on the virginity of Mary at the time of her conception of Jesus?! It is quite offensive to innocent believers, to say nothing of disrespect to our Lord and his Mother to air these thoughts when people are gathered to squeeze as much joy and celebration out of the occasion of our Lord's birthday as possible. It also tends to undermine the occasion. So, as I was thinking when hearing this pretentious claptrap one Christmas, Jesus was not born of a virgin mother, in any case such stories were a dime a dozen in the ancient world, and biology had not been invented as an NCEA subject which Matthew and Luke studied, what was special about Jesus which led to all this invented biography, to say nothing of imagined biology? I imagine if I turned up at Easter to hear this particular preacher I would hear the resurrection undermined so we would be left with, oh, Jesus the home spun wisdom spinner was quite a guy and impressed some people to ... make stuff up about him. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. For clarity: (a) the sermoniser behind this petition was not an Anglican colleague; (b) I am not against people airing their doubts about any doctrine or celebration of Christianity, but in the case of Christmas and Easter I am against these occasions and their sermons being the event in which doubts and unbeliefs are aired.

Postscript: BISHOP JOHN SPONG note: readers here know I think BISHOP (he is still recognised as such by TEC) John Spong is one of the most dangerous heretics around because he undermines the Christian faith on a global scale. Well, what do we find in the Christchurch Press on Christmas Eve? A feature article entitled 'Divine Intervention?' in the 'Your Weekend' magazine, pp. 4-6. As usual for our Kiwi secular media it serves up scorn and scepticism about the miracles of God in Jesus Christ which lie at the core of the gospel. You do not need my help to guess that the major Christian "scholar" brought forward to substantiate that scorn and scepticism is BISHOP John Spong. No Christian feast can do without him undermining why we celebrate. Thanks John, not.

Reflective postscript: Matthew and Luke on the birth of Jesus are endlessly fascinating. Matthew starts Jesus at Bethlehem and has to tell a story of how Jesus gets to Nazareth. Luke starts Jesus (in the womb of Mary) at Nazareth and has to tell a story of how Jesus gets to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew seems driven by the need to make many Old Testament prophecies come true. Luke seems driven (as he is through Luke and Acts) by relating Jesus to the course of Roman history, seeking to pull off the remarkable feat of Jesus being a rival to Caesar who is no threat to Caesar. Is the absence of Herod's terror at the birth of Jesus in Luke's gospel an absence due to the impossibility of explaining how Jesus was not a threat to Caesar when his birth caused so much alarm to Herod?

John, incidentally, on the face of it has an ambivalent approach to Jesus being born at Bethlehem (7:40-52). Don Carson in his magisterial IVP commentary on John suggests we think of John being ironic here. Feeding off that thought I wonder if John is toying with us a little as readers as he reports this debate about whether the Messiah had to come from Bethlehem or not. Having read John 1:1-18, he implies, we should understand that it is immaterial whether the Messiah was born at Bethlehem or not because the ultimate 'birthing' of Jesus is from the heart of God, before time began.

In turn, the theology of the incarnation, whether we are in John 1:1-18 or Philippians 2:5-11, presents a paradox about the birth narratives of Jesus in respect of their historicity. If the creedal claim is true, that the Word was God and the Word became flesh, that 'though he was in the form of God [but] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form' (Philippians 2:5-7), then it is a small thing that the circumstances of the birth should line up with ancient prophecies, that a virgin should become pregnant through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, that visitors from far and near should turn up, and the local potentate catching wind of the birth should break out in cold sweat. But if we forget the creedal claims and focus on Matthew and Luke's narratives in isolation from the remainder of the New Testament, they look like cooked up stories, bolstering the sense of importance the adult life of Jesus has engendered.

In the end, while there is a strand of Old Testament forecasting the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem (highlighted by John's ambiguous passage in 7:40-52) which arguably necessitates any birth narrative placing the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, it is difficult to think of any OT passage which necessitates visits from wise men or from shepherds. If Matthew and Luke invented their respective visitations what led them to do so? Might we reasonably conclude that some significant visitations to Jesus did occur, Matthew reporting one and Luke another, and neither inventing what they reported?

Further reasonableness re history (?): Matthew and Luke each have traditions in their minds that tell them about Jesus' birth: shared traditions re Bethlehem as place of birth and Nazareth as place of upbringing, as well as of names of parents, and of the pregnancy occurring as a miraculous event; separate traditions about visitations (and for Luke, about John the Baptist's birth and connections to Jesus). Matthew tells his story in a manner which betrays his lack of knowledge that Joseph and Mary come from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as well as his Jewish presumptiveness that (of course) Jesus was circumcised and presented in the Temple, and fast forwards to the surprising appearance of the wise men and the consequences of the visit, fleeing to Egypt and sojourning there for a while. Luke tell his story in a manner which betrays either his knowledge of Roman censuses hidden to us, or his mucking about with the (even then) known facts of Roman censuses (in the cause, we might note, not of offering fulfilled OT prophecies, but of tying the birth of Jesus into the history of the Roman empire); as well as his ignorance of the actual date of Jesus' birth before Herod the Great died (or his convenient obscuring of that date). For reason given above, if he did know of the Herodian persecution he simply omits that part of the narrative.

In the end the 'contradiction(s)' often alleged between Matthew and Luke's accounts is, perhaps, more about the apparent contradiction of known historical facts within Luke's account re the invoking of Quirinius' association with an empire wide census, than about any straight contradiction(s) between Matthew and Luke's accounts. I know of no attempt to rescue Luke re Quirinius which offers a simple explanation of how Quirinius can be governor of Syria in the period immediately before Herod's death AND there was an otherwise unreported empire-wide census at the same time. There was a local regional census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, 6/7 A.D. so any harmonization between Luke and Matthew involves positing another period when Quirinius was Syrian governor and an otherwise unknown census which required people to return to their ancestral home towns. I am not saying such harmonization is impossible, just that it is not simple to do so. For a site which offers a case for harmonization yet simultaneously highlights the many difficulties re paucity or ambiguity or absence of evidence for Luke's report to be strictly true, see here.

Luke, we might point out, is a complicated historian. Yes, as often observed, he is an outstanding historian re many aspects of his narratives in respect of many dates (especially in the Book of Acts) and details (e.g. we are told that he had an impressive knowledge of ancient marinership; names of consuls are correct, etc). But consider this simple 'playing with time' which occurs within his own two volume narration of Jesus' mission: in Luke 24 the resurrection narrative is told in a manner such that everything narrated, from dawn discovery of empty tomb to ascension could have happened in one "24" hour day. But in Acts 1 he categorically states that everything from resurrection to ascension took place over a forty day period. Suddenly, Luke is hard to pin down re the history of the resurrection through ascension, and, given the significance of the resurrection and ascension, we have to confront the question that Luke the theologian shines more through this part of his two volume story than Luke the historian.

FINALLY for Christmas reflections, H/T Rosemary Behan for her alert in a comment below, John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar offers an excerpt from the Queen's Message which is brilliant, and his own excellent sermon re Christmas.

THINKING about the Anglican Communion and a theme for 2012 ... 'Give one good reason for ACC 2012 not to invite ACNA to join the Anglican Communion.' I will come back to this in 2012 but ...

Here is my thinking: when TEC ordained Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003 it opened a new chapter in Anglicanism. First, it declared that what other Anglicans think does not matter re an action deemed to be 'Anglican.' Secondly, it declared that the past is irrelevant to Anglicans acting as Anglicans. In this case the past includes the grain of Scripture, the Tradition and traditions of Anglicans, and Resolution 1.10 of just five years earlier. Thirdly, it underlined that previous rules, regulations, articles and canons pertaining to Anglicanism, especially the Thirty-Nine Articles, are indeed to be held lightly and let go if they stand in the way of a desired action. Fourthly, it stretched the concept of Anglican diversity yet further, while loosening the sense that 'diversity-in-unity' might be an important Anglican value.

If then we ask why ACNA could not be invited to join the Anglican Communion we should seek to be consistent in offering an answer to the question. We should not worry about what TEC thinks about making the invitation. We should set aside any concerns about lack of precedent for it or the weight of Tradition or traditions being against it. We should not invoke any ancient rules etc, and certainly not any canons of Nicea which talk about only one bishop with jurisdiction per region. As for such an invitation stretching the idea of what Anglican diversity means: we should welcome the invitation being made. Not only would it increase our diversity, it would be of no concern if it weakened our unity. Further, such an invitation would strengthen all Anglican claims to inclusiveness of the outsider and the marginalised.

We can in fact go further. If the Covenant is a bad idea because the crucial value at the core of the Communion is simply ++Desmond Tutu's "We meet" then what harm could be done by inviting a new member to the meeting? If the Covenant is a good idea for the Communion then we would have a potential barrier to ACNA being invited to belong to the Communion: what if it refused to sign the Covenant? At that point I think they should be refused membership.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The best ever Christmas sermon preached by an atheist?

I notice friends and colleagues drawing attention to this remarkable 'Address-in-Reply' speech by the co-leader of the Green Party, Russel Norman. Someone has already described it in terms of being the best ever Christmas sermon preached by an atheist. I happily concur.

God uses the unlikeliest of servants!

The rest of the speech is here:

You can read a transcript of the 'sermon' here.

Go the Greens!!

Behold, the tabernacle of the Lord

What a wonderful surprise this morning to pick up the Christchurch Press from my drive and open it up to a glorious photo on the frontpage of my friend and colleague, Mark Chamberlain illustrating an article about the many different places churches will meet in this year for Christmas services, including a magnificent marquee at St Barnabas' Fendalton where Mark is the vicar.

You can read the article here.

PS It looks like a purple shirt but in reality it is not. But there might be some ribbing from colleagues :)

UPDATE: On Christmas morning I and my family worshipped in this tabernacle - beautifully decorated, full of people (we were at 9 am, one of five services in the parish that morning), and with excellent presidential leadership by Philip Robinson and a great sermon by Mark.

Generally it would appear that, with kind weather, outdoors worship (following the quakes on 23rd December 2011) in Christchurch Anglican parishes went well. A lovely account of midnight worship under the Southern Cross for the St Michaels-and-All-Angels parish is given by Bosco Peters.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good news from America

Only the hard-hearted could not be pleased to find that some good things are happening among those Anglicans in North America who have felt the honest thing to do about their disagreement with TEC was to reform themselves in a different kind of Anglican way.

Two good bits of news in recent days.

First, a report on growth. Especially growth of young adults among the Anglican Church of North America congregations, Some of those congregations are new church plants. How cool is that!

Secondly, there has been a difficult melt down or break up (varying views on this) in the Anglican group known as 'AMiA' (which once was in what seemed to be an 'arm's length' relationship with ACNA). That is not the good news. The good news is that as the dust settles some sense is emerging from the leadership of the two groups resulting from the AMiA dust up, and that sense is to talk again with ACNA.
Reports from ACNA's ++Bob Duncan and from one part of the ex-AMiA suggest God is making this sad schism into an opportunity for re-union. How cool is that!

A united Anglican church in North America is vital to the future of Anglican/Episcopalianism in North America. While decline continues in ACCan and TEC the situation looks bleak for Anglicanism/Episcopalianism on that continent. Can a united array of Anglican alternatives into one Anglican Church of North America show the way forward?

Modern Church isn't very serious in its opposition to the Covenant

From a few sources my attention has been drawn to this article by Jonathan Clatworthy of Modern Church, entitled "Instead of the Anglican Covenant". The good thing about the article is that it takes seriously the last published words by ++Rowan on the Covenant, especially his question what alternatives there are to the Covenant, and offers to provide an alternative.

What is not so good is that the article does not take the Anglican Communion very seriously and it makes a surprising assumption for a writer who is clear thinking and offers many sensible thoughts about aspects of Anglican life.

The Anglican Communion is not a whites only, European/North American liberal values educated, Democrats- and Social Democrats-at-prayer sect. It is a 38 member Communion of people drawn from every continent, many cultures, a wide variety of educational backgrounds and an array of contexts in they seek to live out Christianity with an Anglican character, including societies in which opposing religious and political forces will jail, maim and even kill Christians. If we take this Communion seriously, and if we take seriously the possibility of holding this Communion together, we will look for more than an essay reminding us what bishops said at Lambeths past when it was mostly the white guys who gathered together about how theological discussion can solve all our problems given enough time and tolerance.

In that essay I would also expect a discussion on assumptions about Anglican diversity because that is what we do not get in this present offering. A discussion, that is, which notes the folly of assuming that diversity is infinite in Anglicanism and thus all things can be seriously considered in order to find the middling way, the compromise and so forth. Anglican diversity is not infinite. There is no discussion in Anglicanism about whether we should have bishops or baptise infants; and even less discussion about whether we should recognise the hierarchical primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Don't try raising those subjects in the expectation that you will be given a reasonable hearing and an opportunity to have your views considered in a tolerant theological discussion. Expect rather to be run out of the church. Some things are not up for discussion so it is quite proper as Anglicans to argue that other things are not up for discussion and quite improper for opponents, such as Jonathan Clatworthy, to insist that is bad form and should be so.

The fact of Communion life is that we have some who consider same sex partnerships a reasonable matter to discuss as part of possible Anglican diversity and we have those who do not think it part of our diversity at all.* Therefore it is folly to assume that we can invoke 'diversity' as a value which will enable us to move forward.

When Modern Church takes the Communion seriously I am sure we will get a better proposal than what is given by Jonathan Clatworthy.

(*For the record, because I seem to be much misunderstood on these matters, I am one who thinks that is a reasonable matter to discuss: on that I agree with Jonathan Clatworthy. In trying to take the whole Anglican Communion seriously I recognise that many Anglicans think differently to Jonathan and me.)

Covenant 7 - No Covenant 1

Trusty Kiwi reporter, David Virtue, brings news that the support for the Covenant around the Communion increases even in this week before Christmas. The Southern Cone has voted for the Covenant. This is an interesting development because the Southern Cone is, shall we say, on the more conservative end of the Communion spectrum, and there are opinions aroundabouts that the more conservative are going to vote 'No Covenant'. Anyway, building on my post below about the count having been counted by Mark Harris as 6-1 in favour of the Covenant, I reckon it is now increased to 7-1.

Where is the overall count heading?

I suggest the more that sign up the more likely the C of E is to sign up: it would be doubly embarrassing not to sign up. Not signing would be against the lead of the ABC but it could also be against the tendency of the former colonies (NZ excluded!!). In any case there are plenty of positive reasons for the C of E to sign up to the Covenant. If the C of E signs up I suggest others will pick up on this cue, alongside the cue of the trend of 7-1.

But what about those likely to not sign up? My recent "6-1" post highlighted the possibility that Australia would join ACANZP and TEC in not signing. ACCan is hard to predict - lots of reasons to think it will follow the lead of its sister church below the border, but it has so far shown itself to be somewhat canny in its bending with its discernment of the mind of the Communion. The 'hardcore' GAFCON churches might not sign, but even that is not, in my view, a foregone conclusion. Take Nigeria, for instance, with its CANA branch in North America, itself also part of ACNA: it cannot be unaware that CANA is part of giving ACNA Anglican 'legitimacy' as part of the Communion (albeit a 'legitimacy' not much recognised outside of the conservative end of the Communion spectrum). There is a logic here which leads to the conclusion that in the end Nigeria will sign to the Covenant in order to maintain its Anglican credentials. One might then apply similar logic to Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda.

So, in my view, 35-3 is not inconceivable. Realistically this one and that one will surprise us (one way or another) and the final count could be 31-7 or 30-8. Or some other figure if there are abstentions.

Incidentally I said earlier this week that my view is that the Covenant needs 80% minimum support to be  workable in the life of the Communion. That means a 31-7 vote or better (30-8 is 78.9% support for the Covenant).

And, I agree with those who say the vote of the C of E is decisive: a no from the C of E would make a nonsense of the Covenant as a Communion document.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

By adoption and grace

The latest edition of The Living Church in my letter box has an article by Bryan Crowe on Cranmer's Christmas collect ... here is the collect for our edification and prayers this Christmas:

Almighty God,
who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him,
and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin:
grant that we being regenerate,
and made thy children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by thy Holy Ghost;
through the same our Lord Jesus Christ,
who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit,

ever one God, world without end.

Interstingly, our NZPB makes modest changes to this (p. 556):

Almighty God,
you gave your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him,
and be born of the Virgin Mary;
grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewe by your Holy Spirit;
through our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Flesh became the Word

There is no better context to ponder the Incarnation than the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols (this year @ our Cathedral @ Christ's College Chapel). In my mental wandering I explored how John came to determine that 'the Word became flesh' given that little in the other gospels points directly to that conclusion, and, make what we will of the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives, it is not necessary to conclude that the virgin birth = divine Father, human mother = the Word became flesh.

Of course we can properly imagine that what John writes in 1:1-18 is revealed to him through the Spirit whom Jesus promises will lead the disciples into all truth. But revelation comes to human minds and needs to be received in order to be transmitted onwards. We may properly ask what was going on in John's mind that he readily wrote 1:1-18. Something lay there already, ready for the conviction that in Jesus Christ the Word became embodied in human flesh. What might that have been?

We know, reading further into John's Gospel, that he was convinced that Jesus Christ was 'Son of God' in some specific ways, most importantly for this exploration, 'Son of God' in a unity with God the Father. (We may recall that 'Son of God' could be used of Israel itself, but Israel and God in the first century, under the lordship of Rome, were not in a state which Israel could triumphantly acclaim as a unity). This unity between Father and Son is attested to in Matthew 11:25-27 and in Luke 10:21-22. Whether John knew these gospels as written documents or not, the gospel traditions apart from John attest to a conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son, and with the Father he had a relationship marked by intimacy and identity which spoke of unity in purpose and in will.

But if the Father and the Son were 'one', what did this mean for the overall course of the existence of the Son? Was this unity arrived at when the Holy Spirit baptised Jesus (Mark), or when Abraham obeyed God and set in train the genealogy of Israel (Matthew) or when Adam himself was created as the first human creature (Luke)? John pushes further and deeper into the mystery of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son. If Jesus speaks the words of God (the Johannine discourses), enacts the power of God (the signs), and represents himself as God with his people ("I am" declarations), is not God present in Israel in a manner new to Israel? In Jesus Christ the divine has broken the bounds of the Temple yet being present in such a way as not to destroy those in contact with the divine presence.

Where in the theology of Israel were the means of expressing this new development in God's relationship with Israel? How could God be present among his people in a direct way without destroying them?

Although not directly expounded in the Old Testament, many stories there are a theological engagement with a thorny philosophical problem: how can the divine (Infinite, Holy, Wholly Other) make connection with the human (Finite, Profane, Common)? God in God's Godness is an all consuming fire and cannot come near humanity if humanity is not to be destroyed. So the OT has stories of encounters with angels, with the minutest momentary sight of the glory of God, and develops talk about the Name of God, or the Glory of God and the like, in order to express real presence of God which is not so direct and raw that humanity cannot survive it.

But through the whole Old Testament there is one particular way in which God comes to Israel and spreads himself (so to speak) through the commonness and profaneness of Israel. This way is through the spoken words of God. How does Israel 'see' God and live? It hears what God says. Through the words of the prophets (including Moses) God comes near to his people; in receiving the words of God, the people enter into relationship with God without being destroyed. Indeed Israel comes to understand that the words of God are God's ways of acting in the world. Indeed the world itself comes into being from God by means of his words (or commands) being spoken. In the wisdom literature further insight is expressed: the words of God are collectively one personal word coming from God: Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-36).

When John theologises he does so in a context which has received some further insight. Wisdom coming from God not only created the world, it sustains the world as a core principle of its order, the Logos of Greek philosophy. So the stage is set for John to set forth the 'divine drama' in a fuller script than expressed in Matthew, Luke and Mark. In this fullness of disclosure through the Spirit, Jesus Christ the Son is one with God the Father because it has always been so, from before the beginning of time. (Indeed it would be less than oneness if there was a time when there was not unity between them).

But what kind of God (the Father united with the Son) can enter human existence and not destroy it? The simplest, safest, and, with respect to the OT, most sensible way for this to take place is for the Wisdom/Logos of God to take on human flesh. The Word of God as a speaking to humanity has already been the means for God to connect with humanity, but the speaking has been through prophets as 'servants' of God. Now the speech of God comes through one who is more than a servant, but shares with the prophets their common humanity.

The Word, so to speak, needed an appropriate or 'becoming' means to enter into human life in a new way. Flesh became the Word when the Word became flesh.

At Christmas time, in services such as Nine Lessons and Carols, the high point of all possible relevant readings is John 1:1-14. Rightly so. This is testimony to the true newness of God's work in the world, as well as to new truth of God, yet built on a foundation in the Scripture of Israel: God is with us, the Word has become flesh.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Covenant 6 - No Covenant 1

Faithful readers here know that the ADU view on the Covenant is that it needs very high support to work (say, minimum 80%, better 90%, ideal 98% in favour). 60% support or lower would be dead in the water stuff; 61%-79% could be terminally ill.

So what is the current count? I had not been counting up. But Mark Harris, bless him, has done the job for me at Preludium. It's 6-1 in favour.


Of course someone here will remind that my church is almost certainly going to say 'No' so that would be 6-2.

But that would be to reckon without my sunny, cheerful optimism, my 'it ain't over till it's over' and 'has anyone seen the fat lady singing' spirit. I shall wait until the carrier pigeon comes back from Suva in 2012 to tell me the actual General Synod vote before I yield on whether it will be 6-2 rather than 7-1.

'Cos here is the thing. Suppose by July 2012 when our GS meets the score is 12-1. Might that make our reps think twice about whether to go with the wave of the Spirit or resist it? To yield to the rangatiratanga of Christ or not?

Watch this space. Do not look away.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ACNA recognised as TEC is kind of unrecognised

The Anglican church in Sudan (i.e. the Episcopal Church of Sudan, with more members than all Episcopalians/Anglicans in the USA) has come out boldly and clearly and stated it is recognising ACNA as a fully orthodox church. At the same time it is distancing itself from most of TEC, and disinviting PB Jefferts Schori from coming to visit the ECS. T19 has links: here and here.

Just a blip or the next step in a tendency for the wider Communion to view the church it most desires fellowship in the USA to be ACNA rather than TEC?

Time will tell.

How did Jesus get to be what we believe him to be?

In the swirling debates about the historical Jesus one of the peculiar things about the gospel of Jesus is that the tellers of the gospel versions brought so many OT prophecies into the story. Some sceptics have proposed that the writers knew these prophecies, were committed to their fulfilment, and accordingly bent the facts about Jesus to fit with the prophecies (sometimes called 'prophecy historicised'). But in Advent, when some of these prophecies are read, we might pause and reflect on what those prophecies were principally focused on. In sum, they were focused on a new Davidic king and created an expectation of a new king of Israel coming (see, e.g. Matthew 2:2, which connects back to, at least, Jeremiah 23:5, "I will rise up for David a righteous Branch and he shall reign as king.")

In the context of Israel under the thumb of Herod (not wholly Jewish, in character not ruling as a Davidic king), himself a client of the Roman emperor (absolutely Gentile, not Davidic), this expectation could only have been of a politico-military ruler who, by implication, overthrew any other rulers over Israel.

That makes it all the more striking that the life of Jesus when told as a narrative, initially in oral stories, then in  written documents, drew into the telling OT prophecies about someone who would do what Jesus did not do: he did not become a politico-military ruler and he did not overthrow either Herod or Caesar.

What on earth led to this person who wielded neither sword nor sceptre being proclaimed as the one who precisely fulfilled the OT prophecies? Here the sceptics are in some trouble. Without the miracles in which Jesus established himself as a different kind of ruler (over nature, over sickness, over demons, over death) actually happening, it stretches credulity to think that a mere rabbi generated belief that this man was not only a great Teacher but also a great King.

But if the miracles as told did take place we have some credible reasons for understanding why the followers of Jesus thought he fulfilled the prophecies of their Scriptures. Beyond a sense of 'tricks' performed by Jesus as an ancient magician, something happened which transformed the understanding of these prophecies so they applied to this (so to speak) non-king who was King. On the one hand the resurrection of Jesus on this analysis was the clincher, and the event of the resurrection must have been more than an inner sense of joy transforming the grief of the disciples at the loss of their rabbinical leader. On the other hand, thinking about Christmas, it is likely that the story of Jesus was fuller than the one told by Mark, in which Jesus arrives on the scene, an adult with the barest of preparation heralding his arrival as the non-king who was King.

True, the birth narratives told by Matthew and Luke raise many questions: do their differences betray a lack of real knowledge about Jesus' birth and infancy so that for this part of Jesus' life, prophecy was being historicised? Yet both narratives agree on significant details (names of mother, putative father, Bethlehem as birthplace, Nazareth as place of upbringing, special conception). Neither feels compelled to tell their respective birth story as a definitive royal story. Matthew concentrates on Jesus being born as a rival king to Herod while Luke's attention to dates and census places Jesus as a rival king to the emperor himself. Were they madly inventing this part of Jesus' life to suit the conclusion reached by the early Christians after his resurrection? It makes sense, I suggest, to think that the conclusion reached had its antecedents before Jesus' might works as an adult: from the beginning of his life, indeed before the beginning, there were signs of God doing a great thing. Both Mary (according to Luke) and Joseph (according to Matthew) are prepared for the unexpected pregnancy as well as the unexpected life Jesus will lead. An extraordinary adult life has extraordinary preparation and development through infancy and youth.

All in the above paragraph is harder to 'prove' than the adult activities of Jesus, even among those of us who have faith in Jesus. The early Christians witnessed to Jesus' death and resurrection, not to his conception, birth and infancy. Martyrdom came to those who would not give up belief in the risen Jesus, not to those who insisted that Jesus spent time as an infant in Egypt. Yet the continuing drive to understand this non-king who was the King led to a deeper understanding of the origin of this King than even some specialness about his conception and birth. John writing the Fourth Gospel, almost certainly the last to be written, and (in my view) likely written in full knowledge of the first three gospels, says this King (John 18:28-19:22) existed before the beginning of time, the Word who was God became human flesh (1:1-14).

From the Johannine perspective everything about Matthew and Luke's birth narratives is credible: the Word became flesh makes angelic messages, miraculous conception, and comparisons between the baby Jesus and Herod or Caesar so to speak 'minor miracles' beside the 'great miracle' of the Incarnation.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The folly of liberalism mercilessly exposed

Christopher Hitchens' famous columnist, author of books and 'New Atheist' has lost a long and public fight with cancer. His recent collection of columns, Arguably is part of my bedside book collection.

Bryan Owen has posted on a brilliant interview between Hitchens and someone who seems to render liberal theology in perfect stereotype.

I love the report about Barth on Tillich ... and Tillich, may readers here never forget, was Spong's teacher. Like a sponge the latter absorbed all the moisture present in the fog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oz and NZ influence on the PNG Anglican church waste of time?

For years the Australian and New Zealand Anglican churches have supported the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea. We have sent priests, missionaries, theologians, Bible translators. You might think we would have taught them a thing or two. Take the Covenant. The Australian influence should have led to a deep ambivalence about the Covenant. Ditto, we might wonder also, the C of E SPG influence. The Kiwi influence should have led to an outright rejection of the Covenant. What is it about our theological presuppositions which have not translated well?

But no. Waste of time. The PNG Anglican church has agreed to the Covenant. How could they? Indeed, how dare they get to agree to the Covenant before either "big bro" church has sorted itself out and made its own decision in order to lead the churches of the South Pacific. Now our church could be in the embarrassing position of  falling out of step with a local sibling.

What should we do? Can the situation be redeemed?

Well, we could humbly learn from the theological rationale given by the Primate of the PNG Anglican church:

"“Anglican” was one of the styles of Christianity brought to this land and people near the end of the nineteenth century”, he wrote. “It never pretended to be the only form of Christianity, but it did reflect how one part of the Christian family had developed, built on the importance of scripture, creeds, sacraments and episcopal order. Today we try to combine our Anglo-Catholic theological heritage and personal discipleship to the Lord Jesus in the way we witness to the five marks of mission with our ecumenical partners in PNG and our Anglican partners overseas.

“Communion”, in our understanding, describes a particular kind of close relationship which both ensures autonomy and requires responsibility. It is an expression of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and as such is a precious gift to God’s people. It clearly requires mutual respect, open communication and patience in dealing with issues that threaten it. In recent decades we have been saddened by the apparent lack of these things in the controversies concerning the ordination of women and issues of human sexuality.”

He went on to say that the bishops felt it was important to remember the need to pray for unity beyond just the Anglican Christian tradition. “Anglicans are only part of the wider Christian “communion” that is the Church of God, which must have an important role in discerning the truth. Anglicans, we believe, have been called to live a particular style of Christian witness which, because it is less juridical and confessional than that of some others, clearly requires a high level of mutual concern and respect."
Good theology. Go PNG!

(H/T Taonga).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ADU Sponsors Society of Salt and Light Festival 2012

Every cent of advertising income on ADU goes to sponsor worthy initiatives such as the Festival of Salt and Light which the Society of Salt and Light is organising for February 2012. Since the advertising revenue on this site is quite low, not as low as less than zero, but close to it, the next best thing I can do is run their promo video. Some irony may be involved. Also older folk like me will recognise the ersatz 1970s style shot by people born after the 1970s ended ...

The characters behind this festival are inspiring. It is a privilege to work with them in this Diocese.

Just too much going on for prolific posting

Light posting this week as the clock runs down for my place of work, Theology House, to find new premises for 2012. We are looking for a place, likely a residential house, to locate ourselves in for 2012 in order to give ourselves breathing space while seeking a more permanent location. That breathing space would allow for some strategic planning, as well for other decisions to be made regarding the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch and its diocesan buildings. The way Christmas and New Year work in NZ (i.e. major annual holiday season) if one does not get some things sorted by Christmas one may as well come back to them in late January ... and I have promised to be out of our temporary premises by 1 February 2011. Four properties to inspect today!

For those who have also been reading Taonga, or for locals reading the Christchurch Press there is an ongoing story, with near daily articles, and many letters to the editor, about the fate and future of our cathedral. This matter is sorely trying the patience of some with high hopes of its restoration and demanding great wisdom on the part of others who are trying to discern what engineers' assessments of damage mean in the context of strong local passions about a building which is no ordinary cathedral. (In my view only Nelson and Christchurch cities in our country have attachments to their Anglican cathedrals tied up with their own identities as cities). Although I am not involved in the 'media story' which is unfolding, it has been distracting on my thinking because there is food for thought in the story: what is the mood and mind of the people of Canterbury in respect of attachment to the cathedral? How do we move forward in respect of the cathedral which is both one of many churches damaged and the great icon of our city? That story and its 'food for thought' is tied into the larger set of matters the Diocesan Strategic Working Group is engaged in: the future of the whole of the Diocese of Christchurch ... a couple of meetings this week being part of the tide moving me away from solid blogging. Oh, that's right, blogging is a hobby not a job: priorities Peter!!

Somehow in the midst of the extraordinary challenges of this year's end, quite a lot of ordinary challenges are also with us - planning programmes, drawing up budgets, attending obligatory feasts and celebrations.

So light posting even as quite a bit of tumult is happening in Anglicanland: Diocese of South Carolina, AMiA (and associated acronyms), IASCUFO's report ... Thinking Anglicans, Taonga, VirtueOnline keep us in touch!

PS The recent cricket test was a bit distracting too this week. Did I mention for Australian readers that New Zealand won by seven runs?

PPS I will take comments here on our cathedral and its future, but not on people mentioned in the Taonga articles ... there is a comment facility there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Unexpected sensitivity

This is St Matthew's in the City, Auckland's billboard for Christmas 2011 (H/T Taonga):

Compared to other years and their provocative "let's see how many fellow Christians we can offend" billboards, this get's 10/10 for sensitivity to fellow Christians: Mary was really pregnant and it was a surprise to her.

St Matthew's are looking for captions. Here is mine:

"Now I am in trouble. Joseph told me to trust the angel and not waste money on a test kit."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Has any bishop ever done the unpredictable or the unexpected?

I am sure there are bishops around about, and discoverable from Anglican history who have done surprising things, throwing the predictions of others into chaos or upsetting the expectations of others with an unexpected action. To an extent, of course, Archbishop Rowan Williams has, in the eyes of some, done and said unexpected things, especially if comparison is made between his Academic Self and his Episcopal Self - in the eyes of others, however, it should be noted, he is Hegelian in his predictability: thesis, antithesis, synthesis, anti-synthesis, syn-anti-synthesis, anything to keep the conversation going round and round and on and on. The only surprise would be a decision which stops the conversation!

Certainly my suggestion that bishops for the most part run along train tracks and grooves of predictability receives great support from two episcopal companions on the Anglican road (not that everyone wants to break bread with them). Some thought these companions had retired to the Great Rest Home for Bishops, fading away from our reckoning like the sun enshrouded by the mist.

But, no! They yet liveth. Did someone let them out for the afternoon? Did a Lambeth official give them a pass key to re-enter the public domain? Either way, they have blessed us with their predictability; they have not let us down by doing anything surprising or unexpected. They are utterly reliable, which is more than can be said for most New Zealand sports teams or the NZ Labour Party.

Drum roll for Bishop John Spong:

"In his address, Spong declared Christianity's "old symbols increasingly are bankrupt ... [and] the new symbols have not yet fully arisen so that they are recognized." He compared the present day with that of Augustine, Aquinas, or the 16th-century Reformers - a moment of "paradigm shift" that "calls for the death of what has been and the birth of what is to be - and that is never a comfortable time." In particular, he said, the titles "savior," "redeemer," and "rescuer" applied to Jesus in liturgies, hymns, and sermons have "become bankrupt, useless, and even distorted ... I think all of them have got to go." " [H/T Bryan Owen at Creedal Christian].
That man is perfectly predictable. Has he had a new and surprising thought since, oh, I do not know, about 1975?

Ah, dear reader, you are thinking to yourself, PC is, once again, having a go at the Anglican left. Indeed I am. But I can do balance, so drums at the ready for the next roll, this time in the direction of the Anglican right.

Drum roll for Archbishop Peter Akinola:

"Archbishop Peter Akinola, retired Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, has enthusiastically endorsed Nigeria’s anti-gay bill which would impose criminal penalties on same-sex unions and LGBT gatherings." [H/T Thinking Anglicans].
That man also, is perfectly predictable. Would it enter his head to offer something by way of a compassionate and humanitarian thought about his fellow countrymen and women?

He and Spong do not share that gene of unpredictability. Do not blame them folks. They have been made the way they are! Cue debate: did God make them that way? Is it a result of structural sin in the Anglican church constructing them the way they are? Is predictability of the esse of Anglican bishops or the bene esse? Should we blame their fathers? Their school teachers (rote learning?)?

If only that Lambeth official could find them and help them back into retirement. We need some excitement in the Anglican Communion and what could be more exciting than to discover an Anglican bishop saying something unexpected? Like ...

+Mark Lawrence: "I have invited ++Katharine Jefferts Schori to speak at our next diocesan convention."

++Peter Jensen: "Darn it, I will ordain Genieve Blackwell."

+Chuck Murphy: "I go out to the letterbox each day to see if further instructions have arrived from Rwanda."

++Rowan Williams: "Hegel? I have moved on. Ayn Rand is my new guru."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Moore College Graduate Options: Become a Woman Bishop!

I am delighted to see that the Australian Anglican Church is increasing the number of woman bishops. It has (3), steaming away from AotNZ and Polynesia (1), and leaving England (0) in its wake. Given the humiliation of Australia in the cricket test today (Go the mighty Black Caps!!), some crumbs of the comfort of success should be granted to Australia (who did not win the Rugby World Cup, had we mentioned that here on ADU?).*

In reading the article linked to above I note that Genieve Blackwell was once a student at Moore College, Sydney. Various things are assumed about Moore College and what is taught there in respect of woman in ministry - often based on myth and not fact, but we can be assured that what is taught there does not preclude a genuine option in future ministry for female graduates: episcopacy!

Though probably not an option in Sydney itself where no signs of change are emerging. Indeed Archbishop Peter Jensen will not take up his traditional metropolitanal right to ordain bishops in his jurisdication:

"Although as Metropolitan of NSW Dr Jensen would usually conduct the consecration, he has asked the Bishop of Newcastle, Brian Farran, to do so in his place.

The diocese of Sydney remains one of the few in the Australian Anglican Church that does not ordain women as priests.

''I very much admire Genieve Blackwell,'' Dr Jensen said. ''However, I regret I am not able to take part in the service for reasons of conscience.'' "
That is quite an interesting statement from ++Peter. I am glad it is a question of "reasons of conscience" and not of "theological opposition."

Meantime, pray for Genieve ... and for her cricket team :)

*OK. Some news services are carrying an item about Australia beating us at Hockey.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thinking Anglicans Think, Don't They?

Ron Smith at KiwiAnglo's Blog draws attention to Malcolm French at Simple Massing Priest making a simple point about ++Rowan Williams and the Covenant, namely that he seems to say one thing when talking about the Anglican Communion and its need for a Covenant (for which there is no alternative) and the Porvoo Communion (of northern European Anglican and Lutheran churches) and its lack of a need for a Covenant, in particular noting the latter Communion is able to agree to disagree on same sex blessings.

Ron diplomatically fails to communicate the abrasive nature of French's comments about the Archbishop, but a sentence such as this, "In an intellectual fiddle which should be an embarrassment to any current or former academic, the Archbishop's defence of his pet project makes less sense than Glenn Beck on acid," is not a compliment.

But what is embarrassing is finding people who presumably think of themselves as thinking Anglicans (including Episcopal Cafe which also publishes excerpts of French's post) not thinking about the differing situations of the Anglican and Porvoo Communions. The only fiddle of an intellectual nature going on is in the logic which avoids analysis of the two quite different situations. The Porvoo Communion is a communion which has arrived at a point of agreeing to disagree and has made a statement which reflects that state of affairs. The Anglican Communion is a communion which has not arrived at a point of agreeing to disagree and under ++Rowan's leadership is trying to find a way to live with disagreement. The Covenant is a statement (so to speak) which reflects that state of affairs. If it comes into operation it may yet lead to a situation in which we agree to disagree, not least because it is a mechanism for member churches to keep talking to each other about what they differ on.

If the Covenant does not come into effect there is no alternative strategy being worked out for the whole Communion which would keep us in communion though, as canvassed in recent comments on this blog there are one or two possibilities for a way forward for  a majority of the current Communion to be some kind of formal Communion together (albeit based on agreement and not on agree-to-disagree).

A few moments' thought shows that ++Rowan Williams is a consistent leader, adeptly responding as best he can in different situations, all driven by desire to hold as many Christians together in one body as possible. Even as he does his best he is heavily criticised, whether abrasively, as French does, or more gently as commenters here have been doing recently.

Poor guy. Can't win! At least that's what I think!

Friday, December 9, 2011

What was the event of the resurrection?

The united, unequivocal witness of the New Testament is that Jesus rose from the dead. That conviction permeates gospels and epistles, it drives the apostolic mission forward, and it underpins the looking forward to the End of all things in Revelation.

But what gave rise to that conviction? If we focus on Paul then we have an example of someone in our situation: he had not (as far as we know) met Jesus in his wanderings, but he had engaged with Christians who believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and he encountered the risen Jesus in an experience which, though more 'spectacular' than most of us testify to, was nevertheless an experience of Jesus after the point in time when any claims were being made that he was appearing routinely in the first days and weeks after his resurrection in earthbound ways (e.g. eating, drinking, meeting with people).

One question biblical scholars have asked, noting Paul's presence in the chain of appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:6-8, is whether there was a difference between Paul's experience at the (we could say) post-Ascension end of this chain and the pre-Ascension experiences of Cephas at the beginning of the chain. This is a tricky (if not, trick) question. Answer 'yes' and the next question follows: how is the difference to be described? Your answers in the comments would be welcomed ... but don't worry if you start and give up! Answer 'no' and some scholars pounce, "Ah, you see, there is no necessary link between the empty tomb narratives and the appearance narratives. In fact, could we not say that the empty tomb narratives are rather clever stories invented by the gospel writers to provide a semblance of an objective 'event' based support for the subjective events of experiencing the risen Jesus through his appearances?"

To go back to the beginning of this post: one difficulty with working through the many critical questions raised about aspects of the resurrection narratives is that a forest of trees grow up which prevent the wood being seen.

Whether the gospel narratives are recounted, or the epistles reread, the unmistakeable conviction of the New Testament writers is that Jesus rose from the dead.

This conviction, I suggest, goes beyond 'a few followers of Jesus saw appearances of Jesus and convinced others that he had risen from the dead' or 'after a period of despair and sorrow the disciples began to feel differently about things, hope sprang to life in their human hearts and they began to think this meant that Jesus was not dead but lived on in their midst.'

It was a conviction that Jesus as the person Jesus, not as a ghostly appearance resembling the pre-crucified Jesus and not as a feeling in their hearts that life was on the up, was no longer dead. He had risen from the dead, escaped the shackles of death, fought and beaten the last enemy death. Jesus was alive. "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev. 1:18). This conviction was certainly consistent with the testimonies in the gospels to the empty tomb, to meetings with Jesus in everyday situations including a barbie on the beach (John 21), and to his ascending visibly to the Father (Acts 1). But the conviction goes beyond experiences of Jesus being alive after death (so that, for instance, his resurrection was on a par with Lazarus') to a conviction that he would be 'alive forevermore' and that he had power or 'the keys' over 'Death and Hades.'

So the tomb was empty and that helped with the conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead; but the conviction was driven along by other forces at work in the Christian community, and it continues to be driven along by those forces: the Holy Spirit and the Word of God expressed through reading and teaching the Scriptures.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Troubles with the resurrection

I gave my paper on the resurrection narratives at the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies annual conference the other day. Generally speaking I spoke about the narratives and their possible contribution to history in a way which was naive and positivist, that is, I did not take sufficient account of the progress of historiography both in general terms and with particular reference to the history of Jesus. However I have secured a likely publication in a revamped Stimulus journal (some NZ readers will know of it - it is currently in abeyance but is going to be, well, resurrected next year), so one task at present is a radical rewrite of my paper into something less susceptible to criticism when published.

Part of what I would like to tackle in the revision is the question of how we say something briefly yet substantively about the resurrection. There are a lot of 'troubles with the resurrection' - questions and issues which multiply upon one another, partly because of the differences in gospel accounts, and partly because of differences between the gospels and Paul's account of the tradition he received (1 Corinthians 15). Dealing with these troubles can take a big book, and has done so in one of the most recent apologia, Tom Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God.  Another recent book, Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach is no thinner.

But practically speaking many Christians deal with resurrection troubles in situations where it is inappropriate to say, "Look, read this massive book, it will answer all your doubts." Many Easters one of our media outlets publishes a "Resurrection Troubles" article which is just a few pages long and the main avenue of response would be a letter to the editor of 150 to 200 words in length. Or, around that time, a preacher might respond to the troubles which sit within our sceptical culture but has at most 30 minutes to tackle the troubles (which might be 3000 words or less). So, as I rework my own troubled offering on the resurrection narratives, one of my "driver" questions will be, Can we say anything worthwhile about the resurrection in a concise form?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dean Journeying In Service of the People

Our Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, Peter Beck is resigning his position to take up an opportunity to stand for a position on our city council. Read the story here and here. I have known Peter for a few years, since he was Vicar of St Matthew's in the City, Auckland. A hallmark of his ministry has been serving the people in the community around him. Standing for the council - I think he has a very good chance of succeeding - will be a continuation of that service.

Marked +men

Two bishops in North America are in the gun. One is often mentioned here, +Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina. Recently he dodged a bullet when complainst brought against him acting in a non-TECnical manner were dismissed. Now a different approach is being taken about his recent "quitclaim" action (empowering parishes to hold title to their properties - quite a heresy according to the Nicene Canons, not). He has received a "please explain" letter as you can read here. Nice touch quoting Scripture and all that: as we know well, proof-texting goes down a treat in North American Anglo-Episcopalian circles when dealing with some issues, not. But none dare speak of consistency ... let alone conspiracy these days!?

I have met Kendall Harmon, presider of the T19 blog/news service. He seemed a mild mannered man - but in a comment on his own site to the above letter he is hopping mad.

Meanwhile, a good reason for +Mark to be believed that he wants to stay in TEC is that TEC is comparatively sane and sensible, and - this is quite important in Anglican polity where bishops can exert inappropriate influence - large enough for one person not to dominate proceedings. Comparison here is with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) which has been a Rwandan-connected Anglican church in North America for a decade or so, led locally by Bishop Chuck Murphy, but under the oversight of the Rwanda House of Bishops. Recently AMiA distanced itself from ACNA. Now it is distancing itself from Rwanda. Bit of a trend, it seems. Also an AMiA bishop has resigned, seemingly unable to work with +Chuck anymore. But Rwanda has had enough, saying to +Chuck Murphy, Stop leading AMiA away from Rwanda or cease to lead AMiA. +Chuck is in their gunsight.

UPDATE: Changing metaphors (it could get a bit messy talking further about pointing guns), +Chuck and some but not all AMiA +colleagues have jumped before pushed. Stand Firm has the details here, with key letters here and here (letter of resignation from Rwanda House of Bishops).

Incidentally, it would be a mistake to jump from "AMiA meltdown" to "North American Anglicanism meltdown." The question to ask is whether AMiA is suffering from one style of episcopacy rather than another; the supplementary question to ask is whether ACNA suffers from AMiA's style of episcopal leadership. As far as I know, ACNA is not suffering in that manner.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why Don't We Let Bloggers Run The Communion Since They Know Best?

Thinking Anglicans carries links and citations from some bloggers critical of ++Rowan's support for the Covenant in his Advent letter.

But here is the thing. ++Rowan is supporting a Covenant which has been proposed, drafted, redrafted, developed, and spread around the Communion according to a Communion process, all stemming originally from the Windsor Commission. I am supporting ++Rowan as he support a Covenant which has been proposed ... according to a Communion process.

People are well entitled to criticise the Covenant (they have done, they do, and they will do). According to the process quite a lot of criticism adjusted drafts along the way. But the process cannot go on for ever. A decision about a final draft had to be made for traction on a Covenanted Communion to begin (should every member church vote for it). That final draft is circulating, being considered, and voted upon. By all means criticise the Covenant within one's own member church in order to influence the vote within that church.

To an extent these bloggers are doing that. But I think they are going further, straying into 'I know better than the Communion' territory. (By implication also 'I know better than the ABC' territory but I guess he will retire one day so a blogger might get a shot at the Top Job!)

There is also an element of 'Endless Talking' is better than 'Making a Decision' in these ideas. But perhaps I am misreading them. Just as I have misread the Covenant all along :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Working on the resurrection in Advent

I know it is Advent but a biblical studies conference beckons and I am working on a paper on the resurrection, exploring the historicity of the empty tomb.

That, a sermon tomorrow on a collect (see below), and a series of obligatory social events (two lunches, two dinners, one ball in the space of three days) are taking up precious blogging time :)

Meantime, in a slow way, the resurrection of Theology House is proceeding, but we have not quite clinched a deal on a new location so I can only prophesy that resurrection, not give an eye-witness account of it!

Here's the collect:

O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power

and come among us,

and with great might succour us;

that whereas, through our sins and wickedness

we are grievously hindered

in running the race that is set before us,

your bountiful grace and mercy

may speedily help and deliver us;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,

be honour and glory, now and forever. Amen.

(Church of England - Common Worship. Based on collect originally from Gelasian Sacramentary and translated and adapted by Thomas Cranmer)

Friday, December 2, 2011

NZ Anglican church embarrassing itself?

In just under a year's time my church hosts the Anglican Consultative Council in Auckland. This meeting will have high on its agenda progress in support of the Covenant. By then our church is likely to have followed the logical consequence of Maori rejection of the Covenant and rejected it at General Synod in Fiji 2012. Are we embarrassing ourselves by continuing to be the host of this meeting?

The embarrassment would not be simply that we will have rejected the Covenant by then but that we will have nothing to offer in place of the Covenant as a constructive alternative pathway for the good health of the Communion. Our argument against the Covenant is largely focused on mythical views of the Covenant - that it will affect our sovereignty (this is a specific concern of Maori, relating to tino rangatiratanga, but it is a concern of Pakeha), that it will be punitive.

But, you say, our views are not based on myths. This is the reality of the prospective Covenant, is it not? Try this from the Man himself, the ABC, ++Rowan Williams (paragraphing and emphases mine):*

"This of course relates also to the continuing discussion of the Anglican Covenant. 

How it is discussed, the timescale of discussion and the means by which decisions are reached will vary a lot from Province to Province.  We hope to see a full report of progress at next year’s Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting. 

In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body.  With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all.  It sets out an understanding of our common life and common faith and in the light of that proposes making a mutual promise to consult and attend to each other, freely undertaken.  It recognizes that not doing this damages our relations profoundly.  It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. 

It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces.  It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function. 

I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity.  In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future."
As if our minds are dulled, and our hearts are hardened, ++Rowan goes on in the next numbered paragraph of his Advent letter to write:

"These questions are made all the more sharp by the fact that the repeated requests for moratoria on problematic actions issued by various representative Anglican bodies are increasingly ignored. Strong conscientious convictions are involved here. No-one, I believe, acts out of a desire to deepen disunity; some believe that certain matters are more important than what they think of as a superficial unity. But the effects are often to deepen mutual mistrust, and this must surely be bad for our mission together as Anglicans, and alongside other Christians as well. The question remains: if the moratoria are ignored and the Covenant suspected, what are the means by which we maintain some theological coherence as a Communion and some personal respect and understanding as a fellowship of people seeking to serve Christ? And we should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit."
You are the man, ++Rowan. Don't back down. Tell it like it is. But will we listen?

Will we do the theological hard yards in ACANZP to work out what our understanding of the church is in relation to Christ Jesus himself?

Or will we settle for a 'mess of pottage', for an amalgam of myths about the Covenant, interesting thoughts about what the Spirit is saying to the 'No Covenant' movement but to no one else, and contradictory logic in which Anglican churches may have their constitution and canons but the Communion may only have a schedule of meetings to which less and less people come?

*Declaration of interest: I am hoping the ABC will give a theological lecture in Christchurch while he is in Aotearoa, arranged by Theology House. I am thinking the title of the lecture could be, "Why I think my hosts are wrong about the Covenant but could yet change their minds!" Mind you that might only fill a small hall. I think ++Rowan could fill quite a large arena here in Christchurch with a topic such as "Why I think Richard Dawkins is wrong but could yet change his mind for these reasons!" or "The gospel of love in a world of conflict and competition."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


First week in Advent. Thinking again about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus. Preparation for that coming includes the church being prepared as a bride for her husband. Just as a bride is thoroughly looked at on her wedding day - the dress, the hair, the flowers ... so we will be judged. What will the Lord find?

An aspiration we can have as that well prepared bride is to be pure and spotless. To be the church God wants us to be, without addition or subtraction. A few weeks ago a memorable phrase was posted on The Conciliar Anglican with respect to Anglican attempts to be and to model for all churches that pure prepared bride:

"Anglicanism offers the pure Gospel, without anything being added or taken away"

In the context of the post the possible "added" things was a reference to Romanism and the possible "taken away" things was a reference to Puritanism. But today we can think of other matters which might constitute additions or subtractions from an Anglicanism which offers pure Gospel. As time permits through Advent I will offer a few thoughts on these matters.

In conclusion today I simply offer this: when the controversies of today's Communion are peeled back to find the core, it is about the gospel: what it is, and whether the Anglican church (here, over there, and everywhere present on the globe) offers that gospel and only that gospel. Being Anglican is only important if it is Christian discipleship faithful to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Everything we do is measurable according to that standard. Anything we do which fails that standard should be left behind, like the bride-to-be's everyday clothes when she steps down the aisle in her wedding gown.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reason Prevails In TEC's Display of Sanity

Readers here may recall a few weeks back that a series of posts spoke about charges being considered against Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina. My personal opinion was that if these charges proceeded then TEC would be heading down a pathway that made it very difficult to maintain a good relationship with this church, because essentially they would be pursuing an Anglican bishop for being, well, Anglican.

Well, some good news all round, for Bishop Lawrence, for TEC, and for those who believe that TEC really does want to be an Anglican church in an Anglican Communion: the charges have been dropped!

Excellent news. Reason has prevailed as TEC has shown its sanity.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Vicar for Avonhead

For a long time now the growth and development of the Parish of St Christopher's Avonhead - the largest parish in the Diocese of Christchurch, also in the South Island, and among the largest three or four in all Aotearoa NZ - have been much noted in conversations around our church, perhaps especially in the South Island, and perhaps most particularly among evangelical/charismatic Anglicans. For some twenty years the vicar at the helm of that growth and development was Mike Hawke. About fourteen months ago Mike moved onto another position and the search process since then has had a hiccup (when an announced vicar-designate decided not to come to the position). Nevertheless the show (so to speak) has carried on wonderfully, especially facing the post-quake missional challenges in Christchurch, with Bryden Black (commenter here) as Helmsman in Charge. And many questions being asked through many months about when a new vicar would be found, could a new vicar be found, where would a new vicar be found, so many in fact that it seemed that this (obviously) lost vicar would never be found.

Well the good news is that the new vicar has been found. Sort of under the noses of the nominators. It was announced yesterday that the next Vicar of Avonhead, Christchurch will be Ian Smith, currently Vicar of Spreydon, Christchurch.

Ian is a very experienced minister who will be a superb leader for Avonhead. I am slightly, okay, quite a lot biased in favour of Ian: he and I were once colleagues in the Diocese of Nelson! Also, it is true that he often laughs at my jokes. Not everyone does.

NZ Aot Anglican church needs to reconnect with all Kiwis, not just the chosen minority

The election results at the weekend shout out to our leadership to connect with the reality of NZ politics rather than their perceptions of NZ politics. A few days ago I posted this provocation (or prophecy?) by one of our few Three Tikanga church officers,

"Christians can’t afford to vote National because if they do they will align themselves with the wealthy landowners of which the Bible speaks, and in doing so will alienate themselves from Christ’s love and presence."
You will not find any disavowal on the internet of this statement by any of our bishops, which is not to say any agree with it, but it is to say that they seem unwilling to check this kind of statement being made on one of our church's websites, as an expression of a viewpoint from one near the top of the administration of our church. I note on the original site of the posting that 159 people "Like" the posting, one of whom is another prominent leader in our church. I consider at least one of the commenters to the post who supported it to be another prominent leader of our church.

The statement above, being charitable, is simply an excessive expression of a viewpoint among our senior leadership over many years now in which the National Party and its approach to economic and social issues is always part of the problem not the solution.

In the citation above it is taken for granted that the National Party is solely and exclusively the vehicle of 'wealthy landowners'. But that is not how the people of Aotearoa New Zealand see the situation our country is in. I think John Armstrong of the NZ Herald is on the money about what happened on Saturday as he gives six reasons why National won the election. Reasons 2 and 6 are the important ones in this context: the economy, and concern about debt. (Incidentally, I suggest there is a seventh reason, which has turned out to be a bit surprising: appreciation for the way National has handled the quakes in Christchurch has led to a significant change in support for the National Party in this city - I wouldn't have picked that from the way the local media has constantly highlighted the negative aspects of the government's response to the earthquakes.)

In other words, to explain the fact that National increased its support in the election, gaining a stronger mandate, rather than lost support as many governments do in successive elections, we can only say that the people have determined that the best interests of our country have nothing to do with kowtowing to the wealthy landowners. The logical conclusion to draw is that the majority of voters believe our 'brighter future' lies in a continuance of the current approach to managing the economy.

Vague theories about the current approach lining the pockets of wealthy landowners and making impoverished peasants of the rest of us lack connection with the sense of the people.

We kind of pride ourselves as a church here on being the church of and for the people of Aotearoa New Zealand: all are welcome, we are inclusive. We sing that chorus again and again. Well, do we mean it? Are the 48% of voters, up from the 45% in 2008, who supported National, to say nothing of the 52.5% who voted National, Conservative, ACT or United Future welcome in our church? Or are we the church who really feel most comfortable with the 38% who voted Labour or Green? (I won't attempt to characterise where the 2.4% who voted for either the Maori or the Mana Parties, or the 6.81% who voted for New Zealand First fit in this reflection: do they increase the 'right, conservative' side of our political life or the 'left, progressive' side or sit otherwise in the political spectrum?)

But to read some comments from some of our clerical leaders over the weekend (e.g. on Facebook) the result is terrible! But what is 'terrible'? That the people have spoken? (Perhaps we prefer dictatorship?) That people have been duped? (One could scarcely call our media sycophantic to the right wing.) That the majority of voters do not understand what is at stake in the choices before them about economic policy? (An underlying presumption here seems to be that clergy know best about the economics of helping the poor, but what if the voters are saying that they believe a strong economy built on as little debt as possible is the best way to help the poor in the long-term? Will we listen?)

As a church which intends (rather than pretends) to be serious about being inclusive and welcoming to all, we may have a serious problem on our hands. To the extent to which we tolerate the kind of statement cited above we are cutting ourselves off from the majority of New Zealanders. If we are serious about inclusivity and welcome then we need to make peace with that majority, with a humble leadership which is willing to learn from the wisdom of the majority, and an open mind to engage in the reality of economics. The metanoia or repentance required may not be on the part of the people of NZ but on the part of the Anglican clergy of NZ!

The alternative is that our church presents itself to NZ society as the church for a chosen minority: what the gospel really means for social and economic life is an amalgam of Labour and Green ideas. Implicitly we actually think the minority of Kiwis - for the left-wing of NZ life on average through the decades constitutes a minority - are the ones really favoured by God. But a church satisfied with reaching out to a minority of a society is a sect not a church ...

Sect or church? For and of all the people or just the chosen few? Which way will our church go as it lives into the reality of life today?

For the record, on Saturday I did not vote for National on either the electorate or the party vote.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


"As long as we understand our primary mission as preserving buildings, maybe we ought to welcome being tossed out."

Breaking news: man rises from the dead

Controversy is already breaking out among theologians over claims that a man has risen from the dead. Even though the body of Winston Peters has scarcely warmed up, disputes are raging already over claims that a resurrection has taken place. +J. Spongebob in a speed draft of a new book tentatively entitled Peters Denial argues that Winnie never really died, just became very weak, until a cup of tea revived him.

Against this 'revivification' theory is an alternative 'construction' theory promoted by communications expert Prof. R. Mordurch who says there is plenty of evidence that an anaemic NZ media, dependent on toxic substances, had never given up an addiction to Wacky Tacky politics and constructed an election campaign designed to reconstitute the presence of Winston Peters in the structure of parliament. No one is quite sure what this means, with some saying that effectively a hologram has been voted into parliament. Others are saying that even if it is a hologram it has more substance than John Key's smile.

But some firm believers in the possibility of resurrection are going around NZ preaching that the resurrection really has happened. That it is more than revivification through a cup of tea, and certainly not a media construction. A miracle has happened. The real body of Winston Peters will take his seat in parliament, eat and drink in restaurants around central Wellington again, and seek ascension to higher office. Already reports are seeping out that many NZers, some former Labour supporters, other older folk cherishing their Gold Cards like talismans, are telling of encounters with pictures of Winston on in which their hearts are strangely warmed, even burning within them.

There have also been warnings that this phenomenon will hang around New Zealand for more than forty days ... indeed the gloomiest predictions are that we might be stuck with Winnie for ever.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Something for Saturday 26th November

Let us remember who is in charge.

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)"

Anglican leader says vote for National will alienate voter from Christ's love

You would have to traverse the history of our church far and wide to find a more provocative statement from one of our leaders than this,

"Christians can’t afford to vote National because if they do they will align themselves with the wealthy landowners of which the Bible speaks, and in doing so will alienate themselves from Christ’s love and presence."
Well it has been said. By our Social Justice Commissioner, Anthony Dancer. Read his whole argument here.

I would not be surprised to see significant reaction to this provocation. It is one thing to critique politicians and their policies and by implication criticise those who vote for those politicians. It is another thing to assert that voting in one particular way will alienate voters from the loving presence of Christ in their lives.

The world really is going to the dogs

One aspect of my role is that I travel around by car. One joy when doing that travel is to enjoy the silence and solitude and think reflectively. Another joy is to play music. A third joy is to listen to Radio Sport where I particularly enjoy Brendan Telfer between 9 am and 12 noon, and Miles Davis between 1 pm and 3 pm. But Miles is going, unwilling to renew his contract as the management of Radio Sport 'changes direction'. Good grief, is nothing permanent in this transitory life!

Reasonable and Holy - online access

My recent post, It's not about the Covenant, has generated lots of comments, many involving Tobias Haller, author of Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same Sexuality. Those comments have included references to a significant review of the book by Ephraim Radner, counter-references to other favourable reviews, as well as urging to read the book itself.

The book can, in fact, be commented on, online at Haller's site called Reasonable and Holy. Head to the left hand side to click on each chapter to read. [This sentence has been corrected].

Ephraim Radner's review in Living Church is here. Responses from Tobias Haller are here, here and here.

Charles Hefling's (favourable) review in the Anglican Theological Review is here.

Depose +Lawrence and the problem of South Carolina will not go away

A brief update on the situation in the Diocese of South Carolina as +Mark Lawrence remains with a discipline case hanging over his head while moving adroitly to permit parishes to freely engage, or not with continuing life in TEC by issuing 'quitclaims' re titles belonging to parishes, this article makes the point clearly that, in the end, the issue is not +Mark's leadership, but the mood and mind of the diocese itself. Take +Mark out of his office and TEC faces the fact that it has a diocese on its books which may not accede to any style of episcopal leadership other than that which +Mark is giving. What is TEC going to do? Discipline a whole diocese? Sue parish after parish for the titles to return to its keeping?

Pakeha can vote for Maori

As we head into the election tomorrow there are good credentials being presented by all the major parties as reasons to vote for them. For 'undecideds' the final determinations likely will represent a calculation on which party has the least set of reasons for not voting for them. One calculation which may or may not enter Pakeha heads is that we can choose to vote for the Maori Party with our 'party vote'.* For Anglican Christians it is worth remembering some special reasons why we might consider this option: the way we govern our own church reflects a strong commitment to partnership based on the Treaty of Waitangi: a vote for the Maori Party is an expression of that commitment in order to be not only a church but a nation working out a Treaty-based partnership between Maori and Pakeha; it is an expression of a commitment to Maori working out solutions for Maori problems in the development of society; and it is a vote of confidence in Maori leadership better understanding Maori life than Pakeha leadership.

The last three years have proven that the Maori Party is committed to work for Maori whatever the nature of the majority governing party. In parliamentary terms, the Maori Party is a proven 'centre' party, willing to work with the majority vote of the people, while offering a constraint and an alternative influence on the policies of the majority governing party. It is not the only proven 'centre' party - there is also United Future. We might also note that the Green Party seems to be incrementally evolving to becoming a true 'centre' party. But the Green Party is not there yet, and United Future's future hangs by a thread as it depends absolutely on Peter Dunne winning his electorate seat once again. Arguably, the one centre party worth voting for if one wants one's vote to lead to actual representation in the house is the Maori Party.

*For readers unfamiliar with NZ's current voting system, we get two votes, one for a person to represent our electorate and one for the party of our choice. The latter votes, added up, yield the proportion of the whole membership of parliament which that party is entitled to. For the purposes of electorate voting a citizen may enrol on the General Roll or the Maori Roll. Non-Maori may enrol on the Maori Roll. No one may be enrolled on both rolls.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I have tried telling you but few seem to be listening

A few commenters here are picking up on my attempts to warn that the collapse of the world finance system may be imminent.  Admittedly I am not even a rank amateur in international finance and global economics. On the other hand you could try to buy some German bonds. Few seem to want them these days.

Of course I am kind of scaremongering, the more so if the sun does not darken and the moon keeps glistening, and the enemy does not arrive at the gates with tribulation never before experienced ... Yes, I am beginning to think about preaching this Sunday, Mark 13:24-37 and all that. Mind you, going back to my first paragraph, the great warning in that reading is "Be alert!"

And you won't hear anything on Sunday morning about Jesus being a scaremongerer.

BREAKING NEWS: Church insurance troubles for many NZ churches including most Anglican churches ... troubled insurer pulls out early from NZ market.

POSTSCRIPT: For a considered, longer, but troubling article on the world economy, read this review of Boomerang.

Choose well

Mark Harris at Preludium has a considered post on the 'lessons from the lands of ACNA and AMiA'. There is 'trouble at t'mill' in AMiA (as reported here and there in recent weeks). I think we need to distinguish between two different polities at work in the respective Anglican provinces, the former IMHO easier to work with for many Anglicans than the latter, not least because its Rwandan provenance has a rigidity to it which even conservative Anglicans do not desire. As far as I can tell AMiA could fail, fall or fade away and ACNA would remain the strong presence in North America which it is seeking to be. I note that my former Nelson colleague, Julian Dobbs, now a bishop of CANA within (alongside?) ACNA, is quoted by Mark Harris. Clearly Episcopalians leaving TEC for other Anglican pastures should choose well.

Putting all previous posts of mine re our forthcoming election to one side, I find that in these last days before the election I am getting weary of our leading politicians' behaviour, obscurantisms and (in)competencies. John Key seemed disdainful of Phil Goff in last night's debate: what is the true character of our Prime Minister? Phil Goff (our Leader of the Opposition) has made a very strong showing in this campaign, but why was that not there before the campaign started? And why has he not been able to summarise Labour's key financial figures with confidence and conviction? Russel Norman presents well as a leader of a rising Green Party and is making noises re economics which make him sound like a contender to be the next Governor of the Reserve Bank (i.e. responsible noises), but that is a smokescreen hiding aspects of Green policy which are highly objectionable (think drugs, abortion, and propensity to spend like there is no tomorrow). Which brings us to Winston Peters and NZ First who is all 'campaign charm' which acts like an opiate to make some among us forget his egomaniacal tendencies to hold this country to ransom: politically speaking I will never forgive him for what he did in 1996, making us wait for a government to be formed which turned out to be the one he had implied he would not support. Thankfully some fascist thugs turned up at a political rally in Christchurch the other night and have been outed as NZ First supporters. Great!?

Further dampening my enthusiasm for this election is the referendum on our electoral system. I am determined to vote against MMP (because it yields too many list MPs who are not responsible to local voters) but cannot make my mind up re a better system. FPP is not for me - I recall how Labour lost elections under FPP in 1978 and 1981 even though more voters in total wanted a Labour government. But which alternative proportionality system is better?

Back to specifically Christian matters in politics. Cranmer has a thoughtful post on an irony in the United Kingdom re Christianity and politics: as contributors to 'big society', Christianity and its network of ministries anchored into the parish system is eagerly and earnestly desired by the UK government; as holders of distinctive values which may clash with secular values and values held by other faiths, Christianity is getting a hard time from the same government. The post points to a conference addressing these matters which has some 'heavy hitters' like John Milbank on the rostrum. Worth going to! For Christian voters in the UK elections must be even more depressing than this one Down Under is turning out to be :(